Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee Report

The electoral boundary committee was established by the Minister of State on 13 December 2017. It was provided with its terms of reference, which were set out. Its report on 13 June 2013 set out the boundaries in a clear and independent manner. A boundary committee is an independent body charged with setting out the boundaries for elections. For clarity, section 28 of the Local Government Act 1991 provides that "A boundary committee shall be independent in the performance of its functions." Under section 32(2), the Act states: "The committee shall if so requested prepare and furnish to the Minister a report in writing which shall include its recommendations". This was done. The Act goes on to say "the Minister shall publish the report and shall have regard to it". The word "regard" is not meaningless.

The committee very helpfully pointed out by way of additional background that the last such local electoral area boundary committee was established in November 2012. It reported on 29 May 2013, 12 months in advance of the 2014 local elections. The recommendations of the report of that committee were accepted in full by the then Minister and statutory instruments giving them effect were made.

On 11 January the Minister of State signed a statutory instrument in which he deliberately changed the boundaries recommended by the independent boundary committee for County Wexford in respect of the upcoming local elections. This has created farcical situations in County Wexford. For example, people from Oilgate, some of whom live only 4 km from Wexford town, will now have to drive 40 miles north, through Enniscorthy, to attend civic offices in Gorey for help. People who only live 1.5 miles south of Enniscorthy town, who vote in the town, and who consider themselves to live in its suburbs are now being told that they are Gorey people. They now have to go to Gorey rather than to the town where they do their shopping, where their families live, where their kids go to school and where they have spent their entire lives.

Why did the Minister of State make these changes? Why did he take the electoral area of Kilmuckridge, which an independent boundary committee recommended be an electoral area of Enniscorthy municipal district, and attach it to Gorey? The committee was made up of experts and it spent time considering this. I have no doubt that the committee wanted Gorey to have ten councillors, but it certainly would not have done it in this way. The committee took the areas of Ferns and Kilbora out of the Gorey municipal district and put them into that of Enniscorthy. These areas are halfway along the road between Enniscorthy and Gorey towns. I have no doubt that if the committee wanted Gorey to have ten councillors, it would have left Ferns in Gorey. It certainly would not have done it this way.

I cannot express the level of disbelief and anger felt by people, especially people in the south of Kilmuckridge municipal district. Glenbrien is pretty much a suburb of Enniscorthy. The people of Glenbrien were bemused when I was out there two weeks ago trying to explain to them that they are now Gorey people. The people in Oilgate are just laughing at the idea that they are part of a town they have no connections to. There might have been some rationale for Oilgate to be put into Wexford town, because parts of it are closer to Wexford town, but most people in Oilgate do their business in Enniscorthy. Putting Oilgate into Gorey, however, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

I want a clear explanation as to why the Minister of State did this, because it was a personal request of his rather than a recommendation of the Department. I am curious as to why he sought this change.

First, it was not a personal request. The report conducted by one of the committees in respect of municipal districts recommended changes to nine or ten areas that were in conflict with stated Government policy.

Changes to local electoral area boundaries may only be carried out following the completion of a review by an independent boundary committee. As Deputy Browne pointed out, these committees are established under section 28 of the Local Government Act 1991. The Act states that the Minister must have regard to the report of a boundary committee before deciding on whether to make an order amending local electoral areas. The key phrase there is "local electoral areas". In this case I set out the terms of reference for the boundary committee myself. Section 28 deals exclusively with local electoral areas. In this instance the reports of both committees in respect of local electoral areas were adopted in full. I established two independent groups, committee No. 1 and committee No. 2, in December 2017 to review and make recommendations on local electoral areas having regard to, among other things, the results of the census of 2016 as well as the commitment to consider reducing the size of territorially large local electoral areas and to ensure adequate levels of representation for towns and urban centres.

Concerns had been raised by a number of local authority members across different areas and by the Association of Irish Local Government about the territorial size and configuration of some of the local electoral areas specified following the last boundary review. The demands on councillors in territorially large areas are greater than those on councillors in more compact areas, even when member to population ratios are broadly similar. This can arise due to distance, travel time and the difficulty in keeping abreast of local issues. A further concern which had been raised was the perceived loss of focus on some of the large urban centres by virtue of their inclusion in territorially large local electoral areas.

A further concern raised is the perceived loss of focus on some large urban centres by virtue of their inclusion in territorially large local electoral areas. The report on local government, Municipal Governance - Districts, Towns and Local Electoral Areas, submitted to the Government last year, builds on these concerns and makes several recommendations, including a distinct municipal district to be designated for each of the former boroughs and towns with a population of 30,000 or more within the relevant county, each with a minimum of five members and one or more local electoral areas; and distinct town based or urban electoral areas to be created specifically for the 24 largest urban centres with a population of 15,000 or more.

In the case of Wexford, the commitment to consider reducing the size of territorially large electoral areas, together with the requirement to assign no more than seven councillors to each electoral area, has led to the recommendations in the report that would see the creation of six local electoral areas, LEAs, formed, with a focus on the centres of Enniscorthy, Gorey, Kilmore, Kilmuckridge, New Ross and Wexford. The recommendations made in the local electoral area boundary committee reports in respect of LEAs were accepted in full. This is reflected in the statutory instruments which I signed on 19 December 2018. The overall policy objectives have, in the main, been met, particularly in respect of the creation of distinct town based or urban electoral areas for large urban areas with a population in excess of 15,000.

In respect of the Gorey-Kilmuckridge issue, it is an area that I do not know as well as the Deputy. Geographically, more than half of what is now the Kilmuckridge electoral area was previously in the Gorey district. The view was taken that the east coast part of Wexford was more associated with Gorey than with any other town in County Wexford. I have today written to the chairman of Wexford County Council asking for consideration to be given by him and the members and executive of the council to changing the statutory instrument if there is a recommendation that it be changed. We were limited in respect of the boundary review that the old Enniscorthy area of eight seats and the old Gorey area of eight seats meant that there had to be changes in the district. I emphasise that the local electoral area as drawn up by the committee has not been changed by this. It is an administrative issue and if Wexford County Council believes there is an economic, social or political reason it should be reversed, I am more than open to considering it.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and welcome his remark that if a request is received from Wexford County Council, he will consider it. He might clarify whether he is talking about the county manager or the councillors making that decision. We did have a freedom of information request and it was clear that it had come from the Minister of State as opposed to anybody within the Department. We still have had no reason or explanation as to why he made the recommendation that Kilmuckridge be taken from the Enniscorthy municipal district as recommended by an independent boundary committee and that it was suddenly whipped into the Gorey area. We talk about town centres being the focus, yet we have an area one mile and a half south of Enniscorthy bridge that is now part of Gorey which is 35 km further north. People's minds there are completely boggled by it.

The Minister of State will understand people are asking questions. The independence and integrity of the electoral system are sacrosanct. On this island we have a very murky past in boundaries being changed for political reasons and I certainly hope that was not the case in this instance. At the same time, no explanation or reason has been given for this almost random decision. I assure the Minister of State that the idea of a contiguous coastline is flawed. Only a little further south, the eastern coastline was split into two separate municipal districts against the recommendation of the municipal district. There is an explanation for it in terms of Wexford being a stand-alone town, but Enniscorthy is the second biggest town in the county. It has a population of 12,000 and an historical town, with ties to the events of 1798 and 1916 and the first unfurling of the tricolour, although we share it with Waterford. I cannot describe the outrage felt there. There were mistakes. What we wanted in Wexford, the ideal that was working perfectly well, was three eights and a ten, but the independent boundary commission made its decision for its reasons. However, it was totally unacceptable for it to have been changed after that.

