Taoiseach expresses ‘serious concerns’ to Lebanese PM about Seán Rooney murder trial delays

Simon Harris tells Najib Mikati there are frustrations in Dublin that four suspects are still at large

Taoiseach Simon Harris has expressed “serious concerns” with Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati at delays in the main suspect in the murder of Private Seán Rooney appearing in court.

Pte Rooney (24), from Dundalk, Co Louth, was killed during a gun attack on a convoy of Irish soldiers serving with the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon in December 2022.

Trooper Shane Kearney, from Killeagh, Co Cork, was seriously injured in the same attack.

Muhammad Ayyad has been charged with multiple offences relating to the attack, which occurred in the Lebanese town of Al-Aqbiya, but he failed to attend a hearing at the military tribunal in Lebanon in December, citing medical reasons.

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He was subsequently granted bail after spending almost a year in detention while the Lebanese investigation proceeded.

During an earlier hearing, Mr Ayyad admitted to firing a gun during the attack but denied an allegation made in the military court’s indictment that he was a member of the Shia militant group Hizbullah which dominates south Lebanon.

Mr Harris spoke to Mr Mikati by telephone on Thursday, during which he told the prime minister there were “serious concerns in Ireland with delays to date in the main suspect in the murder appearing in court”, a spokesman for the Government said.

The whereabouts of the four other accused, Hussein Salman, Ali Salman, Mustafa Salman and Ali Khalifeh, is unknown. On this, the Taoiseach “expressed frustration at suspects remaining at large”, said the spokesman.

“The Taoiseach said he hoped a scheduled court hearing next week would proceed, and that justice being done was essential for the families of Seán Rooney and Shane Kearney, as well as all peacekeepers in the region,” he added.

Mr Harris and Mr Mikati also discussed the conflict in the Middle East, Ireland’s recognition of Palestine, and the wider the work of Irish peacekeepers in Southern Lebanon.

“The Taoiseach spoke of Ireland’s belief in a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine and said Ireland recognised the state of Palestine this week to keep that hope alive,” said the Government spokesman.

“He reiterated the need for a sustained ceasefire, the release of hostages and for unhindered access for aid to Gaza.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter