Thursday, 10 July 2014
Topical Issue Debate
Deputies Seán Crowe, Dara Calleary, Finian McGrath, Thomas Pringle and Brendan Smith have ten minutes in total to make an initial statement but in any event each Deputy has two minutes and will speak in the order in which I have named them.
On 17 May 1974, 34 lives were lost in no-warning bombings in Dublin and Monaghan. There is compelling evidence that the bombing was carried out by British agents in loyalist paramilitary organisations assisted by members of the RUC and the UDR. Following the bombings, a cover up was put in place by the British military and political establishment. Investigations have been frustrated by misdirection and lack of co-operation right up to today. In common with all cases of collusion, there was no indepth investigation, no charges were laid and no one was held to account. Like all victims of conflict, the families of those killed and injured deserve to know who was involved and who facilitated and led the cover up.
All parties in the Oireachtas supported a motion six years ago calling on the British Government to make available all information in its possession on the bombings. To date, the British Government has ignored the motion and, by extension, the wishes of the people of the State. Worse, it has compounded the injury to the families of the victims of these bombings. Does the Minister agree that the relationship between Britain and ourselves must be based on equality and respect? What is the Irish Government's strategy to get Britain to live up to its responsibility and disclose the information requested by the House in the all-party motion six years ago?
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for providing us with the opportunity to raise the issue six years from the date on which the Oireachtas agreed the all-party motion. Deputies Smith, Crowe, Pringle, Finian McGrath and I are all on the cross-party group working with Justice for the Forgotten in this area and we agreed to submit this Topical Issue today to mark that anniversary. It is also 40 years since 34 families had their lives destroyed. A lifetime later, they continue to live with the physical legacy as well as the psychological side of it. It is unprecedented when one considers the huge improvement in relations in the last number of years that the Government of the UK continues to deny access to necessary information. The families and the Justice for the Forgotten group put forward a proposal that a mediator would assist, which was not accepted, and every effort has been made on this side to come to a position where the information can be shared and made available. As an Oireachtas we must unite in both Houses in calling on the British Government to get its act together on this, respect the families and the lives that were lost by providing information that may give answers. At the very least, it would bring people down a path.
A further issue is that the compensation paid to the families covers physical injuries only. I understand the Minister is in correspondence with the families on that. The Minister is restricted in terms of the definition of the compensation, but the families cannot get funding for counselling for psychological conditions arising from the effects of the bombings, including PTSD. It is an area we must examine as the psychological scars, while not visible, are as raw and sore as the physical ones. It is an old way of looking at mental health. We do not want to look at it. This would be a way to assist the families and we should address it as well.
The main issue for today is that once again, six years on, the Oireachtas unites to call on the British Government to do the right thing.
I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle giving us an opportunity to raise this important issue, which is one of concern also to the Acting Chairman, Deputy Joe O'Reilly. It has been raised by our constituency colleague, Senator Diarmuid Wilson, in the Seanad on a number of occasions.
Bombs in Monaghan and Dublin on 17 May 1974 resulted in the deaths of 33 civilians and the wounding of almost 300 people. Those atrocities resulted in the highest number of casualties on any one day during that very difficult era commonly referred to as "the Troubles". The UVF, a loyalist paramilitary group, claimed responsibility for the bombings, but there are credible allegations that elements of the British security forces colluded with the UVF in the bombings. Some years ago, the Oireachtas joint committee with responsibility for justice affairs called the bombings an act of international terrorism. Six years ago, the then Government Chief Whip, Pat Carey, moved a motion on the matter which received the unanimous support of all parties and Members in the House. A similar motion was also passed in May 2011. By way of the motions, the House requested the British Government to allow access by an independent international judicial figure to all original documents held by the British Government relating to the atrocities that occurred in this jurisdiction and which were inquired into by Mr. Justice Barron. Those requests from this House - this sovereign Parliament - have fallen on deaf ears.
More than 40 years on, it is high time for the British Government to respond in a responsible way to our request. Minimum co-operation is not acceptable. We demand and must receive maximum co-operation from the British Government. The release of the files would permit the assessment of the documents to assist in the resolution of these awful crimes which continue to scar our country. The concerns, grief and untold hardship endured by so many families must be our uppermost concern. I note from all of the meetings and conversations I have had with the families of the victims that all they want is the truth. Indeed, it is a very basic request from families who continue to suffer owing to the deaths of loved ones as well as for the many who had injuries inflicted on them on that day of carnage.
Deputy Finian McGrath asked me to convey to the House that he is unable to come and contribute to the debate this evening.
I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. Only a few short weeks ago, we saw the 40th anniversary of the savage bombings in Dublin and Monaghan which resulted in the tragic loss of life and injury referred to by the Deputies. On that day in May 1974, three bombs exploded around Dublin during the busy evening rush hour, including one not far from where we are now. Approximately 90 minutes later, another bomb exploded in Monaghan town. As a result of these brutal bombings, 33 people were killed and over a hundred people suffered injuries. While the passage of 40 years may have eased the pain of the families of those killed and injured to some small degree, we must always remember that they have had to bear the consequences of their injuries and the grief of those tragic events. Their suffering has not gone away and the memory of their loved ones lives on with them and will do so forever.
The late Mr. Justice Henry Barron carried out a detailed and painstaking inquiry into those awful events and, indeed, other atrocities between 1972 and 1976 in which so many innocent people lost their lives. Related matters were also investigated by a commission of investigation led by Patrick McEntee SC. While acknowledging cooperation received from the British authorities, both the Barron and McEntee inquiries concluded that they had been limited somewhat by not having access to certain British Government documents which may be relevant to their terms of reference. This House and the Seanad have unanimously called on the British Government to make this documentation available. It is a matter of regret that, to date, it has not proved possible for access to be made available to such documentation as may exist.
