Jadotville award panellist called on to resign amid backlash from supporters
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Jadotville award panellist called on to resign amid backlash from supporters

A PANEL tasked with bestowing awards to the heroes of Jadotville has been embroiled in controversy as campaigners call for the resignation of one of its members.

The independent review group is assessing the cases of 34 soldiers recommended for gallantry awards for their role in the 1961 UN siege.

Brig Gen Paul Pakenham irked some supporters when he authorised an online post commemorating one of the most controversial figures in the Jadotville saga: Lt Gen McKeown.

McKeown is deemed by many to be responsible, either in whole or in part, for the "criminal" level of negligence that occurred on the UN base in 1961. 

Over the years, as the truth about the episode has gradually come to light, it's become apparent that the 155 Irishmen - who were there on a UN peacekeeping mission - were abandoned due to a combination of military and political incompetence, and a coverup that followed suit.

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UN forces in the Congo at the time were led by Lt Gen McKeown, who went on to become the Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces.

His conduct in the Congo has drawn much criticism from military experts; particularly his role in leaving the small Irish Company to fend for itself against thousands of Katangese troops - to whom they eventually had to surrender.

Any award given to the defenders of Jadotville would, by implication, tarnish McKeown's legacy.

An independent group of experts were formed at the government's behest to consider the issues surrounding the siege. As a panel member, Brig Gen Pakenham's decision to commemorate McKeown has been viewed as an unacceptable breach of impartiality. 

Retired commandant Ray Cawley wrote to Defence Minister, Simon Coveney, military Chief of Staff, Mark Mellet, and Brig Gen Pakenham directly on January 6, requesting his recusal from the role.

In another correspondence on January 11 he wrote: "I am sure you are quite aware that decisions, or indeed lack of decisions, from the Force Commander may well have contributed to the massacre of 155 Irish Peacekeeping soldiers at Jadotville, were it not for the tactical brilliance of Comdt Pat Quinlan and the courage and heroism of Quinlan and his men, left by UN HQ in Elizabethville to their own resources in Katanga.

"It is generally accepted that Comdt Pat Quinlan, his family, his troops and their families have suffered all these years as a result of reports allegedly signed off by Gen McKeown, and Conor Cruise O'Brien, his civilian counterpart in the Congo at that time.

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"I believe ARCO's association, and possibly celebration, not alone at this time, or anytime casts a possible shadow, over your personal impartiality, and possible judgement relating to the inquiry.

"As a consequence Paul, I respectfully call on you to resign, with immediate effect from the inquiry, and hopefully, will be replaced by former Company Commanders or Battalion Commanders, who have led troops operationally in the war zones, that we Irish have soldiered in."

In a follow up letter, he said: "The opportunity created by the Minister and the Secretary General to bury 60 years of suffering by many could now be considered contaminated."

He told the Irish Sun: "For a commander to send 155 men in was criminal, a crazy decision. I’m appalled at the decisions made."

On September 3, 1961 a Company of 155 Irish troops stationed in Jadotville were kept in the dark about a UN offensive - 130km away in Elizabethville - against the Katangese army.

The repercussions of which took the Irish 'A Company' unawares as 3,000 Katangese troops descended on Jadotville in a revenge attack.

The ensuing siege lasted for five days. The Irish side, outnumbered by around 19-1, put up a herculean effort in defence of the base. Remarkably, only 5 Irish were wounded, and none died. The Katangese, on the other hand, left the standoff with 300 dead and 750 injured.

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As it became apparent that UN support was not forthcoming, the Irish surrendered. 

After six weeks in captivity the men were met with mockery and derision upon their return home. Maligned as cowards and dubbed the 'Jatodville Jack', many of them took their own lives in the aftermath.

Recognition of their gallantry is thus long overdue.