Dáil debates

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Topical Issue Debate

Location of Victims' Remains

1:50 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Tánaiste for attending. I hope he will join me in expressing alarm and exasperation at the revelations contained in recent correspondence from the State Pathologist in the North of Ireland to the lawyers representing the family of Aidan McAnespie, who was shot dead by a British soldier on 21 February 1988 as he was making his way to his local GAA club grounds at Aughnacloy on the Tyrone-Monaghan border. The letter from Dr. J.R. Lyness advises that while the State Pathologist's office has retained seven paraffin tissue blocks containing wax-embedded tissue from some of the major organs of Aidan's body, the section of the ribcage that contained the exit bullet wound had been disposed of. Dr. Lyness states that this disposal was carried out in the years following the post mortem examination but that the State Pathologist's office does not hold any records on the disposal of retained tissue from that time. The ribcage section was removed from Aidan's chest cage, adjacent to the breastbone. This ribcage section measured 5 in. by 3 in. and was removed, I understand, at the time of the autopsy carried out by the then deputy State Pathologist in the North, Dr. Carson. When Professor Harbison carried out the second autopsy on Aidan's exhumed remains in this jurisdiction, he discovered that this critical section of Aidan's ribcage had been removed.

There have been many calls and alleged calls, historically and more recently, to have Aidan's full remains restored to his family, but to no avail. Professor Harbison was unable to make a definitive judgment on the trajectory of the bullet that took Aidan's life. Will the Tánaiste undertake to raise this matter with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, in correspondence and directly when next they meet? Will he request that she establish when Aidan McAnespie's removed ribcage section was disposed of? That no records were allegedly kept is bizarre in itself and is not credible. Will the Tánaiste request that the Secretary of State establish who carried out the disposal and under whose direction it was done? Will he request that she establish in what way the disposal was carried out? Will he request that she establish if the disposed of remains can be retrieved? Will he ask that she secure copies of all relevant documentation, including photographic records of said ribcage section and any other relevant material that the State Pathologist's office in Belfast holds?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The shooting of Aidan McAnespie in Aughnacloy near a checkpoint just over 30 years ago, in February 1988, was a tragedy for his family and friends. I extend my sympathy to them. I met the family in March to hear their views and concerns and I subsequently directed my officials to raise the matter with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland.

Given the great public disquiet on both sides of the Border following the shooting, the Government requested that an inquiry be carried out. The then deputy garda commissioner, Mr. Eugene Crowley, was appointed to conduct the inquiry. Deputy Commissioner Crowley's report was submitted to the then Minister for Justice on 8 April 1988. A summary of the report's conclusions and a copy of the report relating to the post mortem carried out by Professor Harbison were provided previously to the McAnespie family. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, has provided further copies of these documents to the family’s representatives and is currently examining what options might be available to further assist the family. I have told the family that the Government will stay in contact with them as this progresses.

I am aware of the media coverage of the report to which the Deputy refers. This is undoubtedly another extremely difficult time for the family, who have been campaigning for the return of Mr. McAnespie's remains in full. I am sure all Deputies can agree with me that this painful Information must be made all the more distressing by the long time the family have had to wait for it.

Dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is complex and a challenging task for everyone. The Government remains fully committed to the framework of measures in the Stormont House Agreement as a means to seek to address the needs of the many victims and survivors and their families and to allow society to move forward from the legacy of the Troubles.

Victims and survivors have had to wait for far too long already for a suitable and effective system in Northern Ireland for dealing with legacy issues relating to the Troubles. In this context, I welcomed the launch earlier this month of the UK's public consultation on its draft legislation to implement the legacy aspects of the Stormont House Agreement.

3 o’clock

These institutions will provide a comprehensive way of addressing the painful legacy of the past in Northern Ireland, in order that victims and survivors can have their legitimate needs and expectations met.

I have also emphasised in discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the political parties, the need to ensure that legacy inquests are properly resourced and I continue to raise this issue with the Secretary of State. I have urged all with responsibilities in relation to legacy inquests to move forward as quickly as possible to implement the helpful proposals of the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

On the Deputy's direct questions, we will try to establish the facts surrounding some of the issues the Deputy has outlined. I will ensure that the issue is raised with the appropriate authorities in Northern Ireland.

2:00 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We must establish the when, the who and the where, that is, when this was done, who carried it out and under whose direction and where, and in what way, was Aidan's rib cage section disposed of? Is it retrievable or is it irretrievably destroyed? That is unclear from the letter from Dr. Lyness, which, more than 30 years after Aidan's murder at Aughnacloy at the Tyrone-Monaghan border has come as an absolute shock to his family, who have always hoped that that release would inform one of the key and critical issues relating to Aidan's murder.

I have itemised several things that I have asked the Minister to pursue with the Secretary of State in respect of the State Pathologist's office in the North of Ireland and I also ask the Minister to ask her to include any other possible holders of relevant documentation. I believe there is a bounden responsibility on the Secretary of State to ensure that the McAnespie family is fully and absolutely co-operated with and informed.

The McAnespie family, as well as anyone whom I have heard speak on this latest disturbing information on the murder of Aidan McAnespie, believe that the rib cage section being referred to was removed to cover up the fact that Aidan was hit by a single bullet fired from above and not by a ricochet off the roadway behind him. That view is now confirmed in the minds of many by the revelation that the critical evidence that could attest to the trajectory of the bullet is no longer available to us.

Finally, in deference to all that the McAnespie family has sought, I ask the Minister to please intervene with his Cabinet colleagues and request the Minister for Justice and Equality to give effect to the very reasonable request of the entire Committee on Justice and Equality, the McAnespie family and many others, that he contact all those who gave evidence to the then deputy commissioner, Eugene Crowley, in order that they would waive their understanding of confidentiality and allow the report to issue.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

On the last point, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has agreed to look at this issue and is doing so. I am not sure if it is as straightforward as the Deputy has outlined in terms of simply asking people for their permission to waive confidentiality. The Minister is taking legal advice on it. When an investigation happens on the basis of guarantees around confidentiality, it has a standing that makes dealing with this issue difficult. I have explained that to the McAnespie family and I think they understand where we are coming from. We want to try to be helpful but we do not want to try to build pressure on people who gave evidence on the basis of confidentiality, even all these years later. I will wait to hear what the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, thinks may or may not be possible and we have undertaken to communicate with the family on this.

It is important to note that I cannot compel the State Pathologist in Northern Ireland to provide information one way or the other but I can certainly raise concerns with the Secretary of State. I understand why the Deputy is asking the questions that he has asked. We are currently in a process in Northern Ireland where we are trying to move ahead with a comprehensive, structured response to dealing with legacy issues. There are many families in Northern Ireland from both communities that are trying to deal with very painful memories of murders and atrocities there and I hope that the McAnespie family can, in time, also establish the full truth about what happened to their son.