Wednesday, 19 May 2004
Good Friday Agreement: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann, conscious of the Government's commitment to the Oireachtas and the McCabe family, that the early release of prisoners responsible for the brutal killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was not part of the Good Friday Agreement, calls on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure that this policy is not reversed in the ongoing discussions between the Sinn Féin Leadership and the Government on political developments in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the Minister. With the Chair's permission I will read from a script, something I have not done since I entered this House two and a half years ago. I would like to do so this evening in order to put certain matters on the record.
In putting this motion to the House, my colleagues and I are giving the Government an opportunity to come clean on the full details of a secret deal negotiated between it and Sinn Féin last October. The public and the House want to hear the truth. More importantly, those directly affected by the brutal killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe want to hear the truth.
This evening, we want the Government to put on the record of the House exactly what was agreed in discussions last October aimed at kick-starting the suspended institutions. As a means of copper-fastening trust in the peace process and of setting the record straight, the Government has an obligation to come clean on the matter.
For too long this process has been aimed at making further concessions to the IRA as it continues to hold the entire political process to ransom. Peace is on its terms alone. We must all challenge this fundamental hypocrisy which undermines the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. In endorsing the Agreement, the Irish people bought peace for a certain price. The deal was relatively straightforward. The IRA stopped murdering people for an opportunity to allow its political representatives in Sinn Féin to enter the Northern Ireland Government and to also allow IRA prisoners to be freed under the terms of the Agreement. This was a difficult and painful pill for ordinary people to swallow, particularly in Northern Ireland where the IRA's murderous campaign was visited on all sections of the community over the past 35 years.
We should not forget that the IRA killers of gardaí in this State have also been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Between 1998 and 1999 a total of 444 prisoners from all paramilitary organisations were released in Northern Ireland while in this State 57 prisoners were released. The notion that this was only a painful pill for the people of Northern Ireland is untrue, because significant numbers of convicted killers were also released here under our obligations under the Agreement.
The McCabe case was also outside any reasonable interpretation of the prisoner release programme. It was different, not least because the accused were convicted of manslaughter charges after the Good Friday Agreement was accepted. More important than that, the Irish people were given an assurance when voting for the Agreement that the McCabe killers would not be granted early release. In the Dáil on 27 May 1998, only days before the referendum, the former Taoiseach and former leader of my party, Deputy John Bruton, asked the Taoiseach to clarify the matter on the record. He asked:
Does the Taoiseach agree that a measure of clarity is necessary as it is not clear from the Belfast Agreement whether the relevant provision applies only to those already convicted or to those who may be convicted in future of offences committed in the past? The Agreement specifies that such people to which it applies will be released within a maximum of two years. Will the Taoiseach ensure maximum transparency regarding individual decision making and the procedures adopted in view of the understandable concern of victims' families?
The Taoiseach replied:
Of course there must be maximum clarification. In the Good Friday Agreement we were talking about the release within two years of people already convicted. There is no doubt about this and I am certain of it as I have been asked a similar question on at least three occasions in the past 24 hours.
Later, in September of that year, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy John O'Donoghue accepted what the Taoiseach had said in the House on 27 May 1998.
Let us be absolutely clear that when Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was gunned down in Adare, this was plainly and simply a bank robbery organised and put into effect by the IRA. These men who were part of that deed were not angry young men from west Belfast or the Bogside. They were involved simply and straightforwardly in a bank job. To suggest that this case has analogies in Northern Ireland is way off the mark. This had nothing to do with Northern Ireland, even within Sinn Féin's warped justification concerning the alleged struggle in Ireland. Let us also be clear that the killers were lucky to get away with manslaughter charges when the more serious murder charges had to be dropped because of unprecedented intimidation of witnesses by so-called republicans. The mandatory sentence of 40 years for murder of a member of the Defence Forces would have been the sentence had a charge of murder been successful in that case.
It was with horror that we recently learned that our Government was prepared to ignore the solemn commitment it gave to the people in 1998 in even contemplating the release of the McCabe killers as part of a new deal with Sinn Féin. Policy in this area has been reversed without recourse to this House or to the people. The new formulation, as seen in the amendment to tonight's motion proposed by the Government, is that the early release of these criminals might now be contemplated where there is an end to all forms of paramilitarism by the IRA. The Government has broken its word and I am astonished the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who regularly speaks with such authority on the subject of the relationship between Sinn Féin and the IRA, would be part and parcel of this secret deal and this undignified concession to an existing terrorist outfit in this State and in the other state. I do not believe he has much credibility on this subject when one considers his involvement in making further concessions to private armies in the course of his work as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Furthermore, when he speaks on Northern Ireland, and when he speaks in particular about the relationship between the IRA and Sinn Féin, he speaks for me and many people like me in this State. I fundamentally agree with his sentiments and with his clear and unequivocal language. He spoke for me in speaking so regularly and passionately about this subject in the past, but he does not have much credibility now when it has been exposed that he and other members of the Government were prepared to do this secret deal last October. This is an issue he must address.
