Irish Army Syria training

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WITH IRISH peacekeepers (pictured above) about to head off for their latest mission abroad, the Defences Forces were yesterday involved in pre-deployment training in advance of their forthcoming tour of duty in Syria.

Last month, they received authorisation from the Government to deploy with UNDOF, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, in the Golan Heights.

The 46th Infantry Group is deploying there on a mission established to supervise the implementation of an ‘Area of Separation’ and two equal zones of limited forces and armaments in the Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel.

The Irish contingent will constitute the Force Reserve Company and its tasks will be to provide Armoured Force Protection for UNDOF Personnel, to conduct regular patrolling of the Area of Separation and to provide mutual support to UNDOF elements located in Observation Posts throughout the Area of Separation.

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(More members of the search and clearance team)

Such a deployment is not without its risks. Last November, a platoon of Irish peacekeepers escaped unharmed when they were shelled in Syria yesterday.

The 39 soldiers were on escort duty when three shells landed within 200m of their convoy. And another ten shells landed near them on their way back to their base in the Golan Heights.

The men, who are mostly attached to the 2nd Brigade at Dublin’s Cathal Brugha Barracks, were with 24 other soldiers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force.

They had left their base at Faouar in a ten-vehicle convoy when they stumbled into a skirmish between government forces and rebels.

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Captain Brian Coughlan (pictured above), from Co Offaly, said last night: ‘Obviously there is a certain amount of apprehension but with the training we have all been conducting over the past few weeks and months, I believe we will be more than able to deal with the challenges we face.’

The 26-year-old engineering graduate will be running a specialist search and clearance team that will be tasked with eliminating road side bombs.

The 46th Infantry Group will be the third Irish contingent to deploy with UNDOF.

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It is comprised of 130 Irish personnel – comprising of 14 officers, a chaplain and 115 other ranks – and will constitute the Force Reserve Company of an overall UNDOF Mission strength of 1,250 troops.

Other states contributing military personnel to the mission include Fiji Islands, Philippines, India and Nepal.

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(Glen of Imaal today, Golan Heights tomorrow . . . )

Global warming is ‘horse****’ says Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary

HE is in charge of a company named by a green research organisation as the dirtiest in Ireland in 2007.

Little wonder then that Michael O’Leary has such strong views about anything environmentalists – who he once branded ‘hairy hypocrites’ – have to say about anything.

But while global warming is as widely accepted as a reality as climate change is, the Ryanair boss is having absolutely none of it.

In a forthright interview, he has gone on the offensive against global warming, saying it doesn’t exist. And in vintage form, he derides global warming as ‘horse****’.

Indeed, he says the phenomenon has been invented by scientists to justify their research grants.

He also rails against ‘f****** eco warriors’, former U.S. vice-President and environmentalist Al Gore, weather men and a United Nations report on climate change he calls ‘tosh’.

O’Leary, who labelled environmentalists as ‘lying w******’ in a Daily Mail interview in 2006, said: ‘Nobody can argue that there isn’t climate change.

‘The climate’s been changing since time immemorial. Do I believe there is global warming? No. I believe it’s all a load of bull****.

‘But it’s amazing the way f****** eco-warriors and the media have changed. It used to be global warming but when global temperatures haven’t risen in the past 12 years, they say “climate change”.

‘We’ve had an ice age and a couple of very hot spells during the Middle Ages, so nobody can deny climate change.’

But he insisted that there was ‘absolutely no link’ between manmade carbon and climate change. And he attacked the science world for their own role in the hysteria surrounding global warming and climate change.

He said: ‘Scientists argue there is global warming because they wouldn’t get half of the funding they get now if it turns out to be completely bogus.

‘The scientific community has nearly always been wrong in history anyway. It is bizarre that people who can’t tell us what the f****** weather is next Tuesday can predict with precision what the f****** global temperatures will be in 100 years’ time. It’s horse****.’

Mr O’Leary attacked the UN as one of the world’s most ‘useless’ organisations. And he described as ‘utter tosh’ the organisation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which over 550 of the world’s leading scientists contributed.

The report warned that there would be a worldwide increase in freak and severe weather conditions, with the risk of flood and drought intensifying.

O’Leary was equally withering about Al Gore, who he said ‘couldn’t even get f****** re-elected’ after a boom’.

And with a rise in British air passenger duty of between 1 1.20and 0 6due, he slammed it as a ‘tax scam’.

He said: ‘When they introduced it, the UK Treasury said: “We will ring-fence this money and use it for global climate change initiatives.

‘We have written to them every six months – they never answer the letter – saying: “What do you use the money for?”

‘It’s a straightforward tax scam.’

