Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised Galway West TD Noel Grealish in the Dáil today that he would have another look taken at the question of awarding medals for leadership and bravery to some officers and NCOs involved in the Siege of Jadotville in 1961.
Deputy Grealish had asked Mr Kenny during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon to ‘right a wrong’ done in the awake of the events in the Congo involving soldiers from ‘A’ Company 35th Irish Battalion — many of them from Galway — serving with the United Nations.
He said the force of 155 men, under the command of the late Commandant Pat Quinlan, had fought bravely against overwhelming odds for five days against a force of over 3,000 mercenaries and forces of the breakaway province of Katanga.
“These brave Irish men followed their orders and miraculously suffered no fatalities while the enemy suffered 300 dead and 750 wounded.
“Sadly after 56 years certain officers and NCO's recommended for medals for leadership and bravery by Commandant Quinlan have not yet received their awards,” said Deputy Grealish.
He added that in 1965 a military board had considered Commandant Quinlan’s recommendations. “No medals were awarded and no-one seems to know why.”
Deputy Grealish added that it was “unbelievable” that Commdt Quinlan had never been recommended for a meal for his outstanding military and tactical leadership in the field of battle which help saved the lives of the men in his company.
He said the time was right to ask Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, to appoint a medals board to review the awarding of medals to the soldiers of Jadotville and Commdt Quinlan.
In reply, Taoiseach Enda Kenny undertook to look into the reasons why medals were not awarded.
He said the original medals board had been asked to reconvene and review their decision, but had indicated they were not prepared to alter their findings.
However the Minister of State with responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, had last September presented a unit citation to honour the collective actions and bravery of the men, and a specially commissioned insignia would be presented in the coming weeks to members of A Company and next of kin.
“You made a particular point here in respect of commandant Pat Quinlan and his bravery and the fact that his actions saved lives at that time.
“I will have this looked at, Deputy Grealish. Let me talk to chief of staff said Mr Kenny, stressing that he was not giving any guarantee, but would report back to the House.
Pressed by Deputy Grealish to give a firm commitment that he would right a wrong, the Taoiseach said:
“You raise a point that’s interesting, because you say it’s not known why the medals were not awarded, what is the reason. I think that is an issue we need to look at.”
He said the men had fought with exceptional bravery and courage and the actions of Commdt Quinlan had saved the lives of other people
“I will have that looked at, Deputy Grealish, on behalf of all of you, down in Galway. But particularly on behalf of the soldiers and the next of kin.
“It wasn't an easy time, and no more than many of their predecessors, They showed exceptional courage in the face of enemy fire,” said Mr Kenny.
The Taoiseach commended the Fifth Year history students of Galway Community College who have been campaigning for the granting of the medals.
Some of the students, with the school’s Head of History, Philip Cribbin, were in the visitors gallery of the Dáil to hear Deputy Grealish raise the issue.
They were joined by students from Malahide Community School who have similarly petitioned for the award of medals, as well as retired Commandant Leo Quinlan, son of Pat Quinlan, and Jadotville veterans Quartermaster Sergeant Michael Tighe and Corporal Tadhg Quinn.