I welcome the Minister to the House. He promised to come back to us on this issue. It is very unusual, at this late stage of the parliamentary session, when all of the other matters before the House relate to legislation, for a report that was only published and released to the public at lunchtime today to be debated so quickly. That highlights the importance of the issue to the Members of this House, but also to the Minister. I thank him for coming back to the House with the report, as he said he would.
Report of Independent Review Group Jadotville: Statements
I thank the Seanad for accommodating this debate on the report of the independent review group on Jadotville which was published today. The group examined the issue of the awarding of military medals to personnel who served at Jadotville while deployed overseas on the UN peace support mission in the Congo 60 years ago. When I announced the establishment of an independent review of this important matter in this House last November, it was broadly welcomed and supported by all parties. On that occasion, I undertook to return to the Seanad once the review was completed and I am here today to honour that commitment to Senators, even though it is very late in the parliamentary session.
Before I get into the detail of the report, I wish to personally acknowledge and sincerely thank all those who engaged with the review process.
There were a significant number of people who did so. In particular, I pay tribute to the 156 Irishmen who fought valiantly at the Battle of Jadotville in 1961 and to their families who supported them throughout and in the years since. The review group acknowledges it is extremely indebted to the veterans of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion, who have recounted their experiences, memories, pain and concerns with remarkable sincerity, honesty and authenticity.
The independent review group, convened by the Chief of Staff, brought together members with experience and competence in matters of military service, regulations and administration, as well as an academic of standing with an understanding of the historical context of the events in the Congo at that time and an experienced archivist who could access source material. While maintaining its independence throughout the review process, the review group has presented its conclusions and recommendations based on a rigorous and objective examination and a thorough analysis of all material and evidence, including oral and written submissions from A Company veterans, their families and key experts.
I extend my sincere gratitude to the members of the review group who carried out this comprehensive review into this very important chapter in Irish military history using an evidence-based approach, which was conducted in an impartial and professional manner. The report broadens the voices of those telling the history of the siege at Jadotville with direct testimonies of veterans, and gives a comprehensive, multidimensional and contextualised account of the Battle of Jadotville and, indeed, its aftermath. Importantly, the report highlights a level of misunderstanding in relation to the particular recommendations made for consideration of an award for either meritorious promotions or military medals. Through the comprehensive research conducted by the review group, these misunderstandings are addressed and the report clearly clarifies the factual position in relation to those recommendations made nearly 60 years ago. I welcome the clarification and the historical accuracy that this research process and the report brings to this issue.
The report, perhaps most importantly, acknowledges the deeply unsettling aftermath of Jadotville: the vilification, the whispering campaigns, the complete breakdown of trust and the abandonment suffered by the men of A Company, which resulted in, as described in the report, the destruction "of their bond with the Defence Forces and the State which had sent them overseas in the cause of peace". This meant many of them had nowhere to turn in the years and, for some, decades after Jadotville. The report states, "the Jadotville experience was wilfully ignored, and knowingly silenced, initially in the 1960s, and then in subsequent years". Many of the veterans did not cope well with the legacy of their experiences and I sincerely acknowledge the support that families provided to Jadotville veterans in the years that followed.
On behalf of the Irish State and the Government, I sincerely apologise to the men of A Company, 35th Battalion, who were not provided with the necessary supports or deserved recognition of their service on their return from Jadotville. I also apologise to their families for the many issues that arose as a result, some of which had tragic consequences. The lack of supports is extremely regrettable and should not have happened. We have learned from this, and we have taken great steps in the intervening years to support Defence Forces personnel, their families and veterans through the work of the Defence Forces personnel support services, PSS, and, indeed, other supports. Between July 1960 and May 1964, Irish Defence Forces personnel were deployed overseas on the UN peace support mission in the Congo, with more than 6,000 individual tours of duty at that time. Tragically, 26 Defence Forces personnel lost their lives during the UN deployment in Congo. These soldiers paid the ultimate price in support of peace and working for their country. As Minister for Defence, I can assure the House that all are remembered with respect and honour by my Department and the Defence Forces.
I recently returned from a visit to Lebanon where I had an opportunity to meet with Defence Forces personnel while deployed as peacekeepers in UNIFIL and to pay tribute to fallen heroes linked to UNIFIL in the past. Ireland will have the presidency of the UN Security Council in September, which also happens to be the month of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Jadotville. During this month, there will be a focus on Ireland's sustained contribution to peacekeeping since it first deployed with the UN in 1958. It will offer us an opportunity to show our pride in those who served in our name, at the request of the United Nations. It also offers the opportunity to recall the 87 members of our Defence Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the cause of peace overseas.
This substantial report makes a number of recommendations and I will be considering all of them, but time is needed to reflect fully on them and on the detail of the report. Tonight, given the strong interest in relation to the awarding of medals, I will focus particularly on recommendations made in this regard. The terms of reference provided that the review group "may consider the actions of individuals not already the subject of a recommendation [for a medal] ... in respect of Jadotville". During the course of the review process, the review group considered that Commandant Pat Quinlan, company commander, A Company, who was not previously the subject of a recommendation for a medal in respect of Jadotville, merited further investigation. The review group identified primary source evidence for the consideration of a recommendation for a posthumous award of the Distinguished Service Medal for Commandant Pat Quinlan. I am happy to accept this recommendation and it is intended to establish a military medals board without delay to consider this recommendation. While we should take care not to pre-empt the outcome of the deliberations of a properly constituted medals board, I have requested that it reports its findings to the Chief of Staff by the end of August. The report is clear in that a medal for Commandant Pat Quinlan should be considered in light of the collective effort of all who served with him as well as in light of his leadership during the Jadotville battle.
When someone commits a career to the Defence Forces, medals really matter along with the recognition that comes with them, the precedence set, and how they compare with others who have also been honoured with medals. This happens, as we all know, on the basis of a military assessment. It should be noted that in the 1965 medals board, 360 cases were presented for consideration, and of those 65 personnel were recommended for the award of the distinguished service medal for service with the United Nations operation in the Congo, ONUC. There are always dangers with recommending medals for some and not others. This report notes that advocating for medals for some and not others in the case of Jadotville, has left some Jadotville veterans feeling that their contribution during the Battle of Jadotville was perhaps of lesser value. Many veterans of A Company and their families, as evidenced in this report, reinforced the point that they value the integrity and status of An Bonn Jadotville, or the Jadotville Medal, as it is called, and therefore the report recommends that the status of An Bonn Jadotville should be retained and afforded due respect in recognition of the actions of A Company at Jadotville.
I recognise this is a report of 457 pages and many Senators have only just received it today.
I advise them to take the time to read and review it. I hope this wide-ranging and thorough independent examination finally addresses and brings some closure to the legacy issues relating to military medals for veterans of Jadotville. Although the outcome of the review may not be what some might have anticipated or hoped for, there is no doubt that this rigorous review was carried out with an evidence-based and systematic approach and was conducted in an fully independent manner and certainly without influence or input from me. With the historical accuracy that this report brings, I now appeal for unity of purpose in bringing some closure for many of the families affected and, in particular, for veterans who are still impacted by the issue.
