One-fifth of Defence Forces served overseas last year
- CONOR LALLY
ALMOST ONE in five members of the Defence Forces served on overseas missions last year, according to the joint annual report of the Defence Forces and Department of Defence.
The figure is believed to be the highest ever.
The UN's peace enforcement mission in Chad accounted for the highest number of troop deployments, reaching 450 during each of three rotations. Nato's mission in Kosovo played host to an Irish deployment numbering almost 220 at a time.
There were also smaller numbers of troops, usually less than 10, deployed to international missions in Lebanon, Western Sahara and Afghanistan.
The overseas deployment of Irish troops has fallen away this year because the Defence Forces is no longer in Chad and numbers in the Balkans have been scaled back.
The joint annual report also revealed a record level of activity by the Army's bomb disposal teams, who responded to 196 call outs during 2009.
The Naval Service also experienced one of its busiest periods in recent years. Its personnel boarded 1,841 vessels last year during fishery protection patrols, detaining 15 boats.
Of the ships detained, four were Irish. There were five vessels each from the UK and France with one detention of a vessel from Spain.
The extent of the Naval Service's activities during the security operation against protesters opposed to Shell's Corrib gas pipeline in Co Mayo is also revealed, with five of the Navy's ships on patrol in Broadhaven Bay for a total of 37 days.
The ships were providing support to the Garda Water Unit.
The Garda was charged with ensuring digging and pipe laying vessels working to lay an underwater pipe from the Corrib gas fields into Shell's landfall site at Glengad, Co Mayo, were not disrupted. Work on the pipeline was stalled on safety grounds several times when protesters in kayaks paddled out to the pipelaying vessel.
The Defence Forces programme of random drug testing of personnel continued last year, with 1,719 tests performed in a combined Army, Naval Service and Air Corps numbering just under 10,000.
There were six positive results, which is in line with numbers seen since 2005. Of those, five tested positive for cannabis while the substance at the centre of the sixth test was not determined.
Three of those who tested positive were dismissed and the other three were instructed to undergo six drug tests over an 18-month period from the time of their initial positive test.
Minister for Defence Tony Killeen said 2009 would be remembered as the "year of the big floods".
He said when flooding hit parts of the country Defence Forces personnel had made an invaluable contribution to assisting those in need.
"The `can-do' attitude of the Defence Forces was put to the test by the many and varied tasks which they were requested to undertake during the time of crisis," he said.
The year would also be remembered for the loss of chief flight instructor Capt Derek Furniss (32) and Cadet David Jevens (22) when their training flight crashed in Galway last October.