Northern Ireland Issues: Statements.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 188 No. 14

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Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Brian Lenihan): Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan It is right that Members [981]of the Seanad should have the chance to air their views on matters that go to the heart of events on this island over recent decades. The legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland is something which will be with us for some time to come. The painful memories of lives needlessly lost or ruined will continue to linger. The prospect of lasting peace which followed the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland should raise in all of us the hope, indeed the expectation, that no new victims will be created.

It is especially important for those individuals and their families directly affected by the atrocities examined by Mr. Justice Barron that this House should have the opportunity to have its voice heard on the reports from the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights. It is also important to reflect on the legacy of 30 years of conflict. As the Taoiseach stated during statements in the Dáil, this process is not only about the past, it is about the future also.

The positive political developments in Northern Ireland in recent years, especially the restoration last year of the devolved institutions, have given us a glimpse of what can be achieved. However, to move forward into that better future we need to examine and seek to understand, while in no way seeking to minimise or explain away, the violence which occurred on this island over the past several decades. Statements in this House today, taken together with those in the Dáil last month, are part of that continuing process.

Senators will know that the Good Friday Agreement acknowledged the need to address the suffering of victims and recognised their right to remember that suffering. There can be no hierarchy when it comes to the pain felt by those deprived of a loved one as a result of this conflict. No one group has a monopoly on grief. There is, however, a particular sense of injustice felt by those who have been robbed of that loved one following the wilful collusion of those charged with protecting them.

One of the first significant attempts to address our shared legacy in the context of claims of collusion arose from the Weston Park agreement of 2001. Senators will recall that both the Irish and British Governments committed themselves to appointing a person of international standing to examine six cases that have been the source of concern about possible collusion by State security forces on either side of the Border. The resultant collusion inquiry process, led by retired Canadian Supreme Court judge, Peter Cory, recommended public inquiries into all four cases involving concerns about collusion in the murders of Rosemary Nelson, Pat Finucane, Robert Hamill and Billy Wright. Senators will have heard the Taoiseach call, once again, for an inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane to be established, as recommended by Judge Cory.

[982]Judge Cory also recommended a public inquiry into one of the two cases involving concerns about collusion in this jurisdiction, namely, the murder of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan in a Provisional IRA ambush in 1989. Whatever the merits of aspects of the British response to Judge Cory’s recommendations, I am pleased to note the response in this jurisdiction was to accept the need for an inquiry into the murder of the two RUC officers. A tribunal of inquiry established into the murders is proceeding under the chairmanship of Judge Peter Smithwick, the retired President of the District Court. Having been in an investigative mode for some time now, I understand the tribunal will commence public hearings during the course of this year. I consider that the establishment of this tribunal — the most extensive form of statutory inquiry available — demonstrates that the Government will not flinch from shining a light into potentially murky corners of our past, as and when merited.

I am sure Senators will join me in paying tribute to Mr. Justice Henry Barron and his predecessor, the late Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton, for their services as head of the independent commission of inquiry. That commission produced four substantial reports into a range of terrorist atrocities perpetrated against citizens and individuals in this State. In preparing these reports, it goes without saying that the Barron inquiry received the full co-operation of all relevant Departments and the Garda Síochána in its investigations. The Barron reports and the corresponding reports of the Oireachtas sub-committees which examined them privately and in public hearings are now a matter of public record. I will not, therefore, reiterate their findings and recommendations here. I would, however, like to make some specific points in relation to the reports.

In the case of the random, brutal and senseless sectarian murder of Seamus Ludlow in 1976, in accordance with the recommendations of the sub-committee, the Garda Síochána continues to be actively engaged in a re-examination of the case, in co-operation with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Historical Enquiries Team. As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I have met the families of the victims of some of these murders to hear first hand their concerns and share with them developments in their cases. I am conscious of the deep loss still felt by them, even after the passage of so many years. Given the lapse of time, expectations should not be raised in an unrealistic fashion about the potential outcome of any Garda re-examinations, but I hope this demonstrates that the Barren reports are not gathering dust on a shelf. The findings of these reports and the associated recommendations of the Oireachtas sub-committee have been and are being taken on board.

