Irish peacekeeping soldier killed in Lebanon attack named

Undated handout photo issued by Defence Forces of Private Sean Rooney of Newtowncunningham in Co DonegalUndated handout photo issued by Defence Forces of Private Sean Rooney of Newtowncunningham in Co Donegal
Undated handout photo issued by Defence Forces of Private Sean Rooney of Newtowncunningham in Co Donegal
The Irish soldier killed while serving as a UN peacekeeper in Lebanon has been named.

Private Sean Rooney, 23, from Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, died when his convoy came under attack.

Another soldier injured in the incident is in a serious condition in hospital having undergone surgery. He has been named as Private Shane Kearney, a native of Killeagh, Co Cork.

Two other peacekeepers were treated for minor injuries.

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The soldiers were part of 121st Infantry Battalion, comprising of 333 Irish troops, which was deployed in November to south Lebanon as part of the United Nation Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

The Irish Defence Forces said Pte Rooney signed up in 2019.

Its statement added: “His home unit is the 27 Infantry Battalion in Dundalk.

“He previously served overseas with the 119 Infantry Battalion Unifil.”

Pte Kearney joined the Defence Forces in October 2018.

“His home unit is 1 Cavalry Squadron in Collins Barracks, Cork,” the statement said.

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“He previously served overseas with the 117 Infantry Battalion Unifil.”

A convoy of two armoured vehicles en route to Beirut came under small arms fire at around 9.15pm Irish time on Wednesday night.

All four soldiers injured in the attack were taken to Raee Hospital, near Sidon, following the incident.

Pte Rooney suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.

Four other soldiers in the convoy were uninjured.

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The Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Sean Clancy, expressed shock and sadness at the “tragic event”.

“Our thoughts are with his family, his friends and his fellow peacekeepers from the 121st Infantry Battalion,” he said.

“Our thoughts are also with those who were injured last night and their families and friends.

“We have one of our medical officers currently at Raee Hospital and we will ensure that our personnel get the best possible care.

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“Our focus now is to ensure the safety and continued support for all our personnel deployed in Lebanon.”

The Defence Forces said a full investigation will commence into the incident.

The 121st Infantry Battalion is part of a multinational battalion, comprising Irish, Maltese, Polish and Hungarian personnel.

The UN’s peacekeeping mission in Lebanon was established in 1978 following Israel’s invasion of the country.

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Irish President Michael D Higgins offered his “deepest condolences” to the family of Pte Rooney.

“As president of Ireland and Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces, it is with a heavy heart, and conscious of the great loss it will represent to them, that I offer my deepest condolences to the family, colleagues and friends of the member of the Defence Forces who has lost their life,” he said.

“A life lost serving the people of Ireland, serving the United Nations, and serving all those wishing for peace in our shared world.”

Irish premier Micheal Martin said: “It is with a deep sense of sadness and shock that I have learned of the death of one of our Unifil peacekeepers, and serious injuries to another, in an incident in Lebanon.

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“I want to express the heartfelt sorrow of the Government of Ireland at the loss of a young person serving overseas with the United Nations.

“In particular, I extend to his family our deepest sympathies for the terrible loss they have suffered.

“It is a reminder that our peacekeepers serve in dangerous circumstances, at all times, in the cause of peace.

“Our thoughts are with his colleagues, and to the wider Defence Forces family and all who serve overseas, we know how deeply you will feel this loss.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

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Irish defence minister Simon Coveney said the soldier is “a young man who has lost his life in service of Ireland and of the UN”.

He added: “This is a shocking and tragic incident and of course we have an investigation under way,” as he expressed his condolences to the man’s family and relatives of the other soldiers.

Mr Coveney said the incident happened during a two-and-a-half-hour journey he has also travelled during trips to the UN peacekeeping camp in Lebanon.

“Essentially what happened, we think, was two armoured personnel vehicles were travelling from our main camp in southern Lebanon to Beirut. It was a standard administrative run, as it’s called in military terms,” he told RTE Radio.

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“The two armoured vehicles effectively got separated. One of them got surrounded by a hostile mob – I think that’s the only way you could describe them – and shots were fired and unfortunately one of our peacekeepers was killed.

“This is a very serious incident. We haven’t had a fatality in the Defence Forces on peacekeeping missions for over two decades.”

He said he has been to Unifil three times in the last two years and Mr Martin has also been to the UN camp.

“This is the worst possible news that a family could hear,” he said, saying the families affected were informed between 2am and 5am Irish time on Thursday.

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“It’s just shocking, just before Christmas in particular, in terms of the time of year, but it’s shocking to ever lose somebody who is serving their country overseas as a peacekeeper.”

Mr Coveney, who is currently in New York for a UN Security Council meeting, said he intends to meet UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss a “full investigation” into the incident.

“I will return to Ireland this evening after I meet with the UN Secretary-General to discuss the loss of our peacekeeper and the full investigation that must now follow,” he said.

Mr Coveney also said he is aware of video clips and images shared on social media reportedly of the incident, but said it is not clear if they have been verified.

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“There have been some images that have been shared, unfortunately, on social media of this incident, and I think the less attention they get the better.”

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar tweeted: “We unite in grief at the loss of a brave Irish soldier serving Ireland and the UN in Lebanon, and pray for a speedy recovery for the injured.

“Our thoughts are with the bereaved family, and with the families of the injured. We salute the bravery of all concerned.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said on Twitter: “Deeply shocking news of death of a member of our Defence Forces and the injury of others on peacekeeping duties in Lebanon.

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“Thoughts and prayers with their families and members of Oglaigh na hEireann at this time. We are very proud of our soldiers, their courage and sacrifice.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the death was “horrific” and she extended her thoughts and those of her party to the soldier’s family.

She said it was “distressing” to hear the news on Thursday morning.

“We are thinking of all their family and friends and all those affected,” she added.

“Hearing the news of a peacekeeper killed is really awful. I was to express my own deepest condolences to the family.”