If Mr. David Trimble had accepted the IRA's act of decommissioning last October, those responsible for Detective Garda Jerry McCabe's death would now be out of prison. Under paragraph 13 of last year's joint declaration, the IRA could still be running their rackets, specifically because criminal activity was left out of the paragraph 13 commitments. Stopping punishment beatings or intelligence gathering is not the same as ending paramilitarism because it tacitly accepts the continuation of this outfit's criminal activity. Even if the Government were prepared to compromise on the release of the McCabe killers, as was clearly demonstrated last October, it sold us short in that commitment and the commitments that were sought from Sinn Féin and the IRA at that time.
I want the Minister to state unequivocally in this House this evening whether last October's deal included two of the gang members who managed to escape from the scene at Adare eight years ago. I understand that both of these individuals are now on the run and that Sinn Féin wants an amnesty for them in connection with any possible future charges they might face in relation to the McCabe case. We need clarity on this issue.
It is now ten years since the original ceasefire. Most people here want to move on. The real problem is that as long as a private army is in existence, and as long as that private army is inextricably linked to a political grouping, which it is, it will be virtually impossible for the kind of closure to take place which is at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. We have put up with this ambiguity for far too long. We have an obligation to brave and dedicated people such as Detective Garda Jerry McCabe not to allow our history to be written by a bunch of thugs and crooks. This matter is of the utmost importance because it goes to the heart of what this State is about and to the heart of what those brave men and women, who put themselves on the line day in and day out against paramilitary groups of this type are about. We need an explanation from the Government. That is the intention of our motion.
I second the motion. I spoke on this issue in a debate in the Dáil on 9 February 1999. That debate revolved around the findings of the Special Criminal Court. The people responsible for the crime were not charged with murder but with manslaughter and the sentences were based on that. Those of us who are from west Limerick were appalled and remember vividly what happened in June 1996. For a political representative from west Limerick it was especially emotional because not alone were Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and his family from west Limerick but three of the people involved came from west Limerick. None of us can condone what happened because it was an act of brutal murder. What helped to focus the whole issue in our minds in recent times was an article in one of the Sunday tabloids which showed the late Detective Garda Jerry McCabe slumped in a car with 15 bullets discharged into the car itself.
In the context of the abolition of capital punishment by the then Minister for Justice, former Deputy Ray Burke, there was to be introduced a mandatory sentence of 40 years for offences such as this involving members of the Garda, the Prison Service, or a member of the Government. In this case, because of plea bargaining and the reduction of the charge to manslaughter, lesser sentences were imposed ranging from 14 to 11 years.
The Government has been embarrassed in recent times by the leaking of information regarding this issue. It came as a surprise to most people that in the negotiations in which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the Taoiseach were involved last October this was being conceded. According to the Government this was being conceded on the basis that all paramilitary activity would be ended. This flies in the face of what was previously said on this issue. It is worth bearing in mind how definitive the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, who was to the fore in trying to lecture other parties on zero tolerance when he was in Government, was when he spoke in the House on 9 February 1999:
I refer to speculation on the question of early release for those who have been convicted of the killing of Garda McCabe. I wonder how many different ways we have to say "no" for people to get the message that those involved will not have the benefit of the early release terms contained in the British-Irish Agreement. There has been clarity from the outset — from the time the British-Irish Agreement was negotiated — about this and the position has been made clear by the Taoiseach and me on numerous occasions. That there will now be manslaughter rather than murder convictions does not alter the Government's stance on this issue.
A great deal of the discussion during the Dáil debate in 1999 related to intimidation and the circumstances of the time. When legislation was being introduced, Members called for measures to be put in place to counteract the level of intimidation involved in this case.
Many people in the mid-west region are shocked. As the Taoiseach in June 1996, Deputy John Bruton was given the difficult job of sympathising with the wife and family of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. All of us can recall the evocative scenes when the large funeral took place in Limerick. For that reason, this issue resonates with the general public and, in particular, with the Garda Síochána.
I would like to discuss the prospect of an early release, which has been considered. The only thing that stopped such a deal from going ahead in October 2003 was that decommissioning did not go far enough. One can assume that the British Government was not aware of the deal, as it was entirely an Irish arrangement. We remember that the Taoiseach was not too optimistic on the morning in question, when General de Chastelain pinpointed the level of decommissioning at the time. The package was negotiated on the basis of restricted decommissioning. It was obvious at that stage that Sinn Féin and the IRA had not considered the total endgame in respect of the ending of paramilitary activity.
The Minister made a strong statement about the conduct of the IRA when he was in Limerick in recent days. He attacked the involvement of Sinn Féin. That is fine because it probably makes good copy for the media, but the whole thing smacks of a certain degree of hypocrisy, as far as I can see. Somebody is talking out of both sides of his or her mouth in respect of this issue. If one is consistent on this matter, one will be aware that it is not a question of ending it, even if paramilitary activity in the North of Ireland is brought to an end.
The Minister's party leader, Deputy Harney, said at a party meeting in Limerick in 2000 that, as far as she is concerned, the killers of Detective Garda McCabe will never be released, under any set of circumstances. It is worth bearing in mind that the prisoners in question are not serving life sentences — they are not serving 40 years — but sentences of between 11 and 14 years. Detective Garda McCabe was killed in 1996. We are talking about the amount of time that has been served and the date on which they will be released. We are not talking about the long term, but about the short term.
