Wednesday, 11 May 2005
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Commissions of Investigation.
Question 11: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the new commission of investigation headed by barrister Patrick MacEntee, SC, to examine questions concerning the Garda inquiry into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14824/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 13, inclusive, together.
I have received Mr. Justice Barron's report into the murder of Seamus Ludlow and I expect that, following necessary consideration, the report will be forwarded to the Oireachtas in the coming weeks.
I understand Mr. Justice Barron expects to complete his report on the Dundalk bombing of December 1975 and the Castleblaney bombing of 1976 and other incidents later this month.
The Oireachtas joint committee which examined the Barron report into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings last year recommended the establishment of a commission of inquiry to examine matters relevant to this jurisdiction, including specific aspects of the Garda investigation at the time and missing documentation. On 26 April 2005, the Government established a commission of investigation, with Mr. Patrick MacEntee SC, as sole member, in accordance with that recommendation.
The terms of reference reflect the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee that examined Mr. Justice Barron's report. The commission has been asked to produce its report within six months.
Officials from my Department met representatives of Justice for the Forgotten on 13 April last. At this meeting, the group's representatives raised their concerns about the commission's terms of reference, especially with regard to the role of victims' representatives, and their view that there should be public hearings and public access to evidence seen by the commission.
As I have said, the terms of reference derive from the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee and the question of interaction with the families and the conduct of the investigation is now a matter for the sole member. The group also expressed dissatisfaction that the terms of reference did not extend to the issue of alleged collusion. I am fully aware of the views of Justice for the Forgotten but I urge the group to reserve judgment on the commission's work until it has produced its report.
He is unavailable.
I understand that the Justice for the Forgotten group is unhappy with the range and remit of the investigation which has been approved with Mr. MacEntee, Senior Counsel, to investigate the Garda inquiry into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Is the Taoiseach happy that this commission of investigation, which is essentially a private inquiry, will be able to deal with the matter?
Now that the British general election is over and Prime Minister Blair is back in office, will the Taoiseach raise this matter with him again when he meets him? Will he specifically raise with Prime Minister Blair the question, now being thrown about, of collusion in these bombings in the hope that full information will be given and made available for this investigation?
I understand that one more report is due in respect of the Barron inquiry relating to Dundalk, Castleblaney and the Miami Showband atrocities among others. When might this become available?
Regarding the Ludlow report, the Government wishes to publish the report to the greatest extent possible in the form it was received from Mr. Justice Barron. We will consider the report and any necessary redactions based on right to life considerations very shortly. We will publish the report as fully as possible.
The Oireachtas committee recommended that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Reform consider extending the terms of the order establishing the commission of investigation to include other aspects, and these recommendations remain under active consideration. The committee indicated that we should examine the bombings in 1972 and 1973, the Clones file and the Crinnion, Wyman, Littlejohn brothers cases. These questions will be examined.
I am grateful to the Oireachtas committee for the opportunity afforded to the relatives of the victims of the bombings to tell their stories and put forward their views. I also welcome the recent inquest into the deaths of the victims of 1972 and 1973 bombings. I welcome the coroner's report, which is currently being prepared and will be forwarded to my office when completed. The committee made a number of recommendations relating to victims which require consideration. It is clear from the testament of relatives who appeared before the committee that the response by the State at the time fell far short of what was required. This was not disputed by anyone who appeared before the committee, and I do not dispute that. However, we have made considerable progress in addressing the needs of victims, North and South, through the memorial fund in Northern Ireland and the remembrance fund commission.
The concept of a committee of investigation is a different system of dealing with inquiries. It is outlined in the legislation which we passed. The workings of it are best left to Mr. MacEntee. Obviously if he asks that he extend or examine the terms of reference, I will accept that. I followed the system right through and I will continue to do that. This is one of the first times we have used this system and if Mr. MacEntee has a view regarding the terms of reference I will not argue with that.
