Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Maternity Services

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak on this matter this evening. I also greatly appreciate the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, being present for this debate. This is an issue that she and I have discussed at various fora in the past few extremely difficult weeks and months. I know this has been a particularly difficult week for the entire country as we deal with this rising pandemic and the new restrictions that regrettably but necessarily were introduced.

I listened to quite a bit of the previous debate. With the restrictions under level 5, there are so many things that people are rightly questioning because they are concerned. Sometimes they are even picking holes to find ways to get around restrictions. People are raising very real concerns over the impact of these restrictions on all aspects of society.

One of the great differences between the previous lockdown and now, as the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, said in his earlier remarks was the fact that so many more medical treatments and services are remaining open. People will still be able to get in to get those essential services, which is vital. However, this one is a bit closer to home. I pay credit to Deputy Cairns and my Fine Gael colleague, Senator Currie, who have raised the issue in this House and in the Seanad many times. It is something very personal.

On 5 May at the height of the first lockdown, my wife and I very happily welcomed our second child, a daughter, into the world. It was a bizarre situation as I found myself in a row of 12 cars on Merrion Square waiting. As my wife was in the maternity hospital under wonderful care from the doctors, midwives, supporters and everybody else, I was sitting outside waiting. As I said, it was our second child. When we had our first child a couple of years ago, I was there for the entire 26-hour process. I do not expect any sympathy, nor do I deserve any. However, this time I was left outside to wait, to worry and to hope that the phone call would come in time for me to be able to be there for the birth of my second child, my daughter. Thankfully, I was.

However, that process and everything that has gone with it, including the inability to attend prenatal appointments was extremely stressful. I am talking about my own personal experience, not looking for any sympathy but trying to paint the picture of what is happening to couples and individuals around the country every day.

Despite the guidelines, which I have gratefully received from the Department, there is still considerable concern that birth partners will not be able to join their partner for the birth of their child. I deliberately say "birth partner" because it does not necessarily have to be a husband or wife. It could be a mother, a sibling or anyone. Going into labour on one's own is a very daunting process, as is going to those very difficult appointments such as the 20-week scan and others one one's own. They must also face the postnatal care alone, trying to understand what the doctor is saying.

We need to have absolute clarity. As I read it, level 5 allows the visiting policy to be suspended, aside from critical child-centred and compassionate circumstances. Everything about those appointments prior to the birth, during the birth and after the birth are critical, child-centred and compassionate. We need to have clarity that every maternity hospital in the State will ensure a birth partner will be there, not just for the delivery but for the appointments before and after the birth. It is vital and we need to ensure over the next six weeks that expectant mothers around the country do not need to go in on their own and, crucially, that the father, when it is fathers, have the right to attend the birth of their child.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I congratulate him and his wife on the birth of their second child, a daughter. Having been through maternity three times, I fully endorse what he has said. It is not just for the arrival of the baby. From a female perspective, of course the mothers want their partner, husband or wife with them at that time. They need that support because they do not know what news they might be facing after any scan. That is why it is important, and I take on board what the Deputy said.

I have a particular answer from the Department, but that does not mean I do not have empathy and understanding of why the Deputy is raising it and why constituents of his and constituents of all of ours around the country are raising this issue. We will continue to raise it on behalf of our constituents because there is can be anxiety attached to it at a time that should be joyous and memorable.

I thank the Deputy for bringing this important issue before the House. The Department is aware of how difficult these restrictions have been for expectant mothers and fathers. I fully acknowledge the worry and concern they have caused. As the House will be aware, maternity services are core, essential services that need to be able to provide 24-7 care throughout the country, as we continue to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. While it is, of course, desirable that the impact on the experience of women is kept to an absolute minimum, unfortunately, to protect women, babies, staff and, indeed, our maternity service as a whole, it has been necessary to reduce footfall in maternity hospitals.

This has been achieved in a number of ways, including through remote appointments and expanded community services. Visitor restrictions were also introduced, which, unfortunately, included limitations on access of partners to maternity wards, theatres and appointments. I assure the House that these decisions were not taken lightly.

Significant variations in caseload, complexity and infrastructure exist across the system and decisions on restrictions were made, implemented and reviewed at hospital level to ensure local flexibility to account for different circumstances in different maternity units.

