Minster must issue Jadotville service medals - Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Defence Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on the Minister for Defence to do the right thing and issue Gallantry and Distinguished service medals to the 32 soldiers of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion
The soldiers were recommended for them, having shown extreme bravery along with their 126 other colleagues under fire for four days in Jadotville in September 1961.
Next year marks 60 years after the attack on this small UN force, in a small outpost at Jadotville in the then Katanga region of Congo. The citations from the mens Commandant Quinlan recommended the issuing of 27 Distinguished Service Medals and also 5 Military Medals for Gallantry, and this has been ignored since first made shortly after the unit’s return to Ireland.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
“Since the men who were forced to surrender after withstanding a siege by a far numerically and superiorly equipped army of mercenaries and Katangese military, the attitude of the military authorities and ministers at home has been disgraceful.
"Rather than applauding this UN detachment, the men were shunned, made feel like cowards. Now is the time to right this wrong. It shouldn’t be beyond the military authorities to accept they made, and make mistakes.
"It doesn’t undermine your authority or the command structure, it still allows for military discipline, comradeship, it should never been a sign of weakness, in fact often it’s a sign of strength to admit and error.
“Correcting the record is better than living a lie. I am calling on the Minister to announce that the medals will be issued soon, before any more of these men pass away without their deserved recognition from the military authorities who should have been the first to salute them and their bravery.”
Note for Editor:
Full speech: check against record for delivery
In December 2017 the State in issuing the Jadotville Medal took the first real step to right a 56 year wrong against the men of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion who had served under fire with distinction in the Congo in 1961.
Shortly before the medal was presented to the surviving men and to the families of those who had passed since all the men had returned in 1961, one of the survivors John Gorman said:
“The families of the deceased should get an apology for what was done. Their fathers and brothers went to their graves branded as cowards".
Thankfully due to John and other soldiers and supporters, the publication of books on the episode, and Richie Smith’s film The Siege of Jadotville based on Declan Power’s book, nobody can now be in any doubt of the scale of the bravery and courage of the 158 men and the leadership of Commandant Pat Quinlan, under siege by several thousand Katangese forces.
The collective bravery of the men of A company and the foresight of Commandant Quinlan ensured that no soldier lost their lives during the four-day siege, and in fact inflicted large casualties and injury on the attacking forces.
The reason I am asking the Minister to intervene today is that next year marks 60 years after the attack on this small UN force, in a small outpost at Jadotville in the then Katanga region of Congo. The citations from Commandant Quinlan recommended the issuing of 27 Distinguished Service Medals and also 5 Military Medals for Gallantry.
It’s worth remembering the circumstances and what occurred, the 158 unit included many teenagers, John Gorman who was 17 at the time recalled that the chaplain Joe Fagan giving them their last rights in the defensive trenches they had dug. In the understatement of the century, he says “that was a bit scary”.
The detachment were ill-equipped for the mission, abandoned to face a hugely numerically superior force. As another survivor Noel Carey recalled about the four days in the 100-degree heat under fire “we had to work very hard on morale to try and get some of the lads togethers because it was probably the biggest shock we had. We didn’t expect to be attacked, we didn’t expect to be mortared, we didn’t expect to be machine-gunned but by God we never expected that we were going to be attacked by a jet aircraft”.
It was said after “Pat Quinlan saved all our skins and brought all his troops safely. He just didn’t get the credit he should have got”.
This was a reflection of the good military training, discipline and leadership, and a testament to the calibre of the men.
They didn’t deserve the disrespect they got when they returned, the second abandonment of them. We should in here have as Regimental Sergeant Major Noel O’Callaghan has said in the past the “moral courage to right the wrong of the past”.
So minister it’s time to issue the medals so deserved to at least the 32 recommended by Commandant Quinlan.
I know you will quote at me as has been to others over the years that there was a properly constituted Medals Board, well in fact two, convened by two Chiefs of Staff, and that to issue the deserved medals may undermine the ‘prestige’ of the medals, or that such a move may have unintended consequences.
Well on the final one I would say that the authorities have had nearly 60 years to come up with a way to address the “unintended consequences”.
On the first point I remember not so long ago the then government and the Houses of the Oireachtas found within it the ability to pardon deserters from the Defence Forces who joined the British Army during the Second World War. Surely, it isn’t beyond use to give due recognition to the bravest of the brave, those who were recommended by Commandant Pat Quinlan.
How can the prestige of a medal be undermined by giving it to the very men it was designed to honour.
It shouldn’t be beyond the military authorities to accept they made, and make mistakes. It doesn’t undermine your authority or the command structure, it still allows for military discipline, comradeship, it should never been a sign of weakness, in fact often it’s a sign of strength to admit and error.
Correcting the record is better than living a lie. Please minister announce that the medals will be issued soon, before any more of these aging men pass away without their deserved recognition from the military authorities who should have been the first to salute them and their bravery.