Campaigners take High Court challenge over Jadotville medals

Applicants fear just one military medal will be awarded to troops involved in battle

Leo Quinlan, son of the late Patrick Quinlan, the officer who commanded the Irish troops  at the Battle of Jadotville. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Leo Quinlan, son of the late Patrick Quinlan, the officer who commanded the Irish troops at the Battle of Jadotville. Photograph: Laura Hutton

 

Campaigners seeking to honour Irish soldiers who fought at Jadotville have brought a High Court challenge over fears that just one military medal will be awarded to the troops involved in the battle.

The action has been brought retired members of the defence forces Senator Gerard Craughwell and Leo Quinlan, son of the late Patrick Quinlan, the officer who commanded the Irish troops on a peacekeeping mission with the UN in September 1961.

Represented in court by Vincent Heneghan SC, appearing with John Berry Bl and Joseph Mulrean Bl, the applicants want all those who showed “exceptional bravery” at Jadotville to be officially honoured.

In September 1961, Cmdt Patrick Quinlan and 155 troops were dispatched to the then break-away province of Katanga in the then Congo, as part of a UN mission. For five days at Jadotville, they came under sustained attack from a significantly larger and well-equipped force of 3,000 Belgian, French, and Rhodesian-led Katanga mercenaries with air support.

Despite inflicting serious casualties on their attackers, the Irish troops ran out of ammunition and water and were forced to surrender. They were eventually released.

Apology

No Irish soldier was killed in the engagement. Counsel said that despite their bravery they were treated appallingly, shunned and lead to believe that they had brought shame on the Defence Forces.

Last July, the men received an apology from the State.

Counsel said an independent review group was set up by the Defence Forces Chief of Staff last year to consider if military medals should be awarded to all Jadotville veterans. It recommended that a medal process be initiated without delay for the consideration of the Distinguished Service Medal for the late Cmdt Quinlan.

Leo Quinlan, a former commandant in the Defence Forces, and Senator Craughwell say they have been informed that only one medal should be awarded arising out of the battle. They are both opposed to that proposition, and strongly argue that others should also receive medals for their conduct at Jadotville.

The late Cmdt Quinlan had, following the battle, recommended troops under his command at Jadotville for medals but those requests were rejected by his superiors.

Bravery

Counsel said that campaigners said since the review board made its findings public, they have been trying to establish if a Military Board has been set up in relation to Jadotville. The purpose of such a board is to make recommendations if military medals should be awarded to any member of the Defence Forces for exemplary conduct.

If a board has been convened, the campaigners say they want to make submissions to it regarding information they have on the events of Jadotville, Mr Heneghan said.

The campaigners have written to the Government seeking to find out if such a board has been convened. However, the campaigners say that they have received no proper response, nor any information from the respondent, regarding any convening of a board.

The applicants, along with other campaigners and the families of those who fought in the battle, now fear a decision may be taken regarding medals without them being able to make any submissions on the matter.

Arising out of their concerns and a failure to get any response, they have brought High Court judicial review proceedings against the Minister for Defence.

In their proceedings against the Minister, where the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces is a notice party, the campaigners seek various orders and declarations. They seek an order requiring the Minister to provide them with a copy of the regulations governing the establishment of Military Boards.

They also seek various declarations including that they be allowed make submissions to any board established to consider the award of medals from the battle.

They further want an injunction to be put in place that would prevent the Minister from considering any recommendations from any board convened to consider the award of medals arising from the battle.

Mr Justice Mark Heslin said he was satisfied that the applicants had crossed the threshold allowing the court to grant them permission, on an ex-parte basis, to bring their challenge.

The judge adjourned the injunction aspect of the action to a date next week. The main action will be mentioned before the High Court in October when the new legal term begins.

The incident was the subject of an award-winning film, the Siege of Jadotville, which was based on a non-fiction book written by former soldier and military analyst Declan Power.