In conclusion, I wish to recognise again the courage, skill and extraordinary contribution and sacrifice made by those involved at the time. In the words of the report, "To all veterans of ‘A’ Company, 35 Infantry Battalion and 1 Infantry Group, we salute your outstanding service as peacekeepers with the United Nations mission in the Congo in 1961". During our presidency of the UN Security Council, I intend to hold an appropriate occasion and commemoration in September in New York for the service of all peacekeepers but, in particular, those who served in Jadotville. Of course, we will also commit to holding a State event to recognise the 60th anniversary on 16 September. It will probably be held on the following Sunday, as is traditional for Defence Forces events. It will probably be on 19 September but we will certainly inform Members of those formal ceremonies and events in recognition of the extraordinary service of the men involved. I look forward to hearing the comments of Senators.
I thank the Minister for his remarks. It is appropriate that the families be recognised as many of them suffered as a result of what happened to their loved ones in Jadotville.
The Minister has delivered on his commitment and I thank him for that. Several months ago when he stated that the report would be initiated, he gave a clear and definitive timeframe in respect of when he would come back to the House and he has fulfilled that commitment today. I thank him for that. I also thank him and his officials for the engagement they have afforded me and every other Senator. He is one of the few people in recent years who has put a significant effort into this issue and that is to be commended. As regards the report, on one level it is quite disappointing that it is 480 pages long as it is difficult to delve into a document of that length and be able to debate and give a considered response on the issue five or six hours later. I am sure the Minister will accept that.
I was struck by several issues in the report that I wish to address briefly. The first relates to An Bonn Jadotville and the concept that some veterans or the review group itself believed Senators were trying to diminish its seriousness. I wish to take this opportunity to put on the record that that is absolutely not the case. An Bonn Jadotville was awarded in 2017, perhaps as a result of political pressure led by Senator Craughwell and other Members of this House several years ago who decided to get the issue back on the agenda. That was a great job done well. We were not trying to diminish the record of that medal in any sense; rather, we were trying to ensure that the other medals recommended by Commandant Quinlan in the 1960s were awarded and that all those involved get proper recognition. It does not sit easily with me that parts of the report state that there was the potential to create a two-tiered system of veterans because that not the case. I wish to take this opportunity to state that I certainly do not believe that claim to be accurate.
Another part of the report into which I delved in detail relates to the views of the group on the debate that took place in the Seanad on 11 November 2020. The presentation of that debate in the report is quite selective. It paints several Senators, including all those currently present in the Chamber, as glorified ambulance chasers pushing some sort of political agenda. I thought about those words before I used them. I have never had any political agenda whatsoever on this issue. All Senators have political agendas but this is the one issue on which no Member had a political agenda. It was a great example of coming together across party lines. There was no one-upmanship or political agendas; it was about trying to just get this issue back on the table for discussion. We did so and, thankfully, the Minister then instituted the review group, which is what all Senators sought. I take offence at some of the language used in the report in respect of Senators and this House. For example, it states:
rather unwittingly the Seanad debate seemed intent on sowing renewed division by creating two classes of Jadotville veterans ... [it] seemed to ignore An Bonn Jadotville, and showed little awareness that to award further medals would be a divisive act amongst the veterans still living.
Another point that struck me appears towards the end of the report, where it states: "No politician cared enough about the Jadotville veterans to even discuss with the Independent Review Group the possibility of talking to the group or making a submission on behalf of any veteran or veterans." That view is contradicted three sentences later, when the report states that no political parties or outside influences should have any input on this in the first instance. All Senators who contributed to the debate last November made the point that the Government and politicians have no role whatsoever in deciding what medals are awarded, though I can understand how that may not be the view of the layman or the public. Decisions relating to the awarding of medals are totally within the remit of the Army and the wider Defence Forces, which is the proper way to go about it. Never in a million years would I have thought it acceptable for me, as a politician and a Member of this House who tried to advocate for an independent review group to be established and who, to be perfectly truthful, has little or no military experience, to decide whether the correct military procedure was followed. I am not a military historian. It would have been wrong or inappropriate for me or another politician pushing this issue to make a review or a submission or to appear before the committee. I was more than happy to leave that to the professionals, namely, the people who have dedicated their lives to the study of Jadotville or to campaigning on this issue.
However, I would like to have made a submission after what I have read about myself or Senators Wall and Craughwell in the report. I would love to have had the opportunity to respond to some of the points made in the report. I have studied history. I love history. If I was not a politician, I would love to be a historian. The references in the report to the Seanad debate would give a Martian or someone from outer space reading the report in 20 years the impression that the politicians involved did not know what they were doing, muddled the whole thing up and were motivated by some sort of nefarious political reason. With all due respect, that is the view I got from reading the section of the report dealing with the Seanad debate.
The report includes quotes from veterans in respect of the debate and they are entitled to hold those views but the review group used selective quotes taken from hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of interviews to back up the narrative that what happened in this Chamber six months or seven months ago was wrong. I would be more accepting of the section if it included a negative quote in respect of the debate followed by a positive quote. I know from my own experience the number of people to whom I have spoken who were directly involved with Jadotville or have family members who were so involved and were delighted with and appreciative of what happened in the House last November. It is perfectly acceptable to include quotes from people who did not like or accept what happened here last November but, in the interests of transparency and fairness, the views of those on both sides of the issue should have been presented for posterity so that historians or others looking at the report in the future can see it is a clear and balanced presentation of the issue. That is my view on how the Seanad is addressed in the report. Some of the language it uses in connection with the debate is politely condescending.
Another point I wish to note is that the report states, "as evident in the Seanad debate and the political pressure coming from County Councils, and other bodies and individuals". There was certainly no county councillor or anyone else pushing me to bring this issue forward; I just believed it was absolutely the right thing to do.
If we had not pushed this nine months ago, we would not have this independent review board in the first instance. I said in November, which is not acknowledged in this, that if the independent review board turns around, having acknowledged all of the information, and still says it will not award or recommend anything, that is fair enough. I said it then and I say it now. The Minister has done everything he can today. On page 10 it states: "The veil of silence cast over the Battle of Jadotville for decades, and the stigmatising at all levels of those who fought bravely and survived Jadotville, does the Defence Forces no credit whatsoever. This must never happen again.".
Let us pray to God that is the case.
As I start, I want to acknowledge the role the Minister played in bringing an independent review group about. I acknowledge the work of his Department in the support it gave in every way. However, the brave men of Jadotville, along with their families and loved ones have been dishonoured and treated abominably for 60 years by the Defence Forces in Ireland. Nothing in this report of the independent review group on Jadotville published today addresses, seeks to undo or redresses the wrong. Shamefully, it piles further pain, humiliation, and suffering on the surviving veterans of Jadotville, and dishonours the memories of the deceased Jadotville veterans.
