Wednesday, 7 March 2007
Willie O'Dea (Minister, Department of Defence; Limerick East, Fianna Fail)
The Niemba ambush occurred almost 46 years ago. It was the first such action involving the horrific deaths of Defence Forces personnel on a scale that remains unique. It has never been far from the public consciousness and I would like to publicly acknowledge the sacrifice made by all of the patrol's members and to extend my deepest sympathies to the families of those who died.
I will not take up the time of the House by going over the circumstances again, but there are two areas of controversy, namely, where Trooper Browne died and what he did to contribute to the survival of Private Kenny. The report concludes that prior to Trooper Browne's escape from the ambush site, he fired his weapon at the Balubas who were intent on beating Private Kenny to death, thereby distracting them and saving his life.
Colonel Behan's research of the available reports, consultation, interviews and direct evidence shows that there is no absolute certainty achievable in regard to these two matters. However, all the material assembled by Colonel Behan, including the statements of the interviews with Mr. Kenny and Mr. Fitzpatrick, will be added to the unit history and other associated papers held at the Military Archives, thereby creating the fullest and clearest record possible of this tragic event.
Since the completion of the report, Mr. Kenny and Mr. Fitzpatrick have asked me to hold an independent inquiry on the matter, but I do not believe that any further inquiry or investigation will resolve the facts of this case. Rather than focusing further on the specific circumstances in dispute, I would prefer to focus on how best the contribution of Mr. Kenny and Mr. Fitzpatrick can be suitably recognised and honoured. I would like to advise the House that I will be meeting each of the men tomorrow.
The Chief of Staff has proposed that appropriate public recognition of Mr. Kenny and Mr. Fitzpatrick be arranged on the day of an overseas parade where both could receive an appropriate presentation, such as a plaque or scroll. The UNIFIL review of troops, which is scheduled for Cathal Brugha Barracks at the end of April, would appear to be a suitable venue and event. A liaison officer has been appointed to keep Mr. Kenny and Mr. Fitzpatrick informed of developments with this proposal.
I would like to take this opportunity to recognise and acknowledge that Mr. Kenny, particularly in light of the serious injuries he sustained, and Mr. Fitzpatrick survived an horrific encounter with hostile forces, displaying courage, fortitude and tenacity to survive until finally rescued. I commend them on the selfless service they have given their country.