Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 20 June 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
Legacy Issues Affecting Victims and Relatives in Northern Ireland: Discussion (Resumed)
Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Public Gallery to turn off their mobile phones. Members are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phones are turned off completely or, depending on the device used, switched to airplane, safe or flight mode. It is not sufficient for members to leave them in silent mode as that would maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system. I also remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the House, or any official by name in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If, however, they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I welcome Dr. Thomas Leahy of Cardiff University and Ms Margaret Urwin from Justice for the Forgotten. The format of the meeting is that we will hear their opening statements before going into a question and answer session with the members of the committee. I now call on Dr. Leahy to make his opening statement and then we will hear from Ms Urwin.
Dr. Thomas Leahy:
I will begin by thanking the Chair, Deputies, Senators and clerks for inviting me to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement to discuss my research findings. What I will speak about first is how the Irish Government has dealt with conflict legacy. I also thank all those who contributed to my research, especially victim and survivor groups and their representatives.
I will speak briefly about what the research looks at, which is essentially three key questions. The first is how effectively the Irish Government has dealt with Northern Ireland conflict legacy. Second, what more could the Irish Government do to assist dealing with conflict legacy? Third, how might the Irish Government enhance its efforts in that regard?
When we look at the overall conclusions from my research so far they suggest that the Irish Government has taken steps towards dealing with conflict legacy since 1998, but more needs to be done to meet the needs of victims and survivors. In the early 2000s there were various reports into legacy cases in Ireland by Mr. Justice Barron and Mr. Justice MacEntee. In addition, Judge Peter Smithwick's tribunal report was released in 2013. The Irish Government also supported the Stormont House Agreement's proposed legacy mechanisms in 2014.
Ireland has faced external challenges to progressing specific legacy cases. These include Brexit, the UK authorities' lack of co-operation at times in specific cases and the collapse of power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, my recommendations outline how the Irish Government can still take further steps towards dealing with conflict legacy.
Why should the Irish Government deal with conflict legacy? In terms of dealing with the past, the primary focus so far has been on Northern Ireland because an estimated 3,453 of the 3,720 conflict-related deaths occurred there. However, the conflict also had a direct impact on the Republic of Ireland. There were at least 121 conflict-related deaths in this State. Thirty four people, for example, died following the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in May 1974. Some 300 others were injured in this attack. On the recent anniversary of this atrocity in May 2019, the Taoiseach's statement reminded us that the Dublin and Monaghan bombings represent "the highest number of casualties in any single day during the Troubles".
There were other cross-Border attacks by both loyalist and republican paramilitaries into or originating from the Irish State. Examples include attacks in Belturbet, Castleblayney, Dundalk, Dublin and cross-Border incidents in counties Armagh Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone. Some of those incidents are detailed in the written evidence I have provided.
Seven Irish security force members were also killed during the conflict. In addition, various interviewees for the research highlighted the Irish Government's crucial role in building and sustaining peace. The evidence shows that the Irish State was directly involved during the conflict and also the peace process.
What are the key priorities for the Irish Government to consider when dealing with conflict legacy? My recommendations are made with three key priorities that interviewees and others want at the heart of the legacy process. The first is to assist victims and survivors in their search for justice, truth and closure. That is the key priority. The second priority is to ensure public confidence in the Irish Government across these isles. The third priority is to enhance British and Irish relations by co-operating on conflict legacy.
The recommendations I made come under six themes. The first theme relates to full engagement with the Stormont House Agreement. Some of the key recommendations under this theme include that the Irish Government should, first, parallel the historical investigations unit, HIU, in Northern Ireland. Alternatively, it should create an oversight committee, body or appoint an independent person to help oversee ongoing legacy cases in Ireland. Another recommendation under the theme is to assist the independent commission for information retrieval, ICIR, by sharing archival documents where required to cross-check information provided.
There is also the idea of creating an oversight mechanism, individual, committee or academic team, or all of these, to help oversee the national security redaction process of archival documents. Moreover, there is a suggestion of reappointing a victims commissioner for the Republic of Ireland. The second theme covers transparency and sustained communication with victims and survivors. One key recommendation is that the Government should create a citizens' assembly or victims' forum in Ireland to ensure maximum engagement opportunities for and with victims and survivors. The third theme is about mental and physical health services for victims and survivors. The Irish and British Governments must ensure that victims and survivors are able to equally access required services across these islands. The fourth theme is about engagement and co-operation between Irish and British authorities. The recommendations include trying to increase engagement and co-operation. This could include committee members or Government officials visiting the UK to raise awareness of legacy cases with interested parties and politicians in the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament. Ministers and politicians can raise awareness of legacy cases in the UK media as well. The fifth theme concerns remembrance. The suggestion is that the Government should organise and hold an annual remembrance day related to the Troubles alongside the British and Northern Irish authorities. The sixth theme relates to acknowledgement statements. The suggestion is that the Government should consider giving acknowledgement statements alongside all sides involved in the conflict. The key point is that these are not necessarily apologies but an acknowledgment that each side took different approaches during the conflict which negatively affected, or have been perceived as counter-productive to, other groups.
I will comment on the research methods for this project. The foregoing recommendations are partly based on interviews conducted with: various victims and survivors groups; Irish and UK politicians, past and present; former Irish and UK security force personnel; former Irish republican and Ulster loyalist activists and prisoners; and academics. I cross-referenced interviewee responses with others alongside other sources detailed in my report. I look forward to discussing and reviewing some of these recommendations with the committee in due course.
