Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 7 April 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
Engagement with Truth and Justice Movement
Today, we will engage with representatives from the Truth and Justice Movement. I welcome our guests, Mr. Raymond McCord, Ms Cathy McIlvenny and Mr. Michael Monaghan. They are very welcome. Different groups in the committee will ask them questions.
I have to say this for witnesses. The evidence of witnesses physically present or giving evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected, pursuant to both the Constitution and statute, by absolute privilege. However, that does not apply to witnesses and participants who are to give evidence from a location outside the parliamentary precincts. Witnesses are asked to note that only evidence connected with the subject matter of the proceedings should be given. They should respect directions given by the Chair and the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should neither criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the person's or the entity's good name. That is standard procedure here.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
I will make a statement on behalf of the Truth and Justice Movement. Our cross-community victims' group has achieved political unity among all the major political parties in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. They have all signed our document, pledging support and rejecting the amnesty proposals of the British Government. On top of that, at a meeting in Westminster attended by every major party from the House of Commons and House of Lords, except the Conservatives, we were able again to have unity in that every party supported us and signed our document rejecting the amnesty proposals. History was made in Belfast City Hall last August, with all the major political parties from both sides of the Border signing our document, which is the only document in the history of the island of Ireland to be signed by all the major parties.
Our small group of cross-community victims has been able to get all those political parties to agree on one major issue, that is, rejecting the amnesty proposals of the British Government. We held a cross-community victims' event in Queen's University Belfast in November 2021 which was also supported by the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, NIPSA, which is officially supporting us, and Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus, INC, Washington. The president of NIPSA, Brian Smyth, spoke at the event, as did Fr. McManus, who did so by Zoom. The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Daly, was also a guest speaker.
We are totally non-sectarian and non-political. We engage in victims' issues and promote victim-led events. Successful meetings with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, have taken place recently. We also ask the committee to hear our concerns on the Good Friday Agreement, which has not worked for victims. We do not oppose the agreement and do not support calls for it to be scrapped. However, facts show we, as victims, have been left behind. Truth and justice for victims does not seem to be part of the agreement. Prisoners who committed thousands of murders and other serious crimes were released to appease the paramilitaries and political parties without consideration of the victims and their families. We were not first or second on the list of bringing peace - we were, and still are, last. Broken promises mean broken hearts.
Funding and cross-community and cross-Border initiatives need to be looked at urgently. Within the unionist community, which I am from, the idea of buying paramilitaries off was a failure from the start, as they are still here. Money going into the communities should be made public and accountable. It is being abused with providers turning a blind eye. Most victims do not belong to any victims' group and yet we have certain victims groups' spokespersons claiming to represent victims and their own narrative of victims. Integration, like power sharing, should be a priority to help destroy sectarianism and sectarian politics.
There has been a lack of political leadership in Northern Ireland in regard to the agreement. Amnesty proposals were not part of the agreement, despite secret amnesties being handed out. Power sharing is also being abused with the petition of concern. Political parties in Northern Ireland have made the agreement about themselves instead of the victims and all political opinions. They are like spoilt kids if they do not get their own way. If victims' groups and individuals have the same narrative as a political party, they are supported. If not, they are shunned or no true support is given. The protocol and the agreement, like victims' issues, have developed into orange and green speeches and opinions instead of dialogue, equality and truth; not rants spewed at rallies to gain votes and undemocratic change with instability. No one wants to go back to the days of the Troubles. A suggestion would be to have a victim-led, victim-centred process on victims' issues with no links to paramilitaries or political parties. Political parties should not dictate victims' issues. Instead, they should take their lead from victims.
As we have a form of on-off power-sharing in Northern Ireland, surely both communities should also be represented in the Irish Senate. No one except the guilty should be frightened of the truth, be it on truth and justice issues, cross community initiatives, or politics. I thank the committee.
Mr. John Finucane:
That is great. I reiterate the welcome the Chairman gave to Mr. Monaghan, Ms McIlvenny and Mr. McCord. I am sorry I am not able to be there in person but it is always good to see another north Belfast face in front of the committee, so Mr. McCord is very welcome. I wish to say at the outset I noted with interest - this is directed at Mr. McCord - the Coroner's Office in Belfast announced that as part of the five-year plan to deal with legacy inquests, Mr. McCord's son's case will be dealt with as part of the year 3 plan. I saw that announced in or around the third week of March. For me, it brings into very sharp focus, should the committee need to be reminded, what we are dealing with here. We are dealing with families like those of Mr. McCord, and of Mr. Monaghan and Ms McIlvenny, who have been working tirelessly for a long period of time. It has been too many years. In Mr. McCord's case, the family are now very close to actually being able to go into a courtroom and access truth through the legal mechanisms.
The committee previously attended in Belfast and we heard that similar fear from families of the Springhill-Westrock massacre. They are now very fearful about whether they will set foot in a courtroom given the proposals made by the British Government last year in the House of Commons. I pay tribute to Mr. McCord's perseverance and, dare I say it, stubbornness. I say that in wholly complimentary terms. Mr. McCord has been able to bring his son's case to the forefront through the ombudsman. Now, we hope to be able to see exactly what transpires as the evidence is challenged through an inquest. The committee had a very good and strong record in dealing with this, even in advance of the British Government's unilateral moves last year. The committee has recognised the importance of dealing with the past and doing so in a way that does not satisfy narrow interests but satisfies those who matter most, namely, families, relatives and those who were either injured or bereaved as a result of state, republican or loyalist actions and that it is important they have faith in a process to provide the answers they want. The committee heard on numerous occasions that not every family wants the same things. We have received lots of evidence as to the subtleties, and the importance of the subtleties, of what exactly it is families need. I again pay tribute to this committee for prioritising that as an issue.
When we talk about agreement on legacy, it is always worth bringing the starting point back to when there was a political agreement between the parties and the two governments. I refer to the Stormont House Agreement of 2014. Without rehearsing it in too much detail, what followed was a period of lacking implementation, which meant the structures that had been painfully negotiated, although I think very well received by families once they were agreed, were not implemented. Again, it goes back to my point that the structures were not an imposition of a one-size-fits-all approach to legacy. It recognised different families had different needs and different priorities and it allowed access, for example, through the criminal courts to continue and also through the civil courts through inquests such as in the case of Mr. McCord's son and many others. Also, where there were investigatory steps being taken by our ombudsman's office, it allowed those structures to continue, as well as reinforcing, strengthening and providing the ability for families to get some sense of closure, which is not a word I like using, on what they had been dealing with for what amounted to decades, in some cases.
If we fast-forward a little bit to the lack of implementation around Stormont House, again, even with regard to the five-year legacy plan, we saw a fairly unprecedented action by our then Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan. In a sense, he came out with a begging bowl asking for the money to implement a five-year plan to clear legacy inquests. It is good to see that we are now on to year three and we want to see that continue. I do not think I would be contradicted by anybody on this committee, irrespective of what party he or she comes from, to say this committee is united in wanting to see those inquests take place. It wants to see the families who have been waiting for access to truth and justice get into those court rooms.
As a result of the unilateral actions by the British Government last year, however, unfortunately, like many other legal avenues, inquests are now under threat. That statement in July last year came a couple of weeks after a joint British Government and Irish Government statement arising out of the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference that legacy needed to be looked at.
For me, and I think it was touched on very well in the opening statement from the group, there is arguably an unprecedented reaction to such a unilateral move on legacy. We have had many very helpful interventions by groups that represent victims and families, non-governmental human rights organisations and international bodies, whether they are based in Europe or America, which have over the years held a mirror, particularly up to the British Government, around its lack of implementation or adherence to international human rights standards.
The period of consultation and listening that the British Government said it would undertake after the announcement in July of last year was a sham. We have certainly called it that. I think other political parties represented on this committee have publicly called it that. The British Government in my view and that of Sinn Féin was tone deaf. Irrespective of how a person lost a loved one, the answer was the same - that these proposals were rejected in their entirety. I agree with Mr. McCord entirely. I was with him at Westminster when his group convened a meeting. My party was represented through my north Belfast councillor colleague at the meeting in City Hall, which Mr. McCord referenced. There is that singularity of voice whenever people are calling out whatever these proposals really are. It is not about working to the benefit of families. It is actually about shutting down processes whether it is cruelly taking away Mr. McCord's inquest he has waited too long for, removing any shred of possibility that families can access justice through the criminal courts and those investigatory processes or removing the power of the ombudsman to investigate. Again, Mr. McCord's case, along with others, is a good example of how the ombudsman can work best. My view certainly would be that a degree of a penalty was imposed upon Dame Nuala O'Loan's office. I think she was essentially too good in her investigation around the Mount Vernon Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF. We have, therefore, very good structures being starved of resources that essentially strips them of their ability to operate at full capacity.
