Expert group to report on Jadotville siege medal awards next month

Defence Forces battle a ‘story of brave gallantry, heroism turned on its head’

Leo Quinlan (left) whose father Pat was the commanding officer at the Battle of Jadotville pictured with veteran Charles Cooley. File photograph : Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

Leo Quinlan (left) whose father Pat was the commanding officer at the Battle of Jadotville pictured with veteran Charles Cooley. File photograph : Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

 

An independent review group will report in mid-June on the awarding of military medals for gallantry and distinguished service to Defence Forces personnel involved in the siege of Jadotville in the Congo 60 years ago.

The expert group, established in December, was due to report at the end of March. However it sought an extension because of the “sheer volume of meetings and the comprehensive nature of the research process which is still producing a vast amount of material”, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said.

The controversy surrounds the awarding of Distinguished Service Medals to 33 personnel in A company and the Military Medal for Gallantry, to five of the soldiers of A company serving with the UN who were besieged by a mixed force of soldiers in the breakaway Katanga province.

They held out for five days between 13th and 17th September 1961 without suffering any fatalities while killing an estimated 300 and injuring 750 on the other side, before they surrendered to an overwhelming force.

Their commanding officer Colonel Pat Quinlan recommended the awarding of medals but this did not happen because after their capture and release they were viewed in some circles as having surrendered ignominiously.

During Defence Questions in the Dáil Independent TD Catherine Connolly said it was time for a new narrative on “a story of brave gallantry and heroism turned on its head”.

She said “the amount of pain, suffering and suicide that followed on the consequent behaviour of the system to those soldiers is really unbearable”. The Galway TD said she did not know of any other case where so many were recommended for such substantial awards which were not given.

Sinn Féin defence spokesman John Brady said the 60th anniversary of the siege is in September and with only “a handful of survivors left” that “could be used as a date for the awarding of those medals”.

Mr Brady said “we need to bring an end to the injustice that has been served on these gallant member of the Defence Forces” and the “effective shame that was brought on those soldiers given the fact that 33 of the soldiers were recommend for distinguished service medals” and five of them for the highest award for gallantry.

Mr Coveney said the expert group is “looking at giving due recognition to the courage and bravery of all the members of 35th A Company”.

He stressed however that “it is important that the process of awarding medals is a military rather than a political process”.

But he said “this is an opportunity to come to conclusions that those who served at Jadotville and their families can be very happy with a closure and correction of history, should that be the recommendation”.

The issue has been looked at a number of times over the years and the work of the review group involved a fundamental review to ensure all the issues around Jadotville are fully considered.

He hoped debate on the issue could finally be brought to an end ahead of the very significant 60th anniversary of the “heroic contribution” of the Defence Forces at Jadotville.