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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Nov 2006

Vol. 627 No. 5

Priority Questions.

Military Intelligence.

Billy Timmins


1 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Defence the amount of funding provided for military intelligence surveillance for the years 2001 to 2005 and to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38348/06]

There is no specific allocation of funds for military intelligence. The cost involved is partly met from funds provided from the Secret Service Vote, which is accounted for by the Minister for Finance, and partly from the relevant subheads of the Defence Vote, including pay from subhead B and allowances from subhead C.

The total expended on military intelligence is not separately compiled and I do not consider that it would be appropriate to disclose such information.

I thank the Acting Chairman and apologise for my late entry to the Chamber.

I thank the Minister for his reply and appreciate the fact that his response is shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. Notwithstanding that, very little additional money has ever been put in place for military intelligence. This should be done, particularly in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks. While I realise the Garda Síochána has responsibility for gathering intelligence in the first instance, does the Minister agree the sum of €800,000 that goes to the Secret Service under the remit of the Minister for Finance — to which he referred — is a small amount of money? The global terrorist threat knows no geographic boundaries.

Will the Minister consider the idea of expanding the role of military intelligence? Perhaps he could enter discussions with the military establishment to examine how it could assist or work in co-operation with the Garda to enhance our intelligence-gathering role.

In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks, the Government reviewed security arrangements, particularly in respect of military intelligence. Consequently, in the past three or four years, provision for military intelligence has been substantially increased. The numbers of Army staff engaged in such work has increased substantially in the past three or four years.

The sum of €800,000 to which Deputy Timmins refers is misleading as it only constitutes an extremely small element of the total expenditure on military intelligence. As for the Deputy's question on whether I would consider asking those involved in military intelligence to co-operate with the Garda, the latter force has primary responsibility for security in the State. However, military intelligence personnel work well with the Garda.

The Director of Military Intelligence reports to me as Minister at least once a month. He also reports to the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff on the support side of the Army. In turn, the Chief of Staff reports to the National Security Committee, of which he is a member. The role of military intelligence has expanded, particularly in respect of any potential threat from the Middle East or from Islamic terrorists. For reasons Members will understand, I cannot go into too much detail in this respect. However, I assure them that resources devoted to military intelligence have increased substantially and the figure of €800,000 is misleading in terms of the total expenditure on military intelligence.

I thank the Minister for his response. I have a final supplementary question. The Minister is the chairperson of the task force on national emergency planning. While one might disagree on its implementation, does he agree it would be beneficial to include an intelligence section within its remit, comprising the Garda, the Army, Customs and Excise, the Revenue Commissioners and possibly a communications element?

I realise that no matter how much money one devotes to protecting the State from terrorist attack — one could spend billions — it may not be successful. However, the assignment of sufficient resources to prevention and surveillance can greatly assist in thwarting attacks. If one lacks inter-agency operability, people may get through the net. However, if such groups were brought together, one's intelligence remit would be strengthened. Will the Minister consider the development of such a concept?

I will take on board any constructive suggestions. It is impossible, as countries such as Israel and the United states will testify, to have a system that provides absolute protection against the possibility of a terrorist attack. Nevertheless, the emergency planning committee includes the Garda and the Army, as well as the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Defence. It receives regular threat assessments when it meets. Deputy Timmins has suggested the Revenue Commissioners, Customs and Excise and a number of similar bodies should be brought onto the emergency planning task force. I will look into this aspect. While there is probably some reason they are not already there, I will consider the suggestion.

Overseas Missions.

Joe Costello


2 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Defence if he will arrange for the force of 56 soldiers who are currently deployed with EUFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina to search for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38351/06]

It is extremely difficult for any family when a member of the family goes missing far from home. I can only empathise with the terrible situation in which the family find themselves. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, has the lead role in respect of this issue. I understand from him that extensive efforts have been made by the consular service of the Department of Foreign Affairs to assist and support the family at this difficult time. The consular service has also maintained ongoing contact with the local police force, rescue services, politicians and senior officials in the region in which the town of Medjugorje is situated. Diplomatic officers and the ambassador have travelled from the Irish Embassy in Slovenia, which is also accredited to Bosnia-Herzegovina, to the region to review the search arrangements.