I am interested in the principle of the matter. There is no doubt the persons in question are guilty of murder. The circumstances changed and the trial became a manslaughter trial because witnesses were intimidated. The sentences of between 11 and 14 years that were handed down were small when one considers the offences that were committed. Even if negotiations commence with Sinn Féin about making progress in the North of Ireland, the Government cannot consider slipping this in. People were surprised to learn recently that it was suggested as part of a package going back to last October, that it was being agreed and that it was going to be slipped in.
The Government lied about Omagh when it was asked in the other House whether discussions were taking place with the Real IRA. Deputy Kenny succeeded in getting the Government to admit eventually that discussions took place. A Member of this House, Senator Mansergh, had discussions with the Real IRA after the Omagh bombing. Whom do we believe? Do we believe the Taoiseach, who has said that there will be no deal? Do we believe those who say that it was agreed at the time and that the prisoners in Castlerea would have been released by now if agreement had been reached last October? The pieces of the Government's jigsaw are not fitting together. There is a certain element of talking from both sides of the mouth on this serious issue.
The Minister should reflect seriously on the comments of his predecessor, Deputy O'Donoghue, who was very definitive on this issue. Given that there will be elections on 11 June, it is probable that this issue will not go away. It suits the Government to deny totally at this stage that these people will be released. Mr. Gerry Collins MEP has been strong on this issue in west Limerick. He has said that his personal opinion is that they should never be released. Does the Government's policy reflect the MEP's opinion? The people deserve honesty, truth and consistency from the Government in this regard.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:
"notes and approves the stated position of the Government that the persons convicted of the brutal killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe will serve in full the sentences imposed on them by the Courts and notes the Government's clearly stated position that there will be no possibility of their early release other than in the context of a definitive ending of the Northern conflict including an end to all forms of paramilitarism by the IRA."
I am pleased to have an opportunity to discuss this issue, given its importance to the administration of justice in this jurisdiction, the political situation in Northern Ireland and, not least, the family of the late Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan, whose courage and dignity I salute.
I regret the tone of the remarks that have been made here this evening. There have been charges of hypocrisy and electioneering and hints of duplicity. In the circumstances, it is sad because it contrasts with the dignity and reserve of those who are closest to this issue. I refer to the remarks made by Detective Garda McCabe's family and Detective Garda O'Sullivan. I am saddened by the tone of remarks which have been made in an attempt to score political points and by references to electoral prospects in the mid-west, which are not related to the core issue before the House, which is a far deeper issue.
I reiterate my view that those who killed Detective Garda Jerry McCabe by shooting him twice, and who pumped nine bullets into the slightly luckier Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan, are examples of all that is worst, lowest and most cowardly in Irish society. Such people are least deserving of any admiration, support or sympathy. I agree with Senators who said that these people's conviction for manslaughter did not reflect in any way the gravity of the offences they committed. Their sentences reflected the gravity of another offence committed by those closely allied with them, namely the intimidation of witnesses to prevent the full facts from being expounded on the basis of admissible evidence before the Special Criminal Court. The court and the DPP conducted themselves in the face of such intimidation. The sentences which were imposed were quite long for a manslaughter conviction, but they were light when one considers the gravity of what happened in Adare in June 1996.
I say without equivocation and without speaking from both sides of my mouth that it is the fixed view of the Government that the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe should serve their entire sentences. There is no question of their early release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Suggestions that have been made publicly that there was such an agreement, or that there was a private agreement between the Taoiseach and Mr. Gerry Adams that would happen at a time when they had not even been convicted of any crime are wholly untrue and unreliable. I am saddened to hear some Senators ask who we should believe in these circumstances when one of the parties to the conservation that is alleged to have taken place is somebody in whose veracity Senators have absolutely no belief. The public at large has very little belief in their veracity either, bearing in mind the continual denials by that party that he was ever a member of the IRA.
The Sinn Féin-IRA movement has been guilty of wholesale duplicity over this matter from the word go. It denied that any of its members were involved in the atrocity at Adare and sent out their political spokesmen who said they accepted the denials as being true. Having had conversations recently with some of the people who were involved in the investigation, I understand those denials were made so trenchantly at the time that they put the Garda Síochána on a false trail for a short period. The gardaí did not believe that anyone could have the brazen effrontery to make such a radical denial in circumstances which transpired later to be completely mendacious.
Ever since then the Sinn Féin movement has been pressing the Government to release those men ahead of time. That movement has been claiming, wrongly, that it had an agreement that they were comprehended within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. For its part, the Government has said at all times, both then and since, that they were never so comprehended. I have spoken to officials in my Department who were present in Castle Buildings in Belfast at that time, and they are adamant that it was made clear to everybody who would listen that there was no question of their inclusion in that agreement. When it comes to questions of credibility and veracity, therefore, there can be no doubt that they were never comprehended within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and they will never be released on foot of that Agreement. Let it be clearly understood that they will never be released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in any circumstances whatsoever.