Finally, as requested, I will provide some thoughts on the impact of Brexit on citizenship across the island of Ireland. Professor Niall Ó Dochartaigh, from NUI Galway, and myself have produced a paper entitled Citizenship on the ethnic frontier: nationality, migration and rights in Northern Ireland since 1920. We looked at the rights of Irish people in England, Scotland and Wales and the rights of UK citizens moving to Ireland from 1920 to date. There are two central points I wish to mention briefly about how Brexit might impact citizenship on this island.
The Good Friday Agreement partly helped to end the conflict by recognising the contested nature of British and Irish citizenship in the North. The peace agreement accepted the right of all people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves as Irish or British or both. The Agreement states that this right would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland. It is vital to ensure that dual citizenship in Northern Ireland remains. Otherwise, Irish people living in the North will feel their voice is ignored and their identity is overlooked. This point matters because one fact encouraging conflict on this island between 1912 and 1998 was the perception or actual existence of particular national identifies being suppressed.
The second point is our research found that Irish people moving to England, Scotland or Wales and UK citizens moving to Ireland have received generous citizenship rights. For example, an Irish person moving to Britain permanently for work does not face restrictions in voting or accessing healthcare. The key question is whether Irish people living in the UK will still experience the same generosity following Brexit. I believe that still remains unclear. I look forward to questions on this topic from the Chair, Deputies and Senators.
Ms Margaret Urwin:
I thank the joint committee for inviting me to contribute. I very much appreciate it. My role is to deal with some of Dr. Leahy's recommendations. We agree with all of his recommendations as set out in his report. I will now comment on some of the recommendations in his executive summary.
Recommendation No. 1 is that the Government should set up a parallel historical investigations unit to its proposed counterpart in Northern Ireland. Failing that, he recommends that an oversight committee, body or independent person or persons should be appointed to monitor the progress of State institutions in investigating legacy cases. Justice for the Forgotten has consistently argued that such a body should be established. The failure to do so discriminates against families of victims of the conflict in this jurisdiction. They are prevented from having access to the principal mechanism of the Stormont House Agreement. All victims of the conflict should be treated equally. This is particularly important for the families of the victims of the Dublin bombings of December 1972 and January 1973 and those of the Belturbet bombing of December 1972 because they have no other avenue available to them. Complaints on their behalf to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland were not accepted for investigation. The remit of the ombudsman extends only to misfeasance by former police officers. If a complainant does not have enough evidence or information, then the ombudsman will not investigate misfeasance by the British Army or the UDR. Thus far, our Government has been resistant to setting up this mechanism, although at a meeting with An Taoiseach on 7 February 2019 he promised to examine the issue. We await the outcome of his examination.
These legacy cases cannot be lumped in with ordinary criminal cases. The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, Judith Thompson, is fully supportive of this approach.
Recommendation No. 5 relates to the oral history archive. This clearly needs to be accessible to potential contributors across Ireland and cannot simply be based in Belfast alone.
Recommendation No. 6 concerns the Government holding its own consultation on the Stormont House Agreement. We believe it should await feedback about its role from the Northern Ireland Office consultation process and thereafter hold meetings with victims' groups and others.
Recommendation No. 9 suggests the Government should implement any outstanding recommendations from the Barron, MacEntee and Smithwick reports. There are certainly outstanding recommendations from the Barron reports that have never been implemented.
In February 2005, the sub-committee of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights recommended in its final report on the Dublin bombings of December 1972 and January 1973 that aspects of the Garda investigations into the bombings of 1972 and 1973 and other issues in the period 1970-74 should be included in the Commission of Investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings of 1974. This, however, did not happen. Another recommendation from that report was that, because of the vast number of files in the Department of Justice that had not been made available to the National Archives, a committee of independent academics should be appointed to advise the Department. That committee was established but, in correspondence with Professor Mary Daly, who chaired the group, and Professor Eunan O'Halpin, who also served on the committee, we have been informed that it was suspended in 2009. This was allegedly due to the financial crisis at the time. It has not resumed its work. The basis for setting up the group in the first place was to consider the release of files from the Department relating to British and loyalist violence during the 1970s. At the time the committee was suspended it had reached only as far as the 1940s. Our understanding is that the failure to release files is in breach of the National Archives Act 1986.
In March 2006, the sub-committee of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights recommended in its final report on the murder of Seamus Ludlow that two commissions of investigation with very specific terms of reference should be established into the case. I cannot think of a family in any legacy case in this jurisdiction that has been treated as badly by the State and the Garda as the Ludlow family. That was acknowledged during the public hearings. Apologies were proffered to the family from two former Garda Commissioners, Pat Byrne and Noel Conroy, for the unconscionable failure to follow up a vital lead in the Garda investigation when the names of four suspects were made available to it. They also apologised for the failure to inform the family of the date of the inquest and for allowing the inquest to proceed in the absence of any family member. They also received apologies on those two aspects of the case from the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, now Senator Michael McDowell. Despite the apologies, successive Governments have refused to implement the recommended commissions of investigation, one to deal with the Garda investigation and the suspects and the other to examine the availability and location of documents.