We had the response from families, groups and political parties, however. Mr. McCord cited the Traditional Unionist Voice, TUV, as maybe the outlier but really all major parties on the island of Ireland have unequivocally come out to condemn the proposals. We also had very significant voices being made clear from groups this committee has met. We met with Widows Against Violence Empower, WAVE, at its headquarters in north Belfast, Ballymurphy and Springhill justice groups, Amnesty International and the Committee on the Administration of Justice, which have certainly testified before the committee. They all brought that international legal weight to the lobby, which is again very clear that these proposals cannot go ahead in their current form. That has been reinforced by voices from Europe and America. Most recently, a bipartisan congressional resolution, which I believe was Resolution 888, again called on the British Government to honour its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement. Importantly for today's meeting, it also made it very clear that British Government cannot proceed with the proposals as they currently stand because of the pain and hurt that it further inflicts on families but also because it will deny people access to truth and justice. It is, again, very welcome and timely. I noted fromThe Times yesterday that the British Government is saying its proposals and legislation will be made clear within weeks. We have heard that since before last summer. We will wait and see whether it actually transpires this time.
Cognisant of Mr. McCord's opening statement and the context I have tried to set from our point of view, I would be interested to hear from whichever of the three witnesses, or all of them, about what exactly the impact of the proposals will be should they evolve into legislation. What does that mean for them personally? I do not mean whether they are for or against it but what impact will that have on their ability to access truth and justice? What do they need to see legally to allow them to access what it is that they want with regard to their own very personal pursuit of truth and justice?
Mr. Raymond McCord:
I thank Mr. Finucane. I liked the bit about north Belfast. Legally, I would like to see the British Government held to account. These proposals will ensure it will never be held accountable. These proposals for me are to cover up the British Government's involvement in murders during the Troubles. They are to cover up the British Government's agents, both loyalists and republicans, and murders by state forces, be it Ballymurphy, Blood Sunday or the Shankill Road where people were shot dead by paratroopers as well. The only way these proposals relate to injustice is to stop justice. For me, it has been a fight. It is 24 or 25 years this year since young Raymond was murdered. One sees oneself in the courts, and Michael and Cathy are the same. We go into the courts and expect the case to go ahead. The judge gives instructions for a timescale and we are given four weeks to produce documents or whatever it is. The state ignores it time and again. If some man or woman appears in court and the judge says come back in a month's time and he or she does not come back, a warrant is issued for his or her arrest. That person is asked to produce documents to defend himself or herself in that period of time. The judge will take a case and go ahead because there is no excuse; that person had time to do it.
When it comes to victims, however, it is completely different. It is like black and white. All I see is the state doing everything it can, legally and illegally, because we class it as illegal when it is stopping justice and hindering the courts. It talks about national security. We are in the process at the minute of looking for documentation. How does somebody being convicted of the murder of my son, Cathy's nephew or Michael's father-in-law and brother affect the national security of the UK? We want to hear the answer to that from the British Government. The British Government is not going to fall down if the state agents who were proved, and accepted by that British Government, to have murdered my son are convicted. The UK Government, whether a Labour Party or a Conservative Party Government, is not going to collapse.
Mr. Finucane made a point too about the ombudsman. The ombudsman's report came out in 2007. The British Government accepted it as did the chief constable and Secretary of State. All these years later, not one policeman has been arrested. It stated the police colluded in the murder of Raymond McCord Jnr. and in other cases in the report and yet no policeman has been arrested and charged. We fought with the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland with our solicitor, Mr. Paul Farrell.
We met it and it said there was not enough evidence. If there was not enough evidence, why did the British Government accept there was collusion with his handlers and then charge the handlers? I would like to see the committee sitting here today and the Irish Government become more involved in the case and be more vocal.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
I would like to see the committee being more vocal about victims from the unionist community. We class victims as victims, not unionist or nationalist. I am from the unionist community, but I do not turn around and speak as a unionist victim. I turn around and speak as a victim. From the outside looking in at how the Irish Government has treated these cases, there has been no call from the Irish Government for inquiries into unionist victims. We have to call a spade a spade when we are sitting here. We are getting the opportunity to say how we feel. All victims should be entitled to an inquiry when they are being treated so badly. All victims should have an inquiry when they have not had an inquest. What the British Government is doing now is saying that not only will there be no prosecutions, but there will be no investigations, inquests or civil actions. When they claimed it was going to help victims to move on, we asked Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis who told them that. Different victims have different narratives. If somebody has been murdered by the state or a paramilitary organisation, he or she is a victim. It does not make any difference what his or her political belief is, if he or she has got one. Clearly some of the people who have been involved in the Troubles over the years have murdered for the sake of murder, be it the state or the paramilitaries. The British Government has been telling us for years, through academics and political parties, what the best way forward is for my son. The best way to get justice for my son is not to bring in these proposals in any way whatsoever. That is the best way forward for the British Government, but the British Government is there to serve its citizens. We are not there to serve the British Government.
When we speak to political parties - John Finucane was with us at Westminster - they all sign up to the document pledging their support and rejecting the proposals. We really appreciate every person who has put his or her signature to that, but with the exceptions of a couple of them, we have not heard anything back from the politicians who signed it. The only two politicians who have come back to me so I could tell the group what was happening were the Cathaoirleach, Senator Mark Daly, and Senator Emer Currie. The rest of the politicians think that because they have signed the document that their job is done. They get pats on the back for doing it - we appreciate them signing it - but they have to do a lot more than sign a document. They have to tell us what they are going to do if these proposals get brought into Westminster.
Yesterday, we met Mary Lou McDonald. People in Belfast, such as John Finucane, will understand that there are a lot of people in Belfast who would not like people from my community to sit down with Mary Lou McDonald, but she has got a mandate the same as everybody else. The meeting went well. We were asked by victims to ask questions and we asked them at the meeting yesterday. We intend to meet Mary Lou McDonald again. We want to make it quite clear to the victims that we condemn all murders that were carried out in the Troubles. The point I made to Mary Lou McDonald yesterday was that, as somebody from the unionist community, I condemn the murders by the British army no matter where they took place in Northern Ireland. I condemn the murders by people who were involved in the security forces. We saw what happened with the Ulster Defence Regiment, UDR, and the Miami Showband and other cases, and police officers were involved in my son's murder, but I also condemn the murders by the Ulster Defence Association, UDA, the Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF, and the IRA. I do not believe Sinn Féin grasps how victims feel regarding condemnation. I refer to the word "condemnation". They are under pressure not to say the words victims want, in particular from the unionist and nationalist communities. We asked Mary Lou McDonald to condemn the IRA murders. I do not see a problem with somebody saying "I condemn the murders of the IRA", but as John Finucane knows, that is not happening. I pointed out that if Jeffrey Donaldson was sitting in front of us, I would ask him to condemn the murders of the army and the UDR, because he is a former member of the UDR. I emphasised to Mary Lou McDonald that I was not accusing her of being a member of the IRA because she was not, but we want to hear the words from political leaders, not for them to be frightened to name the organisations whose murders they are condemning. We do not want a standard reply saying they condemn all murders. We all condemn all murders, but let us turn around and say we condemn the murders of these groups. That was the only blight on the meeting yesterday. Mary Lou McDonald said to us afterwards yesterday, let us continue this. We said that we are keen to do it.
I take flak from certain elements within the unionist community for meeting Sinn Féin, but unless they are victims, people do not have a right to give me flak. Political people and people who stand on bins - pound-shop lawyers - have no right to criticise anybody who comes to Dublin and they have no right to criticise people who come from Dublin to help people in Northern Ireland to bring some type of peace. I personally welcome the involvement of Dublin in this. I want to see it do more. I want to see the Dublin people turn around and accept the extent to which they have not looked upon the victims in unionism in the same way. When I go to Washington, through Sean McManus and the Irish National Caucus, I am treated as a victim. Sean McManus ensures that and the support he has given us is immense and appreciated. John Finucane knows that it is unique for an Irish Catholic priest to support a Belfast Protestant unionist, but that is the way we think it should be. I want the people in Dublin to turn around and to follow on from what Sean McManus is doing in Washington for victims. We must bring people from both communities to Washington. I said to Mary Lou McDonald yesterday that she should bring unionist people over to Washington with her. She must show that she wants unionist victims of the IRA or republican organisations to get justice as much as she wants victims of the UVF, the UDA and state forces to get justice. That needs to happen.
I am very sorry but, as Chair, I just want to make sure that everybody gets in. There will be a second round for Sinn Féin. Mr. Finucane should not worry about that. I have to take Fianna Fáil now because we are gone 24 minutes into a 15 minute slot. In fairness, we needed to listen to Mr. McCord for much longer because he was speaking from his heart and reflecting what we need to do.
I welcome Mr. McCord, Ms McIlvenny and Mr. Monaghan. As you said, a Chathaoirligh, Mr. McCord has made a powerful contribution in his opening statement and follow-up remarks.
I do not think any of us could quibble with what Mr. McCord said. In his opening statement Mr. McCord referred in particular to the need for dialogue, equality and truth. He emphasised that the process needs to be victim-led and victim-centred. His concluding remarks referred to how victims can be denoted at times. That is a thing we can all be more conscious of. I know when I speak of victims I include victims regardless of what their background is or political beliefs are, or whether they belonged to any religious group. We should make that point and I take that fact.
