Northern Ireland Issues: Statements (Resumed).

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 188 No. 14

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Senator Jim Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh Zoom on Jim Walsh Deputy Ardagh’s comments are worth noting because he would certainly have started with a view that perhaps there was no collusion involved in these various atrocities. As the various hearings went on, he certainly changed his mind in that regard. According to Deputy Ardagh:

These security forces were not prepared to allow the files to be seen by Mr. Justice Barron, which, in itself, indicated that there was something to hide. We found that members of the security forces in the North were engaged in these terrorist activities in the Republic. It is inconceivable that the colleagues and superiors of these people were not aware that these men were involved. A blind eye was turned to many of their activities.

Coming from the Chairman, who was impartial and very objective in the manner in which he conducted these hearings and the subsequent reports, that is of tremendous significance and clearly illustrates the strong view of the sub-committee.

The question arises as to where we go from here. These people have suffered for too long without getting some remedy or closure on their hurt and sadness. I propose we come back to this House with an agreed motion. First, I propose that this motion be adopted by Seanad Éireann accepting, endorsing and approving the four reports of Mr. Justice Barron and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, which are before the House. Second, I propose that the Leader of Seanad Éireann formally inform the Speaker of the House of Lords of the passage of the resolution, forwarding copies of the reports and requesting the matter be considered by members of that house. Third, I propose that the Seanad support the efforts of the Taoiseach in his talks with the British Prime Minister to have files and all relevant information and documentation made available to a Cory-type inquiry which should be established. The inquiry could consist of an Irish Government nominee, a British Government nominee and a judicial figure of international repute and stature. Fourth, I propose that to advance the declared position of these Houses and the findings of these reports, a special Oireachtas joint committee be established to assist in achieving an outcome to the involvement of collusion in these atrocities. In doing that, the proposal of an Oireachtas joint committee could interact with the House of Commons. I hope the Dáil would endorse this proposal as well. A House of Commons and House of Lords commit[993]tee could deal with this too. Other groups that could be involved include the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, the consultative group on the past which has been established in the North under the former Archbishop of Armagh, Robin Eames, and Denis Bradley, and the European Parliament and Commission.

I commend the Taoiseach on his efforts. He raised this issue at the meeting in Manchester with the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and they have agreed that the matter will be pursued by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward.

To preserve and endorse our sovereignty, we need, as a Parliament, to ensure these issues are not allowed to be forgotten and to increase our efforts to bring closure to a group of people who have suffered for far too long.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I also welcome that we are having this discussion and I welcome the Minister’s contribution. However, what was just said by Senator Walsh contrasts to some extent with what the Minister has been able to say in his contribution. While I could not disagree with anything the Minister said, it might be the consensus in this House or those of us who have spoken so far that while the Minister has made an important contribution, it does not go far enough. I agree with Senator Walsh’s argument that we need to be far more robust and take on this issue at least in the context of a motion or a real and robust debate on an actual proposal for action to be taken by our Government and the British Government rather than simply confining ourselves to making statements in this House, important though this procedure is.

As the Minister outlined in his speech, there has been a significant change in our country, North and South, in the past ten years and even in the past year. New institutions are in place and there is a new level and spirit of real political co-operation between North and South. A new political dispensation is in place which I strongly welcome, support and wish to promote in any way possible.

The Minister also said that we cannot turn our backs on the past, an argument with which I concur. We cannot say that atrocities, collusion and dreadful events that occurred can simply be left there. Closure is a word that is often used. This word is problematic because people whose loved ones have been injured and killed and who have been affected by atrocities, be they large public ones or ones that are not so well known, never really have closure. When we use that word, it covers a multitude of things because people affected in that way never have the sort of closure we might like them to have.

At the same time, public bodies and institutions such as Parliament and Government must do everything in their power to ensure matters that ought to be exposed, be they in respect of State action or inaction or the action of para[994]military groups that has occurred, are exposed and not confined to the past. That should occur in circumstances where they should be the subject of public debate or criticism of bodies, including Government. The overall spirit of the new political dispensation has been very much in the context of a human rights approach.

If there is one individual I would point out as embodying that human rights approach to evaluating the past and moving to the future, it is Nuala O’Loan who was the Police Ombudsman in the North until recently. She took a human rights approach to what needed to be done in respect of criticism of state actions and the police and assisting all of society to move forward in a spirit of co-operation and healing.