As Senators have remarked, it is now ten years since the IRA ceasefire first came into effect, and six years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement by some of the parties in Castle Buildings in 1998. At this stage, it should be understood that the main obstacle to the full implementation of the Agreement has been the resolute, determined refusal by the provisional movement to deliver on its side of the bargain. Manufactured and specious issues constantly cloud the scene when the full implementation of that Agreement requires a number of simple things, one of which is a total and radical transformation of the situation in Northern Ireland in which members of the provisional movement move unambiguously, irreversibly and without equivocation from their role as the underpinnings of paramilitarism to exclusively peaceful and democratic politics.
Sinn Féin has engaged in a massive campaign of deception and propaganda. It has sought to create the illusion that it is a party, independent of the IRA, that acts as a broker between the IRA and political establishments North and South, and whose job it is to try to persuade the IRA that the circumstances have come in which to end the paramilitary campaign. Sinn Féin has sought to create the illusion that it is somehow distant from the IRA, independent of it and — as Gerry Adams attempted to beguile the Irish people into believing yesterday and today — that the party is governed by its annual conference and nothing else. Unfortunately, that is a radical and profound untruth.
While some aspects of my recent remarks in Limerick did not receive adequate attention, I sought to bring to public view material which was found in possession of the provisional movement. It states clearly the actual relationship between Sinn Féin and the IRA. These documents show that provisional IRA volunteers are required to believe the following:
That the provisional army council and its successors are the inheritors of the First and Second Dáil as a provisional government of the Irish Republic . . . this ethical fact should and must give moral strength to all volunteers and [note my words now] all members of every branch of the republican movement. The IRA — its leadership — is the lawful government of the Irish Republic. All other parliaments or assemblies claiming the right to speak for or to pass laws on behalf of the Irish people, are illegal assemblies, puppet governments of a foreign power and willing tools of occupying forces.
The text continues by stating that:
Volunteers must firmly believe, without doubt and without reservation, that, as members of the IRA, all orders issued by the army authority and all actions directed by the army authority are the legal orders and lawful actions of the government of the Irish Republic. This is one of the most important mainstays of the republican movement [which, as we heard earlier, includes Sinn Féin and all its branches] — the firm belief that all operations and actions directed by the army are, in effect, the lawful acts and legal actions of the government of all the Irish people.
Shortly after my own interview on radio yesterday, I heard Mr. Adams equivocating, wheeling around and trying to avoid the issue, but I challenge him to deny that that is his belief and the belief of all members of the republican movement, whatever part they play in either branch of that movement. It is a central tenet of Sinn Féin and the IRA that the IRA army council is the legitimate government of the Irish Republic, and that all its orders and decisions are lawful acts taken on behalf of the Irish people.
The significance of all that is that it radically defines the function of Sinn Féin as a political party. It is not an independent party, it is a party that operates on the supposition that there is an authority superior to it — part of the same movement it forms — which speaks with a legitimacy and lawful authority that is coercive and which all volunteers must accept as a fundamental and "ethical fact", as they term it. The consequence of that is that no member of Sinn Féin ever criticises the IRA. None of them has ever uttered one word of criticism of the IRA. None of them has ever condemned any action known to have been taken by the IRA. None of them has ever, on any occasion, challenged the IRA about any of its actions, nor in public have they distanced themselves from, or in any way repudiated, any action of the IRA. That is not just simply a matter of taste or political perspective; it is because the fundamental rule of the republican movement is that all its branches are subject to the authority of the IRA. As long as members of the provisional movement believe that to be the case, it follows that they cannot pose in politics as an independent political party. They cannot ask the rest of the community to accept them as a party which is free and engaging in exclusively democratic and peaceful means because in the last analysis they are not free. As long as they are shackled to this ideological view, there is an immovable impediment to their being involved in the institutions of government North or South. As long as that is their structure and that chain of authority exists within the provisional movement, there is an immovable impediment to their participating on the basis of ordinary democratic constitutional politics.
If we get to the stage where paramilitarism in Ireland ends, to the point where the army council of the IRA no longer holds sway over the provisional movement, and all the apparatus, structures and ideology of the provisional movement are transformed so that the IRA agrees to be part of the past, and the red line is drawn across the page book of history; if we get to the point where that can be done, and paramilitarism can end, with firearms put away or destroyed, dumped or buried in concrete — their disposal is a matter of indifference to me — and there is no more organised IRA criminality of any kind; and if the punishment beatings, torturings, exilings, attempted murders and incidents like those involving Bobby Toal are irreversibly and manifestly history, this country will have taken a massive step forward.
Despite anticipating taunts of hypocrisy, or a lack of credibility, it would be easy for me to leave the problem to others and not to even discuss how we might get to the desired situation. It would be easy for me to reside in a realm of moral purity in which instead of undertaking my duty as someone who passionately believes in democratic constitutional politics, I would forget all this and say no progress can be made. I could say I would not talk to anyone, did not want to hear about anything and would tell the IRA to return to me when it had wound up and decided to surrender. It would be easy for the Taoiseach to take that attitude too.
The hand of history, however, is on the shoulders of politicians and it demands of the elected members of our Government that they make efforts to get us from our current unacceptable position to one where this country, North and South, is freed from paramilitarism in its entirety. The hand of history on one's shoulder makes it clear to anyone who bears the responsibility of elected office in a society such as ours that one cannot simply say one will abdicate from the fulfilment and act of completion of the Good Friday Agreement. The potential for good is so huge, the potential to transform the lives, attitudes and the entire future of this island so big, that one cannot simply say one will have nothing to do with the peace process.