In his opening remarks Mr. McCord made a point about money. He said that, "Money going into the communities should be made public and accountable. It is being abused with providers turning a blind eye." If there is cause for concern, then there is an obligation on all of us, whether it is public money from the Department of Foreign Affairs or other agencies funded by our taxpayers. If we have evidence of wrongdoing or of money being misappropriated, we have an obligation to raise that and we will do so if we have particular concerns. I am sure that applies also to legislators in Northern Ireland or in the House of Commons. Nobody would have a problem with questioning that. If public funding is being put into projects that are to better everybody in society, then they should not be misappropriated by any group, organisation or individual. We all know public funding can be scarce at times and we want to see it put to proper use.
Mr. McCord mentioned dialogue, equality and truth and this being victim-led and victim-centred. They are basic tenets of fairness in any society. What he outlined is absolutely essential but it should be part of our everyday work and everyday public administration.
This committee has been in place for a number of years and we have met many groups. I do not think any group has been refused access to this committee. We have visited the Border counties in Northern Ireland and have met different groups, always going out to listen to different groups and to hear at first hand from people like today’s witnesses who have unfortunately continued to be victims of terrible deeds carried out by paramilitaries and by state forces. We have had much engagement with a number of groups, including Justice for the Forgotten, Wave Trauma Centre and Truth and Reconciliation Platform. I have met those groups and I listened and spoken to families who have been the beneficiaries of the work of those groups. We learn a great deal when we visit the Wave Trauma Centre in Belfast or Derry. We have met people who have been supported by those particular centre, namely, family members of victims who have been supported over the years. If there are people not being represented or not being listened to, then that has to be a source of concern for all of us.
I recall - it was probably a year ago at this committee - that I asked our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, if he or his Department was confident that within our State, for which he has responsibility, all victims were being reached. Often people do not partake in groups or do not wish to participate in groups. He said his Department was confident that all victims' families in our State had been represented or had been reached out to by different statutory agencies. I sincerely hope that is accurate. Some people may not want to be involved in the process but he was confident that victims here had been reached out to and had been listened to. I hope that is right because that is the very least that people need.
On Mr. McCord’s opening remarks in regard to the British Government’s proposal of an amnesty, such a proposal by a democratically elected government is absolutely reprehensible. Such a proposal might be expected from some tin-pot regime of bygone days in somewhere like South America. A government is putting forward a proposal to put an end to investigations for people trying to seek the truth, and all of us are aware of many families who have campaigned for decades to try to get the truth about how their family member, their loved one, was lost. In many instances, they know getting justice will be extremely difficult but the least they want is to get the truth in regard to who carried out the horrific, reprehensible and despicable crimes that caused death and injury to so many.
I represented and worked alongside many of those families in my constituency. These are people who lost family members decades ago who are still searching with great dignity and grace to try to get the truth. A government is proposing to put an end to those investigations and is saying to those people that an end is being put to their work, when they always hoped that through their work, supported by support groups, that they would hopefully get the truth and that maybe justice would be meted out to the people who committed the crimes.
On a number of occasions this committee has had discussions on the British Government proposal. On many occasions we have tabled questions in the Dáil to An Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I recall that in the immediate aftermath of the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Derry we had a specific Dáil debate in early February on the amnesty proposal in regard to legacy and victims' issues. About three weeks later we had another Dáil debate on that issue where both An Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and senior party representatives of all parties made very strong contributions on their total opposition to the British Government proposal and the absolute need to make progress with so many of the issues Mr. McCord outlined so cogently and so well today. That is not taking away from the amount of work that is needed.
What the British Government has come up with is opposed by every representative in our Houses of Parliament, in Dáil Éireann and in Seanad Éireann. That is clear. The work the witnesses did in getting all the political parties to sign that document has been important.
Mr. McCord mentioned a cover-up. Cover-up for state forces, for paramilitaries or for agents of the state forces is not acceptable. The truth is absolutely important. As Mr. McCord said in his opening remarks, no one except the guilty should be frightened of the truth. That particular statement is exceptionally powerful. Mr. McCord sums up so much, so well.
He mentioned the follow up on documents. We speak in the Dáil and at times we speak here. However, I accept the fact that many families, the vast majority, I am sure, would not be aware of the work we are doing. Perhaps we fall down in getting the message out to show that we continue to support them. That is our fault. The nature of political work is that we discuss issues here but the wider community is not aware of those discussions. People are not aware of the concerns or the representations we make to Government Ministers, Departments or statutory agencies. Mr. McCord made a very valid point. The only way we can hope to disseminate that message is through representative groups and advocacy groups. The work we do is always in support of the causes Mr. McCord outlined so well. We need to do a better job in getting that message across.
I mentioned the debates we had in the Dáil. Our colleagues, Senators McGreehan and Currie, along with others were instrumental in having similar debates in Seanad Éireann. The issues are discussed here constantly, and quite rightly so. We want to see progress on it.
I welcome Mr. Monaghan, Mr. McCord and Ms McIlvenny. First, I am sorry that they are forced to come here to fight for the rights of their loved ones and for decades being the voice of the loved ones they have lost. The state structures have failed to give them justice and the truth of all that happened and to acknowledge the wrong that was done.
I apologise for being late but I was in the Seanad. I listened to the witness's very powerful contribution. I fundamentally believe there is no hierarchy of victim. When we speak about victims, I do not put a colour on that victim. I look at the heartache, the pain, the unanswered questions and the justice that is not given, which does not have a colour. The people we have lost to those desperate times all deserve justice. Locally, I am thinking of Jean McConville and Tom Oliver about whom, to this day, we do not know all the truth. That is just locally from where I come from in the Cooley Peninsula. That cuts me deeply.
Mr. McCord mentioned what we can do and what more Dublin can do. He is someone who has been involved in this for a long time, but I have not. I have been a bystander and invested in it that way. What more can Dublin do? We are completely against the amnesty proposals. We believe in justice and getting the answers. What can we do?
We know that for the British Government, Northern Ireland and things there seem to only matter when there is an imbalance of power. It listens when there are a few votes here and there and takes action then. It will send a few smiley faces over to us and say it is on Northern Ireland’s side and yet bring forward these legacy proposals. Dublin, the Irish Government and I, feel useless against that. What can we do? We would be more than happy to do anything we can do.
Mr. Michael Monaghan:
I have been in court many times since 2007, when the Operation Ballast report was released by Baroness Nuala O'Loan, who is a lovely lady. I have sat in front of three judges. The barristers, or QCs, for the PSNI-RUC have turned around and told the three judges that they cannot give them documents because they are too sensitive. These judges have turned around and said that they would read them and they would tell the families behind closed doors. They gave them plenty of weeks. They gave them 12 weeks but there was no reply. They gave them another 13 weeks but there was no reply. There has still not been a reply, and that was six years ago. It is saying that to judges who we believe are meant to be representing the truth and justice for our families but we are not getting it. We are being let down, big time.
Do I put my trust in the system? No, I do not because it is going on for years. I have lost a lot of family through the Troubles. I just want some sort of justice.
Ms Cathy McIlvenny:
I think most people in Northern Ireland now want to live in peace. They want this to go away. However, there are certainly elements within communities that are keeping it very much under the table because of funding. However, they still have a chokehold on and are still running their communities. They might be wearing suits and meeting all different kinds of people but at night-time they are giving out orders to destroy their own areas.
I am at the stage where I am finding it very hard to believe that I will ever get justice for my sister, my nephew’s mother, because they keep putting things back. In my sister's case, they did that until my father died but I have carried it on since his death. I do not want my children to have to do it. I want things answered and a court case. I will accept what comes out in the court case. I do not want this feeling that the police and politicians all know and they are just keeping it under the table. I believe the politicians know what is going on in Northern Ireland within the unionist community. I believe they know what is going on and are the ones who are meeting these paramilitary leaders in the guise of community development. They know exactly what is going on on the ground and the ordinary working-class people are being left to manage and fight on their own.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
I want to make a point before I reply to the question in case people watching this interpret my words in a certain sectarian way. I have no interest in religion or political parties. I do not call somebody who wants a united Ireland, or someone who has republican beliefs or certain political beliefs, my enemy. People should realise that. People saw what happened when the Minister, Deputy Coveney, came up to Belfast. I do not want people in Dublin and the Republic of Ireland thinking all Protestants and all unionists support that, because 99% of people are disgusted with it.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
Some of the people involved were people who - we can speak again about this - received Government funding. I have no doubt from the information received that they get some from Dublin. There is a large group, and I will not go into details, but it is in this community. I am looking at documents given to me just yesterday. A good part of this board is Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF, lifers. Other people who sit on it are relatives of senior UVF men and another one is a UVF man. There are no community workers on it. I have the figures in front of me of the money it receives. Those things need to stop.
There needs to be more interaction between people from Northern Ireland and the people who sit in power here. The way forward is through people working with each other. I criticise Deputy Mary Lou McDonald and I will criticise any politician. It could be a leader of a Northern political party. I criticise people. Some are from a political party that wants a united Ireland while others want to remain part of the union. Just because I criticise and do not agree with the words she or the DUP uses does not mean they are my enemy.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
The way it has become is that one has to share their opinion. I will say this quickly. I am completely in agreement with what my two friends said. In Belfast, I have had numerous death threats. The UVF made a bomb and tried to blow me up. It was not the IRA or the INLA that tried to kill me. It was people within my own community. The same people who murdered my son are in the organisation. It is amazing. I spoke with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, yesterday and invited him to come to Belfast again. I got a photo taken shaking hands with him because I want to show the people that he is not our enemy. I want to show that he is welcome up there.