Senators will recall that the reports made criticisms of various State agencies, including Depart[983]ments — my own included — and the Garda Síochána. Sometimes these criticisms were severe and stinging, and rightly so. On occasion, more could and should have been done in response to the attacks themselves and in support of the victims and their families. We have learned those lessons, and the State and the Garda Síochána are in a better position to respond to incidents. It may be little comfort to those bereaved by past events, but Ireland now boasts best practices in many of the areas where deficiencies were identified. Most of all, successive Governments have worked hard to ensure that the cycle of violence in Northern Ireland is broken, so that we never again need find ourselves in the position of looking back on the dead and wounded of decades past.

I wish to turn to the single biggest atrocity of the Troubles, and the focus of the first Barron report, namely, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, which claimed the lives of 33 persons. The Oireachtas sub-committee examination of this report identified a number of matters with regard to the resulting Garda investigation, as well as other issues requiring clarification. In response, the Taoiseach established a commission of investigation, the first time such a form of statutory inquiry was established under the 2004 legislation, to examine these matters and report on them.

In respect of the Garda investigation into the bombings in 1974, the commission’s final report, published in March 2007, concluded that appropriate decisions were taken by experienced Garda officers at the time. Moreover, the suggestion that the Garda investigation was wound down because of alleged collusion was rejected. This finding, although obvious in my view, is nevertheless welcome.

I previously mentioned it is correct and proper that deficiencies in the State’s response to the handling of these terrorist attacks are recognised so that lessons can be learned for the future. However, it is worth making the point that where the perpetrators of the attacks have not been made amenable for their crimes, it would be wrong that the focus of blame and criticism should be turned on those individuals and agencies who sought to defend life and property, in difficult circumstances and during troubled times.

In this regard, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it is right that I place on the record of this House, on behalf of successive Governments, our appreciation of how members of An Garda Síochána through the years stood by this State against the threats it faced, sometimes at great personal cost.

Having said all this, while the terrorist attacks might be decades old, the legacy of hurt and pain, both physical and emotional, continues to this day for the victims of these attacks and for the families of those lost and injured. For these people, the attacks are a present, not a past, reality, and I wholeheartedly acknowledge this. [984] As I previously mentioned, in meeting with a number of these relatives I have seen it for myself.

I do not intend to refer in detail to one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles, namely the Omagh bomb. Allegations of Garda failings were made about the period leading up to the bombing. These allegations were rejected by the Nally report, an edited version of which was published by my predecessor.

Senators are no doubt aware of the civil action being pursued by families of some of the victims of Omagh. I understand that in recent days, the judge in this action has indicated his intention to issue a letter of request setting out the nature of the assistance being sought from the appropriate Irish authorities. All possible support, within the legal framework in which we must operate, will be forthcoming. Senators should also bear in mind that criminal proceedings with regard to one individual’s alleged involvement in this bombing continue in this jurisdiction.

The State has endeavoured and continues to endeavour to assist victims of the Troubles. In some cases, the simple acknowledgement of their loss can provide comfort to victims and their families. Financial and other support is also necessary and the Government has taken steps to provide this. Arising from the recommendations of the report of the Victim’s Commission, the Government approved in 2003 the establishment of the Remembrance Commission with an associated remembrance fund of up to €9 million.

The Remembrance Commission was charged with the responsibility of administering the scheme of acknowledgement, remembrance and assistance for victims in this jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland conflict, and I know it has helped numerous families and individuals in recent years. The commission has made payments to the families of persons killed as acknowledgement for their loss; to spouses and children on the basis of economic hardship; to persons unable to work due to incapacity; to persons displaced from Northern Ireland due to the conflict; and for medical bills. It has also funded memorials to remember the victims whose precious lives were lost during this period, including most recently memorials commemorating the Belturbet bombing and the Miami Showband attack.