Recommendation No. 10 is that Dr. Leahy recommends that the Irish Government should consider reappointing a victims' commissioner for the Republic of Ireland. We believe that would be a very positive move, as it would provide victims with an opportunity to discuss all issues of concern with a dedicated person who would, in turn, be in a position to liaise with the appropriate Departments on their behalf.
In recommendation No. 14, Dr. Leahy states that private discussions between victims and survivors with members of the Irish State should continue to be organised and facilitated by peace and reconciliation organisations. We would add human rights organisations to that recommendation.
I thank the witnesses for coming in today and for the valuable research work Dr. Leahy has done. I acknowledge the work of Justice for the Forgotten and Ms Urwin because those issues have been forgotten and only for the group they would not get any attention at this stage. My first question is more of a philosophical or general one. Why do the witnesses think this has been a mammoth, uphill battle in order to resolve these issues? Why has it taken so long and what were the stumbling blocks? I ask the witnesses to pinpoint what they think in response to that general question.
Do the witnesses have an example of international best practice when it comes to legacy issues? We know that unresolved issues and conflict lead to the next one. The best example is the Second World War, which came out of unresolved issues following the First World War and the way the peace agreement was drawn up. The violence in Yugoslavia came out of what happened during the Second World War. We have had a peace process in South Africa and the peace process in Colombia is ongoing at the moment. Is there any good example the witnesses could give that would be useful for us to know? The British Government has ignored three Dáil motions and anything else that has come up, and it has been most unco-operative on this matter. Can there be a resolution if it continues like that? Can the other recommendations that do not involve the British Government bring about a full resolution? If the witnesses had to pinpoint one thing that would kick-start a resurgence in trying to resolve all this, which one would they identify?
Dr. Thomas Leahy:
I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for the questions. As to why it has been a mammoth, uphill task, there are going to be different reasons for each of the states and actors involved. In particular, when we look at cases from the 1970s, much of the academic research would suggest that for the Republic of Ireland there was a general fear on the part of the Government at the time that any involvement in dealing with cases would have led to some kind of backlash in the conflict that could potentially seep over the Border such as further paramilitary attacks in this State. That is not to justify that at all. That is to say that is the perception I get from looking at the academic research and also some of the files. In particular, in more recent times I get the impression that it is partly about first steps. That is a positive thing about the Stormont House Agreement. Particular victims and survivors groups might not be very happy with the Stormont House Agreement, but from my perspective and talking to different interviewees, it is trying to put things in motion that operate in synch and to give everyone access to at least some form of truth, justice or closure where possible. I still get the impression at the moment that it is partly about first steps and who is going to take the first step. What I mean by that is that perhaps there is an element of fear that, let us say, if the Irish Government did go first it would put it in the spotlight and that considerable blame might be put on it for particular events or activities. That is more of a contemporary thing and that would be echoed in different parties from the Northern Ireland Assembly and the British Government. I refer to the fear that the blame would be entirely on them. That has been partly evident in the debate that has been happening in the UK about amnesties for UK forces because there is a fear about that happening. In a sense, my comment on that, which I have put in the recommendations as well is that in a sense it is not a fear that is grounded in the reality of what the Stormont House Agreement is trying to do, which is for everyone to try to move forward together in tandem with this process. Difficult truths will come out and there might be things people might not want to know in certain States but everyone is going to have an element of that. Moving together in tandem does not mean that any one State or particular side is going to have to fear that the portion of blame will be allocated to it.
Going back to the question on the mammoth, uphill struggle, the tension in both Governments, in Ireland and in the UK, was very much about the conflict during the time and anything that was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as potentially leading to further tension or a further upsurge in violence was, to put it bluntly, not looked at, or just bypassed at the time. I think that comes into play since 1988. I get the perception that there is an element of fear about who takes the first step due to the fear that the blame could be apportioned to them. If one moves forward with a process like the Stormont House Agreement, for all its faults, I do not think that will be the case because there will be an overlook of various cases.
In terms of international best practice, there is often reference to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, but the point I would make is that, universally, the victims and survivors groups that I represented do not want a process where at this time a truth commission comes into play because an amnesty is given first so that people will come forward. We should remember as well that for all the benefits that would have happened from the South African process there would have been victims and survivors who were disappointed that there were not any prosecutions that could have come forward that they might have wanted and they might not have had a universal say in that process. I do not say that should be ruled out. Perhaps after the mechanisms of the Stormont House Agreement come into play that would be up to victims and survivors groups and the politicians as well to have a think about whether they want further truth to come out. It is important to note that in the case of the South Africa process, victims and survivors who should be at the centre of the process did not want that at the time in terms of people getting an amnesty beforehand.
In the case of what we saw in the former Yugoslavia, which led into the international war crimes tribunal and cases, in that respect it was slightly different because there were external actors involved such as the United States of America and also UN forces. That shows there is a justice element to it and in cases linked to Srebrenica, for example, families at least felt vindicated by some of the truths coming out and that they had the opportunity for justice, and if that could not happen then some truth might come out. The Stormont House Agreement gives people options. Victims and survivors can go for a justice option if they want to try to do that. They can go for a truth option by means of the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval or they can decide not to opt into the process. Some people have moved on and do not want to do that. I think that is important. The Stormont House Agreement could become an example of international best practice because it gives victims a choice about which avenue they want to take.
