33. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when he plans to award medals to the surviving veterans and next of kin of the deceased veterans who served with distinction during the siege of Jadotville in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1961; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 32263/17 asked on 11 Jul 2017)
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: This question arises from a welcome announcement that was made by the Minister of State in June. When I asked the Minister of State about this matter on 21 June last, he said he was not sure whether legislation was required to issue medals to the survivors of the siege of Jadotville and the families of those who fought there but have since died.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: The Cabinet and I decided on 13 June last to award medals to the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion and to the next of kin of deceased members in full and due recognition and in honour of the courageous actions of the men during the siege at Jadotville in September 1961. This decision fully recognises their bravery and courage during the unique circumstances of the siege of Jadotville. I had been working on this initiative for some time. I was privileged to be able to decide to award a medal to the men and women of A Company.
The UN peacekeeping operation in Congo was the first time the UN deployed a significant military force. It was also one of Ireland’s earliest UN peacekeeping operations. The siege of Jadotville was a seminal event during this deployment. The collective bravery of the members of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion deserves recognition. One of the first decisions I made on my appointment to the office of Minister of State was to honour the men of A Company by presenting a unit citation in recognition of their collective actions during the siege. The decision that has now been taken to honour these men with medals is an exceptional step. It builds on last year’s ceremony and gives full recognition to the performance of these men during the siege.
Civil and military officials have commenced planning for the medal ceremony. The exact date has not yet been determined. I assure the Deputy that all reasonable efforts will be made to ensure that the medals will be awarded without delay. I anticipate that this will happen in the autumn.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: As I said at the outset, I welcome this decision. It is a pity it was not made 56 years ago. More than two thirds of the members of A Company, 35th Battalion have passed away. Their next of kin will receive their medals on their behalf. My colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn, along with Senator Craughwell, has proposed a motion on this issue in the Seanad. I think the Minister of State’s decision to award these medals has the support of Deputies on all sides of the House and of everyone outside it. If anything can be done to speed up the awarding of these medals to ensure it happens early in the autumn, in line with what the Minister of State has indicated, it will help to ensure as many survivors as possible can part in the event, which will recognise for once and for all the heroism of the Irish troops in the face of the odds they faced.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: This specially commissioned Jadotville medal will be attached to the unit citation that was presented in September 2016. As Minister of State with responsibility for defence, I decided - in conjunction with the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny - to award medals to all the men of A company in recognition of the significance of their actions at Jadotville. We made this decision on the basis of our increased knowledge and understanding of the unique and exceptional circumstances of the siege of Jadotville. I agree fully with the Deputy that it is unfortunate. I said for many years that if I ever had an opportunity to recognise the men and women of the Irish Defence Forces who fought in Jadotville, I would do my level best to do so. I am delighted to be able to recognise them in this way. It is unfortunate that many of these people have passed away in recent years and will be unable to receive their medals in person. I know their families are delighted and honoured to receive the medals on their behalf.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: This is a welcome move towards vindication, once and for all, that the stance taken by the Irish troops was heroic. Their heroism stands despite commentary by some people, including some Ministers in this House, over the years that suggested otherwise. It is right and proper at this stage, in the interests of undoing the damage that has been done over 56 years, that this recognition is given as soon as possible.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: Absolutely. A team from the Department of Defence and the military has commissioned the medal and is working on the ceremony. It will probably be late September or October before we have a date set for the ceremony. I intend that it will be similar to the event that was held in Athlone when the citation was presented. It will be a day for the surviving members and the families of the deceased members. They will be duly recognised in a fashion in which they have not been recognised up to now.