Coronavirus: Delayed return for Defence Forces in Lebanon and Mali

More than 400 troops affected by UN decision to prevent spread of Covid-19

Defence Forces personnel in Lebanon and Mali who were due to return to Ireland within the next month will continue their UN missions until the end of June, because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed that the rotation of these missions would be delayed in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

It had been thought that the Government might seek an exemption from the order issued by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to suspend all rotations and leave for military personnel serving in UN missions until June 30th.

The decision affects 380 peacekeeping troops in Lebanon and 13 members of the Army Ranger Wing deployed on an anti-terrorism mission in Mali.


Independent Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath asked in the Dáil if it was absolutely necessary.

Mr McGrath said some of the soldiers’ partners and spouses worked in frontline services and “they now cannot go to work because they were expecting their partners home”.

Mr Varadkar said the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) was due to change in two rotations on May 12th and 19th while the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission (Minusma) in Mali was due to rotate contingents later this month.

The UN Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) mission in Syria had rotated on April 4th and troops will remain there for six months.

The Taoiseach said the moratorium on the rotations and leave for personnel was designed “to ensure the continued operation of essential peacekeeping missions to protect vulnerable populations in conflict zones and to maintain international peace and security.

“It is also designed to ensure the health and well-being of personnel deployed on UN operations by limiting movement of personnel into mission areas.”

He pointed out that the decision to delay rotations of personnel would affect more than 100,000 UN personnel from more than 120 countries serving worldwide.

Mr Varadkar added that the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces have been examining the impact of the UN decision on personnel and on future deployments.

Personnel deployed overseas have been briefed by their commanders and there was ongoing engagement to ensure rotations could take place as close as possible to the original planned dates.

The Taoiseach said Ireland “will continue to meet its commitments to the UN and other multilateral peacekeeping organisations in support of international peace and security through this challenging period.

“Our aim is to maintain the integrity and operational capability of our overseas contingents in discharging their mandates. Protecting the health and welfare of our personnel remains a priority consideration throughout.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times