High Court action brought to obtain medals for all Jadotville veterans

The court heard that despite the troops' efforts in September 1961, they have been very badly treated, shunned and almost airbrushed out of Irish military history.
High Court action brought to obtain medals for all Jadotville veterans

Aodhan O'Faolain

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 by retired members of the defence forces, Senator Gerard Craughwell and Leo Quinlan, son of the late Pat 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 properly and officially honoured.

The court heard that despite their exploits the troops were very badly treated, shunned and almost airbrushed out of Irish military history because they surrendered. The veterans have subsequently received a full apology from the State over their treatment.

Review

Counsel said an independent review group was set up by the Defence Forces Chief of Staff last year to consider whether military medals should be awarded to Jadotville veterans.

It recommended that a medal process should be initiated without delay for the consideration of the Distinguished Service Medal for the late Comdt Quinlan.

His son Leo Quinlan, who is a retired Commandant in the defence forces, and Senator Craughwell, who is also a retired soldier, 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 Comdt Quinlan had recommended troops under his command at Jadotville for medals, however those requests were rejected by his superiors.

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 a Military Board is to make recommendations if military medals should be awarded to any member of the defence forces for exemplary conduct.

If such 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 Military Board to consider the events at Jadotville.

Submissions

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 responses, 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 Military Board established to consider the award of medals from the battle.

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

Mr Justice Heslin said that 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.

Battle

In September 1961, Comdt 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 to the African nation.

For five days they came under sustained attack at Jadotville by land and air from a significantly larger well-equipped force of 3,000 Belgian, French, and Rhodesian led Katanga mercenaries.

Despite inflicting serious casualties on their attackers, the Irish, who were cut off from reinforcements, ran out of ammunition and water, and surrendered. They were eventually released and no Irish soldier was killed in the engagement.

The court heard that despite their bravery they were, as counsel said, treated appallingly, shunned and lead to believe that they had brought shame on the Defence Forces.

In July 2021, the men received an apology from the State. In 2017, all those who served at Jadotville were awarded a specially commissioned medal, An Bonn Jadotville.

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

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