Category: Archive

Sun sets on Irish Cyprus mission

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

But the Irish tricolor was hauled down on the island for the final time
last week. The ceremony marked the end of Irish involvement in policing a
conflict rooted in divided national loyalties.
The divisions over the future of Cyprus, which have been at the heart of
Greek and Turkish tensions for years, bear more than a passing resemblance
to the political rift on the island of Ireland.
But like Ireland, the violence of former times has subsided on Cyprus to
the point where a U.N. military stand down is feasible.
The Irish mission on Cyprus began in 1964. Ten thousand Irish military
personnel have served on the island in the intervening years.
It was left to Lieutenant Colonel Paul Quirke to witness the end of the
mission, one of the longest in U.N. peacekeeping history.
The Cork native, now 61 and on the point of retirement from the army,
also served in the early days of the mission as a junior officer.
The island and its problems were to become part of his life in more ways
than just professional.
“It’s all rolling into a final curtain, my retirement and the Irish
flag coming down and leaving Cyprus, a country I care deeply about and where
my first daughter was born,” Quirke told the Irish Independent.
Ireland joined the United Nations in December, 1955.
But it would be a few years before the Irish public would become
conscious of the fact that membership meant more than simply raising a hand
in yes or no votes at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
Participation also involved peacekeeping and all the risks inherent in
Cyprus, together with the Congo, were the first missions that would
involve significant deployments from Ireland’s small but well trained army.
More than 50,000 Irish troops have served with the U.N. over the years
and 86 have paid the ultimate price.
In recent years, 400 members of the Irish police force, the Garda
Siochana, have also seen service in a number of global trouble spots.
The early days Irish army contingent in Cyprus amounted to 650 troops.
The costliest in terms of lives lost was the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon
where Ireland played a central role between 1978 and 2001.
Right now, according to the Permanent Irish Mission to the United
Nations website, there are 515 Irish personnel serving with nine U.N.
Irish military observers and peacekeeping troops are serving in the
Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Western Sahara, the Balkans and East Timor.
Ireland’s military neutrality has always been seen as a plus in terms of
serving in volatile regions. Interestingly, however, an Irish contingent is
currently carrying out a U.N.-mandated mission in Kosovo – but under NATO
The largest single current operation, and perhaps the most dangerous, is
in the West African state of Liberia, devastated by civil war in recent
years. The mission began in December, 2003 and involves 430 troops of the
93rd Battalion deployed just outside the capital Monrovia.
The Irish troops in Liberia are filling the role of the U.N.’s rapid
reaction force. As such, theirs is not a traditional peace keeping mission.
It is one of peace enforcement in which they are authorized to use lethal
force whenever they feel it is necessary.
Irish troops in Liberia have carried out airborne assaults, long range
armored patrols and amphibious landings.
The battalion is perhaps the best trained Irish force ever sent
overseas. And it is also well equipped with 22 Mowag armored personnel
carriers and six Panhard AML-90/20 armored reconnaissance vehicles.
The Irish contingent is reinforced by Swedish troops under the command
of Irish officers and can also employ the services of Ukrainian helicopters
and Dutch navy ships.
The Liberian mission began with a bang, literally. The first Irish
troops in the country were members of the army’s Ranger wing.
They were not long deployed when they had to mount an assault against
armed bandits holding hostages in a freight container. The Irish troops
rescued two dozen people in that successful mission.
Cyprus, meanwhile, is a quiet place today, certainly when compared to
places like Liberia.
The Greek part of the island has joined the European Union and their
Turkish neighbors across the island’s dividing line have an aspiration to do
the same.
“I have no doubt there will be a solution,” was Lt. Col. Quirke’s
optimistic prediction for the divided island’s future, a future made
possible in large part by the service of soldiers from another divided land.

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