It is not enough simply to talk about healing or moving. Sometimes governments must take action to ensure that occurs. To that extent, I agree with what Senators Cummins and Walsh have said, namely, that we need to do more to put in place a series of actions to follow on from reports such as the Barron report to ensure we learn from the lessons of the past rather than simply talk about or debate them.

There is no doubt the sub-committee to which Senator Walsh referred has made some valuable suggestions. My colleague, Deputy Joe Costello, as a member of the sub-committee, often criticised the failure to act in this area. He has made four reasonable proposals. Senator Walsh suggested a motion should be proposed. I agree with Senator Doherty and others who say there ought to be a debate based on a proposal, but in the absence of that, what Deputy Costello has proposed, in respect of the final reports of the sub-committee, is that at a minimum the interim and final reports of the sub-committee, and the report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, should be formally received and endorsed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Deputy Costello also proposed in the other House that the Ceann Comhairle be called on — the Cathaoirleach of this House should be also called on — to inform the Speaker of the House of Commons of the passage of a resolution in these Houses and to send copies of the relevant reports and other documents with a request that the matter be considered by members of that House. If there is to be a spirit of co-operation between political parties and parliaments, the Houses of the Oireachtas should inform the House of Commons and the other parliaments in the United Kingdom of what we have decided and invite them to debate it.

Senator Walsh referred to the efforts of the Taoiseach. These Houses should call on the Taoiseach to renew his efforts to secure the agreement of the British Government on the courses of action recommended by the sub-committee. The Taoiseach should be invited to report to the Dáil and the Seanad on a regular basis on what he has managed to achieve in that regard. I [995]do not doubt the Taoiseach’s good faith in respect of this issue but it is frustrating to witness his frustration on the issue and to see him on television and elsewhere appear to throw his hands in the air saying he has done everything he can do and we can establish no more from the British. It is not enough for us to wash our hands of the issue. The pressure must be maintained. The Irish Government should render it a major international imperative that the British Government should respond much more satisfactorily to the demand that it produce information it undoubtedly has, whether it is recorded by the spooks and others in MI5 or MI6 or in Government papers. Wherever the records are they should be produced and we should continue to maintain pressure on the British Government to do that.

These Houses should call on the British Government, as a sign of its good faith in dealing with the legacy of conflict, to provide access to all of the original documents relating to the atrocities that occurred in this jurisdiction, and in particular the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 in which 32 Irish citizens, a French and an Italian citizen were killed. That documentation should be produced. There is no legitimate excuse for it not to be and pressure should be maintained, at an international level if necessary, for that to occur. If we are not successful at that level, the Irish Government should give serious consideration to instituting proceedings in the European Court of Human Rights to force the British Government to co-operate in that regard. The Irish Government took the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights in the past in the course of the early stages of the Troubles. Now that the Troubles are behind us it is vital that the British Government be pressurised in every way possible, if necessary through international litigation against it, to ensure it produces the documentation and gives the support and co-operation that any democratic government ought to be willing to do.

Like Senator Walsh and every other Member of this House, I grew up during the Troubles and reports of a body in the ditch on the nine o’clock news every night, week in, week out. It is a huge advance to have moved away from that, if a civilised society can say such a move is an advance. I was in school at the time of bombings in Dublin in 1974.

I ask the Minister to consider another issue to do with our Government’s willingness to shine a light on dark areas of the Troubles, namely, the killing in the early 1970s of Garda Richard Fallon in this city. I am a very close friend of members of Garda Fallon’s family and they make a legitimate request of the Government that full and clear confirmation be given to them that all of the available information, documentation, State papers and so on regarding that atrocity in the heart of the city of Dublin be produced by the Irish Government. It is much more difficult for us to [996]demand, as we rightly do, of the British Government to co-operate and produce documentation if there is any doubt about our willingness to produce all of the documentation, State papers and otherwise on that terrible event in the 1970s to that family. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Devins, to do so today or perhaps the Minister could come back to the House and indicate whether that has been done and, if not, when that family can expect it will be done.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Belfast on the occasion of the annual conference of the Green Party in Northern Ireland. The Green Party in Northern Ireland is a regional council of the Green Party on this island. We are one of only two political parties that operate on an all-island basis. Not only are we represented in both Houses of the Oireachtas but we are also represented in the legislative Assembly in the North.

The visit was an opportunity for me to get a feel for life in Northern Ireland and express a note of regret that it was one of all too infrequent visits I make to that part of this island. I felt the post-conflict Belfast is more comfortable with itself and a place where the normalisation process, while not complete, is ongoing and has also assisted to define a sense of confidence that has been lacking in the past because of the nature of the conflict which, while we refer to it as occurring on that side of the island, also spilled over into sections of this part of the island. We must acknowledge that when addressing the issue of collusion and the various committees that have attempted to make sense of the issue and bring finality to it.

