Navy veterans will be among a group planning to picket the office of Defence Minister Simon Coveney after he refused to award distinguished service Medals to two men who helped save a ship after it was rocked by a mine explosion.
Members of the Irish Seamen’s Relatives Association are planning to place the picket outside the minister’s constituency office in Carrigaline, Co Cork, on Saturday afternoon and outside the Naval Service headquarters at Haulbowline the following Tuesday.
They have been fighting to get the medals awarded to former able stoker Bill Mynes and t Pat O’Mahony.
Both men, who are still alive, are credited with having saved the LÉ Cliona and her crew after a fire broke out onboard on May 29, 1962.
The ship was carrying out an anti-submarine exercise off Daunt Rock, near Kinsale, Co Cork.
She was deploying hedgehog mortars and depth charges in an exercise witnessed by a number of Naval Service officers, civilians, and members of the press.
One of the depth charges exploded prematurely, just metres from the vessel, and led to a fire breaking out in one of the boiler rooms.
The fire looked to have got out of control and the crew sent out an SOS, which was picked up at her base in Haulbowline and British naval bases.
In the meantime, Lt O’Mahony, who led the firefighting team, and Mr Mynes managed to get it under control.
The explosion also put LÉ Cliona’s steering gear out of action.
The ship was extensively damaged, but after some work the crew managed to get her back to base.
Between crew and invited guests, there had been 80 people onboard when the incident occurred.
Mr Mynes suffered severe burns and was one of three crewmen who had to be taken for treatment at the military hospital in Collins Barracks.
The association had hoped Mr Coveney would recognise the efforts of the two men, especially as they found a report in military archives from an investigating officer who made special mention of their bravery in his official report into the incident.
However, in a Dáil reply to TD Clare Daly, Mr Coveney cited Defence Force regulations A9 (new series) — ‘Dress and Medals’.
Under this regulation, a recommendation for the award of the distinguished service medal must be made and forwarded to the chief of staff not later than four years after the performance of the act.
“While acknowledging that these two men, along with the rest of the ship’s company, performed effectively in extinguishing the fire on the LÉ Cliona, ther e is no scope within the context of the provisions of Defence Force regulations or further action with regard to the possible award of the distinguished service medal,” Mr Coveney said.
He added that he had no plans to amend that regulation to allow the awarding of the medals to the men.
Irish Seamen’s Relatives Association spokesman Peter Mulvany said it was bitterly disappointing and that his organisation would continue to fight on behalf of the two men for recognition of their bravery.
He said a Facebook campaign would continue and his organisation would be canvassing TDs and senators in an effort to get Mr Coveney to change his mind on the matter.
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