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Ireland’s Largest Peacekeeping Mission—The Irish Defence Forces in UNIFIL

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The EU, Irish Defence Forces and Contemporary Security


The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), established in 1978, is one of the oldest UN peacekeeping operations. Ireland contributed an Infantry Battalion from 1978 to 2001, tasked with patrolling, manning observation posts and checkpoints, and providing humanitarian assistance. In 2006 the Irish Defence Forces returned to Southern Lebanon with a Mobile Mechanised Infantry Company Group, responding to a request from the UN (following the conflict of July/August). Irish soldiers were tasked with reconnaissance and patrolling, providing perimeter protection for a Finnish Engineering Company (the Irish-Finnish Battalion). The Infantry Company Group withdrew in 2007. Four years later the Irish Defence Forces returned to UNIFIL again, deploying an Infantry Battalion, tasked with ground holding, patrolling, conducting humanitarian operations, and monitoring the Blue Line. Irish soldiers created a joint Battalion with the Finnish. When Finland pulled out, Ireland started its partnership with Poland, creating the Irish-Polish Battalion (2019). UNIFIL is currently Ireland’s largest overseas peacekeeping mission (350 personnel). This chapter describes the history of the Irish Defence Forces involvement in UNIFIL, taking under consideration the most important developments in the Irish area of responsibility, including the battle of At-Tiri and the murders of two Irish peacekeepers (April 1980). It takes into account the evolution of the role of UNIFIL. Several generations of Irish soldiers were exposed to peacekeeping in Lebanon, and lessons learned from their deployments were crucial for peacekeeping policies and practices of Ireland. The chapter analyses the impact of the UNIFIL experience on the Irish Defence Forces. Ireland remained committed to the principles of traditional peacekeeping even after events which took place in Lebanon in 1980. However, having returned to UNIFIL in 2011, Irish soldiers found themselves in a different environment, and changes in international peacekeeping policies and practices contributed to the evolution of the Irish perception of peacekeeping.

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  1. 1.

    60% of the total number of Defence Forces personnel serving overseas; see: House of the Oireachtas, Written Answer by the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney, Wednesday—January 26, 2022, Accessed January 28, 2022,

  2. 2.

    United Nations, Security Council Resolution 425, S/RES/425 (19 March 1978), Available from; United Nations, Security Council Resolution 426, S/RES/426 (19 March 1978), Available from

  3. 3.

    United Nations, Security Council, Report of the Secretary General on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon for the Period 19 March to 13 September 1978, S/12845 (13 September 1978), Available from

  4. 4.

    Alexander Mattelaer, The Politico-Military Dynamics of European Crisis Response Operations: Planning, Friction, Strategy (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 82.

  5. 5.

    United Nations, Security Council Resolution 1701, S/RES/1701 (11 August 2006), Available from

  6. 6.

    Donal O’Carroll, “Ireland’s UN Peacekeeping Experience 1958–1995,” in Peacekeeping, 1815 to Today: Proceedings of the XXIst Colloquium of the International Commission of Military History (Québec City: National Defence, 1995), 528.

  7. 7.

    James Parker, “UNIFIL and Peacekeeping the Defence Forces Experience,” Irish Studies in International Affairs 2, no. 2 (1986): 63.

  8. 8.

    O’Carroll, “Ireland’s Experience,” 535.

  9. 9.

    Eamonn Colclough, “The Evolution of Irish Peacekeeping 1978–2016” (PhD diss., University of Limerick, 2016), 139, 142.

  10. 10.

    As recalled by John Moriarty regarding years 1978–2001: “I think it would be reasonable to say that during our time there, we treated in excess of 150,000 people—some 6000 or so every year”, see: John Moriarty, “‘Bullets, Bacteria and Boredom’. A Peacekeeping Memory of Lebanon—November 1978–November 2001,” in Irish Defence Forces Review 5 (Dublin: Defence Forces Printing Press, 2008), 52.

  11. 11.

    Henry McDonald, Irishbatt. The Story of Ireland’s Blue Berets in the Lebanon (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1993), 44.

  12. 12.

    McDonald, Irishbatt, 49.

  13. 13.

    Katsumi Ishizuka, Ireland and International Peacekeeping Operations 1960–2000 (London: Routledge, 2004), 113.

  14. 14.

    United Nations, Security Council Resolution 467, S/RES/467 (24 April 1980), Available from

  15. 15.

    Colclough, “The Evolution,” 154.

  16. 16.

    Colclough, “The Evolution,” 160–161.

  17. 17.

    In 2011, an independent review was conducted into the deaths of the three soldiers, and it was found that the level of IED threat to the Irish personnel was not assessed correctly.

  18. 18.