Since the person's disappearance, there have been six large scale searches, some of which involved the use of a helicopter. In addition to such large scale searches, there have been other, more localised, searches. The search continues and an officer from the Irish Embassy will again shortly visit Medjugorje to review the situation.

As Deputy Costello will appreciate, primary responsibility for conducting the search lies with the civil authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is not open to me simply to redeploy Irish Defence Forces personnel on a search mission within the borders of another sovereign state. The operational status of the Defence Forces personnel currently deployed in Operation Althea, the EU-led operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is determined by their mission and the mandate given to the mission by the United Nations. They cannot all simply be directed to leave their posts to undertake a search operation. From both a legal and an operational perspective, this would be untenable.

That said, to date the search has been supported and assisted, as far as is practicable, by the Defence Forces personnel based in the country. During the initial search, the head of the EU monitoring mission released an Irish staff officer in Mostar to act as liaison. In addition, following a request from the EU police mission, EUFOR provided a helicopter that conducted a number of search flights in September and October. Defence Forces personnel have also provided assistance where possible through their local knowledge and contacts. I expect that the Defence Forces, within the requirements of their mission, will continue to assist in whatever way they can.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I believe the Irish authorities in both the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Defence Forces have done a good job.

However, a number of questions must be resolved. First, a 59 year old lady, who had been to Medjugorje previously, went missing between 4 and 6 September. The vagueness as to when she went missing suggests that no immediate reporting of the event took place. Second, the police in Medjugorje did not interview any of the other pilgrims who had accompanied her to ascertain who might have last seen her, what were the circumstances and so on. There has been such severe criticism of the local authorities in Medjugorje regarding the failure to conduct an investigation that the family believe something of a cover-up took place and that the authorities there do not want any public dissemination of news that a person may have gone missing. It transpires that seven or eight other people have also vanished into thin air. This raises the question as to whether something more sinister may be afoot.

The direct family members are greatly dissatisfied regarding the conduct of the local authorities. Consequently, because of the lack of urgency and the absence of a comprehensive approach, on behalf of the family, I ask the Minister of Defence to make available some or all of the 56 soldiers serving in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In addition to the 56 soldiers serving in Bosnia, over 100 troops are stationed in Kosovo so there are many troops in the region. It should not be difficult to put together a substantial force to carry out a thorough search of the area. It is now ten weeks since the lady in question went missing and her family feels it would be wonderful if the Irish authorities based in the vicinity could do something directly. Will the Minister consider making Irish troops or a portion of them available for an intensive search?

I note Deputy Costello's comments about the initial investigation and I do not wish to comment one way or another on it. According to information received by me, there have been six large scale searches and a number of more localised searches. The information received by us indicates that there has been no deficiency in the follow-up searches and that the local authorities are doing everything they can.

While I share Deputy Costello's sentiments, the question remains as to whether we can unilaterally deploy Irish troops in this search. I recall a case in the past few months in my own constituency where a young man went missing. He was missing for some time, people feared the worst and the gardaí failed to find him, despite their best efforts. His mother came to me in a state of considerable anguish and asked me to bring in the Army. When I spoke to the local officer commanding in Sarsfield Barracks, he told me that while representations had been made to him because some of the young man's relatives were in the Army, he could do nothing because he had received no request for help from the local police. Even in this country, the Army cannot intervene in such circumstances without being requested to do so by the civil authorities.

We are talking about a foreign country — Bosnia-Herzegovina. At least in the initial stages, the task of searching for this woman is exclusively a matter for the local civil authorities. If they were to make any request to me to deploy some of the Irish troops on their soil or in nearby Kosovo, I would look at it sympathetically. However, in the absence of such a request, I am not entitled unilaterally to deploy Irish troops.

We must now proceed to Question No. 3. We have spent seven minutes on Question No. 2 and it is in everyone's interest that we move on.

I accept that no request has been made but could the Minister not offer his services to the local authorities if they have a shortage of facilities?

We are continually in touch with the local authorities and if they want my help, they can ask for it.

Will the Minister meet with the woman's family?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs has offered to meet the family if it so wishes.

