A landmine that killed three Irish soldiers in Lebanon 22 years ago should have been detected before it detonated, an official report has found.
The Defence Forces and United Nations failed to carry out adequate threat assessments before the deaths of Corporal Fintan Heneghan, Private Mannix Armstrong and Private Thomas Walsh, despite peacekeepers facing greater risks from radical Islamic groups, an independent review revealed.
The three men were killed during UN duty in Bra'shit, south Lebanon, by a landmine on March 21, 1989.
Defence minister Alan Shatter has apologised to their families, who have been campaigning for justice for two decades.
They had maintained the road had not been swept for mines before the men were sent out to collect stones.
Mr Shatter said: "I met the families and extended to them, on behalf of the Government, our heartfelt regret for the failure to fully recognise, by early 1989, the implications of the changed circumstances in the Defence Forces mission area in southern Lebanon and for the deaths of their loved ones.
"While we can never be absolutely certain that their loved ones would have been saved if the Defence Forces had adopted a higher risk posture and appropriate protection measures, we must accept that appropriate operational procedures could possibly have avoided this tragedy."
For years the families of the three men - who served with 'C' Company, 64 Infantry Battalion - raised concerns over how they were killed when their lorry struck a landmine believed to have been planted by the militant Hezbollah group targeting the Israeli army.
Cpl Heneghan's brother Enda said the families were pleased to finally get an apology from the State and Army authorities.
Mr Shatter ordered the review by Frank Callanan SC in April, when new information came to light during preparations for a High Court case brought by Pte Armstrong's widow, Grainne. The action was later settled out of court.
The new information centred on evidence by Ordnance Officer Comdt Ray Lane, who had warned officials in Dublin about the increased threats four months before the men died. The concerns were also raised with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).
Mr Callanan highlighted the killing of Lt Aongus Murphy by a device in August 1986 and the discovery of two improvised explosive devices in May and November 1988.
The barrister also acknowledged the Israeli abduction of Jawad Kasfi, and the reprisals or threat of reprisals against the personnel of the Irish Battalion - including the kidnapping of three members of Recce Company.
Mr Shatter said it was clear all the officers and men of the Defence Forces in Lebanon were doing the best they could in a very complex and difficult mission with limited resources.
"Notwithstanding this, the report concludes that there was a systemic failure, not alone by the Defence Forces but by the Unifil mission as a whole, to respond to the increased threat from improvised explosive devices and from the danger of a targeted attack by radical armed Islamic elements," the minister said.
"Three men have died and three families have been bereaved and devastated by their loss. Our thoughts at this time must be with them.
"Unfortunately we can never undo what happened and what should not have happened.
"As the report shows, the deaths of Cpl Armstrong and Ptes Heneghan and Walsh could and should have been avoided.
"For that, on behalf of the State, I apologise wholeheartedly to their families, their loved ones and their comrades."