Dáil Éireann - Volume 630 - 31 January, 2007
Written Answers. - Overseas Missions.
Mr. F. McGrath Mr. F. McGrath
Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied), a survivor of Niemba ambush is not satisfied with the official report; and if he will set the historical record straight. [1014/07]
Mr. O’Dea Mr. O’Dea
Mr. O’Dea: In February 2006 the Chief of Staff appointed Col. Tom Behan to examine all aspects of the Niemba ambush. I accepted the findings of his Report and addressed the matter during Priority Questions on 16 November 2006. I would like to reiterate my congratulations to Col. Behan for the time and effort he has expended in researching this  sensitive and harrowing episode in Irish Military History.
The ambush occurred almost forty-six years ago. It was the first such action involving the horrific deaths of Defence Forces personnel on a scale which still remains unique. It has never been very far from public consciousness and I would like again to publicly acknowledge the sacrifice made by all the members of the patrol at that time and extend my deepest sympathies to the families of all those who died.
On the 8th of November, 1960, an eleven man patrol, commanded by Lt. Kevin Gleeson was attacked by a large number of Baluba tribesmen while on patrol from their base at Niemba and were quickly overwhelmed. There are two principal areas of controversy in regard to the record of this ambush both concerning Trooper Browne and Private Kenny. The first question is where exactly did Trooper Browne die. From the extensive research and interviews carried out by Col. Behan, his final conclusion is that Trooper Browne fired his weapon to distract the Baluba attackers from their task of beating Private Kenny to death. He further concludes, on the balance of probabilities, that Trooper Browne managed to then escape his pursuers, wounded or otherwise, making his way to the village of Tundula only to be killed by hostile Balubas two days later. Therefore, the previous supposition that he died at the ambush site and that Baluba tribesmen carried away his remains cannot be substantiated. Likewise, the conclusion outlined above that he died at Tundula cannot be definitively substantiated.
The second area of controversy in regard to the record of the Niemba ambush is what did Trooper Browne do to contribute to the survival of Private Kenny. The report clearly concludes that prior to his escape from the ambush site, Trooper Browne fired his weapon at the Balubas who were intent on beating Private Kenny to death, thereby distracting them and saving his life. The Medal Board convened in 1961 awarded Trooper Browne the Military Medal for Gallantry.
While I am aware that a survivor of the Niemba Ambush is not satisfied with the official report, I refer again to the fact that Col Behan sets out in his report that he is satisfied that there is no material extant which he did not uncover and which would provide new evidence capable of proving conclusively any one version of the events which are the subject of dispute in relation to the Niemba Ambush. Equally he is clear of the lack of definitive material, which could establish beyond doubt all that occurred in the course of the Niemba Ambush. It must be borne in mind that only two known living persons could every have known what exactly happened in this action and it is a certainty that neither of them were aware of all the events which took place in the course of the action.
 I wholeheartedly recognise and acknowledge that both Private Kenny (particularly in view of the serious wounds and injuries he sustained), and Private Fitzpatrick survived a horrific encounter with hostile forces, displaying courage, fortitude and tenacity in order to survive until finally rescued. I commend them both for the selfless service they have given their country.
Dáil Éireann 630 Written Answers. Overseas Missions.