Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach the remit and projected cost of the proposed commission of inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15897/05]
Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach the remit and estimated cost of the proposed commission of inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; when he expects the commission to be operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17972/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
The remit of the commission of investigation is set out in the terms of reference which were published in Iris Oifigiúil on 13 May 2005. The estimated legal fees, salaries and other administrative costs for the commission were also published in Iris Oifigiúil on the same date. The estimated total cost is €604,880 for a six month period. This does not include any third party costs that may be awarded by the commission. Section 24 of the Commission of Investigations Act 2004 makes it clear that there is no absolute entitlement to pay third party legal costs. Such costs will only be payable on foot of a direction from the commission as provided for in that section.
Public notices were placed on various dates from the week beginning Monday, 23 May 2005 in Irish national newspapers and selected newspapers in the UK, Northern Ireland and County Monaghan, indicating how the terms of reference may be accessed and giving contact information for the commission. The commission is based in offices in Dublin Castle and it is supported by one senior counsel and three civil servants seconded from my Department. The advice of the Attorney General has not been sought with regard to the possibility of taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. There is one more report due from the Barron inquiry relating to the Dundalk, Castleblayney and Miami Showband atrocities. Does the Taoiseach know when he might receive that or when it will be presented to the House? Now that Prime Minister Blair is once more installed in Downing Street, will the Taoiseach again raise the matter with him? Will he impress upon him the necessity for full British co-operation in terms of information required by Mr. Justice Barron?
The report on Seamus Ludlow is now with the Government and we are checking what must be redacted for legal reasons. However, as with all other reports, we must try to avoid changing anything that is not absolutely necessary.
The Deputy is correct in that there is one remaining report which contains a number of issues. That will be available this month, or at least by the summer break, and will be sent to the relevant committees. I hope to resume the campaign this month with a new Secretary of State — the fifth so far — with regard to these issues, as well as with Prime Minister Blair.
From his discussions with the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach's judgment is that he is not forthcoming in terms of the establishment of a Weston Park type of inquiry in his jurisdiction. If this is the Taoiseach's assessment, are there any circumstances where he would be prepared to take the advice of the law officer to the State in terms of whether a case against the UK Government ought to proceed in the European Court of Human Rights?
As per the Official Report, I said some weeks ago in the House that I would make another attempt. I should not be pessimistic but the Deputy correctly reads my mind. I will try once more, but will not do so again after that. I will then seek advice as to how we should proceed. My reason for being pessimistic is not because of Prime Minister Blair or any of the British Secretaries of State and Ministers with whom I have dealt. However, this is an extraordinary and difficult position. I have tried for a long time as have successive Ministers for Foreign Affairs, the former Chief Justice, Mr. Liam Hamilton, and Mr. Justice Barron. We will make one more attempt with the new British Government, but if it is not forthcoming I will then seek legal advice.
On the last occasion the Taoiseach responded to these related questions, 11 May, he expressed some pessimism with regard to how far he might get with the British Government in seeking the truth about collusion. He also indicated he would be holding his first meeting on the issue of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings with the new Secretary of State, Mr. Peter Hain, in the subsequent week. Is the pessimism voiced on 11 May in any way different now? Did the new Secretary of State give him any greater hope than that expressed by the Taoiseach on 11 May? Does he hold out any prospect of the British Government co-operating in terms of the establishment of a full inquiry, either by the British Government or by both Governments in a cross-jurisdictional sense?
The Oireachtas committee presented a fall-back option in the event of the British Government continuing to refuse to establish an inquiry. Can the Taoiseach clarify the position that he outlined in his opening response regarding recourse to the European Court of Human Rights? This is the preferred option of the survivors and relatives of the victims of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings of 17 May 1974. There is a concern within Justice for the Forgotten regarding time restrictions which may close this avenue unless the project is pursued with some haste.
I have always followed the wishes of the Oireachtas in this matter since establishing an investigation some years ago and have kept track of the issues since. It was the Oireachtas which stated that we should look to the European Court of Human Rights if we do not get anywhere with regard to the matter. I wrote to Prime Minister Blair before the election and outlined that I would pursue the matter one more time, as had been discussed here in the House. A new Government is in place and we should give it one more try. However, I understand the system far better than I did years ago. I will try, but will pursue the other option if I do not succeed.
