Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Northern Ireland Issues
Alan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
I thank Deputy McHugh for raising this important matter. The conflict in Northern Ireland, which dominated politics in both jurisdictions on this island for decades, was sadly characterised by a savagery that never lost its potential to shock us. Thousands lost their lives to violence and many thousands more - the families and friends of those victims of violence - were left to grieve, their lives having been changed forever.
During the conflict in Northern Ireland a number of people were abducted and murdered by paramilitary groups and then buried in secret locations. They have become known as "the Disappeared". The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains was established by the Irish and British Governments in 1999 as one element of a matrix of actions taken in the context of the peace process to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation. The sole purpose of the commission is to facilitate the location of the remains of the Disappeared. It has no role in criminal investigations or prosecutions.
I had the opportunity in November last to meet with some of the families of the Disappeared. They have suffered a very particular cruelty in not only being obliged to bear the tragedy of murder but also in having been denied, for so long, information regarding the burial places of their loved ones. One can only imagine the anguish that these families have been forced to endure over past decades and that some of them still endure to this day. I was struck by their dignity and bravery. They have maintained their hope and resolve for decades and in the face of disappointments. They continue to support one another in their determination to ensure that those still missing are recovered. The Government fully supports them in this. The Northern Ireland Office Minister, Mr. Hugo Swire MP, and the two commissioners, Mr. Frank Murray and Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, were also present at the meeting with the families. We were happy to reassure the families that the commission will continue to do whatever it can to recover their loved ones.
The commission, with the support of the two Governments, has worked tirelessly over the years. I pay tribute to Frank Murray and Ken Bloomfield, and to their investigation team, for their sterling work in what is a very difficult and delicate task. Thankfully, the commission has been able to bring closure for some of the families. Regrettably, there are still seven people on the commission's list who, despite its efforts, have not been located. The commission's current programme of work, based on the information about the possible location of one of the victims, will result in some further excavation works later this spring. The commissioners have emphasised to me that their work is driven by information. I know they made this clear at the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement last week. Without that key resource of information, there is little for the commission to go on. I join Deputy McHugh in calling on anybody, whether they are within or without the republican movement, who has any information which could help locate those still missing to give that it to the commission without delay. I make that call to people who live on this island or who reside elsewhere to provide any information of which they are aware and which could be of help. All information provided to the commission will be treated as strictly confidential and everyone can rest assured that it can only be used to locate and identify the remains. It cannot be given to other agencies, used for prosecutions etc.
The commission has in place a confidential freephone number and post office box address through which information can be passed to it. Information about the commission and how to contact it is available on the its website, www.iclvr.ie. The commission's sole purpose is a humanitarian one. All the families want is to give their loved ones a decent burial, to have a place to grieve and, in some measure at least, to obtain closure. The Government remains committed to that aim and I call on all others to help bring it about.