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Concern over space for families at medal ceremony for Jadotville survivors

The Department of Defence has said it has put in place arrangements to accommodate additional attendees.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Defence has had to make arrangements to accommodate extra people at an upcoming ceremony for Jadotville survivors, after being contacted by families unhappy with the setup.

The Department of Defence has made efforts to accommodate more people at the 2 December event at Custume Barracks, Athlone, at which the survivors of A Company 35th Infantry Battalion will be presented with medals in recognition of what’s known as the Siege of Jadotville.

However, some of those present will have to watch the ceremony on TV link as not everyone can be accommodated in the marquee in which the medal ceremony will take place.

A screening of the medal presentation will take place in the gymnasium at the barracks for family members who can’t be accommodated in the dining area.

Senator Gabrielle McFadden raised the issue of space in the Seanad yesterday.

She said in a statement that she had contacted the department about the issue. She also said:

I believe that Custume Barracks is the right place for the ceremony, but there is an issue with space to accommodate all of the family members and I have requested additional overflow space to be made available.
These men have waited a long time for an honour that they really deserve and I think that we should do whatever is possible to make their day a special one.

In a statement, the Department of Defence said:

The ceremony will be organised in the tradition of all other military medal presentation ceremonies with the focus on the surviving members and the family representatives of deceased members. Every effort has been made to accommodate as many people as possible to attend the ceremony which will be held in a marquee on the Barrack Square. As the Department is mindful of the large numbers of people who wish to attend the ceremony, arrangements have been made to accommodate additional attendees close to the marquee where the ceremony can be viewed on large screens.

The event is “to give full and due recognition in honour of the courageous actions of the men during the siege at Jadotville in September 1961 during the UN peacekeeping operation in the Congo”.

original The men in captivity. Source: Wikimedia

A family member of one of the men told TheJournal.ie that the event is a significant one for them and their family, and they wanted to ensure they all could attend to support him.

“We’ve been there from the very beginning, even before we knew what happened in Jadotville we were there and dealt with the impact of the depression and PTSD that was caused by this,” they said.

“Now there is a certain redemption in it for us as family members.”

“We want the families to be there and that every type of family gets the same invitation,” they said, adding that the Department of Defence should ensure families can be accommodated.

Siege

The siege of Jadotville was an event that occurred during Ireland’s peacekeeping mission in the Congo in September 1961.

The siege, which was the focus of a film starting Jamie Dornan, occurred in 1961 in the Congo. The men found themselves fighting against thousands of troops to survive, as their supplies of ammunition, food and water dwindled.

A Company of the 35th Infantry Battalion took responsibility for the UN post at Jadotville on 3 September – on 9 September they were surrounded by a large force of Katangese Gendarmerie and on 13 September the Company came under attack.

Over the coming days until 17 September they endured almost continuous attacks from ground and air. The Department of Defence said:

Despite their courageous resistance and the sustained efforts of 35th Infantry Battalion HQ to provide assistance, A Company was taken into captivity on 17th September. By this time A Company had no water and several men had been wounded. A Company remained in captivity until finally released on 25th October 1961.

Newspapers at the time reported how the men were feared dead. However, they survived – but they became forgotten heroes, with their success going unrecognised. The event was traumatic for the men and had a major impact on many of their lives going forward.

In September 2016, the men were honoured at a citation ceremony in Athlone for their bravery. The citation read:

This Citation recognises the leadership, courage, bravery and professional performance of A Company 35th Infantry Battalion and its attachments who, under challenging circumstances at Jadotville, while besieged by overwhelming numbers of Katanganese Gendarmerie and cut-off from support and reinforcements, did valiantly defend their position from the 13 September 1961 to 17 September 1961.

The medal ceremony on 2 December is connected to this citation. At the event, Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, TD, will present medals to the men of “A” Company 35th Infantry battalion and to the family representatives of deceased members.

“Last year I had the honour of presenting a Unit Citation to the men of “A” Company in recognition of their collective actions at the Siege,” said Minister Kehoe. “I feel truly privileged to have been able to take the decision together with former Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD to award this medal, An Bonn Jadotville (The Jadotville Medal). I believe it rightly pays tribute to the professional and courageous actions of these men.”

Since 13 June 2016, when the Minister together with former Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD decided to award a medal to the men of “A” Company, a working group comprising civil and military officials has been working to co-ordinate efforts required to implement the plans for a medal ceremony.

A specially commissioned medal, An Bonn Jadotville 2017 (The Jadotville Medal 2017), was designed.

The word ‘Jadotville’ is depicted on the clasp of the medal and the medal ribbon represents a combination of an Irish tricolour and the United Nations Operation in Congo (ONUC) mission medal.

Read: Journeys with TheJournal.ie: Honouring the veterans of Jadotville>

Read: ”It should never have happened”: Irish soldiers’ forgotten battle told in Siege of Jadotville>

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