JUSTICE MINISTER ALAN Shatter yesterday gave a commitment that he would meet with the families of two soldiers who were killed in Lebanon over 30 years ago.
Private Hugh Doherty and Private Kevin Joyce were both serving with the UN when they were killed in 27 April 1981. Joyce’s body was never recovered.
Responding to a parliamentary question by Sinn Féin’s Padraig MacLochlainn on the progress made to date by the Defence Forces and both governments on an initiative on recovering bodies, Shatter said “I plan to meet members of Private Doherty’s families as requested by them”.
However, he said he did not want to give any false hope or promises. He has asked the military authorities to have a number of documents reviewed by the Army’s Provost Marshal in relation to the matter.
Speaking in the Dáil he outlined the scenario in which the soldiers were killed, stating they came under attack .
“Private Doherty was later found dead from gunshot wounds and Private Joyce was missing. Some equipment was also missing. The attackers are unknown. The incident and the disappearance of Private Joyce have been the subject of ongoing investigation by successive Irish units with UNIFIL,” he said.
He outlined the number of investigations that had taken place into the incident over the years.
“Specific efforts include an immediate response and search by the contingent then serving with UNIFIL, follow-up searches and inquiries by contingents with UNIFIL, a Military Police investigation in 1985, an intensive investigation by the 88th Battalion in 2000 to 2001, and a senior officer delegation in 2005, assisted by diplomatic efforts at the highest level, to endeavour to locate the whereabouts of Private Joyce,” said Shatter.
In November 2000, the 88th Infantry Battalion conducted another investigation, which Shatter said was made easier by the withdrawal of the Israeli defence forces from south Lebanon and the consequent freedom of movement in the area.
Various leads were followed on the ground and representations made to the Palestinian Authority through diplomatic channels, said Shatter and in March 2001 contact was made with the leading members of the Fatah organisation in Lebanon.
The Fatah group claimed it had not been responsible for the disappearance of Private Joyce, said the minister,adding they said it had information on the whereabouts of Private Joyce’s body.
“Unfortunately, the information did not materialise. The next battalion – the 89th Infantry Battalion – continued to maintain contact with Fatah but, yet again, it was unable to gain any positive information,” he added.
In 2005, a senior officer delegation travelled to Beirut and met various people, including the then force commander of UNIFIL, a Lebanese army liaison officer and the Honorary Irish Consul, Mr. Daouk.
Shatter said they also met the leader of Fatah in Lebanon, Brigadier General Sultan Al Anien, who declared that he knew the burial site of Private Joyce. “Unfortunately, the follow-up inquiries from this visit did not yield positive results,” Shatter said.
In 2007, the then Minister for Defence visited the Lebanon and met the Lebanese Minister of Defence, Elias Murr, and he assured him he would assist in whatever way possible to locate the whereabouts of Private Joyce.
Shatter said that:
In the past the authorities in Lebanon have made efforts to obtain information on the whereabouts of Private Joyce, including broadcasting pictures of him on television.
To date, despite all of these inquiries, no information has been elicited leading to the recovery of Private Joyce. However, I am advised by the military authorities that even though it is now nearly 33 years since this tragic event happened, the case remains open.
Efforts are made from time to time in Lebanon to establish the location of Private Joyce’s remains and, if located, efforts will be made to repatriate them.
The Department will continue to make every effort to bring this tragic case to a conclusion.