I arrived in Belfast on Friday to visit my colleagues in Stormont. It was my first visit to the facility and I found it to be an impressive building. I visited both Chambers of what had been the Parliament of Northern Ireland. While I was young when Stormont was first discontinued in 1972 I must profess to an ignorance of the Northern Ireland Senate. While most people would be aware that one of the effects of the conflict in Northern Ireland was the murder while in office of a Member of this House, Senator Billy Fox, I was not aware of similar murders of two members of the Northern Ireland Senate, Senators Jack Barnwell and Paddy Wilson, which are acknowledged by way of a plaque. That was part of the catalogue of horrific events with which we have had to live on this island for the past decades which I hope the processes and procedures that followed the Good Friday Agreement are starting to put to rights. One of the overhanging issues is the lack of finality, the lack of information that those who suffered tragic events such as senseless killings have had to endure. Collusion is a large shadow over that.

Earlier contributions have acknowledged that collusion was a two sided street. This State and agencies representing the State must answer [997]questions and provide information. If the ongoing debate on collusion reveals this information, it will assist the process. After the Barron report, which concentrated on a number of events, the report of the Oireachtas sub-committee and the MacEntee report we must decide on the mechanism needed to bring finality to these issues.

In South Africa the truth commission was the mechanism used. Victims’ rights groups on this island have advocated this as a possible mechanism to be considered. I personally support it but recognise the difficulties involved. Because we are in a post-conflict situation, and mechanisms were set up by the Good Friday Agreement, the degree of justice that can be attained will be compromised. That is the nature of the agreement reached by all sectors. If justice is not fully served by the conviction and imprisonment of those involved in horrendous acts, we should expect that the information pertaining to those acts be given full exposure. That was the value of the truth commission in South Africa. There was no expectation of a court or prison process following the information becoming available. How we will come to finality on the issue of collusion, how we get this information to the public and how the victims and family members of these circumstances can feel at peace has been left too vague and inconclusive. Although it is good to air the debate I regret that, following the debate in Dáil Éireann, we lack a mechanism in the form of a motion to progress it. In having this debate we must think towards an end to the process rather than its continuation. I have put forward my support for a truth commission and I believe it would have widespread support but I acknowledge the difficulties involved. If such a process were established, the type of information that would emerge, the degree of hurt and wounds that would be reopened would be difficult for us to handle on all parts of this island. Most of the political reluctance exists because of the question about whether we really need this and whether we can handle it. If we are to move on and put behind us a prolonged history of political violence, it is a thorn to be grasped. We must put up for scrutiny the hidden part of our history. Until we do so there will be far too many unanswered questions and far too many unfulfilled people in terms of how and why they lost their loved ones. I hope the political system can devise the means for that to happen soon, in co-operation with all political forces on this island.

Acting Chairman: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan I call Senator Pearse Doherty. The Chair had not been advised that Senator Doherty was occupying the lead slot of the Independent Senators.

Senator Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty That may be my fault for not advising the Chair.

Ar dtús báire, ba chóir dúinn a aithint go bhfuilimid ag caint faoi eachtraí inar chaill daoine a saoil. Tá teaghlaigh agus cairde na daoine úd ag [998]gortú go fóill. Níl an fhírinne mar gheall ar na heachtraí sin faighte acu fós. Caithfimid aird a thabhairt ar sin. Bhí an ceart ag an tSeanadóir Walsh liosta na ndaoine a chaill a saoil de bharr na n-eachtraí seo a léamh amach. Ní hamháin go raibh státfórsaí na Breataine impleachtaithe go hindíreach i dúnmharú na ndaoine sin, ach gur mharaigh siad daoine go díreach sa Stáit seo. Maraíodh Aidan McAnespie, mar shampla, 20 bliain amárach nuair a scaoil Arm na Breataine é agus é ar thalamh na Fiche-Sé Chontae, i gContae Mhuineacháin. Ba cheart dúinn smaoineamh freisin ar óglach John Francis Green — mharaigh Arm na Breataine é agus é i gContae Mhuineacháin. Cuimhnimid freisin óglach Martin Doherty, a maraíodh anseo i mBaile Átha Cliath le tacaíocht indíreach ó státfórsaí na Breataine.