In terms of the British Government ignoring any requests to co-operate in going forward, that links very much to theme 4 in which I talked about there being an opportunity for a select committee or Members of these Houses, in particular in the current climate with the UK in terms of Brexit, to further raise public awareness there about the conflicts and about unresolved legacy cases.
That would mean, if not working with a Government party in the UK, working with politicians in different parties, including in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Where UK politics is in flux there are people there who could be in government this time next year. Establishing contacts with, and raising awareness among, them could help that process as would raising it in the UK media. I note that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, raised Brexit in The Guardian. That is an example of how this can be done, using UK media outlets. On the one hand, Brexit might distract from the conflict legacy process but what I have really noticed, partly from teaching on this topic, among my students but also among the general public in England, Wales and Scotland, is that because of Brexit there is an interest in the Troubles and in affairs and relations between Ireland and the UK. That is an opportunity to take this up and move forward with it. I have not put this in the report but the Government here might as it has done in the past, consider bringing some cases to the European Court of Human Rights if the British Government does not co-operate. That should always be an option. It would be essential.
Can the Deputy remind me of her fourth question?
Dr. Thomas Leahy:
We want transparency on the part of bodies, such as this committee, the Citizens' Assembly or victims' commission, or all these, to oversee this process in this State. This is important, to judge by what I gather from victims and survivors, because it gives them an opportunity to raise any points about or problems they have with the process as it is unfolding at the time with someone who can reach a high level and get feedback. It is important for all these mechanisms that there is oversight, while they are operating as we try to move forward and build this process, so that at the end people are not saying they were not happy with the way it operated and did not feel they could feed back into it and to the Government. Many of the oversight mechanisms are very important and that stands out in recommendation No. 1 about the historical investigations unit. If that is not going to happen in this State there has to be some form of oversight mechanism because it is fundamental for victims and survivors to trust in the process and feel that it is transparent. That is my view and it arises from the evidence gathering. It is important for public confidence in that process in this State and across the aisles in the Irish Government, and it is important for the triangular Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK relationship, that everyone feels oversight was built in and that at the time the maximum was done that could be done.
We have had numerous exchanges about the fact that we do not have a historical investigations unit, HIU, in the Republic and that there is resistance to it. We have this alternative but would Dr. Leahy have any confidence that this can fulfil the role that is needed, as he has outlined?
Dr. Thomas Leahy:
I would say if there is not to be a HIU in this State the most important thing is confidence of victim survivors in the process and among the public, in Ireland and the UK. There needs to be some form of oversight mechanism or individual while the process continues because if people have points they want to raise about particular cases or how they are being handled they must have a point of contact that can raise these at high Government levels and get a response and a dialogue. If that does not happen at the time I know from the research and what various interviewees say that there would not be confidence in that process. It would also ensure that things would not be left in such a way that afterwards people will say the process did not fulfil their expectations. That would be key. I would also have a concern, and this has been raised by some victim survivor groups and politicians, that some in the North wanted the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, to oversee the process. They did however accept that would place a huge burden on the PSNI alongside contemporary policing needs. I would be concerned in this State too about how the Garda could deal with these often quite complex legacy cases alongside everyday policing matters, given the Garda's contemporary resource needs. That has to be considered and some of these oversight mechanisms can help with that process.
Ms Margaret Urwin:
It is very important that the Stormont House Agreement is fully implemented. We do not know yet whether it will be implemented at all. The consultation process with the Northern Ireland Office, NIO, ended early last October and here we are coming to the end of June and there is no sign of it happening. As Dr. Leahy said, it is important that everybody moves forward together. The Stormont House Agreement was signed by all the parties in the North as well as the Irish and British Governments. If it is implemented it is imperative that we have some form of HIU in this State. The Minister for Justice and Equality told me in a letter last year that legacy cases here would be lumped in with all other ordinary criminal cases. That just cannot happen. If it happens it means that victims in this State are discriminated against. The Taoiseach did seem to hear what we were saying when we met with him in February and said he would consider the issue. We have not had any outcome from that yet but we are hopeful that some form of HIU will be established here. That is the most important point. The British Government has decided not to comply with the three motions passed unanimously by Dáil Éireann and has felt very comfortable not co-operating and under no pressure to do so. It is never questioned by the media. I would like the Irish Government to come out publicly and criticise it for not complying with the motions. The Stormont House Agreement is essential and should be implemented and the HIU should be implemented here.
Mr. Mickey Brady:
I thank Dr. Leahy and Ms Urwin for their presentations. There are two relevant cases in my constituency of Newry and Armagh and both happened in Dundalk. One is the bombing of Kay's Tavern in December 1975, the other, which Ms Urwin mentioned, is the murder of Seamus Ludlow in May 1976. Both cases highlight the failure of successive southern Governments to deal with the issues. Seamus Ludlow was murdered in 1976 and by 1979 the RUC was able to pass the names of four suspects to the Garda but nothing was done. Almost 20 years later those four suspects were arrested and were questioned. Two of them were serving Ulster Defence Regiment, UDR, soldiers. They were never interviewed by the Garda, no action was taken. The day after Mr. Ludlow's funeral a brother-in-law of his, Kevin Donegan, was kidnapped by the British Army and questioned about the Garda findings but nothing was ever done about that.
