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Galway contingent play their part in Lebanon



If there were no trouble spots, there would be no role for peacekeepers – and Ireland’s troops have long been to the forefront of that effort in some of the world’s hottest spots.

One of those soldiers currently deployed with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is Darren Clarke is from Swinford in Mayo, who is based at Dun Ui Mhaoilíosa in Renmore.

He is one of a massive western commitment to this peacekeeping efforts – there are currently 53 personnel from Galway, nine from Mayo, four from Roscommon and one from Sligo on this tour.

Darren is an Infantry Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO); an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) gunner in 2 Section, 1 Platoon, and this is his fifth trip overseas.

“I’ve had one to Kosovo, two to Liberia and two to Lebanon and I can see the changes being made every time I go overseas,” he says.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, inspects the departing Irish peacekeepers

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, inspects the departing Irish peacekeepers

“The main tasking for our company (B Coy) is conducting patrols in our area of operations (AO). There are a number of different types of patrols that we perform including checkpoints, area dominating patrols, foot and vehicle patrols, counter rocket launching operations and ‘Blue Line’ patrols.

“The Blue Line is an area of separation between the Lebanese-Israeli border. UNIFIL is tasked with monitoring any violations across the Blue Line and liaises with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to avoid any escalation.

“We often carry out Coordinated Operational Activities with LAF (COWAL’s) which sees us assist them with patrolling high risk area to prevent any hostile activity within our AO,” he explains.

“We are currently in UNP 2-45 the HQ of FINIRISHBATT and there are two Blue Line positions – one at 6-50 which is manned by the Finnish Contingent and one at 6-52 which is manned by the Irish Contingent.

“Our portion of the Blue Line extends for 11.3kms and there are 14 towns and villages within the FINIRISHBATT AO. A Coy, the Finnish Coy have responsibility for seven of these villages with B Coy, the Irish Coy having responsibility for six villages.

“Due to its important regional role the town of Bn HQ retains responsibility for Bint Jubayl,” Darren adds.

While the Mayo man is on his fifth overseas tour, he pales beside his fellow Renmore peacekeeper and Galway native, BSM Fintan Lambe, who is on a remarkable 17th tour of duty.

The 47 Inf Gp consisting of 181 personnel were activated and formed up in Renmore Barracks Galway on September 22 last.

Following two months of intensive pre-deployment training which included a two week Mission Readiness Exercise the Main Body of the unit deployed to LEBANON on November 18.

The majority of the 47 Inf Gp are taken from 1 Cn Cois, in Galway followed by 1 Bde Arty Regt in Cork,  3 Inf Bn in Kilkenny, DFTC CIS in The Curragh, 12 Inf Bn in Limerick and so on. Overall there are 31 units represented within the 47 Inf Gp.

The 47 Inf Gp have a good mixture of experience and personnel on their first overseas tour of duty. 130 personnel have previously served overseas of which 197 tours of duty have been completed to UNIFIL.

“We have a varied daily schedule and if I am not on security or operational duty then I am kept busy with the daily maintenance and servicing of the MOWAG’s we use for patrols and convoys,” says Darren.

“Training is also a key part of our job here in Lebanon. We are deployed with troops from the Finnish Defence Forces and we have completed a considerable amount of training in coordination with our Finnish counterparts during our pre-deployment, induction and continuous training during our rotation.

“It is important that the local population to see us as a credible and competent force that is effecting positive change in the region,” he adds.

But this work comes at a personal price because it means time away from loved ones at home.

“That’s why I would like to give a big thank you to all my friends and family, especially my partner Catriona and my daughter, Samantha, for their continued support. Our mission would not be possible without the support and commitment from our loved ones,” says Darren.

The man who shares his name with our Ryder Cup-winning captain is also proud to play his part in helping to bring back stability to the region by patrolling and supporting the local community.

“Seeing the difference that we make to the local community is definitely one of the perks of the job. Our Civilian-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) teams are working to support local communities through different projects including the construction of playgrounds and watering holes as well as providing English lessons, mine awareness, first aid and hygiene training to locals,” he says.

The commitment and courage of soldiers like Darren Clarke and his colleagues has undoubtedly helped to enhance the standing of the country internationally and we are held in high regard amongst troop contributing nations.

The Defence Forces first deployed to UNIFIL from 1978 to 2001 – that’s 23 years continuous service. UNIFIL II saw the deployment of Defence Forces to Lebanon again from 2006 to 2007. The Defence Forces deployed for the third time in May 2011.

The Irish Defence Forces are proud to proclaim that they are working hard to achieve the goals of UN Security Council resolution 1701 by monitoring the cessation of hostilities, supporting the Government of Lebanon and assisting the population.

And their presence there now continues a long and proud history of peace support operations in Lebanon with over 30 years of experience leaving troops with extensive experience of the culture, geography and people of South Lebanon.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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