Tuesday, 7 June 2011
Ceisteanna - Questions
Northern Ireland Issues
Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach if he will pursue the issue of the release of files held by the British Government following a failure to reach any agreement on this in his most recent meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron. [13624/11]
Question 11: To ask the Taoiseach if he will bring together Irish government representatives on the various all-Ireland bodies and agencies to discuss future strategic goals; and the way to make best use of those bodies. [14503/11]
Question 12: To ask the Taoiseach if he has raised the issue of the release of files relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombing with the British Prime Minister; the response to same; and if he will continue to raise this matter. [14506/11]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 14, inclusive, together.
The Dáil debate on 17 May on a motion on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, which was agreed by all parties in the House, requests this Government to continue in its endeavour to seek a resolution to this issue. The Government is committed to doing so.
As the House will be aware, I raised this matter during my broad discussion with the British Prime Minister in April and again when I met with him on the occasion of the State visit of Queen Elizabeth II. We both acknowledge that there are a great number of sensitive issues relating to the past, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, that need to be sensitively considered, without getting into endless, open-ended inquiries. There are many other acts of violence from the past where victims on all sides would wish to have more information on what happened to their loved ones.
As the recent motion in the House acknowledged, we are approaching this task in the context of transformed relations on this island and between Ireland and Britain. While we still have difficult issues which require to be dealt with in a sensitive manner towards finding a resolution, we do so as equal partners, good neighbours and on the basis of mutual respect. In addition, I remind the House that there was a significant and lengthy inquiry by two very eminent judges, Mr. Justice Hamilton and Mr. Justice Barron, a thorough examination by an Oireachtas committee and a full commission of investigation conducted by Mr. Patrick MacEntee. The total cost of the Barron inquiries amounted to €3.5 million and the total cost of the MacEntee commission of investigation was €2.6 million.
As set out in the programme for Government, the Government is fully committed to the implementation of the Good Friday and St. Andrews agreements, which have brought about transformational change on this island. Under the St. Andrews Agreement it was agreed that the Northern Ireland Executive and Irish Government, under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council, would appoint a review group. The group was asked to examine the efficiency and value for money of existing North-South implementation bodies and examine the case for additional bodies and areas of co-operation within the North-South Ministerial Council where mutual benefit would be derived. We will be discussing the outcome of the review at this Friday's plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. At that meeting, I will take the opportunity to highlight the North-South aspects of the programme for Government and the Government's commitment to North-South and all-island economic co-operation. We will also have a broad ranging discussion on the economic challenges facing all parts of this island, including banking reform and the National Asset Management Agency.
In addition, there will be a full discussion of progress across a range of areas of North-South co-operation including progress on the A5-A8 roads, good progress on road safety, co-operation on innovation and the work of North-South bodies, particularly as it relates to fostering economic recovery across the island. The establishment of the North-South parliamentary forum and North-South consultative forum will also be on the agenda.
I intend to visit Northern Ireland in the near future although there are no specific plans in place at present. Regarding corporation tax issues, while this is a matter for the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, the Government is positively disposed towards any issue that will assist the all-island economy in any way possible.
I object to the questions being taken together in this manner as the issue addressed in Question No. 8 is separate from issues related to the North-South bodies and various meetings the Taoiseach is having. A wide range of issues have been lumped together in this group.
On the question as to whether the Taoiseach continues to pursue the release of files by the British Government on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, on the most recent occasion the House discussed this issue the Taoiseach effectively threw his arms in the air and stated he could not do anything more on the matter. I suggest he can do a great deal. This issue is fast becoming a major test of the new British Government's goodwill towards peace and reconciliation. It is not one that can be left to lie or fester. If both Governments are willing to show complete openness, we can keep the high moral ground against those who murdered for nearly three decades and continue to hide the truth of their activities.
If the British Government refuses to hand over the relevant files, will the Taoiseach consider supporting the families of the victims of the bombings in taking a case in the British and European courts in pursuit of this issue? The failure and refusal to provide the files in question is a denial of their human right to justice. Does the Taoiseach have any plans or does he intend to take any initiative to move this issue from one of talk and comment to one of action, particularly if the British Government refuses to stop what essentially amounts to a cover-up on this very important issue, the largest atrocity that took place on this island? I propose to address the other questions later.
