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Private Sean Rooney. Irish Defence Forces
south lebanon

Tánaiste to raise concerns with Lebanese officials over progress in Pte Sean Rooney murder case

Private Sean Rooney (24) was killed when the UN liveried vehicle he was travelling in came under attack in South Lebanon in December 2022.

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that he will raise concerns about the pace of how the Lebanese authorities are progressing the prosecution of alleged suspects in the murder of Private Séan Rooney.

Speaking at the PDFORRA conference in Cavan today the Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs said he will raise it this weekend on a trip to Lebanon.

Private Sean Rooney (24) from Newtowncunningham, County Donegal was killed when the UN liveried vehicle he was travelling in came under attack in South Lebanon in December 2022. 

A man has been charged for offences in connection with the murder of Private Rooney but he was released from custody in November last year by a court. 

Mohammad Ayyad is charged with multiple offences relating to the lethal attack on a convoy of Irish peacekeepers in the Lebanese town of Al-Aqbiya last December.

“We’ve retained concern about this and in fact, I’m going to Lebanon at the weekend. I will be raising that case and the need to progress the case and the need to get justice with the Lebanese government,” he said. 

During the court sitting in November it was unclear if Ayyad had been released on bail or acquitted. A military court lawyer said that under Lebanese law, Ayyad could only have been released on bail at this stage of the trial. Ayyad’s trial has not recommenced.

Martin said the Sean Rooney case was a “focal point” for his trip which he said will include a call to Irish troops in South Lebanon.

“Members of our Defence Forces are now operating in a very challenging and much more difficult environment than heretofore because of the war on Gaza, and the escalating tensions along the blue line and between Israel and Hezbollah.

“I’ll be there at the weekend to make our views known in terms of progressing the case into the murder of Private Sean Rooney. We’d certainly like it progressed and we’d like those, ultimately, to be brought to justice,” he added. 

Four other Lebanese men charged by the military court earlier this year in relation to the attack at Al-Aqbiya have never been arrested and remain at large.

During the first trial hearing at the military tribunal in August, Ayyad admitted to firing a gun during the deadly attack on Irish peacekeepers serving with the UN force, known as Unifil, but denied being a member of Hezbollah, the militant and political Shia organisation that dominates South Lebanon.

Meanwhile the Tánaiste said the Attorney General is examining a judgment by the High Court which ruled that an order by senior military officers blocking members of the Defence Forces from attending a protest against Government defence cutbacks has been ruled as unconstitutional by the High Court.

In a judgment released today Mr Justice Mark Sanfey ruled against the State and said that the decision was outside the powers granted to officers under the law.

The case taken by the Deputy General Secretary of PDFORRA Martin Bright centred around a “peaceful assembly and protest” which took place in Dublin on 19 September 2018. Bright is a company sergeant in the Irish Defence Forces. 

Comments yesterday by PDFORRA officials said that the judgment may now impact a controversial element of the Defence (Amendment) Bill which is passing through the Oireachtas at present now must be revisited. 

PDFORRA and their partner representative group the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) have dubbed the measure as a “gagging order”.  

The representative groups claim the section would limit their ability to comment on Government policies on behalf of their members.  

Martin said today: “I think there’s been a long standing tradition within the Defence Forces of, nonpartisanship in terms of politics and neutrality and that their loyalty is to the state, irrespective of whatever government is in office. That’s an important principle.

“That said, we will examine the judgment and we’re very keen to make sure that we affirm people’s constitutional rights,” he said. 

Martin has said he has written to PDFORRA and said that there was “absolutely no intention to restrict” the group’s right to advocate for their members. He also denied that the measure was a gag order.

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