Retirement of Army Officer.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


3 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence his views on whether the demand for an investigation and review of a matter by a person (details supplied) remains legitimate; and if he will take steps to ensure that an inquiry this time involving fair procedures is established. [38306/06]

The individual concerned was retired by the President, on the advice of the Government, with effect from a date in June 1969. The retirement was effected pursuant to section 47(2) of the Defence Act 1954 and paragraph 18(1)(f) of Defence Force Regulations A.15, which provide that an officer may be retired “in the interests of the service”. The House will appreciate that a decision to retire an officer “in the interests of the service” is only taken for the most compelling reasons. The Government advice to the President in 1969 was on grounds of security. I am satisfied that the matter was handled in an entirely appropriate and proper manner in 1969 and that the decision was taken only after very detailed and due consideration.

The individual initiated proceedings in the High Court in November 1998 in respect of the circumstances of his retirement some 29 years earlier. The High Court found in favour of the State in June 1999 on grounds of inordinate delay in the bringing of the proceedings. The individual appealed to the Supreme Court in September 1999. The Supreme Court refused the appeal in January 2001.

In early July 2002, arising from a newspaper feature article on the case published on 29 June 2002, the then Minister for Defence requested the Judge Advocate General to examine and review the case. The Judge Advocate General, a civilian barrister, carried out a detailed examination and review of all the historical documentation relating to the decision to retire the individual concerned by reference to the entirety of both the Department of Defence and the military files in the matter. Her report was submitted to the then Minister in mid-September 2002 and was published in October 2002.

In December 2002, the individual applied to the High Court for an order quashing this report by the Judge Advocate General. The High Court found in favour of the applicant for reasons enumerated in the text of the High Court judgment on his application. The High Court judgment of 27 July 2005 related only to the report completed by the civilian Judge Advocate General in September 2002. The presiding judge, Mr. Justice Quirke, held that the report should be quashed because fair procedures had not been applied in the compilation and production of that report and in the timing of the release by the Department of Defence of certain documents to the applicant.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Mr. Justice Quirke concluded his judgment by stating that "the decision made in 1969 to recommend the Applicant's retirement from the Defence Forces remains unaffected by any order made in these proceedings".

It should be emphasised, therefore, that the High Court judgment in the matter of the report of the Judge Advocate General specifically related to the actual procedures utilised by the Judge Advocate General in the course of her review and examination of this matter in 2002 and to the release by the Department of Defence of certain documents to the individual only after completion of the report. The individual concerned specifically did not seek an order for mandamus from the High Court and, therefore, did not request the High Court to remit the matter, to direct a resumption of the Judge Advocate General’s original inquiry or to direct that a new inquiry be held by the Judge Advocate General or by any other person.

The substantive issue, namely, the Government decision in 1969 to recommend the retirement of this individual from the Defence Forces by the President, remains unaffected by the judgment of the High Court, a point specifically emphasised within the text of the judgment itself. A book on this case was published in May 2006 which did not add anything material to our previous body of knowledge in the matter. In the circumstances, I do not propose to take any further action in respect of this matter.

This is a long-standing case which has spanned 37 years. The person in question, Donal de Róiste, has maintained and sought to prove his innocence to such an extent that the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Smith, acknowledged that there were questions to be answered by requesting the Judge Advocate General to investigate the matter. Does the Minister accept that the High Court ruling in 2005 preventing the publication of the Judge Advocate General's report leaves the way open for him to ask for another such inquiry rather than force Donal de Róiste to go through the courts? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform continually informs us that the courts are clogged up. If alternative methods and avenues exist by which the truth in this instance can be gleaned, they should be pursued. An independent inquiry would be one of these mechanisms.

The High Court ruling basically concluded that the Judge Advocate General's inquiry denied Mr. de Róiste fair procedures. Some of it stems from the fact that some of the witnesses are those who are able to contribute a defence or, at least, give some of the facts relating to the case, such as the retired Army commandant, Patrick Walsh, and the fact that the High Court judge might have been concerned about the fact that the Judge Advocate General refused to meet this man who would have been able to put some more bones on this story. Will the Minister establish an inquiry, possibly under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, which would grant Mr. de Róiste fair procedures for the first time?