In Kay's Tavern, where Mr. Rooney and Mr. Watters were killed, it appears that the authorities North and South were aware that there was going to be an incident in Dundalk but nothing was done. Those two incidents highlight failures where steps could have been taken. In respect of the Seamus Ludlow murder what would now be termed "fake news" was put about in the form of a smear campaign saying republicans had been involved in his murder which was not the case. When questioned by the RUC two of the suspects admitted that they were present when Mr. Ludlow was murdered but did not take part. They were never charged. I raise these issues because they happened in Dundalk where I spent much of my youth socialising as it is probably the nearest town in the South.
It is just to highlight the ongoing problems. The Ludlow family have taken a case and it is going to the Court of Appeal, probably next year. It has taken a long time, particularly when one considers that the events we are discussing date back to 1976. Ms Urwin highlighted the lack of respect and the lack of truth for families. The Ludlow family are a particular example of how people have been so badly treated.
Ms Margaret Urwin:
As already stated, I cannot think of another family who were treated as badly. The Ludlow family have taken a case here regarding commissions of investigation, which they lost and are appealing. I appeal to this committee to get these commissions set up, as was recommended by the sub-committee of the joint Oireachtas committee in 2006. That should happen. I know the family is also taking a case in the North in respect of a decision made by the DPP in the past.
At least we have an investigation into the Dundalk bombing because it has been accepted by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland as part of Operation Newham, which involves all of the linked Glenanne cases, North and South. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings are also included in that, as is the murder of John Francis Green and the Castleblaney bombing. They are all linked to that and are all being investigated by the Police Ombudsman. However, the other cases - the Ludlow case, the Dublin bombings of and 1972 and 1973 and also the Belturbet bombing - were not accepted. As I explained, this arises if there is not enough information on malfeasance by the RUC as the Police Ombudsman's remit does not extend to looking at the UDR or the British Army unless it is part of what he is looking at in the context of the police. At least the Dundalk bombing is being investigated.
Ms Margaret Urwin:
That is right. A second inquest has been held since but it seems an appalling state of affairs that they were not informed and that it actually went ahead on the day. The two Garda Commissioners and Senator McDowell, the former Minister, apologised for that at the time. However, it is amazing the recommendations of the committee in regard to that case were not followed up, at least to give some consolation to the family.
Mr. Paul Maskey:
I thank the witnesses for their report, which is very welcome. It contains a number of recommendations that I would like to discuss. I particularly commend Ms Urwin, who has attended the committee previously. We cannot but be inspired every time she comes into the committee due to the way she takes on the case for justice and truth. Mr. Brady touched earlier on some of the failures on the side of the Irish Government. Our own party colleague, Eddie Fullerton, was murdered in 1991 and the family are still seeking truth and justice in that case as well.
Recommendation No. 6 of the report refers to the consultation process. There are thousands of consultees to that process but it seems the Northern Ireland Office has not got the answers it wanted, so it is stalling the process before opening it up again for further consultation. Part of the recommendation is that the Irish Government should hold its own consultation but it then goes on to say, as Ms Urwin noted, that it might be necessary to hold off to see what the responses are. I do not know when those responses will arrive and we could be waiting another ten years for some of the responses to come forward from that consultation. Would it not be beneficial for the Government to initiate that in order to try to put pressure on the British Government, and certainly the Northern Ireland Office, to start to produce the results of that consultation process? That is one question.
Recommendation No. 7 states that there should not be an amnesty. I totally agree. For example, there is the soldier F scenario which has run right through the North of Ireland at this time. In my constituency, the Ballymurphy families are currently going through their court cases with regard to what happened to their loved ones. Yet, when some of those family members are going to the court on a near-daily basis, they have to drive past banners and posters about soldier F. It is very hurtful to those families, who have to go and listen to some of the soldiers who were involved in that atrocity in the early 1970s. It is very hurtful that some ex-members of the British forces and even some Members of the British Parliament are enmeshed in the amnesty issue. It is very damaging to the families who are suffering this on a daily basis that they have to drive past those banners. Some of those banners may be illegal, and I dare say most are illegal, given that there is a need for planning permission to put up banners and nobody has been seeking planning permission for them. Yet, the PSNI is standing with the hooded men who are putting up some of these banners, which is very hurtful. I believe the recommendation on amnesties is correct. People have suffered too long. They are seeking justice but that is not happening quickly enough, while others are causing hurt to those families by putting up these banners and posters. It can be very hurtful.
Recommendation No. 16 states that mental and physical health should be supported. Has that been forthcoming? Has the right treatment been given, whether for physical health or, probably more importantly given the length of time it has taken, for the psychological treatment that some of these people rightly deserve?
Dr. Thomas Leahy:
I thank members for the points and questions raised. Ms Urwin raised a good point on the consultation process. I would be aware, and the evidence I have submitted shows, that there are a number of groups and organisations that have sent across papers in response to the consultation by the British Government and Northern Ireland Office, and these papers have made various points about the Irish Government's role in this process. I can definitely see Ms Urwin's point that there would be no point repeating the process again if it just gets fed back. Those discussions could start between the Irish Government and victims and survivors groups and others who are interested in raising this point. It is definitely a good point. If this is just delayed constantly and there is no result from it, then I do not see why the Irish Government would not be able to initiate its own process, and have discussions with victims and survivors groups and others who are interested. Rather than having to repeat work, organisations could submit what they submitted to the UK consultation and then draw up points about the Irish Government's role. I believe that would be beneficial.