We must be mindful of all victims of collusion and of those who were directly murdered by British state forces on Irish ground as well as all other victims. There can never be a hierarchy of victimhood.

I am disappointed that the term collusion does not appear in the title of this debate. Are we afraid to acknowledge that collusion exists? Do people believe collusion is an illusion?

In reply to questions from my party colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the Taoiseach stated that the Government would facilitate an agreed, comprehensive all-party motion on collusion and provide time to debate it. I welcome that response because these statements in the Seanad and the statements in the Dáil are inadequate without an agreed course of action or a resolution. It is not enough to state our views. I expressed this to the Leader on the Order of Business. When I voiced my dissatisfaction last week I asked for an all-party motion. He agreed to consult with leaders of the groups in the Seanad but the same statements are listed on the Order Paper.

The Minister indicated that meeting the families of victims of collusion is an indication that the Government will not allow these reports to gather dust on the shelf. The real indication would be a joint motion. Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and the Green Party are all in support of that. Even Members from Fianna Fáil would support this. What is the delay? In asking that, I acknowledge the Taoiseach’s commitment to Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Two years ago, the Dáil and the Seanad passed a motion calling on the British Government to establish an independent international inquiry into the murder of Mr. Pat Finucane. Two months after that, Mr. Ken Barrett, the only person convicted in connection with the murder, was released after serving three years. He was brought by the British Ministry of Defence to a secret hideout outside Ireland. A deal was done in the case of Mr. Ken Barrett. A guilty plea ensured no trial or exposure of the central role of British forces in the murder of Mr. Finucane. The same happened in the cases of other British [999]agents involved in the Finucane murder, such as Mr. Brian Nelson. It is little wonder that the British Government has turned down the request of the Finucane family and the Oireachtas for a full inquiry.

Collusion is effectively ongoing. The British system is still protecting its agents and, for them more importantly, still protecting senior military and political figures who ran the system of collusion. For that reason the pressure must be kept on the British Government, and that pressure should include an Oireachtas motion. There also should be a dedicated summit meeting on collusion between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. A central focus of the motion, and of the summit, should be the demand for the British Government to release all relevant information in its possession.

In the Dáil yesterday, the Taoiseach said he could not envisage this information ever being released. That is not an acceptable answer from the Taoiseach. Anybody who doubts the reality and extent of collusion between British state forces in Ireland and Unionist paramilitaries need only examine the succession of reports that have been issued. The Barron report concluded, with regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, that a cover-up involving British forces, the Garda and the Irish Government could not be ruled out. There are other reports from Justice Barron as well as the reports of the Oireachtas justice committee. There is the report into the murder of Patrick Finucane and the involvement of at least five agents of the British state in that killing. The report of the Independent International Panel on Collusion in Sectarian Killings concluded that in 24 of the 25 cases examined, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, there is “significant and credible evidence of involvement of police and military agents of the United Kingdom, both directly and in collusion with loyalist extremists”. Finally, there is the investigative report of the former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, into the circumstances surrounding the death of Raymond McCord, junior, and related matters, which exposed the systematic reality and extent of collusion, including collusion in attacks undertaken by loyalist paramilitaries in the Twenty-six Counties.

I wish to mention the murder of Donegal Sinn Féin county councillor, Eddie Fullerton, in his home in Buncrana in May 1991. I was too young to know Eddie personally but the older Members of the Houses might have known him. He was a popular elected representative, not only in Donegal but throughout the country. He was an exemplary republican and a leader in his community. He was killed in this jurisdiction at the height of the campaign of collusion orchestrated by the British state forces in the North. The Garda investigation, if one could call it that, was inadequate. This State has as many questions to [1000]answer about the murder of Eddie Fullerton as the British state.

The Fullerton family has been campaigning for an independent public inquiry into Eddie’s murder. They received unanimous backing from all parties on Donegal County Council for that call in 2005. In November 2006, the family finally met the Taoiseach after many requests but no inquiry has been announced or established. I ask Senators not only to support an all-party motion and a further debate on all incidents of collusion but also the establishment, without delay, by the Government of an inquiry into the murder of Eddie Fullerton.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney I congratulate Nuala O’Loan, who did tremendous work as Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman with regard to many of these controversial incidents, on her appointment as roving ambassador to Timor. She will be of great value to the people of that country. One of the key questions facing the development of the peace process is one many other countries have faced, namely, is the past too horrific to deal with and one must move on to the future or can one not move on to the future unless one deals with the past? In one sense it is a circular question but it is a vital core issue that must be addressed.