I do not accept that the High Court decision of 2005 opens the door to another inquiry or in any way indicates that an injustice has been done to Mr. de Róiste. We must remember that two decisions were made, one by the High Court and the other by the Supreme Court, which all witnesses were entitled to attend and where Mr. de Róiste was entitled to present his full case. On the substantive facts of the case, the High Court found and the Supreme Court subsequently agreed that too much time had elapsed and that, therefore, Mr. de Róiste was not in a position to prove his case. This is the reality of the matter.

In 2005, Mr. Justice Quirke decided that the procedure established under the Judge Advocate General was incorrectly conducted. From reading the judgment in full, it appears that if one was to hold an inquiry, one would need a different procedure. One would need to use the procedure suggested by Deputy Ó Snodaigh, namely, a sworn public inquiry where witnesses would be called. It appears that the difficulty with this is that, on one side, one would have Mr. de Róiste, but practically all the witnesses on the other side are dead. I believe one or two are still alive but they are too incapacitated to attend. Therefore, one would have an oral presentation on one side against the silent testimony of the archival documents on the other. This form of inquiry is not very fair.

In the 2005 case, Mr. de Róiste did not seek an order of mandamus, any follow-up order or the recommencement of the Judge Advocate General’s inquiry so this is where the matter stands. We cannot have a proper inquiry based on physical evidence on the one side and documents or archives on the other. It seems that if we have to come within the terms of what the High Court wanted in 2005, that is all we could have.

I wish to ask a brief supplementary.

The time allocated for this question has expired. We spent seven minutes on this question and we must move on to Question No. 4.

Will the Chair allow me some leeway?

Six minutes is provided for each question.

The Deputies who spoke before me were all allowed some leeway.

No, Deputy, I called Deputy Costello to order and I was not here before that. If the Deputies want to spend 45 minutes on three questions——

I do not mind spending 45 minutes on them.

I call Question No. 4.

Defence Forces Strength.

Billy Timmins


4 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Defence the position in relation to the commitment given in the White Paper on Defence to have a Defence Forces strength of 10,500 plus 250 in training; if this commitment has been honoured; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38350/06]

The White Paper on Defence was published in February 2000. It provided for a strength of 10,500 for the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, comprised of 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army. At the time of publication the strength of the Permanent Defence Force stood at approximately 11,500. This was reduced to 10,500 by the end of 2001. The White Paper also provided that the Chief of Staff could maintain an additional 250 personnel in training at any one time. That provision was withdrawn in June 2003 as part of the Government decision on managing public service numbers. The strength of the Permanent Defence Force on 30 September 2006, the latest date for which detailed figures are available, as advised by the military authorities, was 10,383.

It is my intention to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. Recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force will continue to maintain the strength at the level set out in the White Paper as required to meet military needs. The strength of the Defence Forces as at 31 December in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005, respectively, was 10,498, 10,551 and 10,446. There are no plans to review the established strength of 10,500 as set out in the White Paper.

I note from the Estimates for the Department of Defence that the total Defence budget is similar to the increase in health expenditure. It is a small budget. The commitments placed on the Defence Forces have increased since the publication of the White Paper. A solemn commitment was given by the former Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, of a strength of 10,500 plus 250 personnel in training. However, that was withdrawn by him shortly afterwards, not long after the 2002 general election.

Will the Minister restore the strength to include that figure of 250 personnel in the context of permitting an overall strength of 10,750? It was mercurial the way the Defence Forces were told they were allowed have a strength of 10,500 and maintain 250 personnel in training and then that commitment was withdrawn. Those figures were not constant because once personnel were trained they moved into the category of the 10,500 personnel. However, it transpired that the strength of 10,500 personnel fell slightly and personnel were brought in to be trained, but the strength of the Defence Forces never reached 10,500 personnel and the maintenance of 250 personnel in training. I stand to be corrected on that — perhaps it was reached for a short duration. Will the Minister preferably increase the strength to 10,750 personnel inclusive or revert to a strength of 10,500 personnel and the maintenance of 250 personnel in training?

In regard to today's Estimates, I am delighted that for the first time in the history of the State the defence budget has exceeded €1 million. It has always been a small budget compared to the budgets for the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science, Health and Children etc.

