Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (447)

James Lawless

Question:

447. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Defence if he will make inquiries regarding B Company, 35th Battalion, in Elizabethville in the Congo in 1961 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38654/20]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The service by Irish Defence Forces’ personnel in the Congo was significant and has made a lasting contribution to the history of the Defence Forces and its proud tradition of peacekeeping. The Defence Forces have participated in overseas missions mandated by the UN since 1958. We can be justifiably proud of the fact that they have completed approximately 70,000 individual tours of duty overseas in that time. In that time a total of 7 personnel have received the Military Medal of Gallantry while 90 personnel have been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for acts relating to service overseas.

The United Nations Operation in Congo was the first peacekeeping mission in which significant numbers of Irish soldiers took part. A total of 6,000 Irish soldiers served in Congo from 1960 to 1964 in various Irish contingents over the course of this long, difficult and complex mission.

In recognition of the service by Defence Forces personnel with ONUC, military medals boards, in accordance with Defence Force Regulations, were convened in 1962 and in 1965 to consider recommendations for meritorious promotions and recommendations relating to the awarding of medals for Gallantry and Distinguished Service.

Due to the unique nature of the events which took place in Jadotville, and the collective efforts of the Irish soldiers involved, the Government committed, 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.

In relation to events at Jadotville, I have asked the Chief of Staff to consider whether it is possible, as an exceptional measure, to have a retrospective examination of the events at Jadotville in September 1961 in the context of the award of medals and the possible implications for the integrity of the award of medals system. In response the Chief of Staff has proposed the establishment of an independent group of external experts to consider the entire case and evidence, including new evidence, if any, available. Once established, this Independent Group of External Experts will examine the events specific to Jadotville and will independently report its findings and recommendations to the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff will then make recommendations to my Office.

It is not proposed to extend the scope of review to other UN operations in Congo.

There are awards made to all personnel who serve on overseas missions, which aim to recognize the contribution made by the members of each contingent serving on the peacekeeping mission and the difficult circumstances in which they have to operate. In this regard, personnel received both a United Nations Medal, for their service in the Congo, awarded by the UN and the United Nations Peacekeeping medal awarded by the Irish Government.

Notwithstanding the awards which were issued as a result of the involvement of the Irish Defence Forces with ONUC, the significant efforts of all Irish soldiers who served in this mission are valued and appreciated. They have left a substantial legacy in the context of Irish peacekeeping efforts.