The comments I am making now come from a variety of sources that have contacted me today and last night. The anger is unbelievable. The Irish 35 Infantry Battalion in the Congo, to which Jadotville 'A' Company belonged, was part of a larger military UN military component. The brigade was UN and Indian-led, at the time. The whole UN force in the Congo was led by an Irish general of which the Indian-led brigade was a subordinate component part. I am told that immediately prior to the fateful dispatch of 'A' Company to Jadotville, two other infantry companies - one Irish and one Swedish - had been stationed in Jadotville, but were quickly withdrawn by the Indian brigade commander. He was a colonel who had credible intelligence provided to him. Two companies of soldiers were hopelessly outnumbered by the assembling, combined forces of Katanga Gendarmerie and international mercenaries. They were hell-bent on attacking the UN forces in Jadotville and reclaiming the town. I understand that the sequence of events, and unorthodox orders, given directly to the Irish battalion by the Irish force commander, bypassing proper channels of command, and the Indian brigade commander, are at the root of this ill-fated deployment of 'A' Company to Jadotville. Why the Irish force commander, in this instance, violated the proper chain of command when the Jadotville deployment of 'A' Company subsequently went wrong, became a centrepiece of not wishing to delve too deeply into Jadotville and the Defence Forces medals boards in the 1960s, lest the ugly truth be revealed.
Both the Irish force commander and the Irish battalion commander in the Congo at the time were close personal friends, and not just military colleagues. Both were from the same rural part of Ireland. I further understand that those who have erred in their flawed decision-making and subsequent issuing of unorthodox orders in the Congo, and who used personal friendships with Irish personnel then stationed in the Congo to have these flawed orders carried out, were subsequently in a position of high authority in Ireland when the 1960s medals board sat.
Given the so-called independent review group report we are now discussing and the Jadotville medals board in the 1960s, when the terms of reference were carefully crafted, and the membership of the boards were "friendly forces", to use a military term, then the required partisan findings of the group on boards by convening authorities can all but be guaranteed a tactic as old as time itself. In the case of the so-called independent review group, another worrying factor-----
I remind the Senator of the issue of privilege in the House, in the event that he is going to name anybody.
I am not going to name anybody.
That is ok.
I hope the Cathaoirleach will add on time for me.
Commissioned officers have close military friendships with their cadets and classmates, while undergoing officer training in the military college. Even within these special friendships, there are always deeper friendships between a small number of fellow classmates. The 44th cadet class of 1969 to 1971 was no different in this. I must state that within the 44th cadet class, one of these deepest personal friendships was, and remains, between the son of the aforementioned Irish force commander in the Congo, and the chair of the independent review group, whose report we are now discussing-----
Can I just-----
I have not named anybody.
No, Senator, the rule is clear. It is not just that you have to name somebody; you can also make them identifiable. I am warning you on this.
I will try.
You have breached it already. I just want to warn you. I take on board what has been said about the criticism of the Seanad in that report. I will take up the matter. I will write, on behalf of the Seanad, to the people who wrote the report. Our job as the Seanad is to air issues of concern. I do not care if that is about the Defence Forces, about the church, or about anybody else. That is Senators' job and I expect them to do it. While a report may criticise us, it must do so fairly. It must be recognised that it is the job of a public representative to represent the public. That is what Senators did on this occasion but I remind Senators that they have a duty-----
A Chathaoirligh, I am obliged at this stage to point out that I have spoken to the son of one of the actors in Jadotville. He asked the chairman of the board to recuse himself, based on the relationships that exist. I am bound to point that out. I-----
I want to remind you of-----
Okay. The process of investigating recommendations for the awarding, or declining of the award, of military medals falls exclusively within the statutory responsibility of the Defence Forces' leadership. It is notable that the independent review group was not mandated or formed within the remit of the said Defence Forces regulations on the award of military medals. It was a process that was ultimately brought about by the intervention of politicians. It is risible, then, to note that unworthy comment in the report on politicians who were, and are, rightfully vocal in honouring the heroes of Jadotville. On not engaging with the investigation group, no invitation was issued to me or to any Senator that I know of, to engage with the review group.
The recommendation of the posthumous award of distinguished service medal, DSM, to Commandant Pat Quinlan, this charismatic and brave commander of 'A' Company 35 Infantry Battalion in the Congo, is noteworthy. Incredibly, the group report does not agree with the award of medals recommended by Commandant Quinlan, for the other 33 members of 'A' Company for their valour and bravery in Jadotville. This is quite astonishing. The group sees fit to honour Commandant Quinlan, but somehow to dishonour him and his judgment when it comes to the field commander citing men for bravery. One must surely follow the other. It makes no sense, other than the unthinkable, that the group seeks to only applaud the Quinlan family, who have led the fight for proper honouring of these men and their families for decades. Pat Quinlan was a man of honour. He would be dismayed to be honoured to the detriment of his fellow soldiers.
I can tell the Minister that the Jadotville heroes that exist today, whether they are listed for medals or not, loved Pat Quinlan. I have never met anybody who served who did not love Pat Quinlan. The independent review group has veterans and members as advisers who are themselves veterans and members of three recognised Defence Force veterans' groups, the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers, ARCO; the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel, ONE; and, the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, IUNVA.
The negative and inevitably explosive consequence of this flawed report will cause upset and dissension within and between all three organisations. It will also, sadly, cause unnecessary rupture and discord between serving and retired commissioned officers, their non-commissioned officers, NCOs, and private soldiers. This is regrettable in the extreme, for those serving and retired. At a time of great and increasing difficulties for the Defence Forces, it could and should have been avoided. The award of a DSM, was at one time a badge of honour in the Defence Forces for those who carried out acts of individual or collective valour, bravery and decision-making of the highest order when faced with hostile actions; where there was imminent threat to life and limb; and on the saving of life on land, at sea, or in the air, at home or on overseas deployments. Sadly, the award of DSM medal has been itself dishonoured in recent times, for being continuously awarded to most senior officers of the Defence Forces on their retirement, merely for having occupied the highest rank of the Defence Forces and for little else of note.
The citation attached to these recent DSM awards is a matter of public record and cringeworthy in the extreme. By comparison, these flawed citations make the brave men of Jadotville seem like superheroes, which they were. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on 6 December 1941, before Japan's formal declaration of war on the USA, has been described in military history as a day of infamy. Today's publication of this report is Ireland's day of infamy. There is a proud military history to the siege of Jadotville. Those associated with the report will soon be forgotten and we will be left to remember the personnel's part in the siege. The heroes of Jadotville will live on in memory forever and rightly so.
Every time I go to Galway I meet Charlie Cooley. Charlie was nominated for a DSM, and every time I meet him he says to me, "Craughwell, where's my feckin' medal?" When I saw the report this morning, as one who served in that unit, I cried. I cannot believe the Minister opened the door to allow the Defence Forces to undo the greatest wrong in the history of this State and I admire him greatly for that. It took great courage. What did the Defence Forces do? They screwed it up and could not have done so worse if they had tried. They have set officers against men. A number of enlisted personnel and former enlisted personnel have contacted me today to say to me, "I always told you, Craughwell, it is only a feckin' officers' Army." What am I going to say to them? What can I say to them? I told them about the parade in September the Minister was organising. They said they wanted nothing to do with it. It is such a heartbreaking day for 33 families. Tell the Quinlans, whose brother killed himself, that he was not worth his DSM.
