AN Irish soldier who survived a notorious massacre at the height of Lebanon's civil war gave evidence at a Beirut military tribunal trying an ex-militia man for the murder of two of his UN colleagues.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney paid tribute to retired Private John O'Mahony who offered personal evidence at the tribunal yesterday which is trying Mahmoud Bazzi (71) for the murders of Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne in April 1980.
Bazzi, who was deported from the United States to Lebanon last January, is also accused of the attempted murder of Private O'Mahony.
The Irish soldiers were stationed in Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL force when they were targeted by the South Lebanese Army, of which Bazzi was allegedly a commander.
Privates Barrett and Smallhorne both died and Private O'Mahony was left seriously injured in the attack.
It is alleged that the Irish soldiers were killed by the SLA militia unit after they were stripped of their weapons.
Mr Coveney paid tribute to retired Private O'Mahony's courage in offering personal evidence to the Beirut tribunal - the only legal avenue where Bazzi could now be prosecuted.
"For the families, I had hoped that the case would conclude today," he said.
"I can only imagine the emotional toll the extended process is having on them.
"However, from the very preliminary reports I have received, I am satisfied that the case is being dealt with in a very thorough manner by the Lebanese authorities.
We must recognise that this is a really important development in securing accountability for the atrocious crime that was committed against Irish peacekeepers.
"The hearing is another step in the campaign for justice on behalf of the family, friends and former colleagues of Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne who lost their lives tragically while on UN peacekeeping duty in Lebanon over 35 years ago.
"Our thoughts are with the families and friends at this difficult time.
"I appreciate how difficult this was for John O'Mahony. I am very grateful for his commitment and time in what must have been a daunting task today," the Cork TD said.
After hearing evidence from retired Private O'Mahony and other related matters, the military tribunal adjourned the case until April 20.
Bazzi was deported last January by the US authorities after he was found living in Detroit.