As he has stated to the House, the Taoiseach has raised the matter directly with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron. The matter has also been raised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers. The Government remains in discussions with the British Government in support of the families' request for access to documentation.
Dealing with the legacy of conflict and facing up to the past is not an easy task and there is no ready formula of words or set of actions that can put things right. The House will be aware that work is ongoing to try to find ways to address the legacy of conflict in Northern Ireland.
Although there is no easy resolution to the complexity of addressing the past, as is clear from recent events in Northern Ireland, the Government remains strongly committed to working in partnership with the British Government and with the parties in the Northern Ireland Executive to find a way forward. It is a challenge that the two Governments and the Executive are determined and willing to undertake. That said, it is also a challenge that all of those who were party to the conflict must also be willing to take up.
The Good Friday Agreement recognised the special position of victims and, in remembering the victims and their families, we should be strengthened in our resolve to construct a changed society in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. As we seek to build a better future for all communities on the island and those who live on the neighbouring island, we cannot forget those who died, those who were injured and those left behind to mourn the loss of their loved ones.
As in the past, this House is unanimous in its message to the British Government to make the relevant documentation available. I hope we can also send a message of solidarity to the families of those who were so tragically killed in Dublin and Monaghan and to the families of all those who lost their lives in the conflict.
In the past, we heard what could not be done and today we want to hear what can be done and what the Minister will do. There needs to be a strategy in respect of moving the British Government on this issue. People ask why they will not release these files. They say there is no silver bullet and no information. Why will they not release the files if that is the case? It is a rational and logical question to ask. The big fear among families is that they have something to hide. There is a view that this is the appalling vista, and that they trained, armed, released intelligence, facilitated travel, supplied transport and supplied bomb-making know-how to loyalists to create the conditions to change the laws in this State, to bring about more oppressive laws, to frighten people and to create a climate of fear. That was the scenario behind these bombs. If that is the appalling vista of which they are afraid, people are already aware of British collusion in other cases. If this is what they are frightened of, we cannot move on as to equal states as long as the information is lacking. There is a responsibility on us to move this forward but also on the British Government to release the files.
The Good Friday Agreement recognises the special position of victims. Recognition is one thing and those who signed up to, and negotiated, an agreement must put actions into the recognition. In this case, the British Government must act and provide that information. I encourage the Minister to work with Justice For The Forgotten in pursuing the notion of an independent mediator who will work to assess the information and provide a report. The British Government cannot hold other signatories to the Good Friday Agreement to account for their responsibilities to the agreement if it does not act on its responsibilities. It cannot be a guardian of the agreement if it is failing the agreement.
I thank the Minister for the reply and I endorse the comments of my colleague, Deputy Dara Calleary. Over the past two years, as Fianna Fáil spokesperson on foreign affairs and trade, in priority questions and oral questions, I have raised this very important issue with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. During that period, I have had the opportunity to meet the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, and the Labour Party spokesperson on Northern Ireland, Mr. Ivan Lewis, MP. I have impressed upon them the absolute need to provide a positive response to the request of this House.
At the time when British and Irish working relations are so positive, it is important the files that will establish the truth of what happened on that awful day in 1974 are released. The least the families of the victims deserve is the truth. The British Government has a major responsibility in this regard and it is a responsibility it must not be allowed to evade. In his good work undertaken and completed in 2003, Mr. Justice Barron referred to the clear collusion that occurred with some British State security forces in assisting the UVF in those desperate atrocities and other murders. The Government, particularly the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, must bring the utmost pressure to bear on the British Government to finally assist in reaching the truth about these evil deeds. Access to the files is urgently needed required.
The least the families deserve is a full investigation into these atrocious crimes. Minimal co-operation by the British Government will not be acceptable. I record so many other families that lost loved ones in my constituency and the neighbouring constituency in the south of Ulster. Deputy Joe O'Reilly also knows some of the families. Many of the families have no semblance of justice and no one has been brought to account for carrying out those awful deeds. I can think of two young teenagers, Geraldine O'Reilly from Belturbet, County Cavan, and Mr. Paddy Stanley from Clara, County Offaly, killed on 28 December 1972 as a result of a bomb in Belturbet beside my home area. There were two young teenagers going about their business. So many families are suffering still and all the families have asked me for is the truth. They are not looking for revenge of any sort.
I agree with Deputies opposite who said we can never forget the horrific events of 40 years ago that we are remembering today. We cannot forget the pain of the survivors and the families that Deputy Smith has spoken about. The grief of those families has not eased despite the passage of 40 years. I assure them that the memories of their loved ones will never be forgotten. The debate has provided an important opportunity for the House to express solidarity with the families of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 and all of the victims. It is important that it has given us the opportunity to reaffirm the united position the House has adopted, which is essential to maintain. I thank the Deputies opposite for reinforcing the point. It is critical we maintain the united position and I assure the House that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade continue to raise the matter. The latter stated:
The Taoiseach and I greatly welcome and have worked hard to encourage a sea change in British-Irish relations. In this context, it is particularly disappointing that forty years on, it has not yet proven possible for the British government to respond positively to the Dublin-Monaghan families. I call on the British government to look afresh at this request, which has been the subject of two all-party motions in Dáil Éireann.A few weeks ago, Theresa Villiers stated "Since May 2010 both my predecessor and I have discussed this issue several times with counterparts in the Irish Government and I continue to do so." I assure Deputies that it will be maintained and that we will continue to raise these issues at the highest level, reflecting the unified position in the motion in the Dáil and in the Senate. Every effort will be made to progress the situation so that the information about which Deputies have spoken will be made available. I conclude by repeating that this is being dealt with at the highest level and will continue to be dealt with in this manner in the coming months.