Today we are discussing collusion and the reports produced by the justice committee. I congratulate all those involved in the committee. They put serious work into the reports, came to conclusions and made strong and blunt recommendations. We must examine the recommendations and consider how they can be activated. It is grand to stand in this Chamber and talk about how terrible the bombings were in Dublin and Monaghan in 1972 and 1973. I am very aware of the murders that occurred in Burnfoot of Bríd Porter and Oliver Boyce. The family are my constituents. There was the case of Bríd Carroll who was killed on the Lifford-Strabane road in 1971, the murder of Seamus Ludlow and other atrocities that occurred in 1975 and 1976. We can talk forever about those issues, how serious they are and how a resolution must be found, but we cannot get closure.

The report states that not only did collusion occur but it was widespread. It seeks greater political impetus in highlighting the fact that it occurred and its scale and in identifying measures to bring closure to the victims. Closure is an important issue for all concerned. It also relates back to the question I mentioned earlier — was it so horrific that we cannot deal with the past and must move on or can we not move to the future unless we deal with the past? I am charged by the Council of Europe at present to compile a report on the teaching of history in areas of recent conflict. The concept is whether a multi-perspective should be given on issues in order that we can begin to remove the prejudices and bigotry of the children living in areas of recent [1001]conflict. If we are to give the children the various perspectives, we must know the history in order that we can teach it. At present, we cannot get the facts. We know there was collusion but we cannot get beyond that because we cannot get the information, in this instance from the British Government.

How can we encourage the next generation to analyse and understand not only the history of their side but of the “other side”, however that is defined, if we cannot get access to that history? I am reading a great deal about this issue with regard to Bosnia, Cyprus and Armenia but I should know most about the situation in which I grew up. Part of the report we did for the Council of Europe——

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins On a point of order, the Minister of State owes Senator Keaveney the respect of listening to her. He has been texting on his mobile telephone for the past 20 minutes and it is not fair to speakers. I am sorry for raising the matter but it has happened throughout the contributions of the last two or three speakers.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan A point of order deals with a procedural point. That is not a point of order.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Conor Lenihan): Information on Conor Lenihan Zoom on Conor Lenihan I have been listening to the speakers. It is rude of the Senator to make assumptions about somebody in the Chamber.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I do not believe it is in order for a Minister in the House to text on his or her mobile telephone.

Deputy Conor Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan Zoom on Conor Lenihan The Senator is making assumptions.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins It is not in order in Standing Orders for Members to use their telephones in the Chamber.

Deputy Conor Lenihan: Information on Conor Lenihan Zoom on Conor Lenihan That is not the case.

Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney I have a BlackBerry which I use to receive e-mails. I appreciate the point about the courtesy of listening to speakers but I also appreciate that the Houses are geared up for Internet in order that we can e-mail and participate in that way. I do not know if that was what the Minister of State was doing.

In compiling my report, I have examined the situation in Bosnia, Cyprus and Armenia. I should be in tune with what is happening in the North. An issue that arose in another committee is the attempt to install a gas pipeline from eastern to western Europe. After World War II, Britain, America and a third country dumped weapons at sea but they will not say where they are. We are trying to install a pipeline but we cannot get information on where these chemical [1002]weapons are located. This could potentially cause a problem. I am a member of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body and I ask everybody in the British Government and Parliament to explain what is wrong with giving the people of Ireland a chance to put their past behind them by allowing them to examine it. I acknowledge it is painful and difficult, but the problem is that it is so currently because they cannot get the information. All sides have experienced pain owing to what has happened over the past 40 years. Unfortunately, the pain continues. Contrary to what Senator White stated about the bodies not being found in the bushes, there is still a situation where Mr. Paul Quinn and Mr. Andrew Burns have almost been among those bodies in the bushes. We must put an end to these activities and people must be accountable for their part in the deeds.

I want to mention the issue of Councillor Eddie Fullerton. I mentioned my father already on the Order of Business. My father was at a county council meeting with Councillor Fullerton the day of the night that he was killed. What went on and who was involved is a sore point with the people of Donegal.

Having spoken to Ms Nuala O’Loan and others about the case of Mr. Seán Brown who was killed in the North of Ireland, I am astonished at the lack of information that can be obtained when people do not want to give the information.

