The Defence Forces International Operational Medal is a new award created to recognise the role serving personnel have played when deployed overseas on humanitarian missions.
Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe announced the creation of the medal last week during a visit to personnel in Sardinia — and revealed the first medal ceremony would be in Rosslare, in his Wexford constituency.
Veteran’s group the Irish Seamen’s Relatives’ Association (ISRA) and Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDForra) criticised the decision, and claimed the preference among personnel was to have the ceremony at Haulbowline in Cork.
The ISRA claimed “political expediency” was the reason why a town in the minister’s constituency was chosen, rather than Haulbowline, where the majority of navy personnel live with their families.
The Department of Defence said it frequently holds ceremonies, commissionings, and reviews at locations across Ireland.
“The awarding of these medals to naval service personnel who have served on Operation Pontus will not be a one-off event,” said the Department in a statement.
“A number of medal ceremonies will have to take place so that every member who served in Operation Pontus receives their medal. The Naval Service Headquarters at Haulbowline will be one of those locations
“The chosen location of Rosslare for the first of these ceremonies is not unusual as the Defence Forces regularly holds events and ceremonies outside of its many installations around the country.
“It will also allow a wider circle of family, friends, and the public at large, to attend these formal events. These are positive initiatives that will only benefit the Defence Forces, both in terms of recognition and, importantly, when it comes to encouraging young people to join.”
However, responding to the Department, PDForra said:
“The minister’s wish to allow the greater public to engage in this historic occasion has PDForra at a loss, as due to the difficulty and expense, our members can ill afford to travel to Rosslare to participate in this ceremony.
“Whilst there will be a number of medal parades there will only be one first parade. Could the minister not allow this to take place at Haulbowline and then rotate this ceremony at different locations?”
Housing Minister Simon Coveney has defended the decision on Rosslare.
“I think it’s important to remind people that our naval service is a national service even though their headquarters are here in Haulbowline and I’ve spent a lot of time with them — there will be a number of medal ceremonies for the naval service for their work in the Mediterranean which has been extraordinary and I suspect some of them will be in Haulbowline and some of them will be in other parts of the country and I don’t think people should get too upset about that.
What we don’t want is a naval headquarters where everything happens — this is a national service and we want to attract the best people from across the country, whether it’s into the army, the navy or the air corps, and this is part of this process of opening it up and being very public about it.”