Families hail UN Lebanon deaths inquiry

RELATIVES of three UN peacekeepers murdered in 1989 have hailed an independent inquiry into the incident as enough to expose a 22-year army cover-up.

They were speaking after Defence Minister Alan Shatter and the Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Seán McCann, apologised on behalf of the state and the army for failing to properly protect the soldiers.

The admissions came on the strength of Frank Callanan SC’s independent report, which rejected the army’s long-held version of events.

Mr Callanan said proper procedures were not in place on the morning of March 21, 1989, when Corporal Fintan Heneghan, Private Mannix Armstrong and Private Tomás Walsh were killed by a land mine on a dirt track in south Lebanon.

He said the track where they were sent to collect rocks should have been swept for land mines.

Enda Heneghan, a spokesman for the families, said Mr Callanan found against the army in four out five issues examined. This comes after years in which military officials rejected negligence. “The findings in this report have done away with that cover-up,” he said.

Mr Callanan’s report found that procedures had been inappropriate; the threat had been improperly assessed; the land mine should and could have been found; and the soldiers did not have proper training.

Mr Shatter said there was no evidence that the army sought to hide what happened in the Lebanon.

“I don’t believe there was any cover-up,” he said.

Mr Shatter said “wrong judgments” had been made but these were not born out of maliciousness.

The report came on foot of fresh evidence from serving army Commandant Ray Lane, who had given unheeded warnings about the threat of land mines in the Irish area at the time.

But his recollections only came to light in April of this year as the state was preparing to defend a compensation claim by Pte Armstrong’s widow, Gráinne.

According to the army, Cmdt Lane was not approached to give evidence in an inquiry in 2003.

Lt Gen McCann said the army made the department aware of the significance of Cmdt Lane’s evidence as soon as it became known.

The report documents military inquiries in the aftermath of the incident, and the departmental report, delivered in 2003, which said there had been no fault on behalf of the army.

Mr Heneghan said he believed the army had not been unable to bring Cmdt Lane’s evidence to light before April but had been unwilling to do so.

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