Thursday, 11 July 2019
Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill 2019: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages
I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for tabling this amendment and initiating the discussion we are having now and had late last night. I am not in a position to accept her amendment. I understand and appreciate the level of frustration that has been identified and amplified here regarding the lack of response to or significant engagement with the Dáil motions on the matter of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which have been mentioned by Deputy Brendan Smith. However, I do not believe the proposal in the amendment before the House represents anything like a solution.
First, the amendment suggests that the Garda Commissioner may refuse to provide assistance because of the possibility that a request concerning a Troubles-related crime in this jurisdiction will not be met with appropriate assistance. The House will be aware that the only person who has the authority to investigate a specific incident is a coroner. He or she is not a repository for all information on criminal activities relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland. It is unfair to expect a coroner to accept responsibility, in any form, for the action or inaction of other agencies. I do not believe that is what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan intends.
Second, the amendment, as worded, requires that the decision to refuse assistance be made by the Garda Commissioner. The three reasons for refusal, as outlined in section 3(4), are all based on the functions of An Garda Síochána as outlined in the Garda Síochána Act 2005. The Garda Commissioner has an obligation to fulfil these functions. The effect of the amendment would be to require the Commissioner to make a political value judgment on whether the coroner will assist in unrelated cases in this jurisdiction.
Third, and perhaps most important, I want to reiterate what is the purpose of the Bill. The Government is seeking to help the families of the victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland to access information to the maximum extent that is legally possible. As Deputy O'Callaghan stated on Second Stage, in doing that it would be unwise to give any vent to the possibility that there may be a hierarchy of victims. We cannot escalate the withholding of information from families and victims as something of a negotiating tool. I know this is not Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's intention but it would be the consequence, effect or impact of her amendment.
I agree with Deputies when they say that the level of progress, particularly around the specific incident mentioned by Deputies Brendan Smith, Maureen O'Sullivan, Ó Laoghaire and O'Callaghan, namely, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, has been particularly slow. I would go further and say that it has been non-existent in recent years. I assure Deputies Brendan Smith and Maureen O'Sullivan, who raised this issue, particularly Deputy Brendan Smith who raises it on a regular basis in the House with me and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and in other fora, that the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and I will continue to raise this issue at the highest level - Head of Government level, as far as the Taoiseach is concerned. At a most recent meeting of the British–Irish Intergovernmental Conference, I raised the lack of progress and my frustration and that of my colleagues on this matter. The UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland undertook to check matters out with a view towards the provision of a progress report. I must say that with the passage of this legislation, hopefully by tomorrow, I anticipate that there would be a greater level of urgency on the part of everybody involved to ensure these issues can be addressed in a way that meets the needs of the victims. In that regard, I believe it is time for all of us in this House - I again acknowledge the cross-party support in this House - Westminster and, of course, Belfast to demonstrate a level of progress. I believe that if we do so here, which we will, and I know there is an expectation of the part of people, particularly in Northern Ireland that this Bill will be enacted prior to our summer vacation, and show genuine progress, I expect that others will follow.