AN INDEPENDENT REPORT into the death of three Irish Defence Forces personnel in Lebanon in 1989 has found that the explosive device which killed them could have been detected in advance.
Corporal Fintan Heneghan, Private Mannix Armstrong and Private Thomas Walsh died on March 21, 1989 while serving with the 64th Infantry Battalion of the United Nations’ Interim Force in the Lebanon (UNIFIL).
They were killed when a landmine detonated on the outskirts of the village of Bra’shit in the ‘Green Rooms’ area of Lebanon, on a track that was not frequently used by peacekeeping personnel there.
An independent review, commissioned by Alan Shatter in April and compiled by Frank Callanan SC, has found that there had been a “deficient assessment” of the security threats confronting the Irish battalion stationed in the area.
The soldiers’ detail should not have been sent down the road on which the men were killed without first being cleared of land mines and other improvised explosives, Callanan’s report stated.
The report, published this afternoon, also stated that the procedures for checking for land mines and improvised explosives were insufficiently defined and applied.
It concluded that the standard operational procedures undertaken by the battalion were not adequate to ensure soldiers’ safety, and that the people deployed in the area were not adequately trained to deal with such circumstances.
Shatter this morning issued a “wholehearted” apology to the families of the three men killed in the explosion.
“While we can never be absolutely certain that 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.
“Unfortunately we can never undo what happened and what should not have happened. As the Report shows, the deaths of Corporal Armstrong and Privates Heneghan and Walsh could and should have been avoided.”
Shatter commented that the report made it clear how Defence Forces personnel were doing their best given the “complex and difficult mission with limited resources”, but that it had clearly systematic failings with the Defence Forces and with the UNIFIL mission as a whole.
The chief of staff of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Sean McCann, said in a statement that he accepted the findings of the report and added: “The Callanan report has concluded that the Defence Forces systems in place at that time to counter the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat were not robust enough to prevent this tragedy.
“For that, I wholeheartedly and unreservedly apologise.”
He said that since the incident in 1989, “significant measures” had been taken to enhance procedures against the threat of IEDs.
The Department of Defence had already carried out a review of the incident, in 2003, when it concluded that no further enquiry was warranted.
New information about the incident came to light earlier this year, however, when the State was preparing its defence against a separate legal case. Shatter had then decided to commission a new review, because the new information may have changed the course of the 2003 decision had it been available at the time.
- additional reporting by Hugh O’Connell