I do not know what to say. I admire the Minister for what he did. I am so desperately sorry because the allegations of conflict of interest on the board, which were there from the beginning, are coming at me left, right and centre: from Australia, Indonesia, America, England - you name it.
Thank you, Senator.
I am sorry.
I cannot but be moved and touched by the emotion Senator Craughwell has shown and I empathise with him and feel every bit of that emotion, as I think many of us in the Chamber do.
I thank the Minister and commend him on his formal apology to those who served in the "A" battalion and to their families, who have supported them throughout the years. I also acknowledge the fact that the Minister has stated that it is his intention to have two different ceremonies this year, one in New York, at the UN, to recognise all those wonderful men and women who served as Irish peacekeepers and Irish ambassadors throughout the world, and one on 16 September to remember those from the battle of Jadotville 60 years ago.
The last time we spoke about this in the Seanad, the Cathaoirleach - and I thank you once again, a Chathaoirligh - read into the Seanad record the names of each and every one of those who served in the battle of Jadotville in recognition of the respect and esteem in which these men are held right across the political divide. We should remember that this was the very first peacekeeping mission in which a significant number of Irish soldiers took part. It is only right that we should recall and honour the contribution of all who served in the various Irish contingents over the course of the long, difficult and complex mission. Of course, we recognise those who have participated in all missions since 1958.
There is huge emotion attached to the Jadotville case and rightly so. The men who served in Jadotville are responsible for extraordinary service to peacekeeping and to Ireland in what was, again, an incredibly complex, challenging and very difficult space. They fought valiantly for five days, and the fact that they sustained only five injuries was a testament to the man who led them, Pat Quinlan. Of course, we remember all those who have died overseas in the cause of international peace and security. I wish to remember in particular Sergeant John Lynch, who died in Lebanon in 1997. I was teaching his young daughter at the time and I have very strong and fond memories of him. The last time we discussed this the Minister mentioned that any awards that would be recommended must be seen as having been awarded in exceptional circumstances. The siege of Jadotville was certainly exceptional, and the bravery and courage shown by these men was absolutely exceptional.
The report before us today, as the Minister says, is a long one, and it is regrettable that we have not had the opportunity to go through it in detail. We certainly join in the tributes to the 156 Irishmen who fought and their families who supported them. It is good to see the report highlight both the deeply unsettling aftermath and the huge lack of personal welfare supports afforded to the men following the events at Jadotville and their period in captivity and on their return home. I acknowledge that the Chief of Staff has said the veterans of "A" company, 35th infantry battalion, and their actions are the embodiment of our Defence Forces' values of respect, loyalty, selflessness, physical courage, moral courage and integrity. While I certainly do not agree with many of the report's 19 recommendations, the conclusion is important:
The veil of silence cast over the Battle of Jadotville for decades, and the stigmatising at all levels of those who fought bravely and survived Jadotville, does the Defence Forces no credit whatsoever. This must never happen again.
Unfortunately, the recommendation that only one medal be awarded to these men does the Defence Forces no service either.
The recommendations under "Veterans' Affairs" are important and we have to acknowledge them on a day and an evening that is disappointing for all of us who have a particular interest in the siege of Jadotville, as I do, coming from County Kildare, the heart of the Defence Forces. There is a recommendation that "[t]he Defence Forces should now [and only now] engage with ... veterans, focussing initially on those who served with the 35 Infantry Battalion ..., to identify, to offer and to arrange support to those requiring it". The recommendation that "[t]he Defence Forces should review, with a view to expanding, its Mental Health and Well-being Strategy to support the wider Defence Community of serving personnel, veterans, and their families" is very welcome and long-overdue. The recommendation that "[b]oth the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces should enhance their financial and material support for Veterans' Centres and Drop-in Centres operating under the auspices of the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel (ONE) and the Irish United Nations Veterans' Association" is also very welcome. I think we have all engaged with the ONE right around the country. It is a group of incredible people and I am really glad to see it included. "The Independent Review Group recommends the Government appoints a Commission for Veterans' Affairs, who ... would act as an 'ambassador' for veterans." That is hugely important. Coming from Kildare, I see the many challenges and issues that veterans have, from housing to welfare supports, and the recommendation that there be a collaboration across Government Departments and local authorities to provide transition support is, again, hugely important to veterans and their families.
I will turn to what my colleague referred to in respect of the comments in the report about public representatives and their comments both in the Seanad and more widely.
I take grave exception to the language that was used. It is an insult to every single one of us here and to the 18 county councils that passed motions in support of the veterans and their families. I will mention some of the language used. I refer to terms such as "downplaying", "purposeful" or "in ignorance", which is basically saying we were speaking in ignorance. It refers to public representatives having a "lack of understanding"; "confusion" over what was mentioned; "a tendency to inflate the numbers"; "exaggerated claims"; "unsupported claims"; "a lack of interrogation of the facts in favour of easy comments uttered"; public representatives demonstrating "a lack of an informed understanding"; and the Seanad debate being "characterised by groupthink, incorrect information, misleading statements and the denigration by those present of An Bonn Jadotville." This is an absolute disgrace and I take grave exception to it.
I thank the Minister, however, for his work and his apology. I commend his commitment to doing his best both in terms of the two events we will have this year and in progressing the recommendations for the veterans.
I thank the Minister for coming to the Chamber this evening. Like other Senators, I am genuinely taken aback by this report. At the same time, I am conscious that the Minister said it is very detailed. I have not yet read it as thoroughly as I would like to but I went through as much as I could in the time available this afternoon. Like previous speakers, I was genuinely taken aback by the language. I appreciate the Minister is in a difficult position and I do not want to make that position any more difficult. I believe he has come here in an honourable capacity this evening, and I want to acknowledge that.
When the report makes reference to the "Jadotville bandwagon", what does that say about the very honourable efforts of my colleague beside me, Senator Craughwell, and other colleagues across all parties? I pay particular tribute to Senator Craughwell because I know how passionate he has been about this issue for so long. I also mention my colleague who is now in the Dáil, Deputy Mac Lochlainn, who has spoken passionately about this issue on many occasions, and, equally, Senator McGahon. It is rare that we all agree on something. I believe the Minister will acknowledge that.
The more I read, the more taken aback I was by the tone of the report. It is mocking, patronising and insulting. I must ask the Minister to comment. How does he feel about the phrase "Jadotville bandwagon" that is used? In all the engagements on this matter, I have only seen politicians genuinely trying to make a case for the heroes of Jadotville - nothing else. No one has played party politics on this issue. We have come together to try to see these men honoured in the way they should be. The truth of the matter, unless I am reading the report wrong - I will take time to read it more thoroughly - is that it is an attack on this institution. I must say that. That is how it looks to me. I do not believe that is in any way justified. This is not what I expected to be saying this evening.
