The Minister for Defence, Willie O'Dea, has paid tribute to the outgoing Chief of Staff, Lt. General Jim Sreenan, for his service to the State.

Mr O'Dea said his time as Chief of Staff will long be remembered as a time of positive change and modernisation.

His leadership was vital in seeing through these positive changes and they stand in testament to his loyalty and dedication to the Defence Forces.

He said Lt Gen Sreenan can look back on a career of service and commitment, both at home and abroad - culminating in his appointment as the Deputy Force Commander of UNIFIL overseeing the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 1999 - 2000.

The Minister said Lt Gen Sreenan's work will be ably carried on by the incoming Chief of Staff Major, General Dermot Earley.

Major Gen Earley will continue the ongoing work of providing our troops with the best training, the best equipment and the best facilities, Mr O'Dea said.

The minister said the 59-year-old is very highly regarded across all ranks, with a reputation for being both accessible and approachable.

Mr O'Dea said Major Gen Earley also has an impressive track record of service overseas, particularly during his time in the United Nations from 1987 to 1991 when he served as the Deputy Military Advisor to the UN Secretary General.

Major Gen Earley, who is a former Roscommon GAA All Star, is said to be one of the greatest footballers never to win an All-Ireland medal.

He played football for Roscommon for 20 years up to 1985. As well as winning two All Stars, he is also the holder of five Connacht senior medals, two Railway Cup medals and numerous other awards.

Dermot Earley is also a former manager of Roscommon and Kildare senior county teams. His son Dermot also won an All Star with Kildare.

The new chief of staff was commissioned as an officer in 1967 and specialised in physical education. He also completed the first ranger course in the defence forces.

He became Deputy Chief of Staff three years ago. Brigadier General Pat O'Sullivan of the Training Centre at The Curragh has been appointed to replace him.

Major Gen Earley and his wife Mary live in Newbridge and have six grown-up children. His biography, The Earley Years, was published in 1992.

He takes over the top post in the summer.