After weeks of uncertainty, soldiers and their families have welcomed the news that Irish peacekeeping troops currently in Lebanon will return home towards the end of June.

Plans for their return this month were delayed when, on 5 April, the United Nations Secretary General directed that all rotations be suspended until 30 June, to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

More than 300 members of the Irish Defence Forces are serving in the 115th Irish Battalion in Lebanon. 

Today it was confirmed that they will return home in two groups, the first leaving on the 21 June and the second on 29 June. 

"There was a great level of excitement around the camp today, the news broke very early here so I'm sure there were family members at home waking up to texts and phone calls from their loved ones," Lieutenant Paul Murphy told RTÉ News speaking from the UNIFIL base in Lebanon.

"It was quite understandably a stressful time for families back home with the uncertainty, so it's brilliant to have definite dates when we're returning home," he said.

"You know there are a lot of children at the moment missing Mammy or Daddy, none probably more so than those of Sgt Darren O'Riordan who is going home to meet his daughter Lily-Mae for the first time."

The Gallagher family in Donegal is another family glad to have some more certainty.

Corporal John Gallagher is among those who due to travel to Lebanon to replace the Battalion currently serving there.

"We heard back at the start of April that things were going to be put on hold but we just didn't know how long we were going to have to wait... it’s a long enough wait when you have four kids asking when's Daddy going away," his wife Frances-Anne Gallagher told RTÉ News.

"So finally now we have a date so we can work towards that, we can prepare the children for him going away," Ms Gallagher added.

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Nevertheless Ms Gallagher, who is also a member of Wives and Partners of the Defence Forces (WPDF) said there were still a number of issues that remained unclear.

"Going overseas brings in a wee bit extra for families to go towards mortgages, etcetera... We don't know if there will be any compensation for the money that they have lost out on," Ms Gallagher said.

Members of the Defence Forces going to Lebanon and those arriving home will have to take precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Those travelling back to Ireland will be required to spend 14 days in self-isolation and this can be done in their homes or in a barracks.

While those leaving for Lebanon will have to complete a 14-day quarantine period in the Coolmoney Camp in Co Wicklow or the Gormanston Camp in Co Meath.

The Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, acknowledged that it has been an anxious few weeks for members of the Defence Forces and their families, and said he was "delighted" there was now some clarity on the matter.

The Minister said Ireland had secured an exemption to the UN directive to suspend rotations until 30 June.

"This could have been an awful lot worse in that we could have had our personnel left in UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon) until well into July and into August," Mr Kehoe told RTÉ News.

He also clarified that some members of the 115th Battalion had already been facilitated in coming home on "compassionate grounds".

Former Irish Army officer and Independent TD for Kildare South, Cathal Berry, has said that the delay experienced by troops in getting back home, was less about an UN directive and more about Ireland's technical inability to bring its troops home itself.

"Uniquely in the European Union, Ireland has no military air transport of its own, so we really have to rely on third parties to get our people home," Mr Berry said.

However Minister Keogh had said this was not a matter of securing flights: "I don't believe the flights were an issue... we were able to charter a flight when we needed it."

But the Minister acknowledged that unlike other countries, Ireland did not have its own air transport capable of moving hundreds of troops.

"We are in a very different situation to what the UK is in or the Americans or the Germans or the French or the Italians, we only have around 500 troops on overseas missions at any one time," Mr Keogh said.

Ireland's peacekeeping deployment to Lebanon is its largest. 

Rotations of personnel on UN missions in Mali, Syria, Kosovo have already been carried out.

However there remains uncertainty around two Irish peacekeepers currently serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Many countries have withdrawn their peacekeepers from Goma in the east of the country, where the two officers are based, amid a deteriorating security situation there.

Minister Paul Kehoe said this case was a priority for him and that both the Department of Defence and the Defences Forces were working on it.

"Hopefully I will be able to bring clarity to this in the coming days," the Minister said.