Although the Remembrance Commission was due to wind up in 2006, the Government extended its duration to October 2008 to ensure that all eligible persons have the opportunity to benefit from the scheme. As of the end of 2007, approximately €6.2 million has been provided and more than 420 applications have been made to the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund.

Some families of victims also have the added injustice of not having been afforded the dignity of being able to bury their loved ones. I cannot think of anything more likely to prolong grieving than not being able to bury the remains of a family member. As a further practical measure to [985]support the families of victims, in 1999 the two Governments established the independent commission for the location of victims’ remains. Its remit is to receive information from paramilitary organisations which could lead to the discovery of the remains of victims in those few cases where remains have never been recovered.

In 1999 and 2000, on the basis of information supplied to the commission by the Provisional IRA and following extensive excavation work carried out by the Garda Síochána, three bodies were recovered and returned to their families for burial. A fourth, that of Ms Jean McConville, was discovered by accident soon afterwards. Subsequently, in August 2006, the two Governments agreed that in the absence of any further breakthroughs on the basis of information received, the commission should adopt a more proactive approach to its mandate. This has included contracting the services of a forensic specialist and carrying out full, non-invasive surveys of all suspected gravesites.

Mindful of the heartache experienced on occasions when the families’ hopes have been raised and then dashed, the commission’s policy, supported by the Government, is that physical excavation of possible gravesites is now only undertaken if and where the commission assesses a good prospect exists of successful recovery of remains. The commission maintains extremely close liaison with members of the families of these victims to ensure that their expectations are not unduly raised. The work of the commission continues to enjoy the full support of both Governments.

All the matters I have touched upon today relate to various facets of how to come to terms with a past which is, in many cases, still raw and for many acutely painful. This is not a simple question. The very fact we are bringing these matters into the open and discussing them is in some small way a part of the healing process.

In his remarks to the Dáil, the Taoiseach welcomed the establishment in Northern Ireland of the consultative group on dealing with the past, co-chaired by Denis Bradley and Archbishop Robin Eames, whom he met in November. The group has been charged with seeking views from across the community in Northern Ireland on the best way to deal with the legacy of the past. This is a difficult undertaking, but a necessary one, and one to which we await the outcome with interest. As the Taoiseach stated, the group will no doubt learn much from the work that has been undertaken by Judge Barron, by the Oireachtas sub-committee and by victims’ groups in this jurisdiction.

I will conclude by reiterating the Government’s view that the exercise of looking back critically on past events, in which we have engaged in over the past number of years, has been absolutely necessary. It may be a painful and difficult process, particularly for the victims and their [986]families, but we owe it to them to do so with honesty and conviction.

The results of our investigations and inquiries can only ever constitute an element of the full picture of those events in the 1970s. To complete this picture, all Members of both Houses recognise that we need the unambiguous co-operation of the British Government. This is particularly the case in instances where real grounds for concern about collusion by members of the security forces in Northern Ireland have been clearly identified.

I wish to echo the Taoiseach’s words that the suffering inflicted during the Troubles was endured by people from all backgrounds and traditions. The families of those who died know better than anyone that pain and despair do not distinguish on the basis of political conviction or religion or any other aspect of an individual human being. Wrongs were perpetrated throughout Ireland.

In seeking to progress politically we must confront frankly and honestly our shared past, and hold uppermost in our thoughts the ever-present pain of all the victims of this conflict. In remembering their pain we should be fortified in our determination that the people of this island should never suffer in this way again. The past year has seen enormous progress made towards this goal. Acknowledging and dealing with the past is and must remain a part of this progress. I hope today’s proceedings in this House will further contribute to it.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins This debate is long overdue. The sub-committee on the Barron report had wished for an early debate after the presentation of its findings. I am glad we now have the opportunity to debate the reports in the House.