The Government has acted honourably and truthfully in all its dealings in these matters. I urge Members of this House and any other forum not to assume they know in its entirety what was being discussed in the past, or that they can draw judgments about the appropriateness of where the Government stood or did not stand at the time. As I said in Limerick recently, it was our understanding in April 2003, on the morning we went to meet President Bush and Prime Minister Blair in Hillsborough Castle, that sufficient time had been given to the provisional movement to organise executive and army conventions to bring about the end of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland. That was our understanding, and when walking up the path to Hillsborough Castle it became apparent to us for the first time that we had been massively shortchanged.
The Government is indefatigable in its pursuit of the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and is unafraid of rolling up its sleeves to work out what that fulfilment involves and how it can be brought about. Neither I nor any member of the Government will participate in a process whereby the release of these men is made into some appetiser or inducement to others to bring themselves to the point where they will then be in a position to shortchange us again. The Government is clear that this will not happen.
The Government's amendment encapsulates exactly where the Government stands, without equivocation. In very generous, and if I may use the phrase statesmanlike, words of a retired member of the Garda Síochána, Garda Ben O'Sullivan, if there was a case of going from one situation to a wholly different one, he would not, in particular circumstances, stand in the way of what was proposed.
I thank in particular the family of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe for its dignity and for the words the family members spoke in recent days. It has not been easy for them, thrown as they were into the centre of this maelstrom. They have said that they trust the Irish Government, and they are right to do so. Their trust will not be misplaced or abused. Anyone who considers these events must however realise that upholding our Constitution, the rule of law, the Garda Síochána and the democratic principles by which we all stand lies at the centre of the Government strategy, and that these elements are not expendable in pursuit of any accommodation with anybody in this country.
Among other evasions and obfuscations made recently by Mr. Gerry Adams, he challenged me in his eloquent and sweet words to put up or shut up regarding provisional criminality. It would of course suit the provisional movement if I were to disclose in public all I know about everything that movement is doing. People like Mr. Adams would feel well satisfied if by using the taunt "put up or shut up" they found out what the Irish Government knew in detail about what they were doing.
When I say that the Provisional IRA is involved in ongoing massive criminality North and South, I have spoken nothing but the unvarnished truth. Just as the provisional movement, in order to procure its ends, unleashed intimidation on a major scale after the killing of Jerry McCabe and the trial that followed, intimidation that has never been condemned by any member of Sinn Féin, it also uses intimidation to frighten its accomplices in crime within this State. The provisionals use physical intimidation and have shot a number of people in the legs. They have used moral intimidation to bring about a reign of fear, so that those who do their bidding in their massive stolen goods trade and in other criminal pursuits for profit, will never reveal what they know or act in a way which would assist a prosecution. That is the reality of which all senior provisional figures are aware. These high ranking officials of the provisional movement, if I can dignify them with that term, orchestrate this crime, step in when anything goes wrong and immediately act as the Mr. Fix Its making sure the criminality is allowed to proceed uninterrupted and unimpeded. Those people rub shoulders with household names in the Sinn Féin movement day in, day out, and let nobody be under any illusion about that.
If the challenge is put to me to put up or shut up, I will not make the elementary mistake of simply revealing Garda and Army intelligence to the provisional movement but will say on my honour as a democratically elected representative that every word I have spoken is true and that the majority of things said in response have been manifestly and deliberately false.
Crime is a huge business for the IRA. A House of Commons committee estimated that, through fuel laundering, cigarette smuggling and other activities, it was in receipt of £12 million sterling per annum.
This is going on in our society and I will not be silenced on it. The people must know what is going on because those moneys are not being accumulated for some international charity; they are being used for the purposes of the entire provisional movement. This is self-evident to anybody who wants to inquire into it.
We face a challenge to our republican values and to our democratic system. That challenge comes in large measure, but not exclusively, from the provisional movement which is now confronted with a historic choice. If it attempts to go on as before, it will run into the resolute, determined and complete opposition of those who hold democratic office in this country. Alternatively, after the twin towers attack and 11 March in Madrid, it has the choice to say there is no way it can hold the threat of going back to war — its famous phrase — over the free people of this island. That is not an option and, therefore, it is now confronted with the moment of truth. Does it adhere to the ideology I mentioned, does it adhere to the racketeering, criminality and so on or does it make this quantum leap from all of that into democracy? I have no confidence the choice will be made for the latter option but if it is, I will generously respond, as will the people. If it is not, the war of attrition of words will be won by those who stand up for democracy. There was a time when constructive ambiguity was required to move the situation from where it was to where it is now.
We are now beyond that point. Ambiguity is now unambiguously destructive on the question of paramilitarism and the relationship between the IRA and Sinn Féin. As we have reached the point where all ambiguity is now destructive and fundamentally corrosive of democratic values, the moment of truth has come for the provisional movement to make its choice. Whichever way it makes its choice, we will meet it head on. We will meet it head on if it continues with paramilitarism. Alternatively, we will meet it head on and generously if it makes this quantum leap from paramilitarism to constitutional democracy.
