New York: Irish Army’s Version Of Irish Soldiers Deaths In Lebanon Disputed By Files Discovered In UN

15 Aug

UN files dispute army account of Lebanon deaths

MILITARY documents uncovered at the United Nations have undermined the Irish Army’s version of how three Irish peacekeepers were killed in the Lebanon in March 1989.

This Friday, Defence Minister Alan Shatter is due to receive an independent report into the deaths of Corporal Fintan Heneghan, Private Tomás Walsh and Private Mannix Armstrong, at the hands of Lebanese rebels.

The bereaved families have claimed the men were sent into the path of the roadside bomb without proper consideration of the threat or the protection of routine anti-landmine safety measures.

Documents discovered by the Irish Examiner at the United Nations’ archives in New York contradict the findings of an internal army review into the men’s deaths. This report was carried out in 2003, after the families’ call for an inquiry.

The UN material also undermines the public statements of the army and the 2003 report, when they said there was no previously detected threat from roadside bombs targeted at the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

And the documents support the families’ view that the dirt track along which the three men were collecting stones should have been swept for mines by a specialist “early bird” reconnaissance team before the men left camp. Since the explosion, on the morning of March 21, 1989, the Irish army has always maintained this “early bird” was not part of its daily procedure.

The army defended a 21- year-long legal case on the basis that Cpl Heneghan, Pte Walsh and Pte Armstrong could safely have used the track without it being checked by dedicated landmine detectors.

The UN document said otherwise: “It has always been IrishBatt policy to sweep all roads and tracks for mines and explosive devices early each morning, even those roads and tracks jointly used by UN and IDF/DFF.”

This communication cable was sent from UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura to New York on the morning another Irish soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in August 1986.

It is supported by several former and still-serving soldiers who were in Bra’shit on the morning of March 21, 1989.

This includes the then captain John Curley, who said reliance on the reconnaissance of the early bird team was as commonplace as “putting on your pants in the morning”.

The UN records go on to contradict the comments made by the Irish Army press officer, Captain Paul Connors, in 2003, when he said there was no history of local southern Lebanese fighters targeting UNIFIL troops with roadside bombs.

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