Defence Forces ‘failings’ on soldier deaths

An independent review into the murder of one Irish soldier and the disappearance of another in south Lebanon in 1981 has identified a series of failings and shortcomings in the Defence Forces operation.

Private Hugh Doherty, 20, from Donegal was shot dead at an observation post near the village of Dyar Ntar in south Lebanon while serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

His colleague at the post, Private Caomhán Seoighe, 20, from the Aran Islands in Co Galway, was abducted. His body has never been found but he is also believed to have been murdered.

The attackers have never been identified.

Retired High Court Judge Roderick Murphy was appointed in January 2015 to conduct the independent review. It found a number of key failings in the Defence Forces operation. These included a “persistent inadequate assessment of risk”, the absence of an NCO at the post, inadequate manning and a failure to provide a landline, and the absence of reports of incidents.

“There seems to have been what is best described as a casual approach to the posting and supervision of the post,” reads the report.

The original investigation into the incident by Colonel Vincent Savino between 1982 and 1984 was described as “inadequate”.

Judge Murphy said it is “a mystery and a matter of great concern” that the Savino Report could not be located in the Military Archives.

“The absence of such an important and significant report from the archives raises serious issues under the provisions of the National Archives Act and issues of security of military documents,” reads the report.

Judge Murphy is also extremely critical of the lack of effort made to correct a rumour which the Doherty family had heard about how Private Doherty had died.

“The family of Pte Hugh Doherty accepted the circumstances of their son’s and brother’s death and for many years was satisfied with the explanations given by the Defence Forces.

“However, the Doherty family later heard a rumour that Pte Kevin Joyce had shot their brother, which was not assuaged until they met with the secretary general of the Department of Defence on 1 July 2014. This rumour would not have had credence if they had been told the results of the findings of the investigation undertaken by Col Savino from 1982 to 1984,” it states.

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe apologised to the families and said the manner in which the men were deployed to a post in an isolated location “should never have happened”.

“I accept the findings and recommendations contained in the report and I want to assure the families, friends, and colleagues of these two young soldiers, that important lessons have been learned for the future.

“Errors that occurred at the time of the incident and, also, in the way the subsequent investigations were conducted and communicated, or indeed, not communicated, must never be repeated. In that regard, I am assured that many of the issues raised in the report have been addressed in the intervening years,” he said.

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett said: “I can assure both families that the hard lessons the Defence Forces have learned from this tragic event continue to shape how we train and prepare our personnel for overseas service today and into the future.”

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