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Topical Issue Debate
4th February 2015

To raise the matter of measures being taken by the Government to secure Justice for the family of the late Private Thomas Barrett and and Private Derek Smallhorne.
Deputy Michael Creed T.D.

Reply by Minister for State Paul Kehoe on behalf of Minister Simon Coveney

On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Defence, Mr Simon Coveney TD, I would like to thank Deputy Creed for raising the matter of measures being taken by the Government to secure justice for the families of the late Private Thomas Barrett and Private Derek Smallhorne. Minister Coveney has asked me to pass on his apologies that he is not here in person to respond to this important Topical Issue. Unfortunately he is committed to chairing the Beef Forum this afternoon.

As the House will be aware on the 18th of April, 1980, Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne were murdered and one soldier, Private John O’Mahony, was seriously injured in an incident in Lebanon. The personnel, who were serving their country as peacekeepers with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, were providing a security detail to two officers serving with Observer Group Lebanon (OGL) on the day in question. During the course of the mission, they entered the de-facto forces enclave in accordance with arrangements made through the normal channels with the de-facto forces in Southern Lebanon. At the village of At-Tiri, the convoy was stopped and all the personnel were taken prisoner by the de-facto forces. The Defence Forces personnel were disarmed and separated from the rest of the group. Private O’Mahony was shot and seriously injured while Privates Barrett and Smallhorne were taken away and later murdered. The OGL personnel were subsequently released.

In an RTE Prime Time Programme on 16 May, 2000, it was reported that the alleged perpetrator of the crime, Mr Mahmoud Bazzi, was residing in the US. While the country with primary jurisdiction in this case is Lebanon, the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade engaged with the US authorities, as appropriate. Mr Bazzi had claimed in a televised interview in Lebanon subsequent to the murders that he had killed the Irish peacekeepers in revenge for the killing of his brother in a previous violent incident. He has since stated that he was forced to make this admission. However, he has been positively identified as the perpetrator by the now retired Private John O’Mahony.

Successive Ministers, Department of Defence Officials, military authorities and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have followed through on this issue for almost 35 years investigating all measures open to the Irish Authorities to bring the alleged perpetrator of this crime to justice. In relation to a potential prosecution by Ireland, the Department of Defence in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have all collaborated on this case. The process was detailed and complex and included a review of international legal provisions including the potential application of the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Unfortunately, there are no provisions in Irish law, which provide a basis for Ireland to pursue a prosecution against the alleged perpetrator. As Privates Smallhorne and Barrett were killed in the line of duty with UNIFIL, Lebanon is the country with primary jurisdiction in this case.

During a visit by the Taoiseach to Lebanon on 16 June 2014, he raised the murders of Privates Barrett and Smallhorne with the Lebanese authorities and UNIFIL personnel. The Taoiseach stated that there was a clear need for closure and for the alleged perpetrator to be brought to justice and sought the support of the Lebanese authorities in this regard.

On 15 July 2014, special agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s agency arrested the alleged perpetrator, Mr. Mahmoud Bazzi, at his residence in Dearborn, Michigan for administrative immigration violations. During a subsequent court hearing on 11 August 2014, Mr. Bazzi admitted in immigration court that he entered the United States without proper documentation and thereafter lied to obtain lawful immigration status in the US. This paved the way for his removal from the United States.

On learning of Mr Bazzi’s impending deportation from the US, the Irish Government requested the support of the Lebanese Government in seeking justice for the murdered Irish UNIFIL peacekeepers, should such action be feasible.

The Minister for Defence, during a visit to the Lebanon last December, met with the Lebanese authorities at the most senior levels of Government and highlighted the Irish Government’s continued commitment and interest in progressing this case.

Mr. Bazzi was deported from the United States to his native Lebanon on the 30 January 2015. On arrival in Beirut, Mr. Bazzi was arrested and detained by the Lebanese authorities where he remains in custody. It is now a matter for the Lebanese authorities to investigate the case. The Irish Ambassador in the region is continuing to monitor developments in the case.

This is a significant step in the pursuit of justice for Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne who lost their lives while on United Nations peacekeeping duty in Lebanon almost 35 years ago. The arrest of the alleged perpetrator was an important day for the families and their continued commitment to securing justice for their loved ones is to be commended.

The Irish Government are aware that the Lebanese authorities have primary jurisdiction in terms of pursuing a prosecution against the alleged perpetrator. We stand ready to provide whatever assistance possible to the Lebanese authorities in progressing this issue. However, it is a matter for the Lebanese authorities to investigate the case and to determine any future action.


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