I reiterate that I have written to the chairman requesting views not just from them but also from management and councillors in Wexford. More than half of the new Kilmuckridge area was previously in the Gorey district and there have been nine or ten changes to municipal districts across the country. Most of them are in respect of former boroughs, but, for instance, in County Kerry the Castleisland area and the Dingle area have been brought into one municipal district because of geographical factors similar to what was considered in Wexford. I am not disputing my role in ensuring we will have municipal districts that, rightly or wrongly, are more reflective of the lie of the land. The Deputy will know the villages and towns that anyone could list off in the northern part of the Kilmuckridge area that are far closer to Gorey. The process is that if there are strong reasons for a change in Wexford, I will have no difficulty in accepting them. However, I absolutely refute and believe it is disingenuous of the Deputy to bring into the House the argument about the independence of the electoral committee. We are not talking about an electoral boundary. The local electoral areas report was adopted in full. This is an administrative linking of two separate local electoral areas, whether it be Gorey and Kilmuckridge or Enniscorthy and Kilmuckridge. The independence of the committee's actions and the preserving of people's support for the independence of the committee's report should not be called into question. As I said, we are not talking about an electoral boundary. Any murky past about electoral boundaries, Tullymandering and everything else that happened has no bearing on this issue. It is about administering County Wexford. More than half of the new Kilmuckridge district was previously in the Gorey area. That is from where the decision came. That east coast part of Wexford, north of the town, is more associated with Gorey than any other town in County Wexford. If the Wexford local authority and its members and management have a strong view that it should be changed, it will be. I reiterate that the report of the committee on the electoral areas was adopted in full.

School Admissions

I draw the attention of the Minister to a fault in what we call the post-primary schools common application system which is in place in Limerick. By and large, it works pretty well. It sees sixth class students list nine schools in order of their preference and they are usually offered a place in one of these schools. I understand the system is unique to Limerick and tries to do away with the class-based issues that unfortunately still arise, particularly in the city. However, it clearly does not work for everyone. Every applicant has to list nine schools in order of preference. Often, many of the nine schools included in the application will be totally unsuitable due to their location or other reasons, but pupils still have to list nine schools.

One family got in touch with me last week in a highly distressed state about the situation in which they found themselves. The child in question had submitted his application for a secondary school place like all of his friends, but last Wednesday he received a total of nine rejection letters from all of the schools included in his application form. I have copies of the letters before me and can count them from one to nine. He also received a letter telling him that there was no place for him in any of the schools and asking him to apply to two schools he had not put on his list which were not in the area. One is 30 km away and the other 27. He was the only child in his class who did not receive a school place acceptance letter. He was very distraught and did not know what to tell his friends when they asked him what school place he had received. He could not answer because he had been offered no school place. The Minister must imagine a 12 year old child receiving nine rejection letters and no offer of a school place.

His mother, as one can imagine, was really upset and distressed about it and did not know what to tell her son. They also received a letter which was very distressing to them from the Limerick Education Centre which referred to their "son-ward", meaning ward of court. That is totally unacceptable; it added to the family's stress. It is simply not acceptable and I ask that the Minister contacts the Limerick Education Centre directly to ensure that no letters using the word "ward" are sent to families to which that word does not apply.

The rejection letters received included the child's first choice school, which his family can literally see from the front door of his house. I know that well, because I know the family and know exactly where they live and I know the school in question. The primary school he attends is a feeder school of that school, so he should not have been refused. No young child should ever get nine rejection letters and no offer of a place and be left to search frantically for a solution.

I am raising this Topical Issue in the hope that changes will be made to ensure that this will not happen again. It is a problem that students have to put down nine schools in the first place: some of these schools are 30 to 40 minutes outside of Limerick city. If a child is offered a place in one of those schools he or she will have major difficulties in getting to and from the schools. It places a burden on parents who have to get their children out and back to those schools while trying to go to work themselves. I have been working closely with the family and the child's primary school. Both were very anxious that this be brought to the attention of the Minister as soon as possible. I hope that something can be done for this child and his family to ensure that he can access one of the schools he has chosen. I appreciate that not every child will be accepted into his or her first choice school, but to receive nine rejection letters and no offer of a place in secondary school is disgraceful and should never be allowed to happen again.

To clarify, I do not want to see the system abolished. It was brought in for good reason and usually it works well. However, something has to be done to ensure this does not happen again. No child should experience this ever again. Can the Minister clarify if he is aware of these issues in the system and outline what he can do to ensure that something like this does not happen again?