On the matter of the exact terms of that 2001 commitment, my understanding is that the commitment was to maintain an Army, a Permanent Defence Force of 10,500. The Chief of Staff was permitted to maintain an extra 250 personnel in training, but the overall strength of the Permanent Defence Force would not exceed 10,500. Therefore, the commitment was not as binding as the Deputy suggests. That commitment was adhered to. The Government at its discretion — it retained the discretion under the original decision — told the Chief of Staff that it could no longer permit him to maintain the extra 250 personnel in training because the Department of Defence wanted to play its part in controlling public service numbers.

I assure Deputy Timmins that at the time of publication of the White Paper the overall strength of the Army and what we would need was assessed — that continues to be assessed — in the context of providing the required number of personnel to improve equipment, training, facilities etc., and the conclusion was that 10,500 would be required.

Our troops are doing a magnificent job abroad, as everybody is aware. We have committed up to 830 troops abroad, which is a big commitment given the size of our country and Army. My information is that the Army is sufficiently large for present day requirements.

The Minister mentioned that when the White Paper was published the strength of the Permanent Defence Force was 11,500 but that due to the cutbacks in the public service, the strength of the Defence Forces was reduced to 10,500 and the provision for the 250 personnel in training was no longer maintained. Were there any cutbacks in the number of civilians in the Department of Defence in that period, given that there was a 10% reduction in the strength of the Army?

The civilian section of the Department of Defence is small in terms of numbers compared to the Army. In 2001 we reduced the strength from 11,500 to 10,500 but as a quid pro quo we invested a great deal of money in equipment, training, facilities etc. We now have a professionally organised and successful Army which is admired all over the world.

Were the civilian figures reduced accordingly during that period?

I will request the figures for the Deputy.

Overseas Missions.

Joe Costello


5 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Defence if he will publish the report on the investigation he has commissioned into the Niemba ambush in the Congo; if he will give due recognition to the two survivors of the ambush; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38195/06]

As the Deputy is aware, I undertook during Priority Questions on Thursday, 23 February 2006 to ask the military authorities to revisit this matter in light of the questions raised on that date. The Chief of Staff appointed Colonel Tom Behan to examine all aspects of the Niemba ambush. Due to the breadth of this investigation, this process has taken some time. I have now had a chance to review this report. I congratulate Colonel Behan for the time and effort he has expended in researching this sensitive and harrowing episode in Irish military history.

The ambush occurred almost 46 years ago. It was the first such action involving the horrific deaths of Defence Forces personnel on a scale which still remains unique. It has never been very far from public consciousness. However, the actual horror of the event has faded from the national psyche at this remove. This report will bring the issue back into sharp focus for anybody who will read it. I publicly acknowledge the sacrifice made by all the members of the patrol at that time. I again extend my deepest sympathy to the families of all those who died. I take this opportunity to underline the courage, fortitude and tenacity displayed by Privates Kenny and Fitzpatrick in order to survive.

Hear, hear.

I will now concentrate on the conclusions of the report. On 8 November 1960, an 11-man patrol, commanded by Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson was attacked by a large number of Baluba tribesmen while on patrol from their base at Niemba and were quickly overwhelmed. There are two principal areas of controversy in regard to the record of this ambush, both of which concern Trooper Browne and Private Kenny. The first question is where exactly did Trooper Browne die and the second is what did Trooper Browne do to contribute to the survival of Private Kenny.

In regard to where Trooper Browne died, from the extensive research and interviews carried out by Colonel Behan, his final conclusion is that Trooper Browne fired his weapon to distract the Baluba attackers from their task of beating Private Kenny to death. He further concludes, on the balance of probabilities, that Trooper Browne managed to then escape his pursuers, wounded or otherwise, making his way to the village of Tundula only to be killed by hostile Balubas two days later. Therefore, the previous supposition that he died at the ambush site and that Baluba tribesmen carried away his remains cannot be substantiated. Likewise, the conclusion outlined above that he died at Tundula cannot be definitively substantiated.

The remainder of the reply will be included in the Official Report.

On a point of order, while this is not my priority question, it is important, if it is agreeable to the House, to allow the Minister to read the full reply into the record.

A full transcript will be recorded on Question Time, even though the Minister has only two minutes to reply.

This is my question and we should allow the Minister the time to read the full reply as it is such an important issue of concern to many Members.

The second area of controversy in regard to the record of the Niemba ambush is what did Trooper Browne do to contribute to the survival of Private Kenny. The report clearly concludes that prior to his escape from the ambush site, Trooper Browne fired his weapon at the Balubas who were intent on beating Private Kenny to death, thereby distracting them and saving his life. The Medal Board that was convened in 1961 awarded Trooper Browne the military medal for gallantry.

Despite all the research, consultation and interviews, there is no absolute certainty achievable in regard to these two matters of controversy. I wish, however, to address some of the ambiguity that may have resulted from the two scenarios recorded in the unit history. In the absence of the wide and detailed research available to me now, the best advice previously available to me was that Trooper Browne most likely died at the scene of the ambush and the Baluba tribesmen carried his remains away. This must now be discounted.

I wholeheartedly recognise and acknowledge that Private Kenny, particularly in view of the serious wounds and injuries he sustained, and Private Fitzpatrick survived a horrific encounter with hostile forces, displaying courage, fortitude and tenacity in order to survive until finally rescued. I commend them both for the selfless service they gave to their country and hope that this report will bring some peace of mind to them both.

While the award of a medal was not recommended, I am examining proposals as to how best these two men's contribution can be suitably recognised and honoured. In addition, I intend to invite both at the earliest opportunity to attend a suitable Defence Forces event at which I will acknowledge their contribution publicly. I also have made arrangements today for copies of the official report on the Niemba ambush to be placed in the Oireachtas Library.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply and for commissioning the report, the contents of which he indicated. I also compliment Colonel Behan for an extremely clear and succinct report. In the Gallery is Dr. David O'Donoghue, who recently brought much of this to the attention of people in his book, The Irish Army in the Congo 1960-1964: The Far Battalions.

Most of all, I acknowledge the two survivors of the Niemba ambush, Mr. Joe Fitzpatrick and Mr. Tom Kenny, who tenaciously campaigned for 46 years to recover their reputations, which they believe were severely maligned, clear their good names and right the record once and for all. A number of years ago, I had the privilege of launching the book written by Joe Fitzpatrick, My Time in the Congo. Mr. Fitzpatrick is also in the Gallery.

Considering this has taken 46 years, and given the trauma and suffering those men and their families experienced due to the loss of their good names, will the Minister explain why we do not have a solution to this matter? Why was the record not cleared before it reached this stage?

Mr. Kenny seeks an apology from the Army and the Department of Defence. Is the Minister prepared to make that apology? Mr. Fitzpatrick seeks a medal. Is the Minister prepared to award that medal? The Minister indicated he is prepared to publish the report, which is worthwhile. The two survivors are at odds with each other on what type of recognition they feel is proper. Will the Minister provide clarity on how he intends to give due recognition and indicate what he will do?

I will quote from the recommendations which are solid and clear:

Thomas Kenny and Joe Fitzpatrick should have their reputations copperfastened by official recognition and acknowledgement that they survived an horrific encounter with hostile forces, displaying fortitude and tenacity in order to survive until finally rescued.

It is not appropriate to quote during Question Time. We already spent eight minutes on this question and I wish to give the Minister an opportunity to respond.

Will the Minister be specific on what type of recognition he is prepared to give?

I will deal with why this matter has taken until now. This issue was one of the first raised with me after I became Minister of Defence. I commissioned a report to properly research the matter. The question was initially asked by Deputies Gregory and Finian McGrath and I was delighted to respond to their concerns.

I thank the Minister.

Now that we have fuller information, I am required to officially correct the record and I have no difficulty with doing so. I also have no difficulty with making an apology to the two men if the original record at my Department got the facts wrong. I apologise for any trauma or grief caused by the fact that the record was incorrect.

It is not within my power to grant a medal. That is a matter for the Army, which decides on who is awarded medals. In this case it recommended not to do so, which is no reflection on either of the gentlemen in question. Detailed considerations are involved. After two military boards, the Army has not recommended medals. I cannot tell the Army when to award a medal.

The report has just come into the public domain and the type of recognition to be given is still under discussion. I hope we will find a way to adequately recognise the courage and fortitude of these two men.