Friday 25 May 2018

No apology 31 years after death of Sligo soldier in Lebanon

The widow of a Sligo soldier killed in the Lebanon 31 years ago this month says she has never received an apology from the Israeli Government for his death.

State papers released under the 30 year rule shows the then Minister for Foreign Affairs didn't believe the Israeli's initial account of the killing of father of five, Corporal Dermot McLoughlin (33) as being accidental. Corporal McLoughlin was on duty in a UN observation post near the town of Brashit in southern Lebanon on January 10th, 1987 when an Israeli tank shell hit his Unifil (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) post.

It was always regarded as a deliberate and unprovoked, attack by the Israelis and this a view has been supported this week by the release of a 19-page memorandum presented to government on January 19th, 1987, entitled Review of Irish Participation in Unifil.

The UN post was hit by three shells and the Sligo solider had died before he could be evacuated to hospital.

His widow, Holly told The Sligo Champion that she never received an apology from the Israeli Government for the death of her husband. And, she also stated that repeated Irish Governments had let her down.

"No Government ever did anything for me. I fought with them all," she said. She added: "No Government ever facilitated me in bringing them (Israelis) to Court to make them account for the killing of my husband."

Only Ray MacSharry and in latter years, former Senator Geraldine Feeney and former TD Jimmy Devins assisted her in her afforts.

And, only for the kind generosity of the people of Sligo she would never have got through those dark days in the aftermath of her husband's death.

"I couldn't say enough thanks to the people of this town who literally put their arms around us and looked after us," she said.

The State papers also revealed how, in the aftermath of the Sligo soldier's death and the fact the Government was owed money for its peacekeeping force, there was talk of pulling the country out of the UN force in Lebanon.

However, Mrs McLoughlin believes to this day that the Defence Forces should always remain in the UN peacekeeping

"Personally, I would not like to see them come out and in fact I would like to see our representation doubled. If they weren't in Lebanon then whole villages would have been wiped out," she says.


State papers reveal our government did not believe Israel's view of how Sligo UN soldier died

The death of a Defence Forces Sligo born corporal serving with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon prompted the government to consider withdrawing from the mission, according to State papers opened under the 30-year rule.

At the same time throughout 1987, the government was grappling with a shortfall in funding, from the UN, to pay for the peacekeeping operation, while trying simultaneously to exert diplomatic pressure in Washington for the United States, the chief funding defaulter, to pay its dues.

Cpl Dermot McLoughlin (33), who served with the 28th Infantry Battalion, which is otherwise based at Finner Camp in Donegal, was on duty in a UN observation post near the town of Brashit in southern Lebanon at 8.49pm on Saturday, January 10th, 1987.

He was killed when an Israeli tank shell hit the Unifil (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) post.

Defence Forces sources have long viewed the incident as a deliberate, and unprovoked, attack by the Israelis, a view supported by a 19-page memorandum presented to government on January 19th, 1987, entitled Review of Irish Participation in Unifil.

The Israeli tank that fired the fatal round was inside what was known as Charlie Compound, a place controlled by the so-called South Lebanon Army (SLA), an Israeli proxy inside Lebanon.

“There were no reports of hostile fire aimed at the compound and the Army does not believe that there were armed elements (ie Hizbullah or Amal guerrillas) in the vicinity when the attack occurred,” says the review.

It notes that about an hour before the post was attacked, an Israeli defence forces liaison officer had contacted Unifil claiming to have seen “suspicious movement close to the Irish Unifil post”.

“The Irish Unifil post indicated that there was no such movement near their post,” the review continues. Despite this, firing subsequently commenced from the compound at the town of Brashit in the course of which one tank round hit the Irish Unifil position. The Unifil post responded by firing two red flares indicating that they had been struck by fire. Subsequently, a second tank round hit the Unifil post and detonated as a result of which Corporal McLaughlin received multiple injuries and died before being evacuated to hospital.

“The UN post was struck at the time of the incident by a third tank round; no casualties were caused as a consequence of this round.”

The review characterises the Israeli action as “a new departure” and charges “the indications are, moreover, that it was a deliberate and unprovoked attack”.

In support of this, the review says that the existence of the UN post was well established and well known, flared alerting the attacking tank were fired, the post was the only properly lit building in the area and the UN flag itself was illuminated by spotlight, the attacking tank was a “highly sophisticated one and was manned by Israeli personnel, not untrained SLA members”, and finally “there was no hostile fire at the time of the incident”.

The review notes also that the attack followed “a series of incidents of close fire [from Israeli forces] which we regard as harassment of our Unifil personnel and which was the subject of a formal protest” to Israel’s defence minister.

Israel responded initially by claiming the attack on the UN post was an “unfortunate accident in the course of firing on Brashit” but later claimed that an Israeli officer “new to the area overruled a subordinate and instructed that the post be fired on”.

