Thursday, 13 May 2021

Ceisteanna (6, 16)

John Brady

Ceist:

6. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Defence the progress to date by the independent review group set up to investigate and make recommendations on the battle of Jadotville. [25004/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

16. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Defence the status of the work of the independent review group that was established to examine the events at Jadotville in September 1961; if he has received a copy of the group's interim report, which was due by 31 March 2021; when the interim report will be published; the timeline for when the group’s work will conclude; when the final report will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25090/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (15 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Defence)

I wish to ask the Minister for an update on the progress of the independent review group that has been set up to investigate and make recommendations on the awarding of medals to the soldiers who participated in the battle of Jadotville.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 16 together.

The issue of awarding of military medals for gallantry and distinguished service medals to personnel who served at Jadotville in September 1961 has been considered on a number of occasions over the years and a number of actions have taken place to give due recognition to the courage and bravery of all the members of "A" Company, 35th Infantry Battalion, who were stationed in Jadotville in 1961. Notwithstanding the actions that have been undertaken to date, 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 proposed the establishment of an independent group of external experts to consider the entire case and evidence, including new evidence, if any is available.

The independent review group was established by the Chief of Staff in December 2020 and consists of the following members: the chairman, Brigadier-General Paul Pakenham, retired; Dr. Michael Kennedy of the Royal Irish Academy; Commandant Billy Campbell, retired; Regimental Sergeant Major Michael Dillon, retired; and Ms Linda Hickey of the military archives. The terms of reference for the review are clear and are outlined in my written answer. I can go through them if the Deputies so wish.

In line with its terms of reference, the independent review group will examine, report and make recommendations in respect of the Battle of Jadotville of 13 to 17 September 1961 and will report its findings to the Chief of Staff. The work of the independent review group is well under way and the group has been actively engaged in the consultation and research process. The review group was due to conclude by 31 March 2021, however, given the sheer volume of meetings and the comprehensive nature of the research process, which is still producing a vast amount of material, an interim report was submitted and an extension to the timeframe for reporting to the Chief of Staff was requested. Taking into account the volume of research material and engagement being undertaken by the independent review group in the course of its work on this very important matter, this request for an extension has been recently acceded to. The timeframe for submission of the final report is mid-June. Once the work of the independent review group has been completed, the Chief of Staff will make recommendations, as appropriate, to my office.

At this juncture, it would be premature to state if the interim report or the final report, once submitted, will be published or released. I will await the outcome of the work of the independent review group and the recommendations of the Chief of Staff in due course. When the final report has been received and any findings have been given due consideration, a decision on the release of the interim report and final report will then be made, taking into account any legal or other considerations arising. Certainly, it is my intention to be as transparent as I possibly can be in respect of this process when the final report becomes available. Obviously, however ,I will have to take legal advice on that. I hope that this process will be able to bring this issue, debate and discussion to an end. September next is a very significant anniversary of the heroic contribution of Irish Defence Forces personnel at Jadotville. I hope that we will have a successful outcome to this review which will conclude next month.

Subject to the agreement of the two Deputies who tabled the questions, I will alternate between the them. I will take Deputy Connolly next.

I welcome the Minister's update and the progress made. I know that other Deputies have raised this issue, but I looked at my own previous contributions on the matter and I first raised it in 2017 with the then Minister for Defence, Deputy Kehoe. We have made progress in the sense that there seems to be more openness to look at the issue. It is disappointing that the review has not been completed, but I understand that there is a lot of work to be done. Does the Minister have a date for when the review will be completed and the report published?

I must say that nothing has captured my heart or imagination like this story. I have watched the film, read two books on the matter and attended all of the talks given by the son of the officer commanding. Most significantly, it was the presentations made by the pupils of two schools, Galway Community College and Malahide Community College, that really captured my imagination. We need heroes, and these soldiers were heroes. I will speak more about that in my second contribution. I hope we have learned to do the decent thing. I will conclude so that I stay within my time limit, seeing as I give out so much about it.

I will come back to the Deputy. I do not mind. I was going to take each Deputy in turn.

I posed the question, so normally I would speak first. Perhaps the Acting Chairman will allow me to speak at this point before the Minister responds.

We will not have an argument over it.

I welcome the progress that has been made by the independent review group. There was some concern when a time extension was requested but I understand the rationale behind that. A lot of work needs to be done and I welcome the fact that the review will be thorough. We need to bring an end to the injustice that has been done to the gallant members of the Defence Forces who participated in the Battle at Jadotville almost 60 years ago, with the anniversary coming up in September. That injustice must be brought to an end. We must undo the unjustified shame suffered by those soldiers, especially given the fact that 33 of those who participated in the battle were recommended for distinguished service medals and five were recommended for military medals for gallantry by Colonel Pat Quinlan.