It is worth noting that there have been no Covid maternal deaths in this country, and we have had a relatively low incidence in pregnant women. In that regard, it is clear that, to date, our maternity hospitals have continued to keep women, babies and staff safe, while delivering quality care in very challenging circumstances.

The issue of visitor restrictions has been kept under review. I am pleased to inform the House that last week the HSE issued guidance regarding attendance at acute hospitals, including in maternity hospitals. The guidance notes that a partner should generally be facilitated to accompany a woman in labour and childbirth, and that while most hospital inpatient stays in maternity services are of short duration, it is generally appropriate to facilitate visiting by a partner through this period. The guidance further advises that parents should be facilitated to visit an infant who is in the neonatal intensive care unit, with due regard for the need to manage the risk to all infants in the unit.

However, we cannot become complacent. The virus is still transmitting in the community and we must be on high alert. An outbreak of Covid-19 among staff or patients would have a severely negative impact and reduce our ability to provide maternity services.

Maternity hospitals wish to facilitate support from partners as far as possible. I welcome the easing of some of the restrictions in maternity hospitals. I am assured that maternity units and hospitals are working towards compliance with the HSE’s new guidance.

I thank the Minister of State for that good news.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply and her empathy. When things are written in black and white they can seem so stark, particularly during a stressful time. It will be of some relief to so many couples and people that the Minister of State and her colleagues understand. I pay tribute to all our maternity hospitals for their work in keeping the virus out and being so supportive during this difficult time.

I have a real difficulty with the term "reducing footfall". Birth partners should not be considered footfall because they are much more important than that. A Deputy, whose wife is expecting their fourth child in the coming weeks, made the point that his wife would see him as her voice through the whole process, not just during the birth but during the appointments, tough scans and postnatal care. I have spoken often of postnatal depression. Something a psychiatrist tells a new mother might not be remembered. Access post birth is only being allowed to neonatal ICU visits.

I do not want to personalise this but sometimes personalising issues makes it easier to get a message across. For the first five days of my daughter's life, I only saw her through FaceTime. I could not visit the hospital. I do not think that is right. It is not right that women who have gone through a traumatic birth then go through the immediate recovery on their own. I ask the Minister of State to bring this issue back to her officials and through the maternity services. It is not only about the minutes and hours - sometimes many hours - of labour but also the appointments beforehand and the time afterwards. A mother should be accompanied at those times, whether by the baby's father, her partner, wife or mother. No woman should have to go through this alone. We are fighting a vicious global pandemic but we need to get that point across.

Perhaps we can discuss this issue with the Minister for Health. The introduction of pods and bubbles this week was very welcome. Maybe we can discuss with the hospitals if they are open to the idea of having bubbles or pods. It is important, however, that my message is clear tonight and I do not want to confuse it. These decisions are not taken lightly and hospital front-line staff and management are acutely aware that it is very important that mothers are supported by their partners at the time of the birth. It is important that we continue to do everything in our power to protect mothers, babies and staff in our maternity hospitals. However, we must not forget that the virus is still prevalent in our communities and we must remain vigilant at all times.

The HSE has said it is hopeful that the new guidance it has issued and the commitment of maternity services to its implementation would help address the very significant concerns of expectant mums and dads across the country. I will convey the Deputy's concerns to the Minister.

Covid-19 Pandemic

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing Deputy Mattie McGrath and me to raise this important issue.

The Government is seeking to coerce people and now issue fines to anyone who attends mass or prayers in their church. When the Republic of Ireland originally went into lockdown in March, public worship was suspended. From the beginning, church authorities have worked with the Government to develop safe worship guidelines, including placing hand sanitisers at entrances, one-way systems of movement and social distancing, as well as a limit in the number allowed to attend each service of public worship which restarted in June. There is now disappointment, after all the work that went into the parishes reopening for public worship, that the authorities have again moved to ban people attending mass.

