Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Questions (678)

John McGuinness

Question:

678. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Defence if the members of the 35th Battalion of the Army that fought at the siege of Jadotville will be awarded a medal for their bravery: if he will respond to Kilkenny County Council and other local authorities that passed a motion in the name of a person (details supplied) unanimously calling for action in this regard; his plans for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33047/20]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

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

The issue of the award of medals to the men of “A” Company, 35th Infantry Battalion was addressed in 1962 and 1965. A properly constituted Medals Board considered the various cases presented. The board did not award any medals whose citations mention Jadotville. The Chief of Staff of the day considered the decision of the Board and was satisfied with the findings. Subsequently at that time, the question was raised again in a letter to a newly appointed Chief of Staff. He forwarded the letter to the original Medals Board and asked that they reconvene and review their decision. The Board indicated that the issues raised had received due consideration and that they were not prepared to alter their findings.

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 Battalion be given recognition. In this context, a number of measures have taken place to honour and to commemorate the events at Jadotville and the very significant contribution of “A” Company and of the 35th Battalion, as a whole, to the UN Peace Support Mission in the Congo.

Recognition of their contribution over the years include:

A. A presentation of scrolls to "A" Company in 2006.

B. Portraits of Lt Col McNamee (35th Battalion Commander) and Comdt Quinlan (Company Commander “A” Company) were commissioned in 2006.

C. In July of 2010 the 50th anniversary of the first deployment to the Congo was commemorated in a highly publicised and well attended event in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

D. A nominal roll of “A” Company, printed in copper, was affixed to the monument in Costume Barracks and was unveiled as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Jadotville affair in September 2011.

E. 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 13th June 2017, the Government decided, as an exceptional step, to award a medal known as “An Bonn Jadotville” or “The Jadotville Medal” to each member of “A” Company, 35th Infantry Battalion and to the family representatives of deceased members to give full and due recognition in honour of their courageous actions at the Siege of Jadotville. This medal presentation ceremony took place on 2nd December 2017 in Custume Barracks, Athlone. This location is considered the spiritual home of “A” Company and it is from here that “A” company assembled in advance of their fateful deployment to the Congo.

With regard to enquiries about any additional medals, the award of Distinguished Service Medals (DSM) and Military Medals for Gallantry (MMG) are provided for in Defence Forces Regulations (DFR) A9. This regulation also sets out the criteria for the award of such medals. It is important that in order to maintain the standing of such medals and indeed all of those provided for in DFR A9, that the criteria outlined is strictly adhered to.

The introduction of any change to the regulations or to the criteria for the award of DSMs or MMGs is not a straightforward matter and has many associated complexities. Robust consideration must be given to any potential unintended consequences arising such as maintaining the integrity of the award of medals system and implications for previous decisions of properly constituted medals boards. The availability of documentary evidence and official records also presents a challenge in this case. It has been previously indicated that any additional documentation, information or evidence to support the request to award such medals will be considered. At this juncture, no new information has come to light that would be cause for the matter to be re-examined.

Notwithstanding the above, 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. The Secretary General of my Department recently met with Comdt Leo Quinlan (retired) on the matter.

A response will issue to Kilkenny County Council and the other local authorities on their motions shortly.