Deputy Martin is saying that what cost the taxpayer €6.1 million between the Barron inquiry and the MacEntee commission of investigation is a cover-up. There was a very significant, lengthy and detailed examination of these issues by Mr. Justice Hamilton and Mr. Justice Barron, a full and thorough inquiry by an Oireachtas committee and a full commission of investigation was conducted by Mr. Patrick MacEntee. All of these inquiries went into very considerable detail. As I have pointed out, the cost was €6.1 million. The Deputy has been down this road himself and can take it that, as Head of Government, I will continue to raise the issue with the British Government in respect of files that might be released. Obviously, closure is important to everybody concerned on all sides in these cases and, for my part, I will continue to make contact about that whenever I can.
The Oireachtas committee was unanimous in seeking the release of these files. The investment that has gone into this matter and the significant work that has been undertaken make the release of these files all the more important and imperative. The failure to release them is, crucially, undermining the work that has gone into this issue to date. We all recognise the extraordinary transformative impact that, for example, the management of the Bloody Sunday investigation had on relations on the island and particularly in Derry. A similar move in the right direction to release these files would have a similar impact on public opinion and attitudes generally on this outstanding issue.
I have just made the point in response to previous questions that I will be happy to talk to the British Government about records it may have, or which were transferred to it, or which were removed to locations in Britain in respect of the 1916 to Civil War period. I will continue to raise the question of releasing these files or whatever relevant material is there. I supported the Oireachtas committee's report in respect of the release of such documentation and I will continue to do so whenever I have the opportunity.
On two occasions this House has called for the release of files on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Nobody in this House disputes the fact that there have been victims on all sides, and that all victims must have acknowledgement and truth. It is a given that this cannot be a selective process.
I am worried, however, when I hear the Taoiseach report on conversations with the British Prime Minister which rule out endless, long-running inquiries. As the Taoiseach and the British Government are aware, Sinn Féin's position is that a properly constituted truth-recovery process is needed. None of us should run from that, least of all the British authorities. Nonetheless, the Taoiseach should not run away from his responsibility to press the British authorities in a meaningful and urgent way to release these files, by going off at a tangent and having discussions about other, yet-to-be-established, long-running inquiries.
Some €6.1 million has been spent on this matter. The Taoiseach knows that those charged with making the investigation have clearly stated that the British authorities have wilfully obstructed the investigation. They have deliberately and consistently refused to release these files. Conversations about future investigations are important and necessary, but the immediate matter at hand is the release of these particular files. This is not a matter of cost because the €6.1 million has already been spent. I suggest therefore that the release of these files will be revenue neutral to the British authorities. The reason they will not release them is because they have taken a political decision not to do so. It is the job of this Administration, on behalf of this State's citizens, to force the position with the British authorities. Will the Taoiseach therefore reassure this House that he has been rather more assertive with the British Prime Minister than what I have heard from him today? Can he give us that assurance?
I can. I have already told Deputy Martin that I will continue to raise this matter at every opportunity I get. I noted the statement made by Deputy McDonald's party leader, Deputy Adams, today in respect of the Smithwick tribunal. This is an important statement because it clearly states that the Sinn Féin Party was in a position to influence volunteers who were previously members of the IRA in regard to meeting with the Smithwick tribunal. That is an important influence to recognise. While Deputy Adams has never admitted being a member of the IRA, in his capacity as a member of Sinn Féin he was in a position to influence former members of the IRA, known as volunteers, to consult with the Smithwick tribunal.
I put it to the Deputy that if that is the case and that influence has clearly been proven, surely it would be in her party's interest to continue to encourage volunteers who are members of the IRA to produce the evidence about the death of Jean McConville, Jerry McCabe or others.
I will continue to raise the issue with the British Government. Can Deputy McDonald give me a commitment that she will continue to raise it with the volunteers who came forward to the Smithwick tribunal?