Wednesday, 27 February 2019
Defence Matters: Statements
The Minister of State made a very comprehensive speech, which will be analysed by the representative bodies, such as PDFORRA and RACO. A good case can be made for the reinstatement of a full Cabinet position. I know the Minister of State attends Cabinet but there is a case to be made for a reorganisation of the Ministry to give defence a real, full say at Cabinet level. That is no disrespect to the Minister of State. He is doing his utmost to persuade Government to support the Army in every way possible. I have a vested interest because my nominating bodies are PDFORRA and RACO. The general secretary of PDFORRA is Gerard Guinan and the general secretary of RACO is Commandant Conor King, the deputy general secretary is Lieutenant Colonel Derek Priestly and the former general secretary is Lieutenant Colonel Earnán Naughton. All of them provide a great service.They do an excellent job in representing the rank and file and the officers of the Army, which is vital. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, has a close relationship with the organisations and is accessible to them. I have never heard otherwise, and that is very important. His speech will be analysed by the representative bodies and if there are any queries in that regard, I am sure they will refer back to Members of the Seanad and to the nominees who received the endorsement of both organisations and were elected on the Labour Panel. They would feel we owe them a debt of gratitude for their support and that it is our turn to support them in any way possible.
In that regard, an issue has arisen in the last few days. The Minister of State is probably aware of the emails that have been sent to Members of the Oireachtas regarding the Jadotville situation. I understood there was a recognition of Jadotville and the question of a medal when the Minister of State was in Athlone. The representations have been particularly strong on this. I have received hundreds of emails. An email from Malahide community school states that the school has close links with some of the Jadotville personnel, including Commandant Patrick Quinlan, the officer who commanded A Company and who was deserving of the military medal for gallantry, Captain Liam Donnelly, who was recommended for the distinguished service medal, and Corporal John McManus, who was recommended for the distinguished service medal. The email continues that in recent years the school has become aware of the battle of Jadotville and the issues regarding recognition of the extraordinary achievements of the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion, in the Congo in 1961.
I cannot understand why they have not been given the recognition they deserve. They were courageous but they were written out of history. I hope the Minister of State will give a response to this. The function the Minister of State held in Custume Barracks in Athlone was an important and significant event for the survivors of Jadotville. What other action can he take to recognise their work? They saved their men on that occasion. Otherwise, it would have been a blood sacrifice and that would not have been justified in the circumstances. For some reason there is a feeling, since the time of Conor Cruise O'Brien and others, that their work and sacrifices have not been recognised. They were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred.
I am sorry I do not have more time to speak. Senator Ned O'Sullivan has outlined our position, but I was anxious to put that point to the Minister of State. Our spokesperson in the Dáil, Deputy Jack Chambers, is responding positively to the representations that have been made and he has raised the matter with the Minister of State in the Dáil. We will continue to lobby in this regard.