Senator Walsh spoke of setting up committees in the Oireachtas and in Westminster specifically to deal with this. The Taoiseach had a good relationship with Tony Blair, the previous British Prime Minister, yet we could not get the information. I would like to think that no committee would be set up unless we thought we were going somewhere within a certain length of time and with a certain credibility from the highest ranks within both the British and Irish Governments. We do not need lip-service. This, in a certain way, is lip-service unless there is a decision coming out of it.

Given that there is to be devolution of justice and other areas to Northern Ireland in May or shortly afterwards, I ask that the Northern Ireland Executive, on assuming the powers, be given all records held in Whitehall of every event and that it would be the committee, with a committee in this jurisdiction, that would deal with not only the findings of what occurred but also the other issues that are still outstanding and waiting to be resolved.

There is no point in handing over devolved powers to the Northern Ireland Executive and not handing over certain information as well. If it is handed over, the Executive is then in a position whereby it is entitled to deal with the difficult issues itself. There has been too much analysis of what information can be given.

The clergy in Ireland have stood up to a difficult issue in terms of child sex abuse and much information has now been given freely by the Archbishop of Dublin. The matters before the [1003]House are of equal importance and of greater importance to the people concerned in that people have been murdered. It is time for the Governments to give up all information on all these issues because we cannot stand over a peace process that deals only with part of the reality of what occurred.

I again sympathise with those who have gone round in circles for many years on this issue. I hope the fact we continue to raise the issue gives them confidence. We intend to support them in finding a conclusion to their quest.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Information on Déirdre de Búrca Zoom on Déirdre de Búrca I welcome this opportunity to make statements on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on the violent incidents arising from conflict in Northern Ireland. A good context in which to put this debate is the acknowledgement in the Good Friday Agreement that: “We must never forget those who have died or have been injured, and their families.” I hope this debate will give some consolation to the families of the deceased that they have not been forgotten.

As my colleague, Senator Dan Boyle, has spoken on the issue, I will focus on the issue of collusion because there is great concern that this issue is not being dealt with adequately and that this debate does not contain a specific reference to collusion. It is incumbent on the Government to put pressure on the British Government and to use all the opportunities available to it to encourage that government to examine the findings of the Barron report, the report of the Oireachtas sub-committee and the report from the MacEntee inquiry, and to encourage the British Government to address the issues raised by these reports, including full disclosure of information as highlighted by Mr. Justice Barron. A significant number of the 3,700 murders remain unsolved and families on both sides of the Border still have no explanation why their loved ones were taken from them. It is clear that justice needs to be served.

Victims’ groups, including Justice for the Forgotten, have proposed different approaches to deal with the past. One recent constructive proposal was a call by a consortium of groups for the establishment of a truth commission. This approach was advocated previously by the Green Party and it is being considered by the Consultative Group on the Past. This group will report back to the British Government in June and I hope its recommendations deal adequately with all aspects of the atrocities in questions.

The victims’ groups recent call was for an international, independent truth commission. Other speakers have mentioned the importance of a commission such as this being established. Its purpose would be to find a way to deal with the legacy of more than 30 years of conflict. The commission should deal with truth recovery, should [1004]examine truth commissions elsewhere and how they worked, and should agree core principles and values that would be required as part of a truth commission in this country.

Speaking on behalf of the groups involved in this consortium, Ms Margaret Urwin stated:

The focus of such a commission should be on truth and acknowledgement rather than prosecutions. The criminal justice system has frustrated rather than facilitated access to the truth. All combatant groups, British, republican and loyalist should co-operate in good faith and have a moral duty to do so.

The organisations representing victims of this conflict which supported this call believe that the current investigatory, prosecutorial and judicial arrangements offer no realistic prospect of truth recovery for bereaved families. They have called for the following motion to be supported by both Houses of the Oireachtas:

That this House

endorses and approves the interim and final reports of the sub-committee of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on the report of the independent commission of inquiry into the Dublin-Monaghan Bombing and the three related Barron Reports, including the Inquiry into the Bombing of Kay’s Tavern, Dundalk,

calls upon the Ceann Comhairle to formally inform the Speaker of the House of Commons of the UK of the passage of the resolution and to send copies of the relevant reports and other documents, with a request that the matter be considered by the members of that House,

requests the Ceann Comhairle to call upon the British Government, as an initial step and as a sign of good faith in dealing with the legacy of the conflict, to provide access to all the original documents relating to the atrocities that occurred in this jurisdiction, in particular the Dublin-Monaghan Bombing of 1974 which killed 32 Irish citizens, a French and an Italian citizen.