Having seen the headlines, like others, I want to express my huge disappointment that this report does not recommend that the heroes of Jadotville receive medals. There is an irony, of course, in the fact that the report rightly recognises the heroics of Commandant Pat Quinlan and then disregards entirely his recommendations. I am being honest with the Minister in saying that from my reading of the report, it seems to have the deliberate aim of holding entirely to the position of the previous military tribunals on the issue of medals. It does not seem to move one inch from those tribunals, apart from recognising the amazing heroics of Commandant Pat Quinlan which, of course, it is important to do.
The tragedy is that there was an opportunity to undo the wrongs that were committed by the State against these troops for so long. They have been traumatised, stigmatised and victimised. At least six veterans took their own lives on their return in the aftermath of the battle. I cannot imagine the sense of disappointment the veterans and their families must be feeling this evening. I am sure everyone else present was struck, as I was, by what Senator Craughwell said about the reactions. I have been monitoring the reactions on social media as much as I can. The word "disappointment" does not even begin to describe them. I almost sense a perception of betrayal with regard to the language and dismissive tone of the report concerning the genuine, sincere, and in my view, absolutely correct call for these men to be recognised and given the medals Pat Quinlan wanted them to get.
I am conscious not to say much more at this point. I will take the time to go back and read the report fully, from start to finish. I acknowledge and recognise the importance of the apology given by the Minister this evening. It is very important that is on the record. I must say, however, that the language of this report is political and targeted.
It is targeted towards undermining the sincere work of Senators from across this House. What is motivating that? This honestly does not look like a balanced report to me. I do not think anyone would disagree. I am interested in finding out whether the Minister stands over the language used in the report. Does he stand over the very dismissive comments aimed at Senators from all parties? I must be honest here, and I am only offering an opinion, but it looks as if there was a predetermined agenda in terms of major aspects of this report. I say that not with accusation but with regret and disappointment. That is how it reads to me at this point.
I welcome the Minister for Defence to the House. I share the bitter disappointment expressed by colleagues about this report. I will address the language used as I proceed but I think it is important that we all get a chance to read the full 500-odd pages. When I raised this matter on the Order of Business this morning, the Leader stated we would have the report in our inboxes by 12 noon. In fairness to her, we did have it by noon but I have only had a chance to look at and take in the headlines.
In saying that, I will refer to a number of statements made in the Department's official press release, some of which also featured in the Minister's speech. According to the press release, the report concluded: "In relation to the possible awards of medals, the ... [Independent Report Group], having identified primary source evidence, recommends that Comdt. Pat Quinlan, Company Commander, ‘A’ Company, should be considered for a posthumous award of the Distinguished Service Medal." It noted, and the Minister confirmed this, that the Minister "intends to establish a military Medals Board to consider this recommendation without delay." It goes on to state that the independent review group "also considered all previous recommendations for military medals with respect to the events at Jadotville." Unfortunately for so many here tonight and listening in, the press statement then stated that, based on the research conducted by the independent review group during its review, the group "is strongly of the view that there is no merit to the reopening the recommendations of the 1961, 1962 and 1965 Medals Boards."
As with previous speakers, I welcome one aspect of the Minister's statement, namely, his apology in which he mentioned the deeply upsetting aftermath of Jadotville and the lack of personal welfare supports afforded to the men following those events, during their period of captivity and upon their return home. Speaking in the debate in November last, I noted that many of these men were scorned and ridiculed. They were called "Jadotville Jack" on their return home following their engagement in the Congo. As the Minister said, many of them had to live with that scorn for most of their lives.
It is important to acknowledge the apology the Minister has given to the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion and, indeed, their families. In this regard, I also acknowledge the comments of the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, who concluded: "The veterans of A’ Coy, 35 Infantry Battalion and their actions are the embodiment of our Defence Forces". Yes they are. He said those values are "Respect, Loyalty, Selflessness, Physical Courage, Moral Courage and Integrity". He went on to say, "It is a matter of much regret to me, that the values which we hold so dear, were not evident in the manner in which Óglaigh na hÉireann failed to embrace the veterans of the Battle of Jadotville on their return from service in the Congo." The Chief of Staff also said valuable lessons have been learned from this experience, and that he "trust[s] it will never be repeated".
Much has been written about what happened in 1961 and the Minister's own notes went through the timeframe of the battle exactly. Nobody has argued with that from what I have see today, but there are 500 pages. I thank the Cathaoirleach personally because he took our motion from November and we also had a very comprehensive debate, which the Minister himself attended. At that debate the Minister advised us there would be a review group to examine the case. As has been said by other speakers, over a long period of time many public representatives, from Dáil Deputies to fellow Senators to county councillors, have raised their concerns on this matter and sought a review of the engagement. I genuinely believe they did so out of a sense of public duty and public duty only. They wanted to recognise the contribution of those brave men to the Defence Forces and indeed to the UN, the flag of which they fought under. These public representatives also advocated for this out of loyalty to the families of those involved, many of whom contacted the same representatives we have spoken about tonight. Since November, a number of colleagues from the House, many of whom are here and have spoken tonight, have taken part in events commemorating those from A Company who fought at Jadotville. Most recently, we all met at the memorial in Merrion Square last month to take part in the Jadotville Challenge in aid of homeless veterans of the Defence Forces and organised by Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann, ONE, the national organisation of ex-service personnel. Such is the legacy of A Company that its memory and its deeds continue to be remembered and celebrated by public representatives and the public to this day, as they should be.
The Minister has been asked, and I ask as well, that he join in thanking all those public representatives who felt it was their public duty to bring to him the need for a review of this engagement. As I said last November, while I support the Minister's comment that politicians should not award medals, I am sure he will agree that when we are brought information about incidents such as Jadotville and about our heroes, we should bring it to his attention as the Minister for Defence in order that we can go through the due process of awarding those medals. For me, this was, and can only be about those from A Company who boarded that aeroplane to the Congo to serve their country and the UN. I make no apology for trying to represent those Jadotville families who contacted me to ask me to bring this matter into the public arena, as so many of my colleagues have done. These men are heroes and will always be heroes to so many. They, under their commanding officer, Commandant Pat Quinlan, have created a proud legacy for the Defence Forces.
I too bring up the language used in the report. I welcome the Cathaoirleach's intervention that he will write to those involved in the independent review to ask them to consider the language they have used. The language used is an absolute disgrace. Other Senators have mentioned various aspects of it, including the "Jadotville bandwagon". Who came up with such a term? Maybe the Minister might be able to tell us because I again stress my only intervention in this was to try to represent Irish heroes. That is all any of us was doing here. When we spoke in the Chamber in November, it was to represent those heroes who fought in Jadotville in 1961. We, and this is the important point, had no other agenda, and the question of whether other agendas were at play has been asked and is being asked again, and maybe that is the detail we must get to.