I am disappointed that, like in the other House, the leaders have not agreed on an all-party motion to deal specifically with the items contained in the Barron report. As it had not happened in the Lower House, I would have thought the Leaders would have rectified that in the Seanad. Senator Walsh stated to me coming into the Chamber that he has a motion to propose. I do not believe that is the way of doing business. As there is all-party agreement on the reports, there should be an all-party motion to follow up on the findings of them and the investigations of the sub-committee.

The Barron report dealt with the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974, the murder of Seamus Ludlow in 1976 and the bombing of Kay’s Tavern in Dundalk. I was a member of the Oireachtas sub-committee of the justice committee that conducted public hearings and compiled the fourth and final report on Mr. Justice Barron’s investigations.

It was a humbling and moving experience to hear the testimony of decent, honest people [987]whose relatives were murdered in the most horrific and violent circumstances. Yet, after more than 30 years, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice and the British authorities continue to be found wanting in providing information which could bring much-needed justice and closure for the relatives of the bereaved. The sense of loss, pain, suffering and grieving was felt by each member of the sub-committee. We felt honour-bound to ensure our conclusions were clear and unambiguous based on the evidence which we received.

There is no doubt there was collusion between the British security forces and loyalist terrorists mainly based in the Glenane area in County Armagh. The then British Government at the highest level was aware of the presence of this loyalist gang and the atrocities it committed. It failed to take the necessary action to protect the citizens of Northern Ireland.

It is necessary to put on the record some of the conclusions of the sub-committee. They state:

The sub-committee is left in no doubt that collusion between the British security forces and terrorists was behind many, if not all, of the atrocities that are considered in this report. We are horrified that persons who were employed by the British Administration to preserve peace and to protect people were engaged in the creation of violence and butchering of innocent victims.

The sub-committee believes that, unless the full truth about collusion is established and those involved either admit or are fixed with responsibility, then there cannot be closure for the families.

Nothing could be clearer.

I welcome the establishment of the Historical Inquiries Team to investigate many of these atrocities but without the full co-operation of its political masters, I am not convinced it can bring closure for the grieving families. I was incredulous to hear that after 35 years a visit from the team was the first time that some eye-witnesses to these atrocities were interviewed by the security forces.

The Barron report deals specifically with events which highlighted many vicious attacks on the Catholic community along the Border. However, we must also remember the equally vicious attacks on members of the Protestant community in the same area. The families of those who died are the ones who still suffer the pain and despair so many years after these horrendous events.

More recently there have been the savage murders by members of the IRA of Robert McCartney, Paul Quinn and Joseph Rafferty. We continue to witness the mafia-style omerta in operation in some areas of Northern Ireland. Unless some good people come forward, evil will continue to triumph and families in 2008 will find [988]themselves in a similar position as the families we have spoken about earlier some 30 years on.

We have also seen the re-emergence of the Real and the Continuity IRA which pose a threat to the people and institutions of this State and this island and aim to undermine the position of Sinn Féin. It is believed they are responsible for the recent murder of a young man, Andrew Burns, in Donegal. I urge the Minister to use every means at the State’s disposal to crush these evil people whose only aim is to sow seeds of hatred and bigotry in this island and destroy the relative peace we enjoy.

It would be remiss of me if I did not pay tribute to the groups and organisations, especially Justice for the Forgotten. Their members have displayed personal commitment and dedication in their efforts to find justice and closure for many families affected by the atrocities covered by Mr. Justice Barron in his report.

I hope the Taoiseach will instruct his officials to renew contact with officials on the British side and influence the British Prime Minister to release files that may bring justice and closure for the families. All we want is closure to these events. If the Minister had listened to the testimony given by many of those affected to the sub-committee, he would see how much it means to them that justice be done for their relatives who were butchered in horrific ways during that sad period in our country’s history. Let us hope these people will get justice and closure for their families.

Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh The sub-committee’s first report dealt with the 17 May 1974, when bombs went off in the centre of Dublin city at 5.30 p.m. The victims included Patrick Askin, 44 years of age; Josie Bradley, 21; Marie Butler, 21; Anne Byrne, 35; Thomas Campbell, 52; Simone Chetrit, 30, a French citizen; Thomas Croarkin, 36; John Dargle, 80; Concepta Dempsey, 65; Collette Doherty, 21, who ran a shop in Sheriff Street with her husband John, was nine months pregnant at the time but her daughter, Wendy, who was with her survived the blast in Talbot Street; Patrick Fay, 47; Elizabeth Fitzgerald, 59; Breda Grace, 35, recovering from the ‘flu had been encouraged by her husband Tim to get a respite, parked her car on Talbot Street and was killed on the way back to it; Archie Harper, 73; Antonio Magliocco, 37, Italian citizen; May McKenna, 55; Anne Marren, 20; Anna Massey, 21; Dorothy Morris, 57; the O’Brien family, John and Anna O’Brien, 24 and 22, respectively, and their daughters Jacqueline, 17 months, and Anne-Marie, five months, who lived in Gardiner Street and were originally from Finglas. John worked in the Palm Grove ice-pop factory, and the entire family was wiped out in the Parnell Street explosion; Christina O’Loughlin, 51; Edward John O’Neill, 39, and baby Martha O’Neill, who was stillborn; Marie Phelan, 20; Siobhán Roice, 19, who was from Thomas Street in Wexford and, like many [989]young people, was dreaming of what future years would bring. She was in the prime of life and had everything to look forward to, but her life was cruelly snuffed out in the explosion; Maureen Shields, 46; Jack Travers, 28; Breda Turner, 21; John Walshe, 27; Peggy White, 45; and George Williamson, 72. This is just a list of those killed in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

The sadness and sense of loss felt by the victims’ relatives were very much in evidence when they appeared before the committee, and were as raw and as hurtful as they had been some 34 years ago. This was compounded by the criminal investigation, which left a lot to be desired and was closed down after four months. They were then neglected and forgotten by successive Governments, and it can truly be said this State failed them. They were only sustained in their anguish by the NGOs, particularly Justice for the Forgotten, which campaigned and worked tirelessly to keep the issue to the forefront and researched and gathered much useful data for which the committee and the Barron inquiry were grateful. It is a pity the group was unaware of the debate taking place today as I know they would have wished to attend.

The first breakthrough for the families was when they met the current Taoiseach in the late 1990s and he agreed to take a personal interest in the matter. In 2000 the Government established an independent commission of inquiry under Mr. Justice Barron which investigated the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Among its recommendations was the establishment of a commission of investigation to inquire into aspects of the Garda investigation and document handling by the Department and the Garda. That commission was subsequently established under Patrick McEntee, who has reported to the Government and there are certain issues arising from this.

It is worthwhile to refer briefly to the recommendations made by the sub-committee and subsequently endorsed by the then Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights. The sub-committee stated that “a Public Tribunal of Inquiry in Northern Ireland and/or Great Britain is required and represents the best opportunity to be successful.” This is because the relevant documentation was in Northern Ireland and Great Britain and an inquiry in this State would not have had access to this. The sub-committee also stated in its recommendations:

Before any Inquiry would proceed the Sub-Committee is of the view that what is required in the first instance, is an investigation based upon the Weston Park proposals. The terms of reference should be agreed between the two Governments and should be based upon the terms agreed at Weston Park, in particular paragraph No. 19.

[990]Finally, the recommendations state, “The Sub-Committee recommends that a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas be passed endorsing this Report and its recommendations, and would invite the UK Parliament in Westminster to pass a similar resolution.” This report is dated March 2004. It is a serious indictment of these Houses that four years later, no such resolution has been put before the Houses, passed or endorsed. While the individual reports have been debated previously, this is the first overall debate on these issues. I hope this omission on the part of the Houses will be corrected in the not-too-distant future.

