independent

Friday 16 November 2018

'Heartbreak' of soldiers unable to leave Syria

The Wexford soldiers in Syria: top row, Private Shane Dempsey, Private Leigh Smith, and Private Gary Cowman; middle row, Private Sean Lenehan, Private Darren Naughton, and Corporal Fran Farnan; front, Corporal Johnny Tyrrell and Private Jay O’Dowd
The Wexford soldiers in Syria: top row, Private Shane Dempsey, Private Leigh Smith, and Private Gary Cowman; middle row, Private Sean Lenehan, Private Darren Naughton, and Corporal Fran Farnan; front, Corporal Johnny Tyrrell and Private Jay O’Dowd

Maria Pepper

Members of the Irish Defence Forces including eight soldiers from County Wexford, were 'heartbroken' after being left stranded in Syria at the end of a six-month tour of United Nations peacekeeping duty.

The Minister of State at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe was forced to apologise to the 119 members of the 57th Infantry Group who were due to arrive home in Ireland on Wednesday morning last but learned at the last minute that their return trip had to be delayed for two weeks due to what Deputy Kehoe described as a failure to obtain 'diplomatic clearance'.

The soldiers were looking forward to reuniting with their families and loved ones after six months abroad and had handed over their baggage for shipping back to Ireland only to be told that the return flight which was scheduled for last Tuesday morning would not be going ahead.

Relatives had been counting down the days to seeing their husbands, sons and dads again with some having booked hotel stays in Dublin and arranged family celebrations in anticipation of their return, and they were bitterly disappointed at the postponement.

The soldiers who spent four months across the border in Israel before re-gaining a UN camp in Syria, were due to travel overland into Lebanon to fly out from Beirut Airport but did not have clearance to do so. The Wexford Minister declined to say whether the problem originated in Ireland, Lebanon or Syria but acknowledged that he became aware of a problem some days before the aborted attempt to get the soliders home.

Deputy Kehoe announced that each of the soldiers would receive €1,000 in compensation and said he hoped they would be able to return home on October 15.

The soldiers' baggage was retrieved and returned to them and they returned to UN duty last Wednesday.

A number of them took to social media to express their disappointment with one describing the delay as 'heartbreaking.'

'You have lads here on the phone to their families explaining that they won't be home after all', he said. 'You have wives crying and children crying. Children have been counting down the days in their school journals until the time they see their daddies again'.

'We have had that return date since the beginning. Some of the wives and girlfriends had taken time off work to coincide with our return.'

Among the soldiers are eight County Wexford men from Enniscorthy, Kilmore, Bunclody and Wexford town including Private Shane Dempsey, Private Leigh Smith, Private Gary Cowman, Private Sean Lenehan, Private Darren Naughton, Corporal Fran Farnan, Corporal Johnny Tyrrell and Private Jay O'Dowd.

Wexford People

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