We have a situation tonight. I pay tribute to Senator Craughwell for the work he has done over recent years. We all joined him, as I said to him a year ago, to support that work and to get recognition for those who fought at Jadotville. I have had calls, as other Senators have said they have had, from people throughout the country, asking them what has gone wrong here. They ask why they are seeing a report where there is no recommendation of Pat Quinlan's own recommendations, which he fought for, for his comrades who fought with him in the siege of Jadotville. That is the bottom line. We are recognising Pat Quinlan as a commander but we are not recognising his own recommendations. To me, the question is why we are not doing that.
I cannot accept this report as it stands, a Chathaoirligh. I ask for another debate when time allows so we can go back here again. The Minister has said we all need to read it and I agree, but we must come back to this House. We must come back for one reason and one reason only, namely, that the heroes of Jadotville want us to come back and to get to the bottom of exactly what happened here. Time is against us. The sooner we get back here and debate what is in this report, the better. I thank the Cathaoirleach, and thank the Minister for coming to the House tonight.
I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this and recognise this previous engagement with this House on it. I acknowledge the very sincere engagement by colleagues from right across the House and from every party who have spoken about this issue. I speak tonight on behalf of Senator Black, who has engaged very closely with many of the families of the survivors of Jadotville. She regrets she cannot be here. As somebody who has watched these debates and not been the key speaker in them in the past, there is no doubt in my mind of the real and genuine sincerity of Members on this issue and the lack of political division, motivation or point-scoring. This sits with a record in this House that where we deal with issues of international human rights and of decency, such as the murder of Pat Finucane, there is sincere and cross-party engagement from Members. The Minister will be aware of that because he has often been here for such debates. It is important to note that.
I regret the report does not identify and recognise the tone and motivation of the Seanad's engagement. However, we should be glad of that engagement because the Seanad debate did contribute to the forming of an independent review group. Some of the very important recommendations on welfare, counselling and supports for those who exit the Defence Forces would not have got centre stage without the review group and the press on the issue from the House. I hope the recommendations will be acted upon. There are very important issues of welfare, health support and counselling for those traumatised not simply by the events of Jadotville but how they were treated subsequently and indeed the trauma visited on their families by how society treated them.
While those are part of what is at issue, the real core here is still that question of recognition. The report itself acknowledges, "The Jadotville experience was willfully ignored, and knowingly silenced, initially in the 1960s, and then in subsequent years." Interestingly, the Minister himself pulled out this quote. Having had the experience of being silenced for so long, what people want now is that it be heard first of all and that it does not become invisible. That is why it is a concern for eight living members of the 33 who were recommended by Commandant Quinlan for the distinguished service medals and indeed the five recommended for military medals for gallantry. They felt seen by their commander and I am sure it was an important thing for them that he saw what they did and their bravery in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. As well as that collective recognition, it is very important to remember there is no question about that being deserved by all who received An Bonn Jadotville.
However, we must consider those specific people and their families. Senator Black is often better at reading the personal stories than I am. I tend to go to the policy. She shared with me the correspondence she has had with some of the people. Mr. Noel Carey talked of going in as a young man to be a peacekeeper and finding himself fighting for the survival of his friends, colleagues and those in his group.
There was correspondence from a woman, Helena Quinn, who writes about her father, Corporal Tadhg Quinn, and the impact it had on him all his life and what it meant for him. She wrote about the specific role he played with mortars and digging in defensive positions. All of that work was seen by their commander. That is why he recommended them and that is why it is still difficult.
It is appropriate that Colonel Pat Quinlan is nominated and that there is a recommendation for him to be awarded the distinguished service medal. He could also be honoured by recognition that, as a commander, he recognised the gallantry of those who served with him.
Neither those of us in the Seanad nor anyone else sought to make submissions or to in any way engage with the work of the independent review group because it is an independent review group. The independent review group has now made recommendations. There will now be a new potential medals board. The medals boards of the 1960s made their decisions but this medals board will also be independent of the independent review group. It will make its own decisions. It is perhaps important that we do not close the door in terms of what the medals board can do, should a new one be constituted, as the Minister has suggested. It will of course be looking to award the appropriate award to Colonel Pat Quinlan but it could and should be free to make decisions about what it might do in future. Again, the medals boards of the 1960s are fine and I know the suggestion is that they should not be revisited but I believe that door should not be closed.
UN peacekeeping is something that we are all proud of. Ireland has the longest unbroken service with the United Nations of any country. We have lost many people in peacekeeping, including 26 people in Congo alone. UN peacekeeping is different from other kinds of military service because it is not for interests or for benefit. It is in the service of peace and the protection of life. It is in the service of the support for civilian society and protection of civilians. We have played a particular role. It was regrettable that the narrative was placed in terms of the framings and was undermining. The work over five difficult days and over weeks of captivity in preserving and protecting the lives of colleagues was part of that peacekeeping mission and that sense of humanity. These soldiers served humanity and one another. They did not serve any interests. This was very much in spirit with the way they were directed to act and the way they bravely fought under the leadership of Colonel Pat Quinlan.
It was appropriate for the Minister to mention that Ireland is on the UN Security Council. It is important for us to remember the reason we are on the Security Council. One of the things is our role in disarmament and other reasons include our role in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. The role of Ireland in being a champion for peace and in not being subject to military interests is relevant as are the United Nations values of humanity and peace. It is appropriate that the Minister mentioned that he will look to find other ways to honour the men of Jadotville as part of our leadership of the Security Council in the autumn.
I thank the Minister for taking time out to be here this evening to listen to this debate and for the sincerity he is affording to this sad affair. It is disappointing that this is the third attempt at trying to address this issue. Unfortunately, for many, I am saddened to say, it falls sadly short of their expectations.
These 156 people fought side by side. There was no distinction between any of them. They all had a job to do and they did it to the best of their ability. The manner of the events subsequent to their experience and their experience upon their return home have saddened so many. Many Members have talked about it eloquently this evening. It is sad that this is the third attempt at this since 1961. We end up with a 500-page report that falls short, disappoints and saddens so many people. That is most disappointing.
I welcome the sincerity of the Minister and his formal apology this evening to the survivors and the families of those who are still around. I honestly do not know where we go from here. Normally, when reports are written there is an appeal mechanism built in whereby people who are disappointed or angered about the outcome have an opportunity to make comments or a submission. I am unsure whether the door is closed in respect of that process.
I note President Higgins is the supreme commander. Perhaps some form of recognition through the President, who is highly respected by so many in this country, and rightly so, would be of some comfort to the families. Perhaps some form of memorial would be adequate. I do not have the answers but I call on the Minister to see what the State could do to finally bring closure and to recognise the bravery of the 39 people who sadly lost their lives and to all the other people, families and survivors who are still with us.
It is very sad. Other Members have spoken. Senator Craughwell spoke passionately about the content of the report in respect of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and local authority members throughout the country and the question mark put over their sincerity. I honestly did not think it was necessary in the comments. To put it mildly, it was highly disappointing.
We have not had much time to digest the 500-page report. Senator Wall outlined this in his contribution, as did others. I hope that with the passage of time over the summer we can revisit this. I have every confidence that the Minister will come forward with proposals that will go some way to satisfying the needs of those who campaigned so hard and who have been involved in this sad affair from the get-go.