The second report of the sub-committee dealt with the Dublin bombings of December 1972 and January 1973, the bombings in Belturbet in December 1972, and the murders of Bríd Carr, 26, on the Lifford-Strabane road in November 1971 and of Oliver Boyce, 25, and Bríd Porter, 21, in Burnfoot in January 1973. The victims of these atrocities also included George Bradshaw, 30; Tommy Duffy, 24; Tommy Douglas, 21; Geraldine O’Reilly, 15; and Patrick Stanley, 16. The issue of collusion was very much in focus with regard to various aspects of these murders.

The third report dealt with the murder of Seamus Ludlow on 2 May 1976. In its findings, the committee recommended inter alia that a historic inquiries team be established in this jurisdiction and that a commission of investigation be established to examine certain outstanding questions to do with the Ludlow case.

The fourth report dealt with nine atrocities: the bombing of Kay’s Tavern in Dundalk in December 1975, the bombing in Castleblayney in March 1976, the bombing of Dublin Airport in November 1975, the attack at Donnelly’s Bar, Silverbridge, in December 1975, the attack on the Reavey family in January 1976, the attack on the Step Inn, Keady, in August 1976, the attack on the O’Dowd family in January 1976, the atrocity at the Rock Bar in County Armagh in June 1976, and the attack on the Miami Showband on 31 July 1975.

For the record, it is worth acknowledging the victims of these atrocities: John Francis Hayes, 38; Jack Rooney, 62; Hugh Watters, 60; Patrick Mone, 56; Patrick Donnelly, 24; Michael Donnelly, 14; Trevor Brecknell, 32; Betty McDonald, 38; Gerald McGleenan, 22; and John Martin, Brian and Anthony Reavey. I recommend to those who might not have followed the hearings closely that they read the evidence of Eugene Reavey, the brother of the latter three victims, at the various hearings. They will then understand the manner in which the families were treated, particularly by the British Army. That family lived very close to the Glenanne farm owned by James Mitchell, who was a reserve member of the RUC. It was common knowledge that the RUC frequented the farm, and it was from that farm that the Dublin and Monaghan bombings were planned. It is disgraceful that no action was ever [991]taken with regard to the people involved. The list of victims continues with Barry O’Dowd, 24; Declan O’Dowd, 19; Joe O’Dowd, 61; Francis O’Toole, 29; Anthony Geraghty, 23; Brian McCoy, 33; and Francis O’Toole. The latter three were members of the Miami Showband who were slaughtered coming back from a dance in Northern Ireland. Anybody who has read the book on this subject or heard the evidence will know that there was strong suspicion that the paramilitary unit that carried out the attack was controlled by a person with an English accent, in all probability a member of the British Army.

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With regard to the latest report, it is essential that we refer to the conclusions and recommendations of the committee. As we went along it became obvious to us that there was significant collusion at various levels within the British establishment, not just at police and British Army level but higher. What happened could not have happened without either the tacit approval or the knowledge of persons in the Northern Ireland Office and in Whitehall itself. Evidence was presented at the committee that former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, in documentation, gave a briefing for the then leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher, informing her of the situation with regard to security forces in the North and the extent to which they had been infiltrated by paramilitaries. Thus, it was common knowledge that this was happening. The sub-committee stated in its conclusions:

The Sub-Committee is left in no doubt that collusion between the British security forces and terrorists was behind many if not all of the atrocities that are considered in this report. We are horrified that persons who were employed by the British administration to preserve peace and to protect people were engaged in the creation of violence and the butchering of innocent victims. The Sub-Committee believes that unless the full truth about collusion is established and those involved either admit or are fixed with responsibility then there cannot be closure for the families.

I was going to read into the record the comments of the Taoiseach, who has been highly critical of the failure to get co-operation from the British side on this, but will not do so because they are already on record in the Dáil. I must compliment the leader of the Opposition who was equally forceful in his comments on what needs to be done. Deputy Joe Costello, who was a member of the sub-committee, set out an approach that should be taken from here. It is also worth noting the comments of Deputy Seán Ardagh who is Chairman of the sub-committee.

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