This is a very difficult issue for the student and the family in question. I appreciate that and I am happy to take their details from Deputy Quinlivan later and follow up directly on this matter. I want to give a little bit of background on the system, for the record. Overall it is a very good system and I agree with the Deputy on its overall benefits and co-ordination. However, we are open to improving it.

I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the position in relation to the common application system, CAS, for children entering secondary school in Limerick. The Deputy will be aware that a CAS was agreed between the post-primary schools in the Limerick area. This system has been in place since 2005. The CAS is the process by which the admission process for sixth class primary school children wishing to enrol in the participating post-primary schools is managed locally. There are currently 17 post-primary schools participating in the system. This administrative system ensures that a co-ordinated approach can be taken to the enrolment processes of the schools in the area.

This system is facilitated through the Limerick Education Centre on behalf of the Limerick Principals and Deputy Principals’ Association with support from my Department and to date has been working very well. The Limerick Education Centre meets with the Limerick Principals and Deputy Principals Association twice annually to review the system. On average, the centre manages between 1,750 and 1,900 applications annually and liaises with 17 post-primary schools and over 140 primary schools. Data from the system indicates that 97.5% of children received their first, second or third choice of school for the 2019-20 school year. Over 95% of pupils received their first choice.

Whilst this administrative system ensures that a co-ordinated approach can be taken to enrolment processes in the area, each school authority involved in the Limerick CAS has, in accordance with the Education Act 1998, autonomy in relation to its own enrolment policy and the specific selection criteria it applies. This may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice. The criteria to be applied by schools in such circumstances are a matter for the schools themselves.

This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 provides for an appeal by a parent or guardian to the Secretary General of my Department, or in the case of an Education and Training Board, ETB, school to the ETB in the first instance, where a board of management of a school, or a person acting on behalf of the board, refuses to enrol a student in a school. An appeal should be made within 42 calendar days of receipt of the board of management’s decision. This appeals process is also available to any applicant using the Limerick CAS who has been refused enrolment to a school.

The Education (Admission to Schools) Act was signed into law in 2018. The Act, on commencement of the relevant sections, will require schools to enrol a child where the school has places. The Act will help to support the admission processes in schools and provide greater transparency, which will help parents with their understanding of how they will work. My Department has begun the process of consultation with the education partners on the regulations that will be put in place alongside the commencement of sections of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

I thank the Minister and also the officials from his Department I spoke to earlier today who have been assisting me on the issue. I am almost sure that the system is unique to Limerick and that no similar schools application system operates in other parts of the country, but if they do perhaps those systems should be investigated as well. I agree that the system works pretty well, but I am concerned that another child next year might receive nine rejection letters. That should not happen. It is important that the Minister's Department engages with the Limerick Education Centre to ensure it has the resources it requires to administer the CAS, and perhaps the Department can help to iron out these problems.

Finishing primary school and going into secondary school should be an exciting time for children. It should not be as stressful as it has been for this child. The outcome of this must be that no child gets nine rejection letters and is subsequently left frantically searching for somewhere to go for secondary school. I thank the Minister again for coming here to listen to the concerns of parents and schools in Limerick. I hope he can introduce some of the small changes required to ensure this does not happen again.

I am happy to take the details of this case. The transition from primary school to secondary school is hard enough in itself. It is a big step up and receiving nine letters of rejection is not in keeping with the idea of a smooth flow from primary to secondary level. I reassure the Deputy that once I receive the details I will follow up directly with my officials. The Deputy mentioned the uniqueness of this system. From my own research into it I can see that it is an incredible system, where 17 post-primary schools and 140 primary schools are co-ordinated in an attempt to get the correct fit for pupils. The percentage returns, where 95% of students get their first choice, is incredible. We must also be careful that the 4%, 5% or 1%, even if it is only one person, is catered for. Perhaps with further inspection we can find a way through this issue. I am confident we can do that.

VAT Rate Application

What we are talking about is the EU food supplement directive which defines clearly the foodstuffs sold in Ireland that are regulated by the Food Safety Authority. Tens of thousands of people consume these products weekly. The directive defines foodstuffs as those products "the purpose of which is to supplement the normal diet and which are concentrated sources of nutrients or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect, alone or in combination, marketed in dose form" and so on.