There is no evidence that going to church increases risks more than any other activity currently permitted under levels 3, 4 or 5. This highly restrictive and punitive measure completely fails to take account of potential alternative ways by which the church may gather while also implementing precautionary practices against the spread of Covid-19. That means that even if the country returns to level 3 restrictions after the current lockdown, public worship in churches would remain prohibited. Even the Irish Council for Civil Liberties believes that public church worship should be permitted under level 3 restrictions. The Government's effective ending of church worship is completely inappropriate. It deprives many people of the holy sacraments and leaves many feeling even more lost, disoriented and in need of help and solidarity. The Government restrictions on church worship take no account of the fact that those attending mass and services are the most compliant. Most churchgoers in Ireland are older and more attentive to the safety measures and exercising great caution and care. However, they are being treated with the same broad-brush approach as every other group.

The measures introduced in the Health (Amendment) Bill 2020 this week mean someone who attends a mass or a priest who celebrates a public mass will face fines of up to €5,000 or six months in prison. This is an outrageous attack by the Government on religious worship. It is truly shameful.

Under the new Covid restrictions, a priest can be fined, imprisoned or both for saying a mass in public. The same applies to any minister of any religion who holds a public ceremony or act of worship. This is drastic, draconian and unacceptable and raises questions about the constitutionality of the measures taken today. It is totally disproportionate. The regulations state that no person shall leave their house or place of residence without reasonable excuse and lists 25 exemptions or reasons persons are allowed to leave their home. A minister of religion, priest or any member of the clergy can only leave his or her house in the line of duty, to lead worship online, to attend sick calls or to conduct a wedding or funeral service. There is no list of exemptions for members of the public to attend a church or other place of worship.

We have introduced penal offences for breaching these regulations. It is drastic. In Italy, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries in Europe, the number of people who can attend a religious service is limited to 30. Only three countries in the world, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and mother Ireland, have banned religious services in public. We cannot do enough to attack the church and destroy the people's faith.

I appeal to the Government. Churches and church institutions have to be heated and must have Covid measures in place. I salute the parish councils, priests and volunteers. They need financial support because they do not get contributions when people are unable to attend for worship. They need support from the Government like any other business. The nourishing of our faith is hugely important to many people.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter as the conversation is very welcome. Earlier this week, the Government took the decision to move the country to level 5 of the framework for living with Covid-19, as outlined in the resilience and recovery plan. This decision took account of a variety of factors, including the views of the National Public Health Emergency Team on the current epidemiology of Covid-19 and the need to take decisive action.

The Government remains united in its resolve to tackle the spread of Covid-19. The disease prevention and control strategy that we have adopted seeks to prevent the virus spreading among our population to the greatest extent possible. The Deputies may describe this as a ban; we call it protection. The basic public health advice and regulatory measures aimed at blocking the transmission of Covid-19 from person to person remain vital.

From the beginning of the pandemic, we have emphasised the many simple measures that can be taken to do this. These include keeping a distance, washing hands, wearing a face covering where required and avoiding crowds. Such measures do work. The resilience and recovery plan provides us with a framework to allow society and businesses to operate as normally as possible. Inherent in that framework is a prioritisation of activities.

The pandemic has had an enormous impact on society in Ireland, as it has throughout the world. Many people have lost their businesses or jobs. Others, unfortunately, have lost family members or friends. I would like to express my deepest sympathies to those families and friends in these very difficult times. Deputy Richmond spoke earlier about partners not being able to attend antenatal scan appointments with their loved ones. We have now had more than 54,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland. The Government is concerned that, if left unchecked, this number will only increase further. I assure the Deputy that I am extremely conscious of the burdens that have been placed on all members of society as a result of the restrictions that had to be imposed. Many people have been unable to live their lives the way they normally would or participate in the usual rhythms of their communities. For very many people, being able to go to their local church to attend mass with their family and friends is a major source of comfort and solace at what is a very difficult time for our country and, indeed, for the world.

Unfortunately, as we all now know, the environment within which Covid-19 spreads most easily is indoors where a group of people are gathered. At this particular time, when we are doing our utmost to break the transmission cycle of the virus, we must, regrettably, make every effort to reduce such gatherings. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work the Catholic Church and other faiths have done to put in place comprehensive guidelines to protect their communities, as Deputy Mattie McGrath noted, in compliance with the HSE's public health advice. As we are able, we hope, to move back down the restrictions from level 5 in the near future, these efforts will assume ever greater importance. However, consistent with the level 5 restrictions applying at this time, religious services have moved online and places of worship are open for private prayer only. There are exceptions for funerals and weddings, which may be attended by 25 people.