Somebody from the unionist community, such as myself, can go into what people call a nationalist area in Belfast and have a pint in it. People in the Shankill Road are good people but, unfortunately, if I went into a pub on the Shankill Road, some young lad would be waiting for me with a sawed-off shotgun. Our unionist politicians would assess a terrible murder and forget about me. Our unionist politicians refuse to go against these people, but it is time they did.
It is powerful to listen to witnesses because it just demonstrates again that the legacy of the hurt and trauma carries on.
Ms McIlvenny illustrated well how she wants those answers and not to bring this into future generations who are remembering their loved ones 50 years hence and not having answers. Justice cannot be dismissed because it is difficult. The truth is difficult.
It is a pleasure to have our guests here, and it was a pleasure to go to Belfast City Hall to meet them last August to sign their document. It was also a pleasure to put forward the motion in the Seanad that was based on the text of what we signed that day, and to travel to Westminster with our guests, to hear their stories and see the support they got from all the parties, except the Conservative Party. It was a pleasure to go to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and to question the Minister of State on the legacy proposals, which I utterly oppose. Our guests know how I feel. I condemn all murders and I have no problem saying that, just like them. The work they are doing is incredibly valuable. It is about putting victims first, not other communities, other badges or other identities. Our guests are victims, first and foremost. If we are going to heal society and heal the past, we must bring victims together and put them first.
I have a range of questions. If victims' groups, political parties and governments remain in silos and are only advocating for their own and not putting victims as a collective first as well as healing for the individual or healing collectively, will we ever see progress on reconciliation and will we ever see the full truth emerge? If the British Government is holding us back, and we know it is, what else and who else is holding us back from getting to the truth and justice and healing society, which is what we want and why we are here? This is about reconciliation and trying to work towards a normal society, or as normal as it can be based on the past. The Good Friday Agreement mentioned victims seven times. We are doing a report on the Good Friday Agreement after 25 years. Did it do enough? It brought us to a ceasefire, but what does it or what do we need to do in terms of reconciliation? My colleague, Deputy Carroll MacNeill, will ask some questions on that too.
There is one sentence on funding in the group's opening statement. It is a very important statement and we need to dig deeper into it. I acknowledge that there are many people doing a lot of good work, but I want our guests to dig deeper on that. Who is turning a blind eye, in what areas is that happening and what needs to be done to resolve that?
The role of paramilitaries and their ongoing presence has been acknowledged. The Independent Reporting Commission, of which Monica McWilliams is a member, has proposed a group transition and engaging with paramilitaries. What do our guests think about that? They are not here for easy questions.
Ms Cathy McIlvenny:
The paramilitary organisations have as much control as they had all through the Troubles, if not more. They have a real chokehold on the community in the working class areas. They wear suits during the day and they wear the balaclavas at night. I witness this week in, week out. They sent away the families that they have deprived of members. They are not allowed to stay because they deem them to be criminals. What is happening now with the youth in my area, which is north Belfast and Shankill? I live and work in that area and hear every day about mothers who are paying bills for their kids for drugs. If they do not pay that bill, the organisation then attacks their house. No, I do not think the Good Friday Agreement has done anything for the working class Protestant in working class areas. It has pushed it more underground. The kids are given the option of joining. If they cannot pay the bills, it has been known that parents' houses and oil tanks have been set on fire. They are living under this fear. They still have a fear of the paramilitary organisations. Nobody is free of that. The Good Friday Agreement did not do that. It made it worse because people are more scared to speak out now. That is my opinion.
Mr. Michael Monaghan:
As Ms McIlvenny said, it is still going on in Belfast as well as in most of the North. Murders are still being committed. They are not being claimed by organisations, but people know who is carrying out the murders. It is the same with the collusion that happened through the years. I have already spoken about the court cases - "Just give us the documents and we will tell the families what they need to see". They will not give them to us. They have to come from Westminster. Westminster has the documents and it will not release them. It is frustrating for us because we all know there was collusion. They have admitted collusion, but they still do not want the rest of the world to know what they did. For me, when are we going to get the justice that we deserve and a bit of closure? I have grandchildren. I kept my kids away from it. They witnessed the murder of their grandfather, which was meant to be the murder of myself only I changed my plans that night. The UVF followed me and it was collusion along with elements who were paid informants, thousands and thousands of pounds. I understand what Mr. McCord was saying about being funded and these people who committed murders. I am not naming names but £89,000, £91,000 and £50,000 was all paying informants to go out and kill people by the security forces.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
The committee should grasp what it is like in Belfast when people try to bring people together. Just over a week ago I was able to organise, with the help of people in Dublin, a cross-community football match with a Protestant and Catholic football team from Belfast in the interface area of Tiger's Bay, where my family is originally from. One street separates it from the Catholic community. The football team is Limestone United and the people in Stormont should bring the team up there and recognise what it is doing. It would not suit certain politicians that young Protestants and Catholics are on the same team. We based the match on the team I played for in 1969, the Star of the Sea team, where Bobby Sands and I played on the same team. People have asked me what I thought of Bobby Sands, the hunger striker. I say I did not know Bobby Sands as the hunger striker.
I knew Bobby Sands, the 16 year old footballer, as I was. The match was played in a Protestant area on the Shore Road in north Belfast at Crusaders Football Club, which has done much good work for community relations. The match was sponsored not by political people or funding from groups, but by a man from west Belfast and the Catholic community, and Sean Donnelly, who owns the bus company, City Tours. He paid for the bus to bring people up from Dublin. We did not ask politicians in Stormont or Dublin to put their hand in their pocket. We know the people who really care and who are not afraid to put their hand in their pocket. Sean Donnelly is one of those people. At the end of the day, I have to give him credit for that. If we had more like him in Belfast and Dublin, we would get the young people together.
On the funding, Ms McIlvenny and I are from the unionist community. Over the past few years, we have seen photographs, including one of several senior members of the DUP at an office on the Shankill Road which receives huge amounts of funding. That is wrong. The west Belfast UDA, according to the police, are heavily involved in drugs in the west and unionist areas. These politicians support them with funding applications. According to the police, the UVF is the biggest criminal gang in east Belfast, it is the biggest drug dealer and it is poisoning the children in the unionist community. We have rallies in Belfast and not one person speaks at these rallies about the protocol, what is happening in the unionist community or the drugs. They are more interested in telling lies about a document that was signed up to by the British. I say to them "If you have a problem with it, go to Westminster and protest." Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the document on behalf of the British people and the people of Northern Ireland, but it will not happen because of the sectarianism of it. I contacted a newspaper, which would be deemed to be linked to the unionist community. I submitted complaints about what is being said, why there are political people on the platform and unelected people at the rallies trying to tell the unionist people to come out? These are unelected people, people with no votes. Those who have votes refuse to talk about what is happening within our community. They refuse to talk about victims' issues, to address victims' issues and these proposals or to speak at these rallies. They refuse to condemn the UVF for selling drugs in the communities they are elected to represent. This is what unionist people have to deal with. They are afraid to complain about it or to speak out. They are afraid to go to a politician because they do not know if they can trust that politician not to tell the paramilitaries who is complaining about the local paramilitaries. Unionist politicians are helping them to do their funding applications, knowing they are paramilitaries. According to the law, the UDA and UVF are terrorist organisations. They are proscribed organisations and yet our politicians have no problem working with them, but they have a problem working with victims. We question whose corner they are in. It is not hard to guess the answer to that question.
I was struck by Mr. McCord's opening statement. It is one of the most honest, direct, succinct statements ever to this committee. I could engage with Mr. McCord on every sentence of it but it would take a lengthy time. Like Senator Currie, I condemn murders on all sides, all violence, all failure to apologise and atone for that and all commemorations or celebrations of any kind of the people who committed those acts. The Good Friday Agreement, in my view, is entirely about building mutual trust and reconciliation and understanding. That can only be done with victims very much at the centre. Mr. McCord asked that the committee hear the concerns of Trust and Justice Movement with regard to the Good Friday Agreement, which has not worked for victims. I am even more concerned than I was. Like Senator Currie, I would like to know more about that.
On the point with regard to funding, I do not live in Belfast but I have been travelling to and from Belfast for more than 20 years, which is a reasonable timeframe over which to observe the development of the area since the Good Friday Agreement was agreed, especially as an outsider. I am aware of how much funding has been provided by different sources, including European sources, national sources, local sources and outside sources, but I do not see the commensurate development of the communities in the way that I would have expected in terms of on the ground facilities. I do not wish to be rude in any way in saying that.