Let us consider what is happening in England. In 2016 the actual amount of food supplements sold in the United Kingdom was almost €700 million. It is estimated that one person in every three in the United Kingdom takes a food supplement weekly. In Ireland the sector is worth approximately €60 million per year. The Minister of State can correct me on the matter, if necessary. Tens of thousands of people take supplements.

Many people have come to my office recently. In many cases they are older people, people on pensions or who are in reasonably good health but who are concerned. In many cases they believe, or their doctors or chemists will say, additives such as glucose for joint health, probiotics to help the digestive system or fish oil for good health are useful and beneficial. They believe the proposal by Revenue to increase taxes on all of these products from 1 March by 23% is an imposition that is unacceptable, given their income and health needs. The people who come to me are elderly or have limited income. They are concerned that they will be unable to take the supplement they have been taking for the past ten, 15 or 20 years. That is at the core of the problem.

I do not have the figures, but I am told that the tax take proposed could be approximately €8 million per annum. That may be what the taxpayer will get out of it. However, it will have the effect of discommoding elderly people, women who are pregnant and parents with young children and it is not good enough for them. I have read the Food Safety Authority advice on vitamins and supplements and what the authority states is clear. I am not going to second-guess it on medical advice. Nevertheless, it is of crucial importance that the existing arrangements continue.

I have been advised that if there is a hard Brexit, these products will increase in cost and be more difficult to obtain. That will drive more and more people towards the online business. People buying online from such places as Guernsey in the Channel Islands will be buying products that are unregulated, of unknown composition and with unknown health affects. There are no ethics involved in an online sale of these products, whereas in the sector in Ireland which employs over 1,800 people nationally, there is a code of ethics. It is entirely acceptable for a person to go from his or her doctor to his or her health food shop to buy the nutrient supplement that will be of benefit to him or her. It is entirely unacceptable that we will drive the people concerned into an unregulated market to buy products, especially if they do not know what they will be consuming. It is important for the Minister for Finance to consult business and other interest groups, as well as health bodies, and report back to the Dáil.

I am pleased to take the opportunity on behalf of the Minister for Finance to speak on the issue of the VAT treatment of food supplements.

The standard rate of VAT applies to food supplements. However, there is a Revenue concession that allows the zero rate to be applied to certain types of food supplement such as vitamins, minerals and fish oils. The practice of zero-rating vitamins, minerals and fish oil food supplements has been applied since the introduction of VAT in November 1972. At the time, the marketplace for food supplements was small and the concession meant that vitamins, minerals and fish oil supplements were treated the same as food for VAT purposes.

Since the 1970s there has been significant growth in the number and complexity of food supplement products on the market, most of which are not covered by the zero-rate concession. They include supplements containing botanicals and bioactive substances. While the new products apply at the standard rate of VAT, the growing variety of products in the market led to diverging views between Revenue and the industry on which food supplement should be at the zero rate versus the 23% rate. Revenue issued e-briefs in 2011 and 2013 in an effort to clarify that only basic vitamins, minerals and fish oil would qualify for the zero rate, but disagreement on the applicable VAT rate and queries on specific products has continued. The operation of the current concession has become problematic owing to efforts by some businesses in the industry to exploit the concession to extend zero-rating beyond the scope permitted by Revenue. These businesses have challenged the Revenue guidance and decisions on the VAT rating of products, giving rise to serious concern about compliance within the industry and unfair competition between compliant and non-compliant businesses.

The issue was raised during debates on last year's Finance Bill. Deputies and Senators looked for clarity for the industry on the VAT treatment of food supplements and sought the retention of the zero rate for certain categories of food supplements. On Committee Stage the Minister agreed to ask his officials to address the matter in the context of the next tax strategy group and also stated he would not interfere in any decision made by Revenue on the matter in the interim. Revenue published new guidance on 27 December on the rate of VAT that applied to food supplements, announcing the intention to apply the 23% VAT rate to most food supplements with effect from 1 March 2019. It should be noted, however, that human oral medicines, including certain folic acid and other vitamin and mineral products, licensed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, will continue to apply at the zero rate of VAT. It is possible to retain these products at the zero rate because they qualify as oral medicines which are charged to VAT at the zero rate in Ireland under an historical derogation from EU VAT law. In addition, infant foods and food products such as yoghurts that contain probiotic ingredients will also continue to be zero-rated.

