Return of over 100 Irish troops from Syria delayed

Government says Lebanese authorities failed to grant plane clearance to land in Beirut

Defence Forces troops in a training exercise last year at the Glen of Imaal, Co Wicklow prior to deployment to Syria. Photograph: Collins

Defence Forces troops in a training exercise last year at the Glen of Imaal, Co Wicklow prior to deployment to Syria. Photograph: Collins

 

Homecomings for more than 100 Irish soldiers have been delayed after Lebanon failed to grant the plane that was to carry them clearance to land in Beirut.

The Defence Forces’ 58th Infantry Group, which totals 130 members of the Republic’s armed forces, has just completed a six-month tour of duty on the Golan Heights in Syria. It was due to arrive home on Thursday after flying to Beirut.

However, the Department of Defence has confirmed that the soldiers remain at their base at Camp Faoar in Syria pending the resolution of an issue with the Lebanese authorities.

“The United Nations is responsible for organising the rotation flights to transport the current UNDOF contingent back to Ireland,” said a spokesman.

“We have been advised by the UN that the Lebanese authorities have not yet granted approval of the landing clearance in Beirut for the aircraft scheduled to transport the 58th Infantry Group.

Defence Forces personnel on the ground are liaising with the local United Nations personnel, who are doing their utmost to resolve this situation.”

The spokesman said the Government had directed Ireland’s UN ambassador to engage “at the highest levels” with the UN in New York to resolve the situation “as quickly as possible”.

“Defence Forces personnel remain at their base at Camp Faoar in Syria pending resolution of the situation,” he said.

“Families have been informed of this delay by designated family liaison officers, and further updates will continue to be provided as they become available.”

This is the second time a group of Irish soldiers have been delayed returning home from the region. A “bureaucratic error” prevented troops from crossing a frontier to start their journey back to Ireland from Syria in October.

Pdforra, which represents Defence Forces personnel, said it was “bitterly disappointed” to learn of the delay. “A similar delay occurred last October for members of the 57th Infantry Battalion,” it said. “This delay is totally unacceptable.”

Pdforra president Mark Keane said: “For such a hold up to emerge with two successive units is quite remarkable and all those people affected need an immediate explanation.”

Pdforra general secretary Gerard Guinan said it was “difficult to understand” how such a problem could have emerged again. “Surely lessons must have been learned with the delayed return last October,” he said.

“I now call on the Minister and the Department of Defence to get to the bottom of this recurring problem and assure the troops and families that it will not happen again.

“A mistake in planning has surely been made either by the UN or here at home and those affected must get an explanation.

“The return home after such a long tour of duty is a joyous and special occasion for all involved. Families and troops are planning this reunion for weeks and it is simply not acceptable that poor planning can ruin this special event.”