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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Nov 1961

Vol. 192 No. 3

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Equipment for Congo Troops.


andMr. McQuillan asked the Minister for Defence whether he is aware (1) that the khaki uniform which commissioned officers are required to purchase at their own expense before being dispatched for service to the Congo is entirely unsuited for the climate in that country; (2) that the serving personnel have not been provided with a walking-out dress with which their counterparts from other countries have been provided; (3) that contingents experience great distress and discomfort by arriving in the Congo and serving for a time in their ordinary “bulls wool” uniform, and that this could easily be averted by the issue prior to their dispatch of the light UN battle dress; (4) that the provision of rubber boots, good tentage and mosquito nets is essential, particularly during the rainy season; and (5) that the provision of steel helmets instead of the fibre ones currently issued is a vital necessity; and whether he will have these matters immediately investigated, and ensure that any replacement of kit, etc., found necessary will not be at the expense of the individual officer or personnel concerned.

The position in regard to the matters mentioned in the Deputies' question is as follows:

(1) Officers are not required to purchase tropical uniform before going to the Congo. The provision of tropical uniform is a responsibility of the United Nations.

(2) Heretofore the United Nations had not agreed to provide a walking-out uniform in addition to the service tropical uniform. The United Nations has now agreed to meet the cost of providing a walking-out tropical uniform as an extra and extraordinary cost if the uniform is supplied to our troops before leaving this country. Arrangements are in hand to provide the 36th Battalion with a walking-out tropical uniform before the unit leaves Ireland.

(3) Personnel have suffered some discomfort as a result of not being equipped with tropical uniform before leaving for the Congo. It has been our constant aim to make the best arrangements possible for the comfort and welfare of the troops, and to this end, in addition to the provision of a walking-out tropical uniform, arrangements have been made with the United Nations to have tropical service uniform delivered here before the departure of the 36th Battalion.

(4) I am advised that rubber boots are not suitable for wear in the Congo.

(5) The provision of tentage in the Congo is a matter for the United Nations but as our troops are normally housed in permanent buildings tentage is used very infrequently.

(6) There has not been any request from our units for mosquito netting which is provided by the United Nations where necessary.

(7) The mission of Irish troops in the Congo is that of police duty, consequently steel helmets were not issued. As a result of recent events in the Congo, steel helmets are being issued to the 36th Battalion for protection.

(8) Personnel serving in the Congo are not required to pay for the replacement of kit supplied either by the State or the United Nations.

I am very glad to see that the Minister has taken steps to meet practically all the points I have mentioned in the question. Regarding No. (2), that serving personnel have not been provided with walking-out uniforms, the Minister states that it was the responsibility of the United Nations and was not the responsibility of our Government. Might I ask why was it that the Swedes and other contingents were provided with this equipment and our troops were the only troops in the United Nations services in the Congo left without it?

I am not prepared to accept the Deputy's statement on that——

Is the Minister challenging my statement?

——until I get some information on it. I have no information on the point raised by the Deputy.


asked the Minister for Defence whether the troops sent to the Congo were equipped for offensive action or only for police purposes; and if the former was the case if he will specify the fire power available to the troops at Jadotville, and in particular the duration of fire that could be maintained with the ammunition available to the troops in that town.

The Irish contingent serving as part of the International United Nations Force in the Congo is engaged on duties of a police character. The second part of the question does not therefore arise. I may say, however, that the contingent's armament is generally on the basis desired by the United Nations. Since our troops first went to the Congo their armament has been strengthened from time to time, in the light of experience, in order to afford them greater protection in the changing conditions and nature of risks encountered. I am advised that the armament available to our troops in the Congo compares favourably in scale, quantity and quality with that of most other countries' contingents.

Can the Minister say why, if they were sent for police service, they are being used for warlike purposes without being properly equipped?

I think the Deputy knows that the troops are under the control of the United Nations and that the request for them was made specifically for police purposes. If the circumstances of the duty out there have changed I do not think that the arrangements made here for their dispatch could in any way be blamed if they are found to be insufficient.

Surely the Minister accepts that he has responsibility to the Irish troops to see that they are properly equipped for the task that they are asked to undertake?

All I can say is that the equipment is usually decided on by the United Nations and what they ask for is supplied.

Does the Minister consider it was reasonable to send this contingent to Jadotville with mortars as their heaviest fire power and only sufficient ammunition to keep the mortars firing for 50 minutes and which they had to eke out for five days?

That is not true.

It is true. Is the Minister not aware that they only had 150 rounds per mortar?


Three rounds a minute.

The next question was called.

May I answer the Supplementary Question?

Sufficient ammunition was sent to the Congo to allow a subunit, such as that sent to Jadotville, to fire for 19 days in the case of small arms, 18 days in the case of mortars and 7 days in the case of anti-tank weapons.

That is not the question I am asking the Minister. Is the Minister not aware that the contingent was sent to Jadotville with only sufficient mortar ammunition to last for 50 minutes?

Sent by whom?

May we take it from the Minister's reply that he agrees that Irish troops have been used for a different purpose in the Congo than this House envisaged?

That is a separate question.

The Minister has answered that it is the responsibility of the United Nations to utilise our troops in whatever way they decide. Is it not a fact that this House allowed our contingents to go only on the undertaking of the Taoiseach that they would be used for no other purpose than police action?

That is a separate question. The question relates to equipment.

This arises out of Deputy Sweetman's question.

They were given only sufficient ammunition for 50 minutes at Jadotville.

I have made four attempts to get up and speak.

I want to know if the Minister is aware of a statement which appeared recently in an Irish newspaper that the United Nations refused to accept Irish armoured cars and that they decided to take Swedish cars instead because they were more modern and up to standard?

That is like a whole lot of other statements. It is very easy to make statements.