The attitude exemplified by Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan is the true attitude which the people should carefully read, study and take on board. Contrary to what has been stated or implied, I will never, as Minister for Justice, Equality or Law Reform, nor have I ever intended to, take any steps in regard to the Castlerea prisoners without first personally speaking to the widow of Jerry McCabe, Mrs. Anne McCabe, and to Ben O'Sullivan. If and when the happy time arrives that paramilitarism ends, that would be the happiest journey I could possibly make. However, until that time arrives, I will not in any way compromise my office, the Garda Síochána or the principles of Irish republican constitutionalism.
I was most impressed by nearly all of what the Minister had to say. I heard him yesterday on "Morning Ireland" when he went as far as anybody in a position of great authority to say that Gerry Adams and others like him were still and had been members of the IRA. The scenario he painted today was depressing, although I am not sure I share his ultimate conclusions. What the Minister is saying is that it is up to the IRA or what he generously terms the "provisional movement" or the "republican movement" to decide its future. That is merely a euphemism for the armed movement which we have come to know as Sinn Féin, the IRA or whatever we want to call it. What he is really saying is that it is a moment of truth for it — democracy or the gun. I wish I believed that because I have heard this from the mouths of others for ten years since the ceasefire.
The provisionals had the choice of democracy or the gun for the past ten years and have taken the same decision each time. They have taken both roads and they have been successful in taking the choice of democracy and of the gun. They have managed through tomfoolery and deceit to fool people into believing they believe in democracy while at the same time holding on to their guns. Not very long ago I saw a sight in the other House which did not fill me with any great pleasure, namely Mr. Gerry Adams sitting in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. If the Minister is right, Mr. Adams is the man who holds sway over the Members of the Dáil by being a member of the army council and not through any democratic means. That is what we are dealing with.
We are dealing with something else here. We are dealing with Members of the Dáil who are elected — there is no denying that — but who are controlled by people who not only do not believe in democracy, but who believe in killing people. This is a different debate from the almost trivial debates we have here — the minor debates on matters which are not so important, and I include finance, health and so on in that. This is about people who believe in murdering others for political means and who are tolerated. There is a growing toleration which is symbolised in the suggestion that we should release the killers of Garda McCabe. We have reached the stage where we are saying "All these guys will get out sooner or later". There is a contradiction in many of our thoughts on this matter, and I see it in the Government amendment to this motion. The Minister is courageous and sincere in what he says, but the Government amendment is extraordinary in its blatant contradiction and doublethink. I am not entering into semantics, since it sticks out a mile. It states:
. . . notes and approves the stated position of the Government that the persons convicted of the brutal killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe will serve in full the sentences imposed on them by the courts and notes the Government's clearly stated position that there will be no possibility of their early release other than in the context of a definitive ending of the Northern conflict including an end to all forms of paramilitarism by the IRA.
It is a blatant contradiction. Either they will serve their fixed terms or not; one cannot have it both ways. I know what is being said by the Minister. He is saying that, if they lay down their arms once and for all, the Government will let them out.
We are being subjected to a process of softening up before they are let out. I know in my bones that that is on the agenda. It has nothing to do with the Good Friday Agreement. It has to do with what they call the "final settlement", which will be agreed by the provos like they have agreed everything else. Every time they agree to lay down their arms, they have a minor explosion which keeps the process going, keeps them getting elected to the Dáil and Stormont and maintains them as a tolerated military organisation. All those in this country who have negotiated with them in the past ten years have known perfectly well that they were negotiating with people holding guns to their heads.
The Minister knows that, and says it himself. He is negotiating with people with guns in the cupboard, who are gunmen themselves and, at the same time, control many other gunmen. He is saying that, if they let all their arms go and the conflict ends completely and verifiably — I am using all the jargon which has been used before and has not convinced anyone or achieved anything — the Government will release the killers. We should not say that in public. We should say what the Minister was saying yesterday, with such immense conviction and scoring so many telling points against Mr. Adams. My interpretation was that he was saying that Mr. Adams was still a member of the IRA army council. Nowhere is it more apparent that such doublethink is going on.
Let me move on to the issue of releasing the people in question. I happen to have some constituents in Northern Ireland, some of whom are Nationalist and some of whom are Unionist; I suppose they are balanced. The most bitter pill the Unionist population had to swallow in the Good Friday Agreement was the release of the prisoners. That was what they found so difficult, as everyone knows. The RUC widows and others felt quite rightly that those guys were getting away with something under the guise of the other side laying down their arms, which they never did.
I do not know what their response will be if we refuse to release Detective Garda McCabe's killers. Perhaps they will say that we were not prepared to make the same sacrifices they were. However, I am very doubtful whether it was the right decision in the first place to let those killers out in the North. It gives a weapon to the Provisional IRA, and the people on the other side were let out too.
I find it difficult to know what way to vote tonight, since I know that utterly sincere views are held on both sides. There is an almost unanswerable case for not letting those people out because of the signal of weakness that it sends to Mr. Adams and other members of the IRA army council. It is saying to them that if they keep going, those guys will get out. It is part of the nudge and wink approach and gives them hope that they may hold onto their arms for ever. However, I also see great virtue in saying that, if there is final solution, great sacrifices will have to be made by all sides. There is no answer to this problem, and I deeply regret that it has come to a divisive debate of this sort in this House. We should take what the Minister has said to heart, expressing a great degree of confidence in the fact that he has the courage to say in public that members of the Provisional IRA are operating as criminals in this country and that he is prepared to confront them.