That touches on a key point from this research, which is that the Irish Government can take a lead on this process. I recognise that this might lead to some uncomfortable things coming out but I believe it would be respected by people across Northern Ireland, the UK, Europe and the world that it has taken a lead on this process. This would show that the Government is attempting to build public confidence in the State and that it is willing to recognise errors it has made in the past and things that have happened, and willing to try to introduce reforms, putting victims and survivors at the centre, and, at least in its own way, trying to move forward with co-operation between these islands. That would be a key point and is something the Government could initiate itself. I do not see any reason it could not do that. This does not have to be written at a particular time and it could be done online, and there are various ways of doing the process. It is definitely a good point.
With regard to the point on amnesties, what is interesting is that I did not speak to one victims or survivors group which thinks amnesty is a good idea. This is vital from a victims and survivors point of view. As we said, despite some of the faults that could be pointed out with regard to the Stormont House Agreement, it finally gives victims and survivors, who have often been completely disempowered during the conflict and into the peace process years, a sense that they have an opportunity to decide which route they want to take. They have a choice to go down the justice route in order to get some truth and acknowledgement of what has happened, or perhaps they just want to leave this and move on. That is the important thing the Stormont House Agreement does. If one side passes an amnesty, that immediately means victims and survivors are no longer in a position where they are, in a sense, able to direct what is happening in that process. It would disempower them, even to the extent that it could re-traumatise people.
There is also a point about public confidence in the state in regard to amnesties, whether this State or the UK. It would not just affect Troubles-related cases and it could be things that have happened with regard to the police force or the Army in other cases and other scenarios. It is not good that organisations that are supposed to abide by the rule of law can have amnesties in place.
That would set a precedent. As I drew attention to in my evidence, former British soldiers recognise this. Sometimes in the UK media it appears that the British army in its entirety backs an amnesty, but that is not the case. A number of people in the British army have said that it is not good. The British army is supposed to uphold law and order, which it said it was doing in Northern Ireland, and therefore if people have gone over or against regulations, they have to be held to account.
If amnesties are passed out for some groups and not others, we will end up with a group of second-class victims and survivors and a hierarchy of perpetrators. That is not what this process is supposed to be about. That is key. It is important for public confidence and for relationships between different jurisdictions on these isles that there is a process for victims and survivors to hold people to account if they wish to do so, or to at least find out the truth.
Mental and physical health facilities were mentioned. In 1999, the original Victims' Commissioner in this State, John Wilson, brought up this point in his report, APlaceand a Name, which looked at ways of moving forward in dealing with conflict legacy. He said that the mental and physical health facilities available to victims and survivors had to be improved and, if possible, integrated across the isles for accessibility. Judith Thompson, the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors in the North, gave evidence here a couple of months ago, and it was interesting that she made the point that people still do not have access to those facilities or find them difficult to access. It is alarming that, 20 years down the line, that is the case. That is fundamental.
The whole process is about enabling people to get closure, truth and justice but, alongside that, the day-to-day well-being of people is at stake. Governments in the UK and in this jurisdiction have a responsibility to ensure that citizens have access to those facilities and that joined-up processes are in place. I very much support that the provision of mental and physical health services should be a priority for both Governments.
What comes across is a lack of confidence in the Stormont House Agreement to bring about a resolution to these issues. The elephant in the room is the British Government. Without it, can that resolution come about? We know what has to happen down here, where we need something similar to address the issues, and those of us in the Parliament will keep pursuing that.
Another point was brought home to me recently by the various contenders in the election for the British Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister. They have shown absolute ignorance of and a lack of interest in Ireland and Irish history; they just do not know. I also think that they do not know what is in the Good Friday Agreement either, and my fear is that legacy will go further down the line of priorities. I wonder whether Dr. Leahy could comment on that.
Dr. Thomas Leahy:
Deputy O'Sullivan makes an excellent and important point. Will we reach resolution through the Stormont House Agreement without the involvement of the British Government? The simple answer is "No". However, for some of the cases mentioned in recommendation 9 and issues that have come out of the Barron report, the McEntee report and the Smithwick Tribunal, the Government in this State can at least hold its head up and say that it has done as much as it can in fulfilling the obligations asked of it and moving the process forward. Importantly, that indirectly puts pressure on the British Government to acknowledge that some cases are not being resolved because it is not fully co-operating.
For this Government, there is the interest of public confidence in the State. If reforms, lessons and ideas are needed for the future, it is important right now for citizens in this State that they are implemented. Examples of that are some of the processes from the Barron report, which could be implemented without a thumbs up or thumbs down from the British Government. It is a public confidence issue.
If the British Government do not co-operate, it might not help UK and Irish relations at Government level, but the Irish Government must do the maximum that it can to help cross-Border communities. It might want to look at particular cases and release archival files to build trust with some of the Border Protestant and unionist communities. There is still opportunity for the Irish Government to move forward if the British Government does not co-operate, and to interact with people across these isles to show that it is trying its best to move things forward. It is in its gift to do so.
Deputy O'Sullivan made a point about ignorance, and that is clear from the UK media. However, this is where theme 4 and the recommendations are important. There is an appetite among people of all age groups in Wales, England and Scotland to know about what happened in the conflict. These issues can be raised in the UK media or with politicians and parties who are more engaged, of which there are many in Scotland, Wales and England. At some point, the UK Government will change. UK politics is in flux and to have contact with those who are raising these issues is very important in trying to put them to the forefront of the agenda. It is also important to raise public awareness in the UK. One example of this is the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. I know from teaching students that if there is an idea of what happened in the conflict, the stand-out attack is the Omagh bombing. There is no awareness that the greatest number of people to die on one day was in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. It is important to try to give a nuanced perspective of what has happened across these isles.