I understand the concerns of the industry on this matter. That is why, independent of Revenue's decisions on interpretation, the Minister agreed to put in place a process that will conclude in the 2019 tax strategy group paper to examine some of the policy choices in the VAT treatment of food supplements.

I welcome what the Minister of State has said and will concentrate on his last paragraph. He has said the Minister for Finance understands the concerns of the industry on the matter, as well as the concerns of the public and those who consume these products weekly and daily. It is welcome that he has agreed to put in place a process that will ensure the 2019 tax strategy group paper will examine some of the policy choices in the VAT treatment of food supplements. Does the Minister intend to delay the introduction of VAT from 1 March unless the tax strategy group reports in the interim? It is important that the Minister reconsider a decision to commence the increase on food additives from 1 March. It would genuinely, truthfully and honestly help many people, including those people who come into my office and that of the Minister of State. Are we to tell them that they will have to pay it? They may say their health is bad or that they have a problem with arthritis. It means a great deal to people that their disposable income has been preserved. It is particularly important for pensioners not have to pay the additional increase in VAT. The experience in other countries such as the United Kingdom and the unregulated access on the Internet to products that are not defined raise questions. Such products could very well harm the individuals concerned or certainly do them no good. Obviously, that is not what we want to see happen. Therefore, I urge the Minister of State to take on board the views of the people who talk to him and me. The tax strategy group paper should be published and the Minister should decide on how he intends to act before he introduces this high VAT rate.

The Minister's intention at the time of the last budget was that he would not interfere with the Revenue Commissioners in considering the matter.

The Deputy will be aware that the Revenue Commissioners operate independently of the Department of Finance. However, I will relay the Deputy's concern to the Minister when I meet him tomorrow.

I have met representatives from the health food sector. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe and I will give the sector a very fair hearing. However, there is a challenge created by the hundreds of food supplement products on the market. For some of these, the correct rate of VAT is 23% and others are zero rated. This is unhelpful. As the e-note from Revenue states, products which were zero rated for VAT in 2011 and 2013 will remain at zero rated, however some products are VAT chargeable due to European VAT law. The challenges to continue rating all these products at zero percent is not helpful.

The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, gave an undertaking that the tax strategy group would consider the matter, which it will, and the Minister and I will give the matter a fair hearing.

Military Medals

I wish to raise the issue regarding the award of distinguished service medals and military medals for gallantry to veteran members of A Company 35th Infantry Battalion who served in the Congo from June to December 1961. This was part of the UN peacekeeping operation in the province of Katanga which had broken away from the rest of the Congo and had declared independence.

A Company, consisting of 155 men, were sent to the UN post at Jadotville, 80 miles from Elizabethville, on 3 September 1961. On 9 September, a large force of Kantangese gendarmes surrounded them and early on the morning of 13 September A Company came under attack and endured almost continuous attack until 17 September. During this battle 3,500 enemy soldiers were in action against the 155 Irish troops. The Irish troops, who had never been in battle before, were pitted against a well-trained enemy that had greater firepower, heavier artillery weapons and led by mercenary officers who had fought in the Second World War and the Korean War. The average age of the Irish troops was 18.5 years. Two of the men were 15 years old and approximately 12 of them were 16 years old. At the end of the battle the Irish Company suffered five wounded while the enemy had 300 dead and 750 wounded. A Company ran out of food, water and ammunition and they were taken into captivity on 17 September and remained so until their release on 25 October 1961.

Arising from this battle, Commandant Pat Quinlan recommended 29 of his men for distinguished service medals and military medals for gallantry. Last week a parliamentary question was tabled by 14 Deputies including myself calling on the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence to explain the reason why these medals committed to previously, have not been presented. I hope we can bring this matter to its logical and fair conclusion. Veterans and their families have been fighting for closure for nearly 60 years. Deceased veterans who were recommended for awards should receive their medals posthumously.