It is time that members of the army council of the Provisional IRA were named and outed and that we got to know who they are. It would be an enormous shock to the general public if they were named and exposed as liars. It is an extraordinarily sobering fact that the most popular political leader in this country also appears to be a member of the IRA army council, not only condoning the killing of people in Northern Ireland but representing the killers of one of our gardaí.
I have already moved the amendment. Most of what is being said on all sides of the House tonight, particularly by the Minister, every reasonable and moderate person on the island would subscribe to. The point was made by the motion's proposer that the Garda is an unarmed force which has given this country tremendous service. Armed or unarmed, it certainly deserves 100% support from the Government and the Oireachtas. Anything that might in any way impinge on that requires very careful and measured consideration.
Many of us had great difficulty with the Good Friday Agreement. However, it was supported by a majority of the people on this island, and as democrats we must accept the outcome. Apart from the ceasefire, which I would not understate as a significant step forward, there has not been the progress envisaged by all the people who supported those proposals through the referendum, North and South.
It must be credited to the authors of the Agreement and those who worked extremely hard to achieve it that it was not done easily. Ten years ago, Albert Reynolds invested tremendous energy and political courage in bringing matters to that stage, and that must be acknowledged. When he left Government, that was lost, and we reverted to where we had been. The Bertie Ahern Government made tremendous and successful strides to put matters back together. It is certainly a prize which most reasonable people would have wanted. It achieved significant improvements in the political and social environment in Ireland, not least between North and South.
Not everything is the fault of Sinn Féin or the IRA. Failure on demilitarisation is certainly something that has not assisted the process. Decommissioning and the umpteen attempts certainly did not help. That also gave rise to apprehensions within the Unionist community, which in turn undermined the structures being put in place because they were not being supported. I was recently struck by a discussion I had with an elected representative of the DUP, who readily acknowledged to me when talking about paramilitarism that they had not been as vocal as they should in condemning that of the loyalist groups, which have had far greater levels of activity since the Agreement than was the case before.
Politicians of all shades must condemn all elements of paramilitarism. Tonight we are condemning IRA activities, and that is right. Presently I will explain some of the other reasons we should be doing so, which may not have been mentioned. It is also fair that it be done in a balanced way so that all those involved in paramilitarism are aware that society, their Governments and particularly their elected representatives on all sides will not countenance, support or condone it, and will take every measure to prevent and stop it.
Going beyond paramilitarism, the Minister referred to criminal activity. I take one example from my own constituency. Apparently in the run-up to the last election when Sinn Féin had selected its candidates, within that party in Wexford there was a strong body of opposition because of alleged activities in the drug trade. It was kept quiet and only came to light in the recent past when a Circuit Court case was taken involving a former member of Sinn Féin who had been beaten and intimidated by another member. He sued that member and Sinn Féin headquarters and was awarded €17,000 compensation for his wife and himself because of the intimidation. I asked publicly for Sinn Féin to clarify the position. The news broke prior to the party's Ard-Fheis and a statement was issued by the chairman of the party accusing Fianna Fáil of infiltrating Sinn Féin and spying on it and asserting that this was the cause of the difficulties. I wish we had that level of ingenuity within Fianna Fáil in Wexford. Unfortunately, we do not. We use more transparent means of pursuing our political activities.
I asked Sinn Féin to clarify whether these serious allegations had been investigated by the party and, if so, by whom, the modus operandi used and whether such serious allegations were brought to the attention of the Garda. To date Sinn Féin has failed to answer. At this stage of the game, smokescreens by way of allegations about infiltrating and spying on Sinn Féin are not acceptable. We have a right to demand far greater responsibility from a party which is getting considerable support, North and South. The party has a right to put its case and policies before the public and to seek support. However, it does not have a right to continue with its links and involvement in criminal activity.
Attempts are being made to secure what are called "acts of completion". One would wish well to all those involved in that area, including the Taoiseach and the Minister. I speak from the perspective of one who has a lifetime commitment to the emergence of a united Ireland. I have been a strong critical voice for continuing British policy in this country. We have suffered much over the years and they have never acknowledged this or in any way apologised for it. With that, I now see Sinn Féin as an obstacle to the achievement of a united Ireland. That affects my view of what the party is doing and the activities in which it engages. I say that in the context of my contacts with people in Northern Ireland, many of them elected on both sides of the divide. The posturing and the triumphalism that is in evidence is alienating and polarising political opinion. Ultimately, I would have hoped that in 1998 the historic Belfast Agreement would have laid the foundations for at least better working relations with people in Northern Ireland, who are all Irish people. I hold the view that Unionists and Nationalists in the North will remain forever second class citizens within a British sphere of governance. They can become first class citizens in an Ireland of some shape where we work together in the interests of all the people.
In the run-up to the Northern Ireland Assembly elections I was alarmed at the findings of an opinion poll undertaken by the Belfast Telegraph. It showed that five years after the Agreement was signed, 97% of Protestants still supported the union while only 2% were in favour of a united Ireland. Some 27% of Catholics supported the union while only 56% supported a united Ireland. Those are astonishing statistics. While it is only an opinion poll and may be incorrect, and even allowing for a large margin of error, it shows what needs to be done if we are to persuade moderate opinion to think differently than in the past.