It is important to note that under the regulations, ministers of religion are permitted to travel outside the 5 km limit to perform a service online, minister to the sick and conduct a funeral or wedding ceremony. I discussed this issue with my local parish priest, Fr. Michael, this week. Monsignor Cathal Geraghty in Loughrea has also spoken about it. In my local deanery, seven out of nine priests are over 65 years of age, with some of them over 70 and others over 80. This is a problem for many parishes in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. She said that for very many people in Ireland, being able to attend mass in their local church with their family and friends is a major source of comfort. That is certainly true but the problem is that people are not allowed to do so at this time. Ireland is the only country in Europe that has banned mass and the same restrictions apply to the activities of other religions, including the Methodist Church and Church of Ireland. These restrictions are a shocking mistake. Parish councils throughout the country did a great deal of work to ensure that everything was done right. My daughter has been working in our local church, ensuring that everybody sanitises his or her hands and keeping people safe. Fortunately, I am not aware of any instances of the virus being spread through attendance at the church.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is correct that the clergy and the churches have been forgotten in any compensation package. They are in the same position as many other businesses and this is something that should be reviewed. The Government must at least consider allowing masses to take place.

I remind the Minister of State and the House that Article 44 of Bunreacht na hÉireann asserts the freedom to worship publicly. However, under the restrictions imposed by the Government, public worship is now a penal matter. We are going back to the time of the Penal Laws and the pre-Famine period. I salute the Franciscans in Clonmel, including Fr. Michael Toomey, Fr. Brendan Crowley and my own parish priest, Fr. Garrett Desmond, who have made Trojan and Herculean efforts to get mass services online, with the help of volunteers. This is a very trying time but we cannot just walk all over the Constitution. What kind of Government does so?

People are entitled to go to their church to worship. They do so for solace, which they have never wanted more than they do now. We have a wonderful friary in Clonmel, as I said, and a shop adjacent to it which sells mass cards and mass bouquets. The church is open, fortunately, for private prayer but the shop cannot open. It is an essential service for people to be able to get a mass card or mass bouquet for a loved one whose funeral they cannot attend. There has been no thought for people in that situation. The Government must put some sort of package in place to support the churches.

I thank the Deputies again for raising this important issue. The Government appreciates that people have been severely affected by the restrictions imposed this year. We have provided a range of supports to individuals, businesses and other sectors of society to limit the impact on livelihoods and businesses. The Government remains united in its resolve to tackle the spread of Covid-19. As I said, there have been more than 54,000 confirmed cases in Ireland. More immediately, there have been extremely concerning increases in the numbers of new infections being reported in recent weeks. There have been 1,000 to 1,200 cases per day for most of the past week. The Government's view is that this level of community transmission is too high and decisive action must be taken now to limit the growth of the virus. The evidence is clear that it is the vulnerable in society who are most risk from Covid-19.

We in Ireland are not alone in being impacted by the virus. There have now been more than 41 million cases worldwide and 1.1 million deaths. Many other countries have imposed very restrictive measures to limit the further growth of the virus. This Government has consulted with a number of churches and faiths on the response to the pandemic. This has resulted, for example, in the production of an information booklet entitled A Guide for the Bereaved during the Covid-19 Pandemic. The Catholic Church and other faiths have guidelines in place to protect their communities, in compliance with HSE public health guidelines. That effort is welcomed.

I remind Deputies that we each have the power to limit the impact of the virus by adhering to the public health guidelines. We succeeded in doing so earlier this year, thanks to our collective efforts, and we can do so again. I appeal to all colleagues to show leadership on this issue and promote adherence to the public health advice. This is not a partisan issue but one on which we must all work together.

Drugs Payment Scheme

When will Duodopa, which was approved for reimbursement in February 2020, be sanctioned for use by patients who urgently need it? Duodopa is manufactured by AbbVie, which has a number of manufacturing plants along the west coast. It seems we are very good in this country at manufacturing new medicines but we lag behind when it comes to making those medicines available to people living here. This medicine has taken 26 months to go through the reimbursement approval process. The HSE's drugs group approved it for reimbursement in February but, eight months later, we are still waiting for it to be sanctioned.

