Defence officials to meet family of soldier killed in 1981 Lebanon attack on UN post

Minister says department wants ‘clear understanding’ of family’s concerns

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn:   has met family members and soldiers who served with Pte Hugh Doherty and Pte Kevin Joyce. Photograph:  Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: has met family members and soldiers who served with Pte Hugh Doherty and Pte Kevin Joyce. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Thu, Jun 19, 2014, 01:02

Senior officials in the Department of Defence are to meet members of the family of Private Hugh Doherty who was killed in Lebanon in 1981 with Private Kevin Joyce. Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe said the officials would meet the family at a mutually convenient date and time “to gain a clear understanding of their concerns”.

Former minister for defence Alan Shatter had agreed to meet the family, who claimed an Army cover-up after the incident, in which the men were attacked as they manned a UN observation post in the village of Dyar Ntar on April 27th, 1981. Pte Joyce’s body was never recovered.

The family is seeking an independent inquiry similar to the review carried out by Frank Callinan SC into the circumstances surrounding the 1989 deaths of three Irish soldiers in a landmine explosion in Lebanon.

Mr Kehoe said department officials had been in touch with the family “because I specifically asked them to make contact. It is important that we have dialogue with the families involved and specifically in this case.”

Sinn Féin spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who has met family members and soldiers who served with Pte Doherty and Pte Joyce, said “there are a number of issues that the family, as lay people like me, do not understand.

“It would be only fair to the family if two members of the Defence Forces who served on that day would also be permitted to attend so the meeting can be constructive,” Mr Mac Lochlainn added. The Minister assured him: “I do not have an issue with whoever wishes to attend. My department’s officials can consider any requests for the family.”

The Minister has just returned with Taoiseach Enda Kenny from visiting Defence Forces personnel currently serving in Lebanon, where a wreath was laid commemorating all personnel killed during UN service there.

He told the Dáil they had made the Lebanese authorities and Unifil aware of the Government’s desire for “closure” for the family of Pte Joyce and the Taoiseach had asked while in Lebanon for the assistance of the Lebanese authorities.

Pressed by Mr Mac Lochlainn about efforts to recover Pte Joyce’s remains, Mr Kehoe said there had been significant contact between the department and the Lebanese authorities about this and the department “will continue to make every effort to bring this tragic case to a conclusion”.

The Minister also said that while he was in Lebanon, Mr Kenny raised the murders of Pte Thomas Barrett and Pte Derek Smallhorne, who were shot dead in 1980 in south Lebanon after their UN convoy was stopped by armed members of a Lebanese militia. The killings were believed to be revenge attacks after Irish soldiers killed a Lebanese militia member in an exchange of fire.