Thursday, 26 January 2012
Department of Justice, Equality and Defence
Independent International Commission on Decommissioning
Question 168: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide the background on the decision to donate the papers relating to the work of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to Boston College; if a decision was taken on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4491/12]
Question 169: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will state if he had any contact with any archival institution on the island of Ireland regarding the papers relating to the work of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning prior to the decision to donate these papers to Boston College; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4492/12]
Question 170: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the papers relating to the work of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning were not donated to any archival institution on the island of Ireland and if there are plans in the future to allow the papers to return to Ireland. [4493/12]
Question 171: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he sought the views of the Department of Education and Skills regarding the decision to donate the papers relating to the work of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to Boston College; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4494/12]
Question 172: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality his views that the legal proceedings in the United States regarding the Boston College archives will not impact on the decommissioning documentation on the conflict in Northern Ireland recently given to the college’s archives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4495/12]
Question 173: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to any implications for the papers relating to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning arising from recent legal cases in the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4496/12]
Question 174: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the contacts he has had with Boston College regarding the papers relating to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4497/12]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 168 to 174, inclusive, together.
The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning was jointly established following an agreement of August 1997 between the Irish and British Governments to supervise the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and explosive materials. The Commission was dissolved by Orders made by both Governments on 30 March 2011. Between those dates the Commission successfully decommissioned virtually all the weapons and explosive materials which had been in the hands of paramilitary groups in this island.
There is no doubting that the Commission’s work was central to the peace process and I am sure the House will join me in recording our appreciation of that work. As an independent body the Commission decided the arrangements for the holding of its archive independently. I am advised that the Commission did consult with both Governments and the issue of lodging the archive in Boston College had been pursued since July 2010. The Commission’s final report, submitted to the Government on 28 March 2011, detailed the arrangements which it had made for the storage of its documentation, including the most sensitive documentation relating to the inventory of decommissioned material. That sensitive material is not in the archive in Boston College. The remaining material which is of a more general nature was deposited with Boston College, subject to conditions including an embargo on their disclosure for a period of 30 years.
To suggest that disposition of the archive was a matter within the power of the Irish Government is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. As the Commission was a body jointly established by the Irish and British Governments the holding of the archive by the one or the other jurisdiction would not have been possible, given the independent nature of the Commission and the nature of the archive. Accordingly, I understand the question of consultation of the kind referred to by the Deputy did not arise though, of course, this would have been a matter for the administration in office when this matter was being resolved.
The Commission itself made the arrangements to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of its archive in the public interest and in the interests of the peace process. The Deputy will understand that consultations on the final disposition of the Commission’s archive were completed before I became Minister. Indeed the first I learned of the arrangements, which the Commission had put in place, was when the Commission detailed them in its final Report of 28 March 2011. I would emphasise that I have no issue with the approach which the Commission took to dealing with its archive, having consulted the then Governments.
I am, of course, aware of legal proceedings in the United States to which the Deputy refers concerning entirely separate documentation held in Boston College. I am advised that the material which the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning deposited with Boston College is of a general nature and does not contain sensitive information in relation to individuals. Furthermore, the order dissolving the Commission contains a number of provisions including one which declares the archives to be inviolable until 2041.
In addition the equivalent UK order also confers this inviolability and accords them the status of diplomatic documentation under the Vienna Convention and acknowledges that the documentation can only be accessed prior to 2041 with the agreement of the Irish Government. The fact that the documentation has been given diplomatic status under the Convention means that it cannot be properly accessed by any third party. They are, therefore, in an entirely different category to the material which is the subject of the legal proceedings referred to. There are no grounds for believing that the Commission’s material could be subject to requests for disclosure of the kind which arise in the case referred to by the Deputy. In the circumstances, the question of my contacting Boston College in the light of those completely separate proceedings does not arise.
Officials in my Department and in the Northern Ireland Office have been monitoring developments and will remain in contact about the matter. However, I have no reason to believe that there are grounds for concern about the arrangements made by the Commission arising from the entirely separate case referred to by the Deputy.