I do not observe it for the scale of funding that has gone into it. I drive through both sides of Belfast and I do not see the development that I would expect. What Mr. McCord said about well-paid community positions rings true with what I have heard from other political sources. I do not see the development of the on the ground facilities for people, particularly in working class areas, that I would expect to see. In my own constituency, in working class areas, where funding has been provided, I see a commensurate development in facilities, particularly for children and young people. While all of that is important, it has been addressed in part by Mr. McCord. I particularly want to ask him about the Good Friday Agreement and how he feels he has not delivered for victims.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
First, I voted against the Good Friday Agreement. I was interviewed about that the night before. I live in Tiger's Bay, which is a strong loyalist area. I voted it against it for one reason: I disagreed with the prisoners being released. I made that point in the statement. It was agreed to let all of the prisoners and killers out and that the victims would just have to swallow it. Again with these proposals, victims are being told to swallow it but we are not going to do that. We had to swallow it the first time, but we will not do it again.
Over the years, there have been various initiatives and agreements, including the Stormont House Agreement, the St. Andrews Agreement and so on. I do not need a 20, 30 or 40 page document to say that murder is wrong or that there should be an investigation into my son's murder, the murder of the family members of Ms McIlvenny, Mr. Monaghan and thousands of other people. I do not need a Stormont House Agreement or a St. Andrews Agreement to tell me what way to bring it forward. The law in Dublin and in countries throughout Europe and the world states that murder is a crime, the police should investigate it and, where there is sufficient evidence, should take cases to court. It is very simple. People make a big issue of all of these agreements. I have never read any of them. I have not read the Good Friday Agreement, but it has not worked for victims. We have been left behind. If we were not being left behind, we would not be here today putting our case about the amnesty proposals and what the Good Friday Agreement has failed to do for us. It has failed to help us get justice. More needs to be done. I do not know the rules and regulations of the Good Friday Agreement. I believe in simple processes and getting things done. You do not need an inquiry to find out if things are bad within a unionist community or a nationalist community; you can find that out by visiting the areas and speaking to people. You do not need to spend thousands of pounds or euro to find out what is happening; you need only ask the people, but you need to do that privately and not at a public meeting, particularly within the unionist community, because the paramilitaries are in control and people will be afraid to speak.
I welcome this opportunity to engage with the committee and to speak about how I feel and what is really going on. I advise the committee to visit Belfast to meet the ordinary working class people, but to not ask politicians or community workers to set up meetings.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
I will set up meetings with good people, people who are not afraid and who like what I am saying. It is not just Raymond McCord or Cathy McIlvenny from the unionist community saying this, 99% of unionist people are saying it. Those voices need to be heard. Politicians and unionism are not listening.
Unionist people should not be afraid to speak out on what is needed and on the corruption within the community. People talk about people turning a blind eye. The people who turn the blind eye the most to what paramilitaries are doing to control the unionist community are the unionist politicians. I wish they were here to address what I am saying to them. There is no slander in this; it is the truth. I wish I was here saying they are doing a great job for us and that the Good Friday Agreement is doing a great job for us. It has massively reduced the number of murders but it has not taken the paramilitaries away. I thought that one of the main plans of the Good Friday Agreement was to get rid of paramilitaries.
I accept everything Mr. McCord is saying. How do we get to a point where we break that link? What are the steps or what needs to happen to break that link between politicians and paramilitaries in the coming years and for the next generation?
Mr. Raymond McCord:
With respect and to tell the truth, I would not have given Monica McWilliams the job. There are some people who do reports on what paramilitaries are doing. How can those people do reports when they do not live in the local communities? I do not want to be disrespectful saying this to someone today, whether they are from Dublin or some other part of the Republic, about going to Belfast to do a report on the paramilitaries. They call people in to talk to them but you have to live in the community to know what is going on. Let us look at the appointees. There are victims' commissioners but I have yet to see a working class person or a victim appointed as one. The Victims and Survivors Service chief executive is an accountant. What would an accountant know about what it is like to be a victim and to face injustice? We need to look at the people who are appointed to these posts.
We talk about victims and one of the questions the Deputy asked was on how we break the link. We do so by appointing people who have the interests of victims at heart, not those who want money in their pockets because that is what happening and continues to happen. Politicians could be sitting watching this and hear what we are talking about and decide that they will meet Ms McIlvenny, Mr. Monaghan and I but nothing will be done about it. You go up and they will pat you on the back but we do not want pats on the back; we want them to do something for us. Most importantly, we want them to turn around and tell us they will help us to get justice and the truth for our family members. We want them to assure us that paramilitaries who control the areas will no longer be in control of them and that they will stop the funding going to them. Why will they not do that? They will not do so because they need their votes. Election time comes around and you will have loyalist paramilitaries putting the flags and posters up for certain political parties and candidates and it will not be mentioned that this man is a drug dealer or that his group is involved with drugs, extortion and beatings in our community. It is accepted.
People like Ms McIlvenny and I can talk about the unionist community and there are people like us who are not afraid to speak out, so I invite the politicians to come and meet us. We do not need a report because we live in the community. We went to Westminster three times and Billy McManus, whose father was killed in the Ormeau Road bookmakers, went with me the first time. People said we were wasting our time and that the British Government would not stop them. It got more victims involved on a cross-community basis and it got all the parties united. Parties could not do that but a small group of victims could. These people tell the truth and speak from the heart, not for the money. We paid for our fares over and for hotels; we did not ask anybody for help. Some people struggled to get the money to go over and some borrowed it. Some of the victims' groups have funding and those funds pay for these expenses. When you get a group of people who are determined to stop these proposals, then money was no object or hindrance. They turned around and said they would get the money and go. Not one politician came to us to ask us if we had the money to fly over. If they had have asked us, we would have told them where to go. That is the truth because it is not about money. For politicians and so-called community workers, it is not about helping the people or bringing them together. It is amazing that these people from the loyalist side can sit with people from the republican side and carve up deals, with the people excluded. The only way they can carve up deals is if they are getting funding. Let us stop that and let it go to the right people.
Dr. Stephen Farry:
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chathaoirleach and I wish all our witnesses a good afternoon. I apologise if my voice sounds croaky as I am isolating with Covid. Hopefully, I am on the mend. I want to make two broad observations on the two topics that have been discussed by Mr. McCord and his colleagues, namely, legacy and the effect of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland. Those two topics are closely related to one another.
On legacy, my party's views are clear in that we are opposed to the UK Government's proposals on the amnesty and we will do all we can to oppose it if and when it comes through Westminster. I want to put on the radar what may be the next milestone in this process. A speech by the British Queen is expected in the UK Parliament on 10 May and it is likely we will hear a pronouncement at that stage on the situation with the legislation, either a firm commitment to a Bill or something looser in language. This will move up the agenda quickly in May and June, whenever we hear what will be said in that statement.
I will say a few more things about paramilitarism in Northern Ireland, which is an ongoing scourge. I would encourage the committee to look at it in more detail. There is a locus in the fact that the Independent Reporting Commission has an Irish Government appointee in the form of the former civil servant, Tim O'Connor. That gives a clear locus for us to take a look at that work. If I am permitted to cross over to what is happening in London I would also draw the attention of Mr. McCord and his colleagues to the fact that the UK's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is undertaking an inquiry into paramilitarism. I would encourage Mr. McCord to submit some written evidence to that and I would highlight to anyone else who is listening to do likewise. This comes in the context where there is a commitment to an anti-paramilitarism strategy in Northern Ireland, which has been delivered in parts and has had some mixed results.
Clearly paramilitarism is still a major problem in our society and it is not just the big headline issue around what you would term "terrorist attacks" or even the more covert crimes. It is the coercive control that smothers communities where voices are not allowed to come forward. In particular, women's voices are often suppressed and I would be interested to hear the views in that regard. In policy terms, a clear distinction has to be made between investing in the communities that have been affected by paramilitaries as opposed to investing in paramilitaries themselves. I am sceptical of that concept of transition more than 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement and we have had the wool pulled over our eyes in that regard.
What happened in north Belfast last month - the UVF's hoax bomb attack - proves the fallacy in the suggestion that faith has been placed in the transition.
There is a significant challenge for state institutions in walking a careful line and engaging with what are euphemistically called "stakeholders" or "community workers" in some of those communities. Often, the easiest route for people to address their problems is to talk to the loudest or most prominent voices, but that has the effect of bolstering those unofficial control structures in communities instead of allowing different and more democratic paths to emerge. An aspect of the paramilitary strategy that is important to focus on is the putting in place of a protocol for government agencies and their staff on how they work in those communities and avoid some of the bear traps that sometimes lead to the state inadvertently giving a sense of legitimacy to the people in question.
To put this in context, I remember when a new police commander came to my own community many years ago. In his first days in office, he had his photograph taken with people who were seen as being associated with, or previously associated with, paramilitarism. That probably sent a negative message in terms of trying to encourage alternative voices to come forward. We must be careful not to send that type of signal or give the wrong impression. It is important that we focus on ensuring that government policy is correct and investment is made, particularly in education, skills and housing – cross-community work is also important – to try to work around some of those structures.
