Dáil debates

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

Other Questions.

Military Police Investigations.

1:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Question 59: To ask the Minister for Defence the efforts being made by his Department to bring to justice the prime suspect for the brutal murder of two Irish soldiers in Lebanon in April 1980; if he has held discussions with US authorities regarding the extradition of the main suspect, who is a naturalised US citizen; his views on whether Ireland may be able to pursue a prosecution under the Geneva Conventions; if the family and relatives of the two soldiers are being kept informed of the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38163/05]

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The case to which the Deputy refers concerns the killing of Privates Thomas Barrett and Derek Smallhorne while serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, in 1980. The question of the measures open to Irish authorities to bring the alleged perpetrator of this crime to justice has been examined in detail in the Department of Defence in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General's office.

The Attorney General has advised that there are no provisions in Irish law which provide a basis for Ireland to pursue a prosecution against the alleged perpetrator. The Attorney General indicated, however, that, while untested and potentially difficult, it might be possible for Ireland to pursue a prosecution under the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. While this appears an outside possibility, the Minister for Defence nevertheless asked the DPP, who would be responsible for pursuing any prosecution, to review the matter. The DPP is examining all the available evidence in the case with a view to determining whether any case can be mounted against the alleged perpetrator. The country with primary jurisdiction in this case is Lebanon. At the request of the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Foreign Affairs through the Embassy of Ireland in Cairo, which is accredited to Beirut, has conveyed to the Lebanese authorities our earnest desire and determination to see the alleged perpetrator brought to justice and to advise them that we will assist in whatever manner we can, should the Lebanese authorities be able to bring him to justice. As recently as 10 November 2005, the Irish ambassador to Lebanon met the Prime Minister of Lebanon and discussed the matter with him.

The Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs are also in contact with the US authorities, where the alleged perpetrator resides as a naturalised US citizen. The US authorities have been kept apprised of developments in the case. The Minister for Defence will continue to explore such avenues as may be open to him to seek justice in respect of Privates Barrett and Smallhorne. However, it will be appreciated that the long passage of time since the tragic incident will create its own difficulties in terms of mounting a prosecution, even if we can make the alleged perpetrator amenable to justice.

The Defence Forces continue to maintain contact with the Barrett and Smallhorne families through annual ceremonies commemorating deceased members of the Defence Forces. This year, to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Private Derek Smallhorne, a wreath-laying ceremony organised by the Fifth Infantry Battalion was held at his graveside in Palmerstown Cemetery, Dublin, followed by Mass at the garrison church in McKee Barracks. The ceremony was attended by Private Smallhorne's daughters, sisters and brother.

Joe Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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The reply is most disappointing. When the Minister for Defence spoke on this matter in the Dáil, he gave a commitment that no stone would be left unturned in the quest for justice for these men. I am sure the Minister of State has seen the correspondence I received from representatives of the families in which they asked again whether this matter could be raised on Question Time. That was on 15 November, 25 years after the deaths.

It is an awful state of affairs that the Government does not have the power to pursue this matter. A person who came to this country claimed that the murderer had not been brought to justice, despite the fact that the authorities here have known for a number of years where he was residing. If that is the case, why has no action been taken? It is disappointing that the Minister of State has given a long-winded reply to the question.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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As I indicated in my reply, the Attorney General has fully explored the case and there are no provisions in Irish law which would provide a basis for Ireland to pursue a prosecution against the alleged perpetrator. He also indicated, as I said, that, while it is untested and potentially difficult, it might be possible for Ireland to pursue a prosecution under provisions of the Geneva Convention. While this appears an outside possibility, the Minister for Defence has asked the DPP, who would be responsible for pursuing any prosecution, to review the matter. Certainly, we share the Deputy's concern on this matter but have to await the DPP's legal opinion. The issues of factual evidence and jurisdiction arise. I will convey the Deputy's views to the Minister and we will do all we can but there are legal complexities. We appreciate the trauma involved for the families.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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One of the alleged killers is a naturalised American citizen. Does the Minister of State know whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, raised this with Condoleezza Rice? It would seem appropriate to do so, given that the American authorities and the Bush administration in particular seem to have no difficulties in asking for the extradition of citizens, even Irish ones, for undermining, for example, the American economy in the case of Seán Garland. We now know that the United States has not only sought extradition but has bundled people into planes, which, we believe, passed through Shannon Airport and other European airports with no repercussions. Does the Minister of State not accept that there is an inconsistency between what the United States demands from others and what we can get from them?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The case can be made that this issue should be raised with the US authorities. I am uncertain whether my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, raised it with Condoleezza Rice but I did say that both my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs are in contact with authorities in the US, where the alleged perpetrator resides as a naturalised US citizen, and have kept them apprised of developments in the case. I concur with the Deputy that this is another avenue of communication and we will do anything we can in that regard. We will maintain contact with US authorities over the coming weeks.

Photo of Billy TimminsBilly Timmins (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I would like to approach this matter from a different angle to Deputy Gormley. Does the Minister agree that this is somewhat hypocritical? We are not willing to extradite some people for whom the United States has prima facie evidence that they should stand trial there.

I agree with the policy of attempting to find the people responsible for the murder of Privates Barrett and Smallhorne, which happened in 1980 in Lebanon. However, in December 1983, a member of the Army and a garda were murdered in Ballinamore, County Leitrim, yet we are now contemplating an amnesty for the perpetrators. How can we reconcile going to America to bring back somebody alleged to have committed a murder in 1980 with considering an amnesty for someone who may have committed a murder in County Leitrim in 1983?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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It is not appropriate to make that type of comparison in this situation. Issues have arisen which must be pursued. I appreciate the strong feelings expressed by a number of Deputies on this issue. We must follow due process and await the DPP's legal opinion and there are complex issues with regard to jurisdictions which are not entirely within our control. We will do everything possible and I will remain in contact with the Deputies.

Joe Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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The Minister of State has acknowledged that he will remain in contact and I will be obliged if he will let us know when progress has been made.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I will do that.