Deputy O'Sullivan talked about public confidence. On the one hand, the slightly depressing answer is that the British Government might not co-operate. However, there are ways of engaging with the UK public. At the moment, there is real interest in Irish affairs and relations between these isles because of Brexit. It might appear to be a difficulty, but I think that Brexit is an opportunity. The UK public and media are asking why the backstop is relevant and what the conflict was about. There is an opportunity to feed into that and explain about the legacy process.
It is incumbent on the committee that when we meet delegations about Brexit, particulary from the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament, legacy is on the agenda. We have tended not to do that and have looked more at the economic aspects and cross-Border co-operation, and legacy issues have been down the priority list. The committee should have that in mind when we meet those delegations. Dr. Leahy made a very interesting point about other politicians. It was hoped that there would be a debate on this in the House of Commons but other issues have taken over in the meantime. However, such a debate is needed.
Ms Margaret Urwin:
I will answer a question from Mr. Paul Maskey, who asked about mental and physical health provisions here. Very good assistance is given for those with physical difficulties; for example, hearing aids, prosthetic limbs and so on. The Victims of Crime Office within the Department of Justice and Equality is very good on that, and I want to stress that that is very much appreciated. Unfortunately, there is huge reluctance when it comes to mental health services and simply asking for some counselling. Deputy O'Sullivan, Deputy Seán Crowe, Deputy Smith and others have raised this issue with successive Ministers for Justice, including Deputies Shatter and Fitzgerald, but they are very resistant to providing any type of counselling. Thankfully, WAVE has now appointed a counsellor in Dún Laoghaire, and any of our people who want to access counselling can go to him, if agreed by WAVE. We have had to rely on Belfast for that, because the Government here simply refused. It is not as though there is a whole crowd of people looking for counselling; the numbers are very small.
Dr. Leahy said that young people in Britain are not aware of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings but are aware of the Omagh bombing. They are not the only ones; it is the very same here. In at least one history text book for the Junior Cert, the child of our youngest survivor found to her horror that there was no mention of it and that the conflict did not happen here at all; it stopped at the Border.
The Dublin and Monaghan bombings are not mentioned. It mentions May 1974 and important dates, but what does it cover in May 1974? It is the Ulster Workers Council strike. There is no mention of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, what happened in Dundalk or any of the other attacks. The only reference is to the total number killed, which is not correct anyway. We have raised that with the Minister for Education and Skills, but everybody claims somebody else has responsibility and it is a committee or something that decides what should be included in history textbooks. We were quite horrified at that.
Mr. Mickey Brady:
I wish to reinforce Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's point about the lack of knowledge and the ignorance. My party colleagues in Westminster and I have met three or four British MPs, all former members of the British army, who are trying to introduce a motion about an amnesty. They had no knowledge of specific incidents, particularly two children in my constituency, Kevin Heatley and Majella O'Hare, who were murdered by British army soldiers. They were not concerned. They obviously had done no research. It was simply that they wanted an amnesty and that was it. This reinforces what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is saying. I have found an appalling ignorance and lack of knowledge in Westminster about any political situation, not just in the North, but in Ireland as a whole.
Dr. Thomas Leahy:
I thank Mr. Brady and Mr. Maskey for making for making those points. I refer to the Kay's Tavern and Seamus Ludlow cases. Ms Urwin spoke about how to implement some of the recommendations on how to move these cases forward. It is really about drawing out the public interest here. There are various suggestions about how certain state authorities operate. That matters to the public because it matters today about how the police operates and they can carry ideas or lessons forward from the past. These things should be considered and implemented. It is not something that would not be in the public interest; it is in the public interest for that reason.
Mr. Brady spoke about republicans being blamed for the Seamus Ludlow incident. My recommendation 8 under theme 1 relates to the implementation and reconciliation group. It is interesting that this has come up from various victims' and survivors' groups, politicians and others who have engaged with this research. I will not prejudge the implementation and reconciliation group because that will come out of the Historical Investigations Unit, the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval etc. The academic panel would then be asked to look into themes about the conflict.
From the response I have had to this and looking at some of the responses to the Stormont House Agreement that have been put in by various organisations, it would be important to look at the role of the Irish Government in the conflict and peace process. Various academics I have interviewed for my research have said that. There would be various themes under that, such as the Irish Government's dealings with cross-Border loyalist attacks, cross-Border republican attacks and also the dealings with the British Government, British intelligence etc.
It should also include how this State responded at the time with things like the broadcasting ban, the Offences against the State Act and the Special Criminal Court. I do not necessarily mean to criticise these, but it could be useful to analyse if similar mechanisms could be implemented if such a situation arose in the future. I am aware, for example, the Special Criminal Court still exists but we should examine how it operated. Was it effective in keeping public opinion onside about how the Irish Government was dealing with the situation?
This is an important conversation for the Irish Government to have in order to move forward. That analysis should include things that worked well, including the Irish Government's role in the peace process, which is seen positively from most groups. That should be used to learn lessons and find ideas for the future. It would be particularly useful for the IRG to look at some of the themes arising about how the Irish Government interacted with particular groups during the conflict.
