Uncertainty over trial of soldiers’ killer

State documents show the Government was uncertain on how to prosecute an Irish soldier accused of the murder of three of his colleagues in Lebanon in 1982.

Private Michael McAleavey was charged with the murder of three army colleagues while on UN peacekeeping duties in Lebanon on Oct 27, 1982.

McAleavey originally claimed Corporal Gregory Morrow, Private Thomas Murphy and Private Peter Burke had been shot by Lebanese gunmen, but later admitted his role in their killing.

In Dec 1982, the Minister for Defence, Paddy Power, sought a decision from the Government led by Taoiseach Charles Haughey on what type of legal proceedings McAleavey should face.

The Attorney General John Murray advised the Government that the choice between a court-martial or trial at the Central Criminal Court was essentially one ofpolicy.

However, he advised that it would be probable that McAleavey could challenge the constitutionality of proceedings if he was tried by court-martial.

The Defence Forces had recommended to the Government that the soldier should appear before a court-martial in Lebanon on the basis it would be simpler and speedier as well as ensuring the availability of Lebanese witnesses, while serving members of Unifil would not need to return to Ireland from their tour of duty.

The view of the military authorities was supported by the Director of Public Prosecutions who said it would be extremely unlikely that Irish citizenship could be proven in the case of McAleavey who came from Belfast and therefore a prosecution by him would be inappropriate.

The Department of Foreign Affairs warned of the danger that Ireland could be found in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights if the defendant was convicted by court-martial.

McAleavey ultimately appeared before a court-martial in Jul 1983 where he was convicted of the murder of the three soldiers.

He was released from a prison in Northern Ireland in 2010 after serving 27 years of a life sentence.

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