I welcome the apology of the Minister in his contribution. I thank him for his fulsome apology and I hope it gets into the public domain because it is important that we send out the message. I wish to acknowledge that the Minister is initiating the review and the ceremonies he proposes to hold in the autumn.
I wish to acknowledge the work of the former Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. He recommended to Cabinet the presentation of An Bonn Jadotville and was the first Minister of State to do so. He presented the medals to those who served in Jadotville. I wish to acknowledge the good work of the former Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, in that regard.
I have spoken to some men today and I will come to that. No criticism of today's report is aimed at Colonel Pat Quinlan and there is no implied or explicit criticism of him. I salute the fact that the Cathaoirleach brought the names of the veterans into the roll of honour of the Seanad. That was great. I wish to acknowledge the pioneering work of Senator Craughwell in this area and his real, emotional, genuine and cerebral commitment.
The review group was considering giving distinguished service medals to 33 personnel and military medals for gallantry to five. Those people held out for five days between 13 and 17 September 1961. They only surrendered when overwhelming odds made anything else a suicide mission. That should never be off the record. I share the disappointment of my colleagues at the outcome. Commandant Pat Quinlan recommended the awarding of medals. The veterans of Jadotville have been viewed in a certain way in some circles for many years. They have been looked at ignominiously. They suffered pain and there have been suicides and issues with alcohol, and many other problems have arisen. This is certainly not a political issue. It is a bad situation.
A distinguished member of my local community, Quartermaster Sergeant Sean Gregory, was in the field of operations at that time and was policing the airport at the time of the Jadotville siege. He has testified to me and others about his recollection of the bad treatment of the men, particularly when they come home and since. He had been on three peacekeeping trips. He was in the area of operations, was a distinguished officer and knew what happened. He said the way those veterans were treated was disgraceful. There was a lot of collateral damage.
I hope that the welfare recommendations, at a minimum, are adhered to. I hope we do that welfare bit. I hope the Minister's letter is strong in its response to the disgraceful insinuations about the motivation of political people from county councils and the Houses of the Oireachtas. Those insinuations are beyond contempt for publicly paid people. It is a sinister type of thing. Senator McGahon brought up that matter earlier.
I fundamentally hope we will have good ceremonies in September. I hope we will do the welfare bit in a good, big and wholesome way. I hope the Minister will intervene to make sure that happens. I would like to hear him say that he will ensure that will happen. It is regrettable that the report has not recommended the distinguished service medals. I personally regret, as we all do. It is a sad outcome. However, we will hold these people and their families as heroes. It is great that the Minister apologised to them. I should apologise to them and do, as we all should. What happened to these heroes and their families was disgraceful. It is one of the great shames of our history. It is a shocking indictment of the country that people could be treated like this. Those people were unable to do anything other than they did unless they were to commit hara-kiri or collective suicide.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I join colleagues in thanking him for the sincere apology he has delivered on the part of the State. However, I too am disappointed, like others, that the motivation of those of us who have raised this issue has been somehow questioned. Particular language is used. The report states: "Unfortunately, recent events have shown that evidence-based historical accuracy has become a casualty in the evolving narrative for the memory and ownership of the Battle of Jadotville." The report suggests that "some views ... are the product of incorrect information and grandstanding for effect". That language is insulting because there was unity within this House and at local authority level. At a meeting of Wexford County Council, the motion in support of the veterans of Jadotville was tabled by Councillor Garry Laffan. In Kilkenny, the motion was tabled by Councillor Joe Malone. They are former members of the Defence Forces and that is why they tabled the motions; it was not for a political reason.
My interest in this matter was sparked by the Reverend Mark Hayden in Gorey, where I am from. He organises a remembrance service every year for all those who served in uniform. He brought down Mr. Declan Power in 2005, soon after his book had been published. That engaged people. The film directed by Richie Smyth, based on that book, engaged the public far more. I accept that poetic licence was taken in the film. However, the story of those men had to be told. This was not done out of any bad motivation. It was about telling a story about our peacekeeping tradition, a story of which we are all proud. I know from talking to some of the veterans of Jadotville, and members of the Defence Forces and veterans more generally, that they feel passionately that this story should be told. This State tried to suppress that story for a long time.
Credit should also be given to Mr. Ronan McGreevy of The Irish Times. He was one of a number of journalists who continued to raise and tell that story. All that anybody here ever wanted was for that story to be told, that bravery and gallantry to be recognised, and the State to apologise and give some form of recognition to those veterans. I am disappointed at the basis of the findings of the report.
We can take learnings, going forward. The apology is important, as are the welfare issues. I take it that the Minister will sincerely work to address those issues. How we treat our Defence Forces more generally is an issue about which people are passionate. I look forward to the Minister ensuring that our Defence Forces and peacekeepers get the recognition they deserve. More than anything else, what is coming out of this House during this debate, as has come out of the House in previous debates during which many of us have raised this issue, is that we can say to the brave men of Jadotville that regardless of whether this report recommends medals, we recognise their gallantry and bravery. We are forever in debt to the contribution those people made to Irish peacekeeping and in ensuring that the strong role the Defence Forces have played internationally will always be recognised.
The Minister is welcome. I thank him for coming to the House. It is important to welcome the apology he gave on behalf of the Government in his opening statement. I acknowledge the effort he has made previously in commissioning this report.
We live in a democracy and the Defence Forces are there to defend our democracy. Senators, Deputies and councillors are elected to represent the views of the people within our democracy. I take issue with comments in the report. I went back to the comments I made during a debate last November. I was one of the last people to speak at that time. I said I agreed with the numerous comments that had been made and that it was up to the military, and not politicians, to decide the matter of who receives medal. "We need to right a wrong", I said, "it is as simple as that". The common theme when we last discussed the matter was that we politicians were not there to interfere. The comments in the report are disappointing.
There has been disappointment in my local constituency, particularly in the Athlone area from which many of the men came. I welcome the recommendations to erect a plaque in Custume Barracks. I welcome the State ceremony that is to take place on the 60th anniversary. I welcome the supports that are going to be put in place, particularly for Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann, ONE. I wish to recognise the work it does across the country, particularly in my own county. It is also important to remember the 156 men from A Company and thank them for their service to our country. I particularly thank Private Sean Dowler from my own parish who was one of those 156 men. It is important to remember all the members of the Defence Forces who have given their lives to serving the country.
I was asked by Senator Joe O'Reilly to add a comment he did not have time to make. Former soldiers have said to him that they feel medals should only be given to officers.
It would be unusual for me to comment on a debate but seeing as references to the Seanad have been included this report, it would be remiss of me not to comment. I believe the Seanad should have a special debate, as has been proposed, on the 60th anniversary of the siege of Jadotville in September.
The terms of reference of the report, issued by the Minister's Department, are as follows:
a. The Review Group will consider ONUC’s operational environment in Katanga, and in particular Elisabethville and Jadotville;
b. The Review Group will consider the historical evidence and processes in relation to all recommendations for military medals received with respect to the events at Jadotville or encompassing Jadotville;
c. The Review Group will engage with national and international stakeholders (including Jadotville veterans) as appropriate, with a view to uncovering any additional or new evidence in this case;
d. The Review Group may consider the actions of individuals not already the subject of a recommendation for a medal in respect of Jadotville;
e. The Review Group will report its findings to the Chief of Staff. The Review Group may make recommendations in relation to possible awards in respect of Jadotville.