Regarding the question of collusion, we have raised this issue time and again with the British Government and we will continue to do so. However, I must be honest with Deputy Kenny and point out that I believe we will never be satisfied on this issue, but I guarantee him that I will continue to pursue it. The British position on this, both within its security and Government systems, and I am sure its legal system if we could ever get to it, is that it has maintained that it has made available the information that it has on the subject. The former Secretary of State, Mr. Paul Murphy, wrote to the Oireachtas committee to this effect. While I will continue to pursue this issue I honestly do not see us progressing any further on it. However, I will pursue it because it is as annoying to me as it to anyone else. The British system works perhaps on a different basis from how we work.
I welcome the establishment of the investigation under Mr. Patrick MacEntee, Senior Counsel. It was one of the recommendations proposed by the committee and by the Breen and Buchanan inquiry. However, there is considerable anger among the Justice for the Forgotten group regarding the terms of reference and a sense of frustration among the group that no action has been taken in regard to the main proposal for the establishment of a inquiry under the auspices of the British Government in Northern Ireland or in Britain to seek to establish the facts there in terms of collusion and other matters. Given that to date there has been no co-operation with the joint committee or from the British Prime Minister with the Taoiseach, although the Prime Minister now has a new mandate, will the Taoiseach raise the issue again with him? If the Prime Minister is not forthcoming and given that 12 months have elapsed since the report was first laid before this House, can we move to the next stage of the recommendations of the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights and take the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights for failure to co-operate in any way with the investigation and the serious matters of criminality that have been raised in respect of which the findings were clearly that the perpetrators came from the British jurisdiction?
I thank the Deputy for his support for the inquiry and the setting up the committee of investigation. The Deputy is right in pointing out that following the recommendation of the committee and Judge Cory, we have also set up a tribunal of inquiry, which will be chaired by Mr. Justice Peter Smithwick. I inquired about that yesterday and I have been advised that preparations are being made to get that under way shortly. I understand that will happen in the summer.
I ended up having an unsatisfactory discussion in the springtime with the British Government on this issue. The new Secretary of State will be the fourth Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who next week I will have had the pleasure of meeting on this issue. I will raise it with Mr. Peter Hain. I will also raise it again with the Prime Minister. As I have said previously in the House, this issue is passed from whatever Minister one is dealing with, whether the Prime Minister or a Minister back into the security system which puts forward the position that it is giving all the information available but it is not like our system. I will continue to raise with the British the question on the inquiry raised by Deputy Costello and the question of collusion.
Will the Taoiseach refer to the final point of my question? He said he has raised the issue I asked about four times. Failing a positive response, the next stage of the committee's recommendations is that we take legal action through the European Court of Human Rights in the context of the British Government's failure to respond in any form to these very serious issues of criminality and murder. Is the Irish Government prepared to begin that process now?
I appreciate what Deputy Costello said. I have followed the committee's recommendations to the letter of the law from the beginning of the process five years ago. I will continue to do so because I owe it to the committee which has done a great deal of work on the matter. I need to take legal advice on how to pursue the matter but I am prepared to follow it up.
My understanding is that the terms of reference do not refer to the rights of the victims of the bombings. Arising from that, if, in the unlikely event that there is to be co-operation from Justice for the Forgotten and there is some quid pro quo, is it the case that lawyers' fees will be paid as is the case for the Garda and Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform lawyers? Will these issues be on the table? While I do not want to go over the ground of the Good Friday Agreement and the lack of co-operation from the British Government, on the basis that we do not have much time, is the Government open to the suggestion from Justice for the Forgotten that the case should ultimately be brought to Europe and is it prepared to assist the group financially or in any other way? Given that it is not to be a public inquiry, is there any public component to the commission's hearings, which might at least answer some of the criticism that it will not be publicly accountable in the way Justice for the Forgotten would like?
The fees issue and how he will interact with the families are matters with which the sole member can now deal under the legislation. I am open to any change in this, which is why I would like the legal representatives for the Justice for the Forgotten group to stay with the case because we have all brought it much further than has been the case up to now. My Department has discussed further fees payments, and the group can discuss the matter with my Department officials which has been the case throughout the process.
One of the things about committee investigations is that they do not go on for too long. However, I will certainly follow the recommendations of the sole member. I will not take issue with anything he wishes to say in this regard.