Kidnapped GOAL worker Sharon Commins was due back July 23

From RTE News
Kidnapped Sharon Commins (RTE News)

THE Irish aid worker kidnapped in Sudan was due to leave the country in a few weeks’ time.

Sharon Commins, from Dublin, was seized at gunpoint last Friday week from the GOAL compound in Darfur.  She has been based in the region for 18 months.

The 31-year-old – who has been kidnapped by what is being described as a ‘criminal gang’ – had been expected home on July 23 for a holiday before returning to the region for one last overseas stint.

Parish priest Fr Michael Hastings said last night: ‘It’s a terrible shame, especially as she was getting ready to return home.’

It also emerged last night that the Irish Army, currently based across the border in neighbouring Chad, may be called on to help in any rescue operation or negotiations.

GOAL founder John O’Shea said: ‘I would hope that experts in this sort of thing from the Irish Army will be involved if there is to be any rescue operation.’

He described Commins as his ‘left-hand person’, and a ‘switched-on young lady’ who was ‘very clever, very intelligent’. He added: ‘I am confident she will handle herself better than a lot of people who wouldn’t have the qualities that this lady has.”

The elite Army Rangers Wing spearheads the operation in the war-torn region, which began in February last year.

There are currently 411 Irish Defence Forces personnel, based mostly in Camp Ciara near the town of Goz Beida in eastern Chad, about 100km from the border of Sudan.

The army is mandated by the UN to protect refugees from the six-year-old ethnic conflict now living in Chad but not to cross the border into Sudan.

Camp Ciara is some 400km from where Miss Commins was based in the town of Kutum in the north of the Sudanese province of Darfur.

Sharon Commins
Sharon Commins

Miss Commins, who has previously helped in the massive Asian tsunami relief operation of 2004, was one of two women kidnapped from the charity’s compound.

She has a BSc in Communications from DIT, and a Masters in International Relations from DCU.  She spent the last four years working with GOAL, initially as a press officer in GOAL’s Dun Laoghaire headquarters, and for the past 18 months in Sudan  as a project manager and report writer.

Hilda Kawuki – the other kidnap victim – has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and is a master of medical science in human nutrition.  The 41-year-old Ugandan aid worker has worked as a nutritionist and dietician, and worked for a number of NGOs in this area of expertise before joining GOAL in Sudan.

Eight gunmen stormed the compound at about 6.30pm local time last Friday evening and overpowered security guards before making their way to the house where the two women were living.

Miss Commins, who was on a day off when the incident happened, and Miss Kawuki were then thrust into one of the kidnappers’ cars, which then sped off.

The kidnappers also took mobile phones and computer equipment.

It is not known what the army’s involvement is to date – if any – but Sudanese officials have finally made touch with Sharon’s kidnappers, and both women are described as ‘safe and sound’.

Speaking from the family home last Saturday, her father, Mark, said: ‘We are very concerned about the situation and worried for Sharon. We are also praying for her safe return.’

The last time the family spoke to Miss Commins was just hours before her kidnap.

Her brother, Martin, said: ‘I got an email form her (last) Thursday and my mother, Agatha, spoke to her on Friday afternoon.’

Miss Commins’s kidnapping is the first in GOAL’s history but the third in the region in the past four months. Due to this incident, the charity has decided to pull its remaining staff from the area until she is rescued.

Key to the search for her whereabouts are local tribal chiefs based around what is the largest country in Africa. Although there are more than 595 tribes and some 400 different dialects, the Sudanese Government – which has also appointed a national crisis management team to deal with the kidnapping – has managed to narrow down an area of the country where Ms Commins is being held.

Officials are frantically trying to find the women, whose kidnap they have described as ‘deplorable’. “It is in our interests to have two ladies come back to their families,” Mr Omer Mohamed Ahmed Siddig told TDs and senators on Wednesday.

He recalled that in a previous kidnapping, four or five days passed before any contact was made. He said: ‘But with the involvement of local chiefs, we were able to establish contacts with them and we were able to release the two hostages. I hope this will be the case again.’

Helping the Sudanese government are French and British diplomats with experience of dealing with hostage situations as well as Irish officials – including the Irish Ambassador to Cairo, Gerrard Corr, who flew out to Darfur last Saturday week.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who met Brian Cowen as part of his official UN visit to Ireland, is also throwing his weight behind moves to secure the two women’s release.

He said: ‘I’m sorry and concerned that an Irish national has been kidnapped in Sudan. We will spare no efforts in providing necessary support and cooperation in terms of logistics and in terms of collecting information and in terms of working together with the Sudanese government, first of all to identify and locate and to have the safe return of your nationals.’

As part of that help, the UN is making available access to their own local agencies – including various ‘security services’.

A ransom demand has been made but the Sudanese Government has stressed it will not pay any ransom, nor be involved in any negotiations to pay one.