These are just some of my thoughts. I would be happy to hear reactions and comments from our witnesses.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
We all know what needs to be done in every district of Belfast, particularly its unionist areas where the paramilitaries have control. It has been recommended that we put it down on paper for London. It would only be a couple of lines. However, what if politicians stopped supporting and covering up for the paramilitaries, stopped having no problems with the paramilitaries getting money, looked after the people who voted for them and stopped these people who were destroying communities and poisoning kids? We do not need big reports. You can see this paper here. Put it on the front page or the back page of that sheet and give it to one of the committees at Westminster. I have seen some of the people who have been invited to Westminster trying to get over there. I believe it was Claire who was contacted about it.
Nothing has happened. At meetings like this one, politicians ask what we need, but we all know what we need to do. Dr. Farry has been a good supporter of ours over the years. I will not sit here and patronise or butter him up because he knows I would tell him.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
There will be no back doors. Dr. Farry is not disrespectful to people. If they disagree with him for reasons of their own and not just out of badness or for sectarian reasons, he accepts that and takes it on the chin. That is their opinion, and he sits back and asks whether they were right and he was wrong in saying something. People should not be afraid to said that. Politicians should not be afraid to admit that they were wrong. If they were being truthful, many candidates would not be running in the election, given the stories they have told us over the years.
The issue we are discussing at this meeting is the justice system. It is not working in Northern Ireland despite the efforts of victims. Victims should not need to push for this. Rather, politicians should. Dr. Farry, several other politicians and a number of people from the SDLP have helped us. It is not the large parties that support us. Rather, it is the ones further down the chain that do. I have to say it the way it is.
Correct me if I am wrong, but since the amnesty proposals were published, I have heard nothing positive about it from the Minister of Justice, Ms Naomi Long, despite emails sent to her. I know her well, but it seems like the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland is ignoring this issue. We have requested meetings.
In terms of the justice system and the Good Friday Agreement, paramilitary prisoners lead lives like no other prisoners. They can do what they want in Maghaberry prison. They are treated differently from ordinary prisoners. Coming down on the train, we were talking about the mothers and partners of some of those in jail who have been abused at Maghaberry prison. I have sent emails about this to the justice system. It does not happen to the paramilitary prisoners. They get special treatment. The people who continue to torture communities and still want a war footing are treated as if there is something special about them. No one is disputing that some ordinary prisoners have committed serious crimes and deserve to be in prison, but prisoners with mental health issues are being placed in the punishment blocks for three months at a time for no reason. When they ask why that is they are told that it is not up for debate. Mothers are ringing me at 12.30 a.m. crying out of fear that their sons will get murdered in prison. They are not talking about prisoners doing it either, but prison officers. People say that these are false claims, but there has not been a proper investigation. When prisoners try to rehabilitate, they are not allowed to do so. We want to live in a peaceful society, but prisoners come out of prison with a chip on their shoulders and the people who will suffer are the general public again.
The justice system is not working. I do not just mean in terms of dealing with legacy cases. Rather, it is not working in terms of dealing with prisoners, particularly in Maghaberry prison. I have spoken to the mothers, who are worried about their sons. Their sons are no angels by any means and they are being punished, but questions need to be asked publicly of the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service. I have spoken about this to politicians previously. Three years ago, Ms Rachel Woods rang and said that she would meet me about it, but she was under the impression that the director general had met me. He had not. When there is a director general of a prison service that is not being run the way it should be and where people should be rehabilitated so that they do not return to prison and the public are kept safe when they get out, I have no other option – I spoke to people before coming down to Dublin and they wanted me to raise this issue because it is part of the justice system – but to call for the director general to resign.
People need to do their job. Funding should not be given to people who are not worthy of it and should not have it. The same applies to people who have high-flying jobs back in Northern Ireland and are not able to do the job. It should be given to people who care and who will do their best to ensure these people can come out of prison with some sort of training. People go into prison without a drug problem and come out of prison with a major drug problem. Some young people are killing themselves. A nephew of mine who came out from prison told me it was terrible. In the cell next to him prison officers were beating a fellow up. Forms are available for prisoners to complain. They are not left out; the prisoners ask for them. Once they ask for them, they are told that if they submit the form it will get worse for them. That is part of our justice system. It needs to be completely overhauled. Naomi Long needs to look at herself and speak to people not just to the prison people. With these issues here I would have thought that the Minister of Justice would have been speaking to victims. I remind Dr. Farry that most victims do not belong to victims' groups and their voices are not being heard.
Dr. Stephen Farry:
I will give feedback to Naomi Long on Mr. McCord's broader comments on the criminal justice system and prisons. He can rest assured that Ms Long and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland are resolutely opposed to the British Government's legacy proposals. They see them not just as immoral and unethical but also unworkable. They have made the point that they have major implications for the integrity of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. Both as Alliance leader and as Minister of Justice, she is very much exercised by the legacy proposals.
I will start with a few general points and I want to pick up on something Mr. McCord just said. I share Senator McGreehan's frustration. These amnesty proposals that fundamentally undermine truth and justice come from the British Government in London. As we are sitting in Dublin, what can we do? We need to remember that the Irish Government is a party to the Good Friday Agreement and is a co-guarantor of the rights under the Good Friday Agreement. Our role here is to hold the Irish Government to account to ensure it is doing everything it can do.
I have spoken numerous times here about the independent commission for information retrieval. This is part of the various agreements. There was an agreement as to how this would look. This was being progressed until the amnesty proposals came out. There are various agreements on how it would work and it needs legislation. I again call the Irish Government to publish our legislation. I accept this also needs legislation in London and needs the involvement of the British Government. However, we should publish our legislation to show our seriousness about pushing ahead with this. We should start our pre-legislative scrutiny on it so that if the British come to their senses, we can move quickly on it. It also gives another forum to talk to victims and to hear victims' voices. I will come back to that point again shortly. It gives another forum to have conversations like this so that we can ensure we are doing the right thing.
The question for the Irish Government is what we have lurking in our archives that we should be releasing. What bits of truth do we have but are not releasing? There was a letter from the UVF to Charles Haughey that mentioned the Miami Showband. The UVF wrote to Charles Haughey saying that the British Government had asked it to assassinate him but that it was not going to do that. Among other things, it made reference to the Miami Showband. When it came out, members of the band who had survived asked why the hell nobody had told them this letter existed. What else is lurking in our archives that we do not know about? It may be something small, but it may be just that piece of the jigsaw that a family needs to put together with other bits. It may be the pebble that starts the landslide. We need to ask ourselves what is in our archives which we should be releasing. Just as the witnesses have criticised the British Government hiding behind its security reasons, we should not be doing this. Now is the time for us to look at those issues.
Our Government and everyone here have condemned the British Government's proposed amnesty. What will we do if it goes ahead with it? We have talked about holding the British Government to account and part of that accountability is to have consequences for action. If we had a treaty with another country and it was threatening to renege on that agreement, we would point out the consequences and try to hold it to account. I do not hear that kind of language. We are condemning it, but we are not saying what we will do next. There is no clear statement of how we will hold the British Government to account for breaching this international agreement. Those are things the Irish Government can be doing. This committee can be asking those questions of the Irish Government. Why is it not doing it? What are the roadblocks? What can we do? It is our role as a committee to hold it to account and to ask these awkward questions.
Mr. McCord said most victims do not belong to victims' groups. I would like to explore that further. We have been talking about the funding going to paramilitary groups. Obviously, we need transparency and accountability with regard to funding that comes from the Irish Government, as Deputy Brendan Smith said. I do not know if that is the responsibility of this committee or another committee. It would certainly be interesting to understand that. Perhaps the Library and Research Service could provide a breakdown of the funding going to these community groups that is then being syphoned off to paramilitary organisations and the funding which is actually going to victims' groups to enable them to do the real work and the real advocacy. Perhaps this committee could do some work on that.
Equally I would like to know why Mr. McCord is saying they do not want to be in victims' groups. Is it because they do not identify with them or they do not see them as useful? Are they just frustrated at the roadblocks put in place by politicians and governments and have just tried to get on with their lives instead of turning everything into a crusade?
My follow up question is about what we can do to help. If we are making demands of the Irish Government what can we do to ensure that victims' voices are heard, listened to and amplified? Should we be looking at a new structure not currently within these agreements?
That is what our Government has said. I want it to lay out clearly what the consequences would be. The British Government believing it can do this without consequences will facilitate it proceeding with this. I want the Irish Government to outline the consequential actions it will take if this happens.
Mr. Michael Monaghan:
The consequences are what they have been doing for years. They will start World War 3 again especially in the North and everything else. The Troubles will start again. I believe that. It is not acceptable to take people's human rights away and leave it at that. I know for a fact that it will start because in the nationalist areas different groups are forming and it is the same in unionist areas. You take away all these amnesties from people who have been fighting for years and now my own children are getting brought into it which I try to keep away from them. Is it more history again from way back? Is that what it is - second class citizens?
Ms Cathy McIlvenny:
Some victims' groups do great work. Being in a victims' group suits many people. Other groups lean more to the unionist or Catholic side of the community and so people stay away from those; everybody in Belfast knows which groups. Many victims just do not want to get involved in groups.
I and many people I know just want justice but there is nobody there who will really go for that justice for us. There is nobody there to stand beside us and say, "Right, she needs this court case opened or investigated". I know in the case of my sister's murder, we had to pay privately to have a pathologist look again at it and prove a case of rape. No family should ever have to do that or sit and read inquest papers but there is no group out there to help with that. They did not get to one-on-one but many families want one-on-one.