Mr. Maskey spoke about the amnesty proposal and a lack of knowledge about particular cases. I think engagement from this committee and politicians from this State with the UK public is really important because there is an appetite for it. This is slightly anecdotal, but in my university the course related to the conflict is oversubscribed, which now, 21 years on, one might not expect. There is a real interest in what happened and a yearning for a nuance about that debate and not just things one might hear in certain sections of the media. That is really important because they can raise public awareness across these isles about these cases. That will start to introduce people to different thinking and different sides of the debate. That can end up putting pressure on governments to react and to look into particular cases. In one respect there is a ray of light on the ignorance point in that there are ways forward with that engagement with the public.
Dr. Thomas Leahy:
It tended to be in general, particularly when I was looking at intelligence security because obviously there would be things related to particular acts in parliament that they are not allowed to talk about. In that respect one could talk about overall policy and how they saw that linking into events on the ground. Particular incidents sometimes got mentioned although the research did not necessarily look at that because I was aware there might be restrictions on what particular officials, past and present, might be able to talk about. It was important to get the sense.
I will give an example from the work I did about intelligence conflict there - how to understand how particular incidents can occur and there might not have been oversight in place because there might be big policies that said the aim is to fulfil X, but the government would not always keep tabs on that in terms that that is the policy and how people want to implement that generally is up to them; in terms of where that might lead particularly in some of the cases with things such as collusion, there is an understanding of the structure and culture that might have been created around that. Yes, I would have spoken to them.
I am also carrying forward this research about how the Irish Government deals with conflict legacy. We will be looking to speak further to former representatives of the State, past and present, and also particularly former British security forces members. There is more nuance when we are talking about things like amnesties than it would seem when one actually talks to people. There is a lot more division within even the British army, past and present, about whether that is a good or a bad thing.
Dr. Leahy spoke about the opportunity the committee might have to raise these issues with counterparts in the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies as well as Westminster. We have done that consistently through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Some members of this committee are also members of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which comprises Members from the Oireachtas, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the British Parliament, and the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. I met Karen Bradley twice to discuss the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. I also met Mr. Brokenshire twice or three times. I raised specific questions during Question Time at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly on the scandalous way the British Government has consistently ignored the three requests of a sovereign Parliament. As Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan said earlier, this House has passed motions unanimously in 2008, 2011 and 2016. The British Government has ignored those requests.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, Deputy Crowe and I also met the former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, to discuss the issue. We have constantly kept the issue on the agenda. We will also raise it with our counterparts in the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies and again in Westminster. The people have been treated in an appalling way with the request of a sovereign Parliament being ignored. Those were very considered and reasoned motions. A lot of thought went into them so that in 2008, 2011 and 2016 everybody could agree to them. They encompassed the work of Ms Urwin's group, Justice for the Forgotten, and the families with whom we liaise constantly.
One ingredient might be missing. The presentations by Dr. Thomas Leahy and Ms Margaret Urwin were excellent. It is very good for the work of the committee. People are getting older and when I speak to Mr. Anthony O'Reilly, whose sister Geraldine was killed in Belturbet or the families of the victims of the Monaghan bombings or other such happenings, such as my friend, Mr. Kevin Ludlow, who is brother of the late Seamus Ludlow, they mention that they are all getting older and there is no sign of any justice being served or that they are getting the truth. It was always urgent that we would have a proper investigation and that the truth would be told but it is getting more urgent as every day passes. Memories do not improve either. People are getting older. Their health does not improve and again so many of them will talk to us about their utter frustration that nobody is listening.
As a committee regardless of politics, people of all parties and none, we re-emphasise every opportunity we get the need to deal with the legacy issues in a proper way and it is more urgent now than ever.
The presentations were exceptionally good and this is a process that we have in this committee of revisiting the legacy issues and having presentation by different individuals and groups. We keep working on this because it is so important. Let us think of May 1974, the day of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. There were many dark days in Ireland inflicted by paramilitaries from both sides and by some State forces as well. The British Government continues to ignore the request of our Parliament. That is unacceptable.
I thank Dr. Thomas Leahy and Ms Margaret Urwin for their presentations. I am sure we will have an opportunity in the future to engage with them.
I welcome Ms Monica Duffy-Campbell, Mr. Pat Fay and the visitors in the Public Gallery.
Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan, Sean Crowe and I engage constantly as a group in this House with the families of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and we are all conscious of the families of other victims in other incidents such as Castleblayney, and Dundalk, where Mr. Seamus Ludlow was found dead. Ms Geraldine O'Reilly and Mr. Paddy Stanley were the victims of a bombing in Belturbet in December 1972. When we discuss legacy issues, all the families of those victims are remembered and we recall all of the victims in our deliberations.
No. The Minister answer questions in the format. We get a fudge all the time - that is my only recollection of Mr. Brokenshire.
I met Ms Karen Bradley separately from the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly but previous British secretaries of State always gave us a fudge.
Some members take a keen interest and are supportive. I could not say it is a majority. I do not want to misrepresent anybody but some people from all of the assemblies and parliaments are always supportive.
I thank Dr. Thomas Leahy and Ms Margaret Urwin for their presentations. It was a very worthwhile contribution to our work on this important subject. I hope we will have an opportunity to engage with them at a future date.