Case of two Irish soldiers killed in Lebanon in 1981 to be reviewed

Ex-High Court judge to report to Minister for Defence Simon Coveney by April 30th 2015

A retired High Court judge is to carry out a review of the circumstances of the deaths almost 34 years ago of two Irish soldiers in Lebanon and the subsequent investigations.

A retired High Court judge is to carry out a review of the circumstances of the deaths almost 34 years ago of two Irish soldiers in Lebanon and the subsequent investigations.

 

A retired High Court judge is to carry out a review of the circumstances of the deaths almost 34 years ago of two Irish soldiers in Lebanon and the subsequent investigations.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has appointed Mr Justice Roderick Murphy to review all aspects of the inquiries and what happened on April 27th 1981 when Privates Hugh Doherty and Kevin Joyce were killed in the village of Dyar Ntar in south Lebanon, while serving with the Defence Forces on a UN-sponsored mission.

The two men were out on security duty on their own when they were shot and killed. Private Doherty’s body was discovered at the scene - by a stone wall in a field. Pte Joyce’s body was never recovered.

Pte Doherty (20) from Co Donegal was five days into his first overseas mission with the Defence Forces and Pte Joyce from the Aran Islands was just days from returning home after his six months’ assignment.

The ex-High Court judge will examine all the files including those of two inquiries carried out - a UN board of inquiry; and an investigation by the then director of operations for the Defence Forces, which has been criticised by soldiers serving with the two men at the time. He is expected to report on any inadequacies he finds in the investigations.

His remit includes interviewing any person relevant to the case. Among those he is expected to call for interview are a number of then Defence Forces personnel, who also shared the same accommodation as the two soldiers while in Lebanon.

Mr Justice Murphy will report back to the Minister by April 30th 2015.

The review is similar to that conducted by senior counsel Frank Callinan three years ago into a separate Defence Forces tragedy in 1989 when three soldiers were killed in a landmine incident.

Pte Doherty’s family and a number of soldiers who served with him have campaigned for an independent inquiry into the circumstances of the killings. His sister Venessa Nee is convinced of an Army cover-up, an allegation then minister for defence Alan Shatter noted in the Dáil, where the issue was raised on a number of occasions.

Speaking at the weekend she welcomed the announcement of the independent review. Ms Nee, who has been campaigning for two years for the review, said she thought she would have a “big battle” to get to this stage.

“I am happy that somebody is finally going to sit down and go through the paper work and see the mistakes that were made.”

She said she was also happy that on April 30th they would finally have an answer.

She noted earlier this year that when Mr Shatter answered questions on the issue in the Dáil, he said mistakes were made. She said it was a major step forward. “It’s the first time it was officially admitted,” she said.

Ms Nee said she believed it was the Army investigating itself when the inquiries were carried out and she has sought an apology, for her family being let believe that Pte Joyce killed her brother. In an interview earlier this year with The Irish Times she said “we were never officially told that, there was nothing written down but we were led to believe it”.

Donegal man Michael Walker, who served with Hugh Doherty in Lebanon and has campaigned with his sister for the inquiry welcomed the Minister’s announcement.

Mr Walker said the burden would finally be lifted from the soldiers who were there at the time and knew things had not been done right. And he hoped that “nothing like this ever happens again, that if there is an incident that soldiers will be listened to”.