    United Nations, Security Council, Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, S/2000/809 (21 August 2000), Available from

  19. 19.

    Colclough, “The Evolution,” 19.

  20. 20.

    Ireland’s history of regaining freedom has been especially admired in the Arab world “at a time of growing anti-British sentiment”—see: Rory Miller, “The Politics of Trade and Diplomacy: Ireland’s Evolving Relationship with the Muslim Middle East,” Irish Studies in International Affairs 15 (2004): 125.

  21. 21.

    Kelly Craft, “Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Lebanon,” May 4, 2020, Accessed December 7, 2021,

  22. 22.

    United Nations, Security Council, Report of the Secretary General on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon for the period 20 February to 18 June 2021, S/2021/685 (13 July 2021), Available from

  23. 23.

    United Nations, Security Council Resolution 1559, S/RES/1559 (2 September 2004), Available from

  24. 24.

    Peter Murtagh, “Irish chief of Unifil backed after attack by US ambassador to UN,” Irish Times, August 31, 2017,

  25. 25.

    Colclough, “The Evolution,” 138.

  26. 26.

    Rita Sakr, UN in the Arab World. Irish Peacekeeping in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, A Historical, Political and Socio-Cultural Study (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 2013), 6, 22, 24.

  27. 27.

    Edward Burke, and Jonathan Marley, Walking Point for Peace: An Irish view on the state of UN peacekeeping (New York: New York University Center on International Cooperation, 2015), 2–3.

  28. 28.

    Burke, Walking Point, 13.

  29. 29.

    Ibid., 15.

  30. 30.

    For instance Italy or France, used to serving in Afghanistan. Colclough, “The Evolution,” 170–171.

  31. 31.

    Damien Cole, “‘Pragmatic Evolution?’ Reflections on the foreign policy motivations, implications and impact of Ireland’s experience of peacekeeping in the Middle East,” in Irish Defence Forces Review 15 (Dublin: Defence Forces Printing Press, 2018), 56; Burke, Walking Point, 4.

  32. 32.

    Donald C.F. Daniel, Paul D. Williams, and Adam C. Smith, Deploying Combined Teams: Lessons Learned from Operational Partnerships in UN Peacekeeping (New York: International Peace Institute, 2015), 6, 16.

  33. 33.

    Terence O’Neill, “UN Peacekeeping: Expectations and Reality,” Irish Studies in International Affairs 13 (2002): 210.

  34. 34.

    Tony Lawrence, Tomas Jermalavičius, and Anna Bulakh, Soldiers of Peace. Estonia, Finland and Ireland in UNIFIL (Tallin: International Centre for Defence and Security, 2016), 4.

  35. 35.

    Ray Murphy, “Europe’s Return to UN Peacekeeping? Opportunities, Challenges and Ways Ahead—Ireland,” International Peacekeeping 23, no. 5 (2016): 729.

  36. 36.

    Mark Williams, and Matthew G. O'Neill, “Ireland’s Role within United Nations Information Operations during Peacekeeping,” in Irish Defence Forces Review 17 (Dublin: Defence Forces Printing Press, 2020): 193–194.

  37. 37.

    Robert Fisk, “At-Tiri, or Bosnia Avoided: The Irish in UNIFIL 1978–95,” in Irish Defence Forces Review 5 (Dublin: Defence Forces Printing Press, 2008): 40.

  38. 38.

    Williams, “Ireland’s Role,” 197–198.

  39. 39.

    Ibid., 199.

  40. 40.

    Sakr, UN in the Arab World, 6, 24.

  41. 41.

    Rory Esler, “Is the Irish Defence Forces Developing the Necessary Capability to Meet the Operational Requirements of its UN CIMIC Roles? A Case Study of CIMIC Operations in Lebanon,” Journal of Military History and Defence Studies 1, no. 2 (November 2020): 165.

  42. 42.

    David Manus Curran, “More than Fighting for Peace? An Examination of the Role of Conflict Resolution in Training Programmes for Military Peacekeepers” (PhD diss., University of Bradford, 2010), 347–350.

  43. 43.

    Esler, “Developing Capability,” 166–168.

  44. 44.

    Oliver A.K. MacDonald, “Peacekeeping Lessons Learned: An Irish Perspective,” International Peacekeeping 4, no. 3 (1997): 96.

  45. 45.

    Cole, “Pragmatic Evolution,” 58.


I would like to thank H.L. for invaluable support and advice.

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Hapek, N.A. (2023). Ireland’s Largest Peacekeeping Mission—The Irish Defence Forces in UNIFIL. In: Carroll, J., O'Neill, M.G., Williams, M. (eds) The EU, Irish Defence Forces and Contemporary Security. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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