Such were the terms of reference. I go to page 360 of the report and I see the heading: "A new public and political campaign for medals". It states that: "A campaign to lobby local and national politicians to award Jadotville medals began in earnest in February 2019". In our job, we get lobbied all the time. That is appropriate; people should lobby us. Members often take up causes. A number of current and former Members are mentioned in chapter 11. They include Eamon Scanlon, Deputies Chambers and Keogh, as well as too many councillors to name. It makes the following point: "The rekindled medals campaign became a convenient way to attack the government and attack senior levels in the Defence Forces." With regard to that comment and other elements of the chapter, the Minister can safely say that is not in the terms of reference of the review. I am from County Kerry and so is Pat Quinlan. There is a monument to Pat Quinlan between Derrynane and Waterville. If the Minister is ever on the Ring of Kerry, I ask him to stop by. I am sure Pat Quinlan would rather all his men get medals than he get one.
I thank all Senators for their contributions. It is an emotive issue and many people have invested time and effort into raising concerns about Jadotville and, more important, how people were treated when they returned. No Defence Forces member should be vilified upon returning from serving in an overseas mission but that happened to far too many in the aftermath of Jadotville.
The State is making an apology this evening for how people were treated. We are rewriting history in terms of the wrongs that were done and, at least in our words, we are recognising what should not have happened but did, and the lessons we have learned from that. I hope the substance of what is happening this evening is not lost in the debate, despite the frustrations many have expressed about the report.
It is useful that the House is committing to another debate in September or at some point in the future. I ask people to take the time over the summer to read the report in full. I am conscious of the fact that I only made it available today, a few hours before the debate. Much of the criticism of the report, certainly that I saw on social media, was within 40 minutes of its being made available. Clearly, people were disappointed some things were not in the report or that they could not find them, but I hope people read the report in full if they get a chance, rather than just the 45 pages of executive summary, which is a large executive summary. I have read not all but a lot of the report. There is a lot of substance in the report and a lot of direct language. I understand that has made people bristle in this House. There was criticism of some public representatives' approach and the suggested motivation of statements they have made.
I appeal to people not to make this issue about us as public representatives, as a House or as local authority members. I understand the criticism but the focus must be on the issue, the families and the veterans, so we learn lessons from serious mistakes that should not have happened and ensure we change systems in our Defence Forces and in our governance structures to make sure the recommendations in the report, some of which are outside the terms of reference, are given serious consideration. We can learn lessons from the report. It is an outlining of history as well as a blunt critique of some of the commentary around Jadotville. The report questions the accuracy of what some have said at different times. It does not surprise me that people have pushed back on some of that language.
It is evident the report has not been written for political popularity. I think it was written on the basis of trying to establish facts through a blunt use of language. Some of the recommendations are strong and the criticism of the politicians, the Defence Forces and the way people were treated are equally strong and given in blunt terms. Terms like "vilification" and "whispering campaign" are used and there are references to the destruction of the relationship between men and the Defence Forces and the State. It is powerful, hard-hitting language and we can learn a lot from it. Some will question and disagree with the recommendations, as is their right.
I deliberately have not dealt with each recommendation in terms of how I intend to respond to it because a report of nearly 500 pages needs time to consider and digest. We can take what is strong, positive and powerful from this report, question the areas that need to be challenged and questioned, should that arise, and, most important, learn lessons and adopt recommendations.
A number of things need to be said. The awarding of medals must be within a military system. I think everybody agrees with that. However, the treatment of men and women in the Defence Forces is not just about the military system. It is my job as Minister for Defence to ensure we train, support and respect members of our Defence Forces past and present, in terms of the challenges we ask of them. I will respond to the report in as ambitious a way as I can as a Minister in terms of learning lessons from the recommendations and, in particular, in how we treat our veterans, which has improved dramatically in recent decades. This is not to say it cannot continue to improve.
The recommendation in the report around setting up a commissioner for veterans is something I am discussing with our team in the Department of Defence and will discuss with the incoming Chief of Staff in a few months' time.
Let us focus also on some of the positive aspects of this report. This report asks some hard questions of us in some pretty tough language and, of course, it is our job to be constructively critical of a report of this scale, substance and breadth. We have to focus on the substance of the issues, rather than on some of the criticisms of ourselves. We must also focus on accuracy, which is important to the credibility of how we deal with this issue. This is a significantly emotive issue but we must match the emotion and the responsibility that comes with that with historical accuracy.
I will happily interact with this House and it would be very useful were we to take the time over the next number of weeks - because we will get some time then hopefully - to carefully study this report. I will be happy to speak to anybody individually on it as to any concerns he or she may have and perhaps we may come back as a collective to discuss it. At that point, I as a Minister will be able to provide a great deal more detail as to how we can respond to some of the good recommendations in this report and what we can do, separate to this report, in having a State commemoration for those who served in Jadotville, which is also one of the report's recommendations.
It is not fair to say there is nothing in this report that recognises the significant contribution of our Defence Forces in the battle of Jadotville.
The other thing to say is that this report makes a strong effort to try to create the context around Jadotville, which was not an isolated battle. It was part of a much broader and extremely complex peacekeeping mission that resulted in much tragedy. In fact, men trying to reach our Defence Forces personnel in Jadotville died while trying to cross a bridge but being unable to reach Commandant Quinlan and those serving under him. There are many such stories that also need to be recognised in the context of this broader story. There are many lessons to be learned. This is undoubtedly a hard-hitting report and one that does raise the hackles of the political system and I ask people to take some time to read what is a detailed report and let us then come back and have an equally blunt conversation in how we respond to it as policymakers, and in my case, as a member of the Government and Minister for Defence.
Finally, to all of those who served in Jadotville and to their families who are now representing their interests, I say it is because we value their contribution and are genuinely sorry about what happened to them when they came home that we want to learn lessons from that, to ensure that it does not happen to another generation of Irish soldiers at any point in the future. It is because we continue to take their stories seriously that I asked for this report to be produced, that we have produced specific medals for Jadotville in An Bonn Jadotville, as well as citations and scrolls that families and individuals have received. I am aware that is not the same as a distinguished service medal, DSM, and I know what that means to soldiers.
I also note that as we speak, the structures required to put a medals board in place to look at the potential awarding of a DSM to Commandant Quinlan are being set up. Were he to receive that, he would not only be receiving it on behalf of himself and of the leadership he showed but would be receiving it on behalf of the contribution of all who served around him. That is also made clear in this report. In response to Senator Carrigy, I know and accept that is not enough for many people but there are positives in this report. There are also things on which we need to reflect over the summer and I certainly look forward to coming back to this House at the appropriate time when we can continue this debate.
I thank the Minister and we will continue the debate in September on the 60th anniversary.