There was a big announcement in the budget of an allocation of €50 million for new medicines. In fact, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, singled out Parkinson's disease when speaking about that allocation. Duodopa is used to treat advanced Parkinson's disease when no other medicines have worked. I am aware of a person who has been in hospital for more than a month awaiting the go-ahead to be treated with the drug. I will not name the hospital in question in case it might identify the patient. This person cannot leave the hospital and every day must be like a week and every week like a month as progress is awaited. I really hope the Minister of State can offer me good news by giving a date for the sanctioning of Duodopa under the reimbursement scheme.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue and for giving me the opportunity, on behalf of the Minister, to provide as much clarity as possible on the availability and reimbursement of Duodopa for patients with advanced Parkinson's disease.

As the Deputy may know, the HSE was given statutory responsibility for medicine pricing and reimbursement decisions under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. The Act specifies certain criteria for decisions on whether the State will reimburse medicines. The Minister for Health has no role in this statutory process. HSE decisions on which medicines are reimbursed by the taxpayer are made on objective, scientific and economic grounds, including the advice of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, NCPE. The NCPE conducts assessments on behalf of the HSE and then makes recommendations on reimbursement to assist the HSE in making a decision. The HSE strives to reach a decision on drug reimbursement in as timely a manner as possible. However, because of the significant moneys involved, it must ensure that the best price is achieved, often leading to a protracted deliberative process.

On 14 June 2019, the NCPE completed an assessment of the drug for patients with advanced Parkinson's disease and recommended that it should not be considered for reimbursement unless its cost-effectiveness could be improved compared to other existing treatments. This recommendation is available to view on the NCPE website. Following this recommendation, the HSE entered into lengthy pricing negotiations with the manufacturer. When these concluded, the reimbursement was formally considered by the HSE drugs group over two meetings, the second of which was held in February, as the Deputy indicated.

The Minister wishes to make it clear to the Deputy that Duodopa was not approved for reimbursement in February. Instead, it was at that time that the drugs group made a positive recommendation to the HSE executive management team. This was in the context of the recognised unmet need, the clinical evidence, and its cost-effectiveness. The drug is one of a number of medicines with a significant budget impact awaiting a decision by the HSE executive management team.

The HSE has yet to make a final decision on this specific reimbursement application and the statutory process is still ongoing. However, the House will be aware that an additional €50 million, which Deputy Harkin mentioned, was allocated to the HSE in budget 2021 to enable the approval of new medicines. The Minister understands that the reimbursement of Duodopa will be considered in that context.

I thank the Minister of State. Unfortunately, she did not give me a timeline or a date. It was very clear from my question and from what I have said that this is what the family are waiting for. This is a 26-month process. The Minister of State has quite rightly pointed out that it was the drugs group that made a positive recommendation last February. What has been the hold-up since then, especially since the Minister made all of this extra money available for new drugs and specifically spoke about drugs for Parkinson's disease? This family sees other families able to access this drug. They know it works and that it is the only thing that will work for their loved one. They are glad to see others receiving it but they are still waiting. The Parkinson's groups in the north west and in Mayo are waiting to hear what the Minister of State has to say on this because there is no other drug that will fit the bill. I ask the Minister of State to make her very best effort, as I know she will, to speed this process up as much as possible. I am disappointed, not for me, but for the person I know who is waiting and who is listening to this debate. I honestly thought I might have heard some positive news. I will leave it with the Minister of State. I would appreciate it if she would come back to me as soon as she can.

I will take on board what Deputy Harkin has said and will talk to the Minister about it. I compliment the wonderful work of the Parkinson's groups. The Deputy has mentioned those is Mayo and the north west. It would be remiss of me not to mention the Parkinson's group in Galway as well. In his note to me, the Minister stated that he hopes that the final decision on this reimbursement application concludes shortly for all concerned. This comes from his note. I will follow up with him on foot of what we have discussed. The Deputy might let the family know that.

Defence Forces Veterans

The fourth important matter comes from Deputy Ó Snodaigh. The Deputy wishes to discuss due recognition of the bravery of Irish Defence Forces members at Jadotville, an issue in which the Irish public has had a great interest for some time.