“The officer has since been removed from his post,” said the summary prepared for the cabinet, the review itself noting Israel’s regret and describing Cpl McLoughlin’s death as tragic.

The government responded to the attack by calling in the Israeli ambassador to Ireland and registering “a strong protest” while at the UN expressing concern to the secretary general who supported Ireland’s call for the Israeli officer responsible to be disciplined. While minister for defence Paddy O’Toole was “gravely concerned about the safety of Irish troops in the mission area”, minister for foreign affairs Peter Barry said an Irish withdrawal from Unifil “would do a disservice to our international reputation”.

The government decided to continue with Unifil and by April, a decision to rotate Irish troops needed to be taken, it was overshadowed by funding concerns.

Mr Barry said he did not accept Israel’s claims that the UN post had been misidentified by Israeli soldiers. Mr Barry and the minister for defence had already made a formal protest to their Israeli counterparts a short time earlier about a series of incidents of close fire involving Irish troops serving on the UN peacekeeping mission. Despite receiving assurances from the Israelis, the government said there had still been an increase in the number of incidents of Irish soldiers coming under fire.

The Israeli ambassador to Ireland was summoned by Mr Barry following Cpl McLoughlin’s death and asked that those responsible should be disciplined. The government believed that Israel was intent on preventing UNIFIL from carrying out its mandate in southern Lebanon.

However, the Government said any decision by Ireland to withdraw its contingent from UNIFIL could damage the country’s international standing and its reputation as a traditional supporter of the UN and its peacekeeping efforts. Mr O’Toole said he was concerned about the safety of Irish troops, particularly given the dangerous level of harassment by Israel. Mr Barry said he would maintain contact with the Israeli authorities to ensure they exercised maximum constraint as well as speak with the UN secretary general, Javier Perez de Cuellar to maintain pressure on Israel.

The foreign affairs minister said he would also approach the US government to use their influence on Israel as well as to ask them to resume full payment of their contributions to the UN.

Mr Barry said it was possible that UNIFIL could disintegrate if Ireland were to withdraw from it as the Irish battalion played a key role in its operations.

A memorandum for government, dated April 8th, 1987, noted that the withholding by the US “of a significant portion of its assessed contribution to Unifil has seriously exacerbated the problem of force financing”.

The Irish embassy in Washington had told the administration of president Ronald Reagan of Irish “dissatisfaction” at this.

A series of telex exchanges between the embassy and the department in Dublin in the Autumn of 1987 shines a light on efforts to get US senators to overturn a house appropriations committee decision not to reinstate funding Unifil, efforts that were in time supported by the then secretary of state George Schultz.

A note from the ambassador, Padraic MacKernan, refers to a “hostile mood towards State department spending programmes in particular” and suggests the senate was unlikely to overturn the committee recommendation.

However, a day later, on October 15th, 1987, a note from the embassy reported greater optimism that Unifil funding would be restored – which it was, as a December 18th telex from the embassy to Dublin noted, “this makes it virtually certain that $18.7m will be appropriated for Unifil”.

Other files show that, in February 1987, the minister for defence sought cabinet approval that an ex-gratia lump sum payment would henceforth be given automatically to the dependant of any member of the Defence Forces killed on overseas peacekeeping duties with the United Nations. The request was part of a submission from the minister for a payment to the widow of Lieutenant Francis Murphy who was killed in August 1986 while serving with Unifil in south Lebanon.

In a memo that twice notes twice “the lump sum [which was £25,590] is recoverable from the United Nations”, approval was sought also that in future “where a member of the Defence Forces dies as a result of overseas service with a United Nations Peace Keeping Force, the ex-gratia lump sum be automatically payable and that the question of dependency should arise only in determining the person to whom the lump-sum is payable”. The cabinet approved the suggestion. Minister for Finance, John Bruton wanted to withdraw Irish troops from peacekeeping in Lebanon in 1987 because Ireland was not being financially reimbursed sufficiently by the UN.

The Cabinet files from 30 years ago show Mr Bruton was in favour of pulling the Irish contingent out of UNIFIL or at least significantly reducing its size as rates paid by the UN were “no longer adequate”. Mr Bruton argued that there was a strong case for withdrawing Irish soldiers as the mission was underfunded by £270m.

He claimed Ireland was only receiving 57% of the cost of keeping its troops in the Middle East.

The failure of the US to contribute its share to the cost of running UN bodies was a major factor.

However, the minister for foreign affairs, Peter Barry, believed any Irish withdrawal from UNIFIL would do a disservice to Ireland’s international reputation. The Government had estimated it had only been reimbursed with £39.7m out of £58.1m it was due since it had begun its mission in Lebanon nine years earlier.

Sligo Champion