Ireland will demand the truth about what happened when Defence Forces troops were fatally attacked in Lebanon, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said at the UN Security Council yesterday.
The Security Council, where Ireland holds a seat until next year, held a minute’s silence for Private Seán Rooney (24) who was shot dead in an attack on a Unifil vehicle in the south of the country. Trooper Shane Kearney (22) was severely wounded in the same attack and remains in a critical condition, while two other Irish soldiers suffered more minor injuries.
President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Micheál Martin led tributes to Pte Rooney on Thursday and expressed their sympathy to his family and friends.
Mr Higgins said he had learned of the news of the first death of a member of the Defence Forces on a peacekeeping mission since 2003 with “the deepest sorrow”.
“As a people, we take great pride in our unbroken record of peacekeeping with the United Nations. However, we must never forget the dangers that come with this work, or how the members of our Defence Forces serving on peacekeeping missions abroad risk their lives every day in order to build and maintain peace in conflict zones across the world,” he said in a statement.
The Taoiseach said he wanted “to express the heartfelt sorrow of the Government of Ireland at the loss of a young person serving overseas with the United Nations”.
He described it as “a reminder to us of the extraordinary sacrifice that our peacekeepers make” in what can be “at times hostile and very difficult and dangerous environments”.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he had prayed for “a speedy recovery for the injured” and that his thoughts were with the families of those affected by the incident. “We salute the bravery of all concerned,” the Fine Gael leader said.
Mr Coveney said: “At this time I want to express, on behalf of everyone in Ireland, our utmost sorrow at the loss of a young man serving his country and the United Nations overseas. To his family I want to say sorry for their heartbreak and loss.”
Speaking in New York, he said it was unclear whether the incident had been a “deliberate targeting or an accident that got out of hand”. He said Ireland “will demand the truth”.
Mr Coveney said Lebanon’s ministers for defence and foreign affairs have promised full co-operation in any investigation.
The Dáil also held a minute’s silence for the Pte Rooney and his injured colleagues. Green Party leader and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said: “I hope and pray the injured soldiers will recover and return home as soon as possible.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald extended her sympathies to his family, friends and all those serving in the Defence Forces “who have suffered a terrible loss”.
“There is a deep pride in the role that our forces have played in peacekeeping missions for decades, often in very dangerous circumstances and they are in our thoughts and prayers this morning,” she said in a statement.
Independent TD and former Army Ranger Cathal Berry said he did not want to unduly concern the families of serving members, but the security situation in Lebanon was very volatile at present and the Irish soldier had a vital role to play in keeping peace there. He said the fact the incident occurred during a compassionate mission only added to the tragedy.