Withdrawal of Irish troops from UN mission expected due to Battlegroup commitment

Defence Forces involvement in Undof mission in Syria likely to come to an end

The Government is expected to withdraw Irish troops from the UN peacekeeping mission in Syria to free up resources for its commitment to the EU Battlegroup system.

There are currently 130 Defence Forces peacekeepers in southwest Syria serving with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (Undof), which since 1973 has been responsible for maintaining a ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

Last year, the Government agreed to commit a mechanised infantry company, numbering 174 troops, to the revamped EU Battlegroups which will act as a rapid intervention force under the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy.

The Battlegroups will be responsible for stabilising dangerous situations outside the EU while a more long-term peacekeeping operation is established.


The Defence Forces will form part of the 2,000 strong German-led Battlegroup which start training next year and remain on standby through 2025.

Due to the staffing crisis impacting the Defence Forces, officials have decided another overseas commitment will have to be wound down to free up the required manpower.

According to defence sources, this is almost certain to involve the ending of Irish involvement in Undof.

The Irish Times understands officials had initially considered winding up Irish involvement in Unifil in Lebanon. However during his recent trip the mission area in the aftermath of the death of Pte Seán Rooney, Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin committed to continuing Ireland’s presence in the country.

“Following the Government’s recent decision to participate in the EU Battlegroup 2024/2025, the Defence Forces are engaged in a further assessment of the current overseas missions,” a Department of Defence spokeswoman said. “No decisions have been taken in respect of any of the existing overseas deployments.”

Mr Martin told the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence last week that some commitments will have to be reviewed in light of the Battlegroups commitment.

The Defence Forces first deployed to Syria in 1998 and remained for a year. Troops were sent back in 2013 and have been there since.

Irish troops form a rapid-reaction force in the buffer zone in the Golan Heights which is responsible for quickly reacting to dangerous situations.

The EU Battlegroup system began in 2007 and Ireland has contributed troops on six occasions. However, aside from joint training operations, they have never been deployed operationally for various reasons, including disagreements between member states.

EU officials hope the new revamped Battlegroup system, known also as the Rapid Deployment Capacity, will be more active and easier to deploy.

Ireland’s decision to take part in the 2024 Battlegroup has been criticised by left-wing TDs, including Paul Murphy of People Before Profit.

“This is a blatant move by the Irish Government, yet again to erode Irish military neutrality which continues the creep towards participation in a European army,” he said last month.

Independent TD for Kildare and former Army officer Cathal Berry said it is “a pity” that Ireland cannot contribute to both Undof and the Battlegroups.

“Unfortunately it’s necessary because of the staff retention crisis in our armed forces. These are the inevitable adverse consequences.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times