The medal insignia that is linked with the unit citation does not bring closure to the issue, nor does the issuing of the Jadotville Medal by the Department of Defence in December 2017 to all veterans and next of kin of deceased veterans. The Jadotville Medal cannot be compared to the military medal for gallantry or the distinguished service medal, as recommended by Commandant Pat Quinlan.

The Jadotville action is recognised worldwide and one of the best perimeter defensive battles in history and is the single biggest military engagement the Irish Army has been involved in alone against a foreign enemy since the formation of the State.

Presentations on this battle have been given by Commandant Leo Quinlan, son of Commandant Pat Quinlan, and campaigner for the award of these medaIs. A unit citation was awarded to A Company in September 2016. This made history as it is the first and only unit citation to be awarded in the Irish Army. As in other armies a unit citation is something that is recorded in military history and each member of the unit then receives a medal insignia that he or she can wear on his uniform.

However, the medals that Commandant Pat Quinlan recommended for his men for bravery in action have yet to be awarded. In 2017 the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, met Commandant Leo Quinlan and some of the Jadotville veterans in Leinster House. He was briefed on exactly what medals were being requested and on his last day as Taoiseach he announced in Dáil Éireann that medals will be awarded for Jadotville.

An official Army list of all the Jadotville soldiers who were recommended for medals was recently provided to Commandant Leo Quinlan. Five men were recommended for the military medal for gallantry as well as the distinguished service medal, that is two awards each. Another 27 men were also recommended for the distinguished service medal. This means a total of 32 men were recommended for awards arising from their bravery, courage and service in Jadotville.

None of the men recommended for the Jadotville action received their awards. Currently seven of these men are still alive and living in Ireland. A number of them were totally unaware that they had been recommended for awards until recently. In fact many men passed away without knowing that they had been recommended for awards for bravery in action.

The Army has recently stated that as the Statute of Limitations has passed in relation to the award of medals. Therefore it is down to the Taoiseach and Minister of State to take action on this matter.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The siege of Jadotville was a prominent event that occurred during Ireland’s peacekeeping mission in the Congo in September 1961. A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion took responsibility for the UN post at Jadotville on 3 September 1961. On 9 September, a large force of Katangese Gendarmerie surrounded them and early on the morning of 13 September A Company came under attack. From 13 to 17 September they endured almost continuous attack. They were taken into captivity on 17 September and remained in captivity until finally released on 25 October 1961.

In accordance with Defence Forces regulations, the award of medals for bravery is time bound. They may not be awarded, in any case, unless a recommendation is made through the usual channels to the Chief of Staff not later than two years in the case of the military medal for gallantry, and not later than four years in the case of the distinguished service medal, after the performance of the act in respect of which the recommendation is made. Such awards are made on the recommendation of a military board appointed by the Chief of Staff for the purpose of examining and reporting on every recommendation for an award.

The issue of the award of medals to the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion was comprehensively addressed in 1965. A properly constituted medals board considered the various cases presented and made a decision that no medals would be awarded. The Chief of Staff of the day considered the decision of the board and was satisfied with the findings. Subsequently, at that time, the question was raised again in a letter to a newly appointed Chief of Staff. He forwarded the letter to the original medals board and asked that they reconvene and review their decision. The board indicated that the issues raised had received due consideration and that they were not prepared to alter their findings.

Over the past number of years various representations have been received in my Department outlining the courage and bravery of A Company. All representations have been considered and responded to acknowledging their valiant actions while under siege in Jadotville.

The issue of honouring the actions of these men has been revisited a number of times over the years and steps have been taken to recognise their bravery. In 2004 the then Minister for Defence initiated a re-examination of the Jadotville case on foot of a request from a retired Army officer. The resulting report was prepared by a board of military officers who fully exonerated the actions of A Company. The board recommended that the events of Jadotville and the contribution of the 35th Battalion be given recognition. In this context, a number of measures have taken place to honour and to commemorate the events at Jadotville and the very significant contribution of A Company, and of the 35th Battalion as a whole, to the UN peace support mission in the Congo.