In issuing the Jadotville medal in December 2017, the State took the first step towards righting a 56-year-old wrong against the men of A Company 35th Infantry Battalion, who served with distinction under fire in the Congo in 1961. Shortly before the medal was presented to the surviving men and to the families of those who had passed since the men returned to Ireland in 1961, one of the survivors, John Gorman, said:

The families of the deceased members worry me because they should get an apology from the government for what was done. Their fathers and brothers went to their graves branded as cowards.

We should be thankful that, due to the efforts of John Gorman, other soldiers, supporters, the publication of books on the episode and Richie Smyth's brilliant film "The Siege of Jadotville", based on Declan Power's book, nobody can be in any doubt about the scale of the bravery and courage of the 158 men under the leadership of Commandant Pat Quinlan when besieged by several thousand members of the Katangese forces. Neither would anybody be in any doubt about the unworthy man who was a UN official at the time, Conor Cruise O'Brien. The collective bravery of the men of A Company and the foresight of Commandant Quinlan ensured that no soldier lost his life during the four-day siege and that, in fact, the unit inflicted great casualties on the attacking forces, including 300 dead and nearly 1,000 wounded, no thanks to Conor Cruise O'Brien and the UN, who were supposed to have their back.

I am asking the Minister of State to intervene because next year marks 60 years since the attack on this small UN force stationed in a small outpost at Jadotville in the then Katanga region of the Congo. The citations from Commandant Quinlan recommended the issuing of 27 distinguished service medals and five military medals for gallantry. It is worth remembering the circumstances of what occurred. The unit of 158 soldiers included many teenagers. John Gorman was 17 at the time and he recalled the chaplain, Joseph Fagan, giving the soldiers the last rites in the defensive trenches they had dug around their outpost. In the understatement of the century, he has said it was "a bit scary". The detachment was ill-equipped for the mission and abandoned to face a vastly numerically superior force. As another survivor, Noel Carey, recalled, after four days in the 100° F heat under fire:

We had to work very hard on morale to try and get some of the lads together because it was probably the biggest shock we had. We didn’t expect to be attacked, we didn’t expect to be mortared, we didn’t expect to be machine-gunned but by God we never expected that we were going to be attacked by a jet aircraft.

Noel Carey also quotes Captain Liam Donnelly as saying, "There was just chaos in the beginning", and: "The NCOs were brilliant and they were able to retaliate and fire back.” Carey has also said:

[We] were having a pretty heavy night. It was the first time the lads had been under fire. They were jittery

That is the context but Noel Carey also said afterwards: "Pat Quinlan saved all our skins and brought all his troops safely. He just didn’t get the credit he should have got."

This was a reflection of good military training, discipline and leadership and a testimony to the calibre of the men in question. They did not deserve the disrespect they got when they returned, their second abandonment. As Regimental Sergeant Major Noel O'Callaghan has previously stated, we should "have the moral courage to right this wrong of the past". It is time to issue these much-deserved medals to at least the 32 men recommended by Commandant Quinlan.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is unable to be present due to previous commitments and has asked me to respond to the Deputy.

The siege of Jadotville was a prominent event that occurred during Ireland's peacekeeping mission in Congo in September 1961, as the Deputy outlined. 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 an almost continuous attack. They were taken into captivity on 17 September and remained in captivity until 25 October 1961.

With regard to the men of A Company 35th Infantry Battalion, the issue of the award of medals was addressed in 1962 and again in 1965. A properly constituted medals board considered the various cases presented. The board did not award any medals whose citation mentioned Jadotville. The then Chief of Staff considered the decision of the board and was satisfied with the findings. Subsequently, the question was raised in a letter to the newly appointed Chief of Staff. He forwarded the letter to the original medals board and asked that it reconvene and review its decision. The board indicated that the issues raised had received due consideration and it was not prepared to alter its findings.