This is a reasonable call by the families and groups representing the victims. The motion should be uncontroversial. If both Houses of the Oireachtas would agree to do so, we should move ahead with this. The families of the victims have identified the need for the British Government, in particular the House of Commons, to be called upon to consider the matter and pass the resolution. This is an issue that will not go away. It has been debated in the Dáil and the Seanad, but that will not resolve what happened in the past or deal [1005]with the legacy of the 30 years of conflict unless it is taken a step further. There is much good will in both Houses of the Oireachtas towards the families of victims of the violence in Northern Ireland of the past 30 years, but there is only so much we can do.

The results of the Barron report were welcome and point to interesting information that must be taken on board by the British Government. I hope that having debated the issue fully today, we will consider supporting the kind of motion that has been drafted by the group representing the victims of the atrocities in the North. I hope too that we will call on the Ceann Comhairle to forward copies of that motion to the House of Commons and ask the British Government to provide access to the original documents. This is important in terms of putting this issue to bed. Unless this is done, we will find ourselves debating the issue again. The families and relatives are right not to let the issue go as there has not been proper closure on it. In order to have closure, we need to take the matter further and use our diplomatic and other powers to try and involve the British Government in the way the families feel it needs to be involved so that it will take the kind of action that will help.

The establishment of the truth commission with an international composition is important. Other countries look to Ireland because of the conflict that existed in the North for so long and we are seen as having certain expertise and insights into situations of serious conflict from which other conflict zones can benefit. How we find closure on the issue of the bombings in Monaghan and other situations of violence and conflict in Northern Ireland will be used as a template by other parties involved in situations of conflict around the world.

It is important we get closure on this. The recommendations I have made are important in this regard, namely, the setting up of the truth commission and the agreeing of a motion by both Houses of the Oireachtas with the request to the Ceann Comhairle that it be forwarded to the House of Commons seeking the British Government’s co-operation in this matter. There should be little difficulty getting cross-party support for these recommendations. It is important we are seen to have a clear outcome from the recent debate in the Dáil and our debate here. I will finish by stressing the importance of moving this forward and taking further action.

Senator Denis O’Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan I support previous speakers and the call for a united motion by both Houses of the Oireachtas to advance the cause of this tragic situation. I grew up in an era when hostilities in the North began to evolve, initiating with the civil rights movement. At that time Catholics were treated as second class citizens in the North and they showed their anger through a kind of uprising, using the civil rights marches to do so. Subsequently we had the appalling [1006]situation of the atrocity in Derry in 1970 where many people lost their lives.

Arising from the need of these people to fight for their rights, civil war evolved in the North over the past three decades. When the Good Friday Agreement was passed and we held our referendum the substantial majority of the people, both North and South, demonstrated their desire and eagerness for peace by their vote.

There were some appalling atrocities during the Troubles, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the bombing in Belturbet, the Miami Showband crisis and the alleged collusion. There are still people in this part of Ireland who believe there was collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. A serious allegation was made that the RIC and some members of the Garda Síochána were involved in these tragic circumstances.

When I was a Member of the Dáil, I was not, unfortunately, a member of the sub-committee dealing with the Barron report. If we consider the whole situation in the North, we see the sad situation we had over many years where Catholics were killing Protestants and where we had a kind of ethnic cleansing in certain areas, which was appalling. However, when one looks at atrocities where there was collusion, either by the armed forces or the RIC and possibly with the knowledge of State agencies, this raises serious concerns for me and many others.

In order to bring some closure to the war and these atrocities, it is important that we, the Government, Dáil, Seanad, Northern Ireland Assembly and Westminster, continue to strive in a democratic open fashion to find the solutions to enable us to put aside these appalling events of our past. Thankfully, since the Omagh bombings, there has been no serious explosion of any sort. Appalling as that bombing was, it was a catalyst for change. We now have a situation in the North where both sides are sitting in Government together and working together for the benefit of everyone.

Both sides suffered appalling consequences of the violence, with over 3,000 people murdered and thousands injured or maimed. We should learn from our past. It is a concern that despite all the inquiries we have had, we have not got to the root of the problem or of the various issues that arose. We had the Cory collusion inquiry process, the Smithwick tribunal of inquiry, chaired by Judge Peter Smithwick a retired President of the District Court, and various Barron reports over the years, but there are still question marks in some people’s minds hanging over the activities of, possibly, the Garda and what type of collusion was involved and who knew what. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 were a massive atrocity. One of the bombs went off quite close to this House, causing mayhem and death and injury to many people.