Recognition of their contribution over the years include a presentation of scrolls to them in 2006 by the then Minister of State for Defence, Deputy Noel Tracey. Subsequently, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, directed that portraits of Lieutenant Colonel McNamee, 35th Battalion Commander, and Commandant Quinlan, Company Commander A Company, be commissioned. On 23 February 2007 these portraits were unveiled at the Military College and now hang in the Congo Room in the United Nations Training School in the Curragh.

In July 2010, the 50th anniversary of the first deployment to the Congo was commemorated in a highly publicised and well attended event in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. A Congo photographic book was also produced for the occasion, a section of which was dedicated to the events at Jadotville in 1961.

A nominal roll of A Company, printed in copper, has been affixed to the monument in Custume Barracks and was unveiled as part of the 50th anniversary of the Jadotville affair in September 2011. On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the siege of Jadotville, I decided to issue a unit citation to honour the collective actions and bravery of the men of A Company. This was the first time a unit citation had been awarded to individuals within the Defence Forces and I was delighted to recognise the brave actions of these men formally. Furthermore, the Government committed on 13 June 2017, as an exceptional step, to award a medal known as An Bonn Jadotville, or the Jadotville Medal, to each member of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion, and to the family representatives of deceased members to give full and due recognition in honour of their courageous actions at the siege of Jadotville. This specially commissioned medal was procured to give full and due recognition in honour of the courageous actions of these men during the siege. The words inscribed on the medals were carefully chosen to pay tribute to their actions. I was delighted to present the medals at a ceremony that took place on 2 December 2017 in Custume Barracks, Athlone. This location is considered the spiritual home of A Company and it is from there that the company assembled in advance of its fateful deployment to the Congo.

I am satisfied that the events and happenings to date properly honour these men.

The medals recommended for individual soldiers were for actions of extraordinary courage. Five were recommended for the Military Medal for Gallantry, which is equivalent to the Victoria Cross in the UK and the Congressional Medal of Honour in the USA. The Jadotville Medal issued by the Department of Defence in December 2017 to the veterans and next of kin of deceased veterans was simply an acknowledgement that those men were in Jadotville. While it was a significant medal to receive, it was in no way comparable to the Military Medal for Gallantry or the Distinguished Service Medal, as recommended by then commandant, Pat Quinlan.

Medals were given to three Jadotville men for action in Elisabethville two months later. In addition, other medals were awarded to soldiers from other companies of the same battalion in the Congo for other actions in Elisabethville and elsewhere. However, no medals were awarded for the Jadotville action, which remains the largest battle that the Irish Army has ever been involved in with a foreign enemy since the formation of the State.

On his final full day as Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny announced that medals would be awarded in respect of Jadotville. The medals referred to by him were those that Commandant Leo Quinlan had clearly identified to him a few months earlier in Leinster House. The current Taoiseach and Minister for Defence must now instruct the Army to award these medals as soon as possible, given the soldiers' ages. A number of them are still alive - Corporal Tadhg Quinn, Lieutenant Noel Carey, Corporal John Foley, Private Joe O'Kane, Private Tom Gunne, Private Charles Cooley, Private Michael Tighe and Private Noel Stanley. As the battle took place in the early 1960s, these are now old men. A commitment was given by the then Taoiseach that they would get the medals they justly deserved. It is disgraceful that that commitment has not been honoured.

I remind the Deputy that it was a decision of the former Government in 2017 to present medals to the people who went through the siege of Jadotville in the Congo. This had been an issue for a long number of years, and it was only right and proper that the Government of the day recognised their bravery. The commitment given at the time, which was for medals to be presented to those involved, was met.

In recent weeks, I have sent significant correspondence to many people regarding this issue. The Chief of Staff has written to some of those who are campaigning for these medals to be awarded. The medal board made its decision having considered and reflected on the issue not once, but twice. I have asked people for further evidence as to why medals should be presented, but I do not believe any has come forward since the medal board made its original decision.

I am delighted to have made the decision. The Deputy stated that a number of people had still not received An Bonn Jadotville. If he is aware of people who were part of that mission but have not received the medal, I would welcome him passing their names on to me to ensure they get their medals. For various reasons, we could not track down a number of people and award them their medals on the day.