I welcome the fact that an end date of mid June has been set for the review. I ask the Minister to provide assurances that this deadline will be met because, as I said, the 60th anniversary falls in September. There is only a handful of survivors left at this point. I hope that the review leads to the right outcome for them and that the occasion of the 60th anniversary is used for the awarding of the long-awaited medals

I have been involved in a number of debates on this issue and I know the strength of feeling on it in this House and in Seanad Éireann. The Quinlan family have been very strong advocates for full recognition of the contribution that Irish Defence Forces serving personnel made in what were extraordinarily testing and difficult circumstances during the Battle of Jadotville.

It is important that the awarding of medals is a military process and not a political one. What we are trying to do with this review by the independent group with military, historical and archive expertise is to make sure that not only was an appropriate decision made in terms of the awarding of medals, but also that the contribution that was made is considered accurately in view of the knowledge we now have of the historical context and so on. I hope this will be an opportunity to come to conclusions that those who served at Jadotville and their families can be very happy with, that will provide closure and a correction of the historical record, should that be the recommendation in terms of the assessment of those events. I have seen the film too. I have also read a lot about Jadotville and have spoken to many people about it. I am approaching this with the goal of transparency. I want to ensure that all issues around Jadotville are fully considered and recommendations are made accordingly. I hope that the date I have given of mid-June for the final report can be met. Some would have liked even more time but I am anxious to get it done so that we can bring the conclusions back to the Dáil and Seanad before we break up for the summer recess. I hope that those involved will be able to conclude their work but the most important issue is the quality of that work. We must not rush it. The volume of work undertaken by the review group has been quite extraordinary, which is why more time was needed.

I appreciate the Minister's response. I would just like to point out to Deputy Brady that I also tabled a question on this issue, which was grouped with his. That is why I am here and contributing to the discussion.

The Minister spoke about a process that is not political, and I understand that, but if ever a time was right to do the right thing, the 60th anniversary in September is that time. I do not know how a story of bravery, gallantry and heroism was turned on its head. These were young soldiers, some of whom were only 16 years of age. I imagine their parents were still getting the children's allowance for them when they lied about their age. They were called the "Jadotville Jacks". I do not understand how the story of their heroism could be turned on its head. That alone deserves a new narrative. The amount of pain and suffering and the number of suicides that followed from the consequent behaviour of the system towards those soldiers was unbearable. Among the group of soldiers, 27 were proposed by their commandant for distinguished service medals, 29 for bravery and five for gallantry. I may have those figures slightly wrong but what is important is the substantial nature of the awards that were recommended but not given. I ask the Minister to ensure that we do the right thing.

I know the strength of feeling here. We have seen a whole series of local authorities around the country pass motions on Jadotville and we have seen schools getting involved in advocacy and doing projects on Jadotville. This is something that has caught the interest of many people across the country. It is a story of heroism, professionalism and extraordinary human endeavour. There are many other stories of heroism and extraordinary bravery linked to the Defence Forces too, which is why we have a medals system within the Defence Forces. What is being looked at now is whether they got it wrong on this occasion and whether the contribution of Defence Forces personnel at Jadotville has not been written into history in the way it should. That is what is being considered now. I hope, on the back of a substantial amount of research and consideration, to be able, as Minister, to correct anything that should have been corrected before now. Members should not forget that there have been multiple and very genuine attempts by the State to address the Jadotville issue in terms of the awarding of Jadotville medals, scrolls and so on. However, what is happening now is a more fundamental review of the process and the place in history of this contribution, from a peacekeeping perspective, under extraordinary circumstances. I hope by the middle of June to have recommendations that I can act on.

I wish the independent review body well and I hope it meets the June deadline. It is incumbent on it to do so. An enormous amount of work needs to be done but ultimately this is about undoing the disservice done to those involved. It is about honouring the heroes of Jadotville of 60 years ago. The fact that the testimony of the officer on the ground and his recommendations were not listened to or acted upon was the fundamental flaw in the entire process. We cannot undo that but the fact that the review is taking place at this point is welcome. The handing out of scrolls completely missed the core point. Hopefully, the many mistakes that were made in terms of the classification of these heroic Irish soldiers as cowards will be undone and the record will be set straight. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do that and I hope the right decisions are made.

I hope Members will accept the sincerity of my motivation here. We have set up a review process involving people who are taking it extraordinarily seriously. I have been assured that this process will be very robust. It will take into account an extraordinary volume of archival and historical material and will make recommendations on the back of all of that, in consultation with the families and many others.

I hope that by the middle of next month, a report with recommendations will be presented to the Chief of Staff, who will forward that report to me. We can have the next debate on this issue in the context of all that knowledge and the recommendations that will come from it.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.