Most of our discussion was not about this issue. I focussed my attention on the Finucane inquiry. The Inquiries Bill was passed through Westminster before the election. As Deputy Rabbitte said, it is not in line with the Weston Park inquiry or with what some eminent members of the British Judiciary think is acceptable or with what Judge Corry stated in his letter. I have continued to pursue the matter and took the opportunity in that meeting to express our view on that investigation, and have also done so publicly. Unless the investigation is amended in some way I do not see how it can proceed. I made it clear to Mr. Hain that I cannot see how we can get a satisfactory outcome unless the British Government puts its mind to the matter. In fairness to Mr. Hain, he was only new to the job, but I wanted to make it absolutely clear that, regardless of what he hears from the Northern Ireland Office, our view is that it is not a satisfactory way of proceeding and that the British Government must find another way. Otherwise it could spend much time and money on something that will not satisfy anyone in this House, the Finucane family or the enormous international lobby which has followed this case for 16 years.
I hope we can avoid repetition given that we dealt with the same questions some weeks ago on 11 May regarding whether the Government is prepared to take legal action against the British Government for non-co-operation over this matter in the European Court of Human Rights. The Taoiseach indicated on that date that he needed to take legal advice as to how to pursue the matter but that he was prepared to follow up on it. On the basis of that answer, how far has the matter progressed since then? Has there been any extensive discussion with the Attorney General on the matter? What was the conclusion of the discussion?
On 24 May, The Irish Times cited a figure of €600,000 as the cost of the independent inquiry. Can the Taoiseach clarify that matter, particularly with regard to how the money will be spent? Whose legal fees will be covered? The families are anxious to know if there will be provision for their legal fees also if they are involved.
As I said, I have not met Prime Minister Blair since I put that on the record of the House. I met the Secretary of State and made our views clear again but I am waiting until we have that meeting. It might be a few weeks before I have that meeting, which is on European matters, although there may not be a meeting on Northern Ireland.
The figure does not include any third party costs that may be awarded by the commission. Section 24 of the Commission of Investigation Act makes it clear that there is no absolute entitlement to pay third party costs. Such costs will only be payable on foot of direction from the commission as provided for in that section. It is a matter for the sole chairman of the commission. It is not included in the €600,000.
The Taoiseach has indicated that it will be at the discretion of the commission to pay third party costs subsequently. We are talking about relatives and survivors who have been victims of this tragedy. Will they have to employ their own legal representation to participate in this investigation and then await the outcome of the decision on costs? This matter has given rise to great concern in other quarters but in a case like this, which is so clear-cut, costs should be paid at the same time as they are being legally represented rather than leaving it open to difficulties arising later regarding costs for a third party who must be central to the inquiry?
In that respect, some difficulties arose with the Justice for the Forgotten group regarding the terms of reference. Will the Taoiseach indicate if those difficulties have been addressed and whether meetings have taken place between the legal representatives of Justice for the Forgotten and the chairman of the commission, Mr. McEntee?
In terms of what we will do in the future, the Taoiseach indicated that he was in favour of fully implementing the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, which led us to the next step of the European Court of Human Rights. He is fairly pessimistic about that because his past experience has been negative. Our experience has been negative also. That is the reason we made that particular proposal. Eighteen months will have passed by the time we come back to this issue in the autumn.
As the Deputy is aware, we have tried in a substantial way to help the legal representatives, families and Justice for the Forgotten. Another €30,000 is being processed in my Department to help them in respect of the group's engagement with the Oireachtas committee and Mr. Justice Barron's report. We have tried to help them all along for the reasons the Deputy correctly outlined.
The inquiry is a matter for the sole member of the commission. There is no question of the families not co-operating because they have been co-operating. That is a matter for him to take up with the sole member. The families are doing everything to co-operate. The question of interaction with the survivors and the victims' relatives is now for the sole member, Mr. McEntee SC, who is completely independent on this issue. Those matters will be dealt with and their legal team can talk to him. I readily admit that their initial reaction to the terms of reference was not 100% positive but the purpose of the commission is to investigate the facts and get to the truth in an efficient and timely manner. I hope, therefore, that they co-operate fully. I accept the Deputy's point that there should not be a long delay, and I will not delay. If it is clear to me when I have the meeting with Prime Minister Blair this month that we are going nowhere, I will take the action and move on immediately.