A review was conducted in 2004 by military officers for the purpose of a broader examination of the Jadotville case. This board recommended that the events of Jadotville and the contribution of the 35th Infantry Battalion be given recognition. In this context, a number of measures have taken place to honour and commemorate the events at Jadotville and the very significant contribution of A Company and the 35th Infantry Battalion as a whole to the UN peace-support mission in the Congo. Recognition of their contribution over the years includes a presentation of scrolls to A Company in 2006 and portraits of Lieutenant Colonel McNamee, 35th Battalion Commander, and Commandant Quinlan, Company Commander, A Company, were commissioned in 2006. In July 2010, the 50th anniversary of the first deployment to the Congo, there was commemoration at a highly publicised and well-attended event in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. A nominal roll of A Company, printed in copper, was 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, a unit citation to honour the collective actions and bravery of the men of A Company was issued. This was the first time a unit citation was awarded within the Defence Forces.

Furthermore, on 13 June 2017, the Government committed, as an exceptional step, to awarding 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 fully recognise and honour their courageous actions during the siege. The words inscribed on the medal, "cosaint chalma" and "misneach", meaning "valiant defence" and "courage", were carefully chosen to pay tribute to the courageous men of A Company.

With regard to inquiries about additional medals, the award of distinguished service medals and military medals for gallantry are provided for in Defence Forces Regulation A9. This regulation sets out the criteria for such medals. It is important that, in order to maintain the prestige of such medals, the criteria be adhered to strictly. The introduction of any change to the regulations or the criteria for the award of distinguished service medals and military medals for gallantry is not a straightforward matter, and there are many associated complexities. Robust consideration must be given to any potential unintended consequences arising, such as those associated with maintaining the integrity of the award-of-medals system and the implications for previous decisions of properly constituted military medals boards.

The availability of documentary evidence and official records also represents a challenge in this case. It has been previously indicated that any additional documentation, information or evidence to support the request to award medals will be considered. At this juncture, with no new information having come to light, there would not be a cause for the matter to be re-examined. Notwithstanding this, the issue is receiving further consideration. The Chief of Staff is currently considering the matter in the context of the award of medals and the possible implications for the integrity of the award-of-medals system. It should be noted that the Secretary General of the Department of Defence is meeting retired Commandant Leo Quinlan shortly to discuss these matters and has requested that if he has any new information on the matter, he should submit it in advance of the meeting or bring it with him so it may be considered further.

Tá brón orm nach bhfuil an tAire, an Teachta Coveney, anseo. I knew in advance that this was the type of answer I would get, that is, that there were two properly constituted medals boards convened by two chiefs of staff and that issuing the deserved medals may undermine the prestige of the medals or have unintended consequences. That is the same trash that is quoted continuously. Regarding unintended consequences, the authorities have had nearly 60 years to come up with a way to address them. Not so long ago, the Government and Houses of the Oireachtas found it to be within their ability to pardon deserters from the Defence Forces who joined the British Army during the Second World War. Surely it is not beyond us, therefore, to give due recognition to the bravest of the brave, as recommended by the late Commandant Pat Quinlan. How can the prestige of the medal be undermined by giving it to the very men for whom it was designed? It was designed after the incident. It should not be beyond the military authorities to accept that they made and make mistakes. It does not undermine their authority or command structure. It still allows for military discipline and comradeship. It should never be seen as a sign of weakness. In fact, it should be seen as a sign of strength to admit an error. Correcting the record is better than living a lie. I ask the Minister of State to announce that the medals will be issued soon before any more of the ageing men pass away without deserved recognition from the military authority, which should, in the first place, have saluted them when they returned to Ireland rather than turning their back on them.

I have listened to the Deputy's response. It is regrettable that he would refer to a contribution made by me as trash considering that I spent a lifetime believing that the members of our Defence Forces are some of the bravest people and that they defend our country in all circumstances. They defend it on peacekeeping missions and have defended it at home for many years in support of the civil power. Having acknowledged fully many of the concerns the Deputy raised, I believe it is regrettable that he would refer to my contribution or parts of it as trash.

Notwithstanding all the situations I outlined, the matter is receiving further consideration. As I said, the Chief of Staff is currently considering the matter in the context of the award of medals and the possible implications for the medals system. I mentioned that the Secretary General of the Department of Defence is meeting retired Commandant Leo Quinlan to discuss the matter. It is important to realise that action is being taken. On behalf of the Minister, I take this opportunity to recall the valuable contribution made by all who served in the various Irish contingents in the Congo between 1960 and 1964 during the UN peace support mission. Ireland can be justifiably proud of all its brave men and women who have contributed to the cause of peace and security.