We found no groups at all that we could go to and ask for solicitors that could look at the case for us. They do not do it unless it is within a remit, and many of the victims' groups must tick boxes. I agree with that for funding purposes and such checks. With victims' cases, a box may not always be there to be ticked. Some of it is different.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
There are a couple of other points in talking about victims' groups and funded groups. The Ballymurphy families have been fighting for years and they should not have had to do that. It is a classic case and it defeats any argument the British Government would put up for truth and justice and helping to move on. There is the idea that people want closure but I do not know what closure means. If people were convicted today for my son's murder, I still would not have closure for my son.
There is funding for victims' groups, and some of them are large groups that may be deemed nationalist or unionist. That should not be happening. Some of them are deemed to be close to political parties, and that should not be happening. I do not have a problem with any victims but there is talk about equality. If there is taxpayer funding, or if it comes from Dublin or the European Union, the employees in an organisation should be split 50-50. There was talk of bringing the Police Service of Northern Ireland to 50-50 but people in the unionist community would have objected; the majority of others would have said it could be done. Why should the employees of funded victims' groups not be split 50-50? The narrative flowing from them would then be a victim narrative rather than a unionist or republican narrative.
There are groups that are linked to Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, and that should not be happening because political labels are put on victims. That is what happens when these political parties associate with the groups. We can look at the funding of the employees, of which there may be five or ten in different offices. What is the religious breakdown of those people? Statements have come out from the groups, and without mentioning names, I can refer to one from Belfast and see it comes from such and such a group. That should not happen. This should be about victims. We speak about a victim-led or victim-centred process. There are people in the victims' group "sector" - that is a terrible word - who do not want change. They want to keep it the way it is. When funding comes, if they stick to their narrative, certain political parties will help them get funding. That should not be happening.
We have come down here and we have insisted all along that victims' conferences be arranged in Belfast. I have organised something like nine of them and we had a professor from Queen's University who was a member of the Green Party. The only thing we stipulate is that no paramilitaries are allowed to attend and there should be no political speeches that lay blame on this party or that. There must be no sectarianism. It is an open house otherwise, and this has worked. We have brought in young people and given them a voice, and other people do not do this. They have their own narrative. We have one type of narrative, and it is a victims' narrative.
We asked questions yesterday and we ask more today. We ask the Irish Government what will happen if British Prime Minister Boris Johnson goes ahead and brings into the British Parliament this Bill and it passes. We would like to know what the Irish Government is going to do. There are some who ask what we would like to say. It is very simple. At the end of the day, it is about money for the British Government when it makes decisions about certain issues. This is about cover-up and money. In truth, I would like to see the Irish Government bring victims to Washington DC to sit down with the US President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms Nancy Pelosi. I have been in Washington several times, as I said, thanks to Fr. Sean McManus and the Irish National Caucus. I would like them to listen to us and let them see that the Irish Government supports both unionist and nationalist victims. There should be an indication that if these proposals are to be made law, there will be no trade deal between Britain and America. It is one of the only ways to guarantee that this process will stop, that is, if it hits the pockets in London.
It is said there are people who will otherwise resort to violence but there is violence within the unionist community now. There are guns that were supposed to be given up. I do not hear the politicians in our community asking why the guns are still here, and groups are still being given funding. The Ulster Volunteer Force wants £10 million to go away and that is 24 years after the Good Friday Agreement. How much longer will money be provided to gangsters? That is all they are. They use the term "loyalist" but for me that means somebody should be loyal to a country and its rules and statutes. These people do not do that. They are criminals.
A former policeman said to me that people talk about loyalism but why not use the term we use when we are sitting and having a pint? They are gangsters and criminals. Unfortunately, people are still giving them money. We can make suggestions to politicians in Dublin but what is done might be different. We would like to get assurances through the Good Friday Agreement and we want the Good Friday Agreement to stay. Other people might take issue with it but our problem with it is that it has failed victims. Within the unionist community, it has helped to ensure that gangsters still stay in our community with guns, rackets and drugs. I believe one of the elements of the Good Friday Agreement was to seek to stop all this and for those people to go away. There are people involved with this committee from North and South who want that to stop.
After what happened to the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, I promised people I would say the following. I would like to see every penny stopped that goes to the UVF-Progressive Unionist Party initiative. There is also the Action for Community Transformation initiative that has different offices. These are fancy titles but every penny should be stopped. Let us stop the funding for six months and see what happens if people are going to lose their jobs. Tell that to people who initiated a bomb hoax in north Belfast when a man was coming there. He was not an aggressive man, like the pound shop lawyer said. I met the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and he was a gentleman to us, the same as the Taoiseach. We met him yesterday and he stood with us.
We shook hands. Again, invitations were given to come to Belfast. I am saying this plain and simple. I cannot be any clearer. Stop all funding and money going to the Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF, the Progressive Unionist Party, PUP, or any loyalist group and see how long it is before they want to go back to violence once the money and funding is stopped. They say they are doing community work. What community work are they doing? Their community work is about asking how much they can make from drugs this week; how much money can they take off the shops for extortion? These are the people who are getting funding.
If the committee is so inclined. With regard to the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, as I said, there was an agreement with the British Government. Even to produce the draft heads of a Bill and begin pre-legislative scrutiny would show moral leadership and provide a forum where we can talk about how to actually deal with legacy issues. Perhaps we should discuss that in private session.
Mr. Michael Monaghan:
I am sorry, Deputy Costello. The Deputy talked about the Good Friday Agreement and all the rest of it. The reason is that the likes of ourselves - you can call it what you want - have spoken out against this. Many people are still hiding behind doors and are scared to speak out. All they want out of this is to give our children and grandchildren a better life. We have already experienced this. I look left and right every morning when I go out the door. It is a habit; it is post-traumatic stress. It is everything. That is just the way it is, in Belfast especially. When the Troubles were going on, when going to work you did not know whether you would be coming home. In 1993, 97 people were killed. That included the security forces - Catholics and Protestants. From January to August in 1994 before the ceasefire was declared, 69 people were killed. That was in the two years coming to the end. They knew it was coming to the end yet people were still getting murdered.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
Quickly on the murders, I do not know whether politicians in Dublin are aware of this. Since the ceasefire in 1994 between the UVF and other parties, the UVF has murdered 32 people within the unionist community. No inquiry was called for by unionist politicians. One was my son, Raymond. The prosecution in one case was a double murder because one of them walked in with a sawn-off shotgun. What other city or country in the world would have had 32 murders by groups in a ceasefire and still give them funding? What other country in the world would have a chief constable who could keep his job with no convictions when 32 murders were carried out by an organisation that a report showed is riddled with police informants and is run by an MI5 agent?
Several years ago when I was in Dublin, former Deputy Pat Rabbitte named the chief of staff as a special branch agent in the Dáil. He was an MI5 agent but he was a state agent. The person who runs the UVF is controlled by the state. Other people came to Dublin and their training was paid for by Dublin. I think it was the Dublin Government that paid them. His own group unit was responsible for the hoax bomb in Belfast last week. Money is coming from Dublin to give to an individual who belongs to an organisation that was involved in the bomb scare in Belfast. That is only the tip of the iceberg. We are saying to the committee today that the main issues for us are the amnesty proposals. Another big issue is to turn around and say let us ensure the money goes to the people who deserve it and will use it for the benefit of the people and not themselves.
Ms Cathy McIlvenny:
Can I come in on that? After the Good Friday Agreement, they set up the district policing partnership and then subdivided it off into district policing. Then there was a local district partnership. I am not sure of all their names. Coming from the loyalist Shankill area, however, if a person went to make a complaint, as he or she was supposed to do, the police and all these community workers were there. When a person went to that meeting and stood up and made a complaint about somebody in the area, he or she was actually making the complaint to the local paramilitary leader, four of whom sat on those panels. I personally sent a letter of objection into the district policing board about who was sitting on these panels. Its guidelines say that one cannot by creed, deed or word of mouth support a paramilitary organisation. We took pictures of this particular person with a badge and an armband in support of the UVF and there was never anything done about it. Nothing was done. That is what people who come from these communities are up against. I will not name names but one particular person is now a community development worker-----
Ms Cathy McIlvenny:
On a big wage. He is destroying the people who live in those areas and has done before. That is what we are up against. A person cannot even go to the police because he is sitting on her or his avenue. To get an issue fixed, one is going to see him or see somebody else. Two republicans from Ardoyne and the two Protestant paramilitaries sat on that particular partnership. Nobody could go to the district policing board to make a complaint. A person might complain about some kids on the street or wee lads with motorbikes and they were then dealing with those kids. Nobody wanted that on their conscience. If a person went to complain about the organisation, he or she was complaining to its members. It was the same in Ardoyne as it was in the Shankhill Road. We were all facing that. And then kids rebel or they join them.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
It shows the influence these people have. My son's headstone has been smashed three times by agents of the state. This is his fourth headstone. I had access to documents all week because I have an up-and-coming court case. I am shouting to people to get into court. By all means, I invite members of the committee to come up and listen to it.