  2 o’clock

I laud the efforts of the group, Justice for the Forgotten. It strived for many years, initially in [1007]vain but with some success more recently, to highlight the plight of many, for example, the atrocious situation where many people disappeared in the North and were never found. It is an appalling situation when somebody is taken down a back alley and tied up and shot in the back of the head, but at least their body is found and the relatives and the family can find closure in that death. Those families have some sort of resolution. However, it is different in situations where, for example, as in the appalling case of the mother of ten children who came to the aid of a wounded British soldier, the person is taken away, executed and the body is never found. There are several more such cases. Attempts were made by various groups to resolve these cases and the Taoiseach has expressed his desire that closure be brought for those affected by such appalling events.

For the first time in more than 50 years there is good will, both north and south of the Border and in Westminster, towards resolving outstanding issues, ensuring the peace strategy is strengthened and finding answers regarding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

One could ask if there will ever be total closure. Will the total truth ever be found? If one looks, for example, at the appalling Whiddy Island disaster in Bantry Bay, which has nothing to do with Northern Ireland, in which 50 lives were lost, despite a tribunal of inquiry, nobody knows precisely what happened that night. A ship exploded but we do not know where the negligence lay. I am still not sure, even though as a young, trainee solicitor, I worked at the tribunal in Dublin and Bantry. The answers to the questions posed by that disaster never emerged.

I fully support my colleagues who have expressed the unanimous view of this House that we should move forward and try to bring resolution and closure. That is my heartfelt wish too.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White Zoom on Mary M. White This debate deals with a matter of great national importance. It is about a series of atrocities perpetrated on innocent people in our country, including the bombings of 1974 in Dublin and Monaghan, which resulted in the greatest loss of life on a single day during the Troubles, when 33 people were killed. I remember hearing one of the bombs going off in Nassau Street as I worked in the National Building Agency at the time.

Today’s debate is about justice for victims and about how victims and survivors were, and are, treated. We know more today about the circumstances in which the attacks on Dublin and Monaghan were carried out, the investigations of these crimes and where those investigations failed. We must recall that when we revisited this issue in 2000, we were shocked to realise the limited time that had been given to the investigation of the bombings. We were embarrassed, as a [1008]nation. Senator Jim Walsh, as a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality and Women’s Rights, played a key role at the Barron hearings, which I had the honour of attending as an observer. The most difficult issue was the fact that it took 25 years to reopen the investigation, as the files on the atrocities were closed in August 1974. That fact will never leave us.

Thanks to the work of the committee, the testimonies and experience of victims and their families have been heard publicly and in an appropriate way. We saw the emotion, pain and anguish of the survivors and the families of those who had been killed. It was a searing experience. It is difficult to imagine how it must have felt for them, to have to wait 25 years for a real investigation to take place. The Taoiseach made an apology in the Dáil on behalf of the Government for the premature closing of the investigation.

The issue of collusion between the security forces and paramilitaries in perpetrating these attacks always has been a central, unanswered question. Sadly, that remains true to this day. Our Government, led by the Taoiseach, has consistently called on the British Government to meet its responsibilities, to co-operate with inquiries in this State and to help the process of discovering the truth about what happened. In the past month, the Taoiseach reiterated his call on the British Government to be up-front and fully participate in these investigations. In the Dáil on 30 January 2008 the Taoiseach stated:

The willingness of the British authorities to co-operate with the various inquiries has been tested and in many cases found wanting. We tried to address these issues by establishing inquiries into certain important and representative cases in discussions with the British Government at Weston Park in July 2001.

At Weston Park, the Taoiseach tried valiantly to persuade the British Government to fully co-operate. For our part, under the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, former Deputy Michael McDowell, an investigation into the deaths of Superintendents Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan was set up and is now proceeding under Judge Peter Smithwick. While inquiries are under way in the cases of Mr. Robert Hamill, Ms Rosemary Nelson, whom I knew personally through my activities as an observer on the Garvaghy Road, and Mr. Billy Wright, an inquiry into the death of Mr. Pat Finucane has not been established by the British Government. The Taoiseach has made it clear that he wants an independent inquiry to be held, as recommended by Judge Peter Cory.

We have reached a profoundly positive new stage in the peace process in Northern Ireland. Relationships between unionism and nationalism, between North and South and between east and west have never been better. What drives us all now is the determination that never again shall [1009]our people experience and bear witness to a terrible conflict. The work of reconciliation must continue and the victims and survivors must be as much a part of the future as they are of the past.

Sitting suspended at 2.05 p.m. and resumed at 2.45 p.m.

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