Tuesday, 25 April 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Northern Ireland Issues.
Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting on 22 March 2006 with Mr. Raymond McCord regarding the circumstances of the murder of his son in Northern Ireland in 1997. [11812/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, together.
I met Mr. Raymond McCord on 22 March in Government Buildings. This meeting followed a series of meetings between Mr. McCord and officials from my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs. I expressed my sympathy to Mr. McCord and his family on the loss of his son, Raymond. Since his son's brutal murder in November 1997, Mr. McCord has been extremely brave in his determined efforts to get justice. Following my meeting with Mr. McCord, I raised the case with the Prime Minister Mr. Blair when I met him in Armagh on 6 April.
This is a deeply worrying case. It centres on the possible involvement of loyalist paramilitaries who may also have been police informers in the murder of Raymond McCord, as well as in other murders. It is clear that the matter requires the fullest investigation. A report by the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland has already been prepared and was sent to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland last October. The outcome of deliberations in that office, are currently awaited. I welcome the Adjournment debate about the case that took place in this House last October. Deputy Rabbitte asked me previously to meet Mr. McCord. We will continue to follow developments in this case very closely. In this context, the report of the Police Ombudsman will be very important when it becomes publicly available, as will any decision by the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland.
Is the Taoiseach aware that the persons allegedly responsible for the murder of Raymond McCord in 1997 were members of the UVF and were also agents of the RUC special branch? Is he aware that the same persons are strongly suspected of having been responsible for the attempted bombing of a Sinn Féin office in Monaghan around the same time? That office acts as my constituency office to this day. Is the Taoiseach aware that one of the agents is believed to have been responsible for a number of killings while he was an active special branch agent? Does the Taoiseach agree that all of these pointers suggest that the spectre of the RUC and the British system in the North will always seek to protect its own at any cost and that is what we are witnessing in the terrible murder of Raymond McCord? Does the Taoiseach accept that it is vitally important that the Government acts in every way possible to assist the family of the late Mr. McCord, given that his father courageously crossed the political divide and that across the island in the pursuit of truth and justice for his son? Does the Taoiseach agree that it is therefore all the more important and incumbent on the Government to exercise itself in every way possible in this case?
In his initial reply to the question, the Taoiseach stated that he raised the matter in his meeting with the British Prime Minister in Armagh on April 6. Can he elaborate on that? What exactly does "raising the matter" mean? Has he asked the British Prime Minister to initiate a full inquiry into the murder of Raymond McCord, given the extent of the information to hand, accepting that there has been and may well continue to be a flow of information from current and former serving officers in the police et al which confirms the collusion involved in this terrible act? I would appreciate the Taoiseach's elaboration on his engagement with the British Prime Minister on 6 April.
I am aware of the issues raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin but, although they may prove to be factual, the Deputy will understand that I cannot stand over the facts at this stage. However, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Ms O'Loan, has investigated the details to an enormous degree and has elaborated on them in a report she prepared over some months. That report is with the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland who has been considering it for the past six months. We will have to await the outcome of that process. Most of the facts noted by the Deputy have been stated here or by Mr. McCord and others.
On the question of assistance to Mr. McCord from the Irish Government, we have held a number of meetings with him over the past six months and officials of my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs will maintain contact with him and will continue to monitor the situation. When I met him on 22 March, I said that my officials would contact him to offer any assistance they could. I also told him that, in terms of seeking a public inquiry, it was best to await the outcome of Ms O'Loan's report and the statement of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I told him, based on the facts as I know them and subject to their substantiation in Ms O'Loan's report, which I have not seen, we would support him in seeking an inquiry. However, I told him that it would be best for the reports to be first entered into the public domain by the DPP and Ms O'Loan, which I understand will happen in the normal course of events. It is important that this is done at the appropriate time and based on the situation.
The facts are disturbing and Mr. McCord outlined the details to me at a number of meetings. He is a tremendously brave individual, a quality which has not been without problems for him. I will not elaborate on that but I admire him and think he deserves support for that reason. As I have promised to Deputy Rabbitte some months ago, we will continue to help him.
I thank the Taoiseach for agreeing to meet Ray McCord but want to pursue one aspect of the matter. When I initially raised the matter in an Adjournment debate on 27 October, I understood that the publication of the report of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland was imminent. However, the Taoiseach is now saying that it has been referred to the DPP. Can the Taoiseach tell the House when it is likely to enter the public domain? I am unsure, in a case where a report is sent to the DPP for possible prosecution, whether the report as compiled by the ombudsman is entered into the public domain.
Does the Taoiseach know whether any of the people against whom these serious allegations were made continue to serve as police officers or members of the Northern Ireland security forces?
I do not know precisely when the report will enter the public domain but I understand from a number of sources that it will do so within the coming weeks and by some time in May. I am unsure whether that estimate is based on the fact the DPP will make a decision or on a time gap. It is seven months since the report went to the DPP. I do not know whether the issue is time or if it is a call the ombudsman can make. Although I have not heard it from the ombudsman, I have heard that it is expected.
On the Deputy's second question, the allegations are not against any serving members at this stage. As the Deputy knows from his own meetings, there is an intricate list of people and connections relating to the murders of Mr. McCord and many others. We will have to wait for the report before we will know how many are involved and what the relationship with the old RUC was. Although it is quite a number of people, none of them are serving now.
The Taoiseach already promised to seek a full investigation into the murder of Mr. McCord. He promised to meet Mr. Blair at the fringes of the European Council meeting at the end of March. Did the Taoiseach not meet him there but in Armagh instead, or did he meet him a second time to discuss this matter? In his reply the Taoiseach mentions Armagh only. Can the Taoiseach indicate what is in the preliminary report and if so, does he expect the special branch detectives, who ran the UVF informants, to face prosecution? If this happens, has the Taoiseach thought about how any effect on the peace process would be addressed?
The meeting I mentioned was the meeting with the Prime Minister in Armagh to make him aware of our concerns about the case. On 9 November 1997, Mr. McCord's body was found in Ballyduff Quarry in Newtownabbey after he had been beaten to death by loyalist paramilitaries. He was a 22 year old Protestant resident of north Belfast and his father has fought his case since then. Since last year British Irish Rights Watch compiled and sent the report on the case to the United Nations, the Police Ombudsman, the Independent Monitoring Commission, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the US special envoy in Northern Ireland and the US Congress. The report names individuals believed to be implicated in the murder. It has not been published because it names people. That issue must be examined. Mr. McCord's father has lobbied political parties and others North and South for support in this issue. We just have to wait to see how the process evolves. The case is important for many reasons and is being watched closely in Northern Ireland.