A document on one occasion stated that the UVF said I was a supergrass. It hid the documents; I had to go through the courts to get some of them. The UVF said my house should be shot up. A brigadier - I never met him but he was over south-east Antrim - told those men to shoot up my house. I lived on my own with my youngest son at the time. The police at the debriefing said they could not get the manpower to do it. Those men were afraid to shoot up my house because had I survived, I would have went looking for them. They murdered my son; they were not going to murder another one. I went to the police and made a complaint that when I went to the graveyard, the headstone was smashed to bits. I went straight to the police station and made a complaint. An hour after I left the police station, the police arrested me in case I went to somebody's house. When I told the policewoman who did it, she asked how I found out. I said it was the UVF. They asked how I knew it was the UVF. It was incredible. It was like going back to Chicago and Al Capone. People said Al Capone was a gangster and the cops asked how they knew he was a gangster. Everyone knew he was a gangster by his activities. I turned around and said to the police that I would go to his house and confront him. They asked what I was going to do if he admitted it. I said I would make a citizen's arrest and put him into the car. The told me I could not use violence. I said I would not use violence and that I would just put him into the car, and then I left. The young lad was 15. I took him to a football match and came home. I was sitting there; I did not go to anybody's house, obviously, with the stress. The next minute, there was a knock on the door and two policemen came in. They were pleasant. I thought they were going to give me information about the headstone being broken, being in somebody's house and all. They rang the station and their boss told them to arrest me.
I was arrested and I wanted to know what I was arrested for. The policewoman I made the complaint to was a detective sergeant. She was new in the area and sent to me an officer who turned out to be a special branch officer. The policewoman made a statement that I told her I was going to bring a gun to a man’s house and shoot him. I sat in the interview room. It was a secure police station with sangars. They said that I threatened to shoot a man but she let me walk out. It was to protect the people who had not just murdered my son but who smashed his headstone. That still continues. These amnesties are part of that. They do not want the truth. They do not want the names of the agents who carried out these murders in both communities. They can murder 32 people during a ceasefire and our unionist politicians, who are supposed to represent the people, turn a blind eye to it too. That is what I am saying. They do not just turn a blind eye to what they do with the funding; they turn a blind eye to what they do.
Ms Michelle Gildernew:
I want to give a big welcome to Mr. McCord, Ms McIlvenny and Mr. Monaghan. I have listened carefully to their submissions. I was in London at that meeting. I was disappointed by some of the comments of some of the Labour Party representatives at it. I spoke to a number of Labour Party MPs afterwards to see whether we could get a better approach to it.
I have just got a call to say I have to do the school run so I am not able to stay for very long other than to say we appreciate the witnesses coming in. Hopefully, they felt they got a lot out of it. We will see them again soon with the help of God.
As we are doing a review of the Good Friday Agreement, this needs to feature in it. We need to look at paramilitaries and the coercive control of communities. The Good Friday Agreement pledges funding for community-based victims' programmes and financial assistance for the work of reconciliation. We need to follow that up. We need to write to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Executive and Co-operation Ireland about the process for funding. As I said earlier, we have to make sure the funding continues to the people who are doing the good work but make sure it does not fall into the hands of paramilitaries.
We need to ask for the information. As part of our report, we need to be asking those questions. It might be worthwhile to meet with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. If it is doing work on paramilitaries, it would be worthwhile meeting it to discuss its report. It is part of our work. We have been doing work on legacy but it also features in the Good Friday Agreement, so let us find out what safeguards are there and what the process is, and then follow it up.
We all want to acknowledge that. On the question of funding, Irish Government funding can only go to appropriately qualified organisations that are bona fide. If it is the case that they are not, they should not be getting that funding. That is the reality. That is what we are saying. As a committee, we should ask for the audit and the analysis of the funding and the detail of it. That would be the appropriate thing to do in this case.
I thank Ms McIlvenny, Mr. McCord and Mr. Monaghan for their great contribution here today. It was very important that we heard first hand again many of the issues they outlined. What Senator Currie suggested in regard to other subject matters being part of our work programme, I propose that we consider that. We have a work programme but others come up with ideas all the time. In regard to this idea and the need for further work on our part on some the very important issues raised today, I second the Senator Currie's proposal that we consider some other topics for inclusion in our work programme in the future when it is revised. When we pursue some of the issues raised by our witnesses today, we might invite this group back in the not-too-distant future for further engagement.
I reiterate what Senator Currie was saying and I support that 100%.
I want to read something out; I will not be long. Innocent civilians have been executed with their arms tied behind their backs. There have been horrific accounts of rape, torture and brutalisation by the powerful of ordinary vulnerable citizens in their war-torn country. These are crimes against the Ukrainian people and these crimes are against humanity. Those same crimes happened in Northern Ireland but that was said by Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. What is good enough for the Ukrainian people is certainly good enough for people living on this island. If we are demanding accountability in Ukraine, we should demand truth, justice and honesty, but the truth is not going to be easy. It is not going to be easy for the Irish Government either because I know from living in a Border county that there are things left unsaid, undone and allowed to go on because of who people are and their connections to paramilitaries.
What was said here should shock me. What Ms McIlvenny said about a complaint should shock us but, unfortunately, it does not because the system is broken. The Good Friday Agreement is not working for the victims. Mr. McCord is 100% right that it is not working for the victims. We are going to have to review a Good Friday Agreement and see what is not implemented in it. There may be things in the Good Friday Agreement which are not being implemented and which may be a pathway for that proper justice. We may have to work towards changing or amending it and making people in power in Northern Ireland accountable for their actions and their inaction. This unaccountability where they seem to be talking out of both sides of their mouths is incredibly upsetting. I cannot even imagine what it is like for the three witnesses sitting here. They have our support and we will take their lead on it.
I thank Senator McGreehan for saying that. It is very important. I will raise two things. One is on the granularity of what Senator Currie is suggesting. If you look at the sources of funding, and if you are really going to do this effectively, you have to look at all the sources of funding. You have to look at Irish Government funding, European Union funding and British Government funding. What is the totality of funding that is going into community-type or community-based - we have to put a broad spread on the titles we use here - or victim-support programmes? Where is that coming from? As a committee, we should be able to get that information.
What is the total amount of money that has gone into those organisations since the signing of the agreement? Where has it gone? What are the names of the groups? What is the purpose of those groups? What are they doing? Then there is a cross-referencing piece with people like our guests where we can look at the different groups and ask who is there. The Chairman is right about an audit and the right groups but it requires a step beyond. It requires us being able to ask more about those groups. It is the same, by the way, on the republican side. I have certainly said this a number of times at the committee but on our trip to Belfast, it was very clear how well-supported, in terms of logistics, people and campaign support, some victims' groups were. When we went to the WAVE Trauma Centre, as Deputy Brendan Smith rightly acknowledged, it was not that those people were alone as they were supported by that centre but there was nothing like the campaigning structure, which costs money, placed around them. If we are to have a real analysis of that we need to be able to identify all those sources of funding. There is also a question about other sources of funding and what the complete amount of funding to those different groups is, what proportion of it, if it is a proportion, comes from state or government funding and how else it may be funded and what that means, because it is worth acknowledging.
Of course. The obvious thing is the audit. Every Department is audited. There must be an audit of funding. There must be criteria. There must be a matrix of how it is distributed. There must be applications and due process. I do not know all of the Departments that might be involved-----
Of course. The only point I wanted to make was our remit as a committee runs, obviously, to the Government and bodies under the Oireachtas. They are funded by us as an Oireachtas. With the other funding, some of it comes from the British Government.
Other funding comes from other places but the point is our guests are absolutely right that there must be transparency. Mr. McCord was talking about intimidating criminality. That is appalling, especially for people who have suffered and who are victims. Not alone had he a family member murdered but the gravestone was desecrated and to be treated as he has been is entirely unacceptable and deeply hurtful. It is just impossible to even think about that happening to you as it is so appalling.
Okay, on that happy note I thank our guests for attending. I thank them for their integrity. It has been difficult for them to come here and speak as they did but we very much want to acknowledge that. We will communicate with them. Our next meeting will be with another group, called Strive. Before we adjourn, Mr. McCord has some concluding remarks.
Mr. Raymond McCord:
To finish off from our side, we thank everyone for the invitation and the way we have been treated here. It is just a pity we were not treated like this up in Belfast and we have to travel down to Dublin to put a case forward. I hope what members have heard of the similarities in our stories helps them realise how badly victims have been treated. I have a final suggestion. I spoke there about a football match we arranged the other week that was cross-community and cross-Border. I want to ask the Irish Government two things. I have spoken to Crusaders and am hoping to arrange before the summer an all-Ireland seven-a-side under-16 competition with teams from the South and teams from Northern Ireland, to be played in Belfast between Crusaders' ground, which is in a unionist area, and Cliftonville, which is in a nationalist area of north Belfast. I hope it will be a North-South final. We are in the process too of organising an international victims' conference. We hope that will be in September but I have to get the dates sorted. We are to get the Americans and the Cathaoirleach, Senator Daly, is helping us with that too. I will invite members of the committee, once it is arranged, to come to Belfast for the conference.