The early release of prisoners should have been linked to decommissioning. It is easy for me to say that because at the time, in 1998, agreement was difficult. This relates to one aspect of the motion with which I disagree. It fails to acknowledge the difficulties which Unionist families who had members serving in the North's security forces who were killed, had to contend with in accepting the Agreement. This aspect is reflected in the amendment but not in the motion, which gives no recognition to that. A former chairman of Down District Council and a member of the Ulster Unionist Party visited New Ross on the occasion of the twinning of Wexford town with Newcastle. He said that his vision for the twinning was that the children of New Ross would visit children in Northern Ireland, in Newcastle, and that children from that area would in turn stay with the New Ross children thereby becoming friends. He went on to make the key point that this would help to ensure they did not make the mistakes that we have made.
I met him subsequently when a close relative of his who was in the RUC was killed by the IRA. It was sad to see that a man of such moderate views who was looking to the future of Ireland, could be put in that position, and the damage that this did. As regards the release of the people who murdered Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, they were convicted of manslaughter. They could, in other circumstances, have received a prison term of 40 years. It is fair to say if they are released after 14 years, there will have been an element of leniency.
It is important to bring an end to the atrocities. I am glad the Minister said that only in circumstances where it can be verified will he approach the families of those who were the victims of that terrible day to discuss the issue with them. When the day comes there should be no fudge. When it happens — we all look forward to it — perhaps there should be a period of 12 months to allow complete verification of total cessation of involvement in any kind of criminal or paramilitary activity and a stepping down of the IRA, as the basis for such a conclusion.
The Minister has said the hand of history is resting on politicians. I know that simile was used before but it is correct. It is important, with the hand of history resting on people, that we are not seduced into becoming unwilling participants in the subversion of the State. That is something we need to measure and be cautious about.
The last remark by Senator Jim Walsh is a good place from which to start. He mentioned, as did many speakers, the Good Friday Agreement. There was a great sense of hope and optimism when it was signed. The extent to which it was supported, particularly in this part of the country, was an indication of how much the wider community felt on the issue. People want to move on from an era of bloodshed and division into a period of constitutional politics and democracy, to a point where the killing is left behind. and where at least we are united in terms of hearts and minds if not allegiance. We are a long way from getting rid of the Border, if that is the stated ambition.
However, there is a strong sense among people, particularly in recent months, that we are being used in a duplicitous fashion. Public reaction to any notice of the release of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe's killers is indicative of how strongly people feel on the issue. In negotiations there is a line beyond which one cannot go. While the Taoiseach rightly says that we want to see the end of paramilitarism and must move towards that goal, one can give too much away. There are times when one must hold the line. It is difficult to accept what is happening in the democratic process leading to the local and European elections as Sinn Féin parades around like a democratic constitutional party. The party has Members in the other House. It takes on the trappings, but not the responsibility, of democracy. Until it does so with the end of paramilitarism, as the Minister rightly said, we are in a very strange situation whereby we have within our political and constitutional establishment a party which does not fully subscribe to the Constitution. The Minister has been vociferous in putting it up to Sinn Féin. We must do likewise and must ask the public to do so too.
Not necessarily. Does Sinn Féin uphold the Constitution? The Minister referred to a destructive ambiguity. The spokespersons for Sinn Féin utter the greatest ambiguity of all and abuse the English language in an attempt to go down two sides of the road at the same time. When will we be honest enough to say that we have come out of a history of paramilitarism, that there are parties with that background but we can move on from that? "We" is appropriate because Sinn Féin and the IRA are part of this nation. They are people we know in our communities, there is no separation between them and us. We may like to think that we are separate but Sinn Féin-IRA members are in our communities. I do not know how to put it up to them but the time has come to do so. The Minister is doing so but should not go too far and create a demonising effect which generates a sense of victimhood. There is no one better at playing the victim than Sinn Féin, as we have seen.
The Minister should not give them too much ammunition on that front. Let us have an honest, open and upfront debate. I am glad to hear the Minister say that ambiguity now is destructive. The ambiguity of the past was not always constructive. I am an optimist and believe it is good to have Sinn Féin involved in the democratic process, standing for election like everyone else in the constitutional tent but it does not come all the way in. It keeps one foot outside and one inside and there are times when we feel that it is making fools of us all. We must hold the line on this issue.
Let us remind ourselves of what happened in Adare; it was a post office robbery. To dress it up as anything more than criminal thuggery is more than ambiguity. An unarmed garda was shot and murdered and another almost killed. The continued public outrage is not surprising because it was an attack on the foundation of the State. Let us never forget what it was or dress it up as anything else. I am glad there is such a sense of public outrage at the notion that the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe would be released because it would be a step too far and would be giving away too much. The Taoiseach may have pushed out the boat a little to test the waters. One never knows what exactly he is up to, he is such a wily operator.
Maybe the Taoiseach has received his answer and perhaps it is the one he wanted and the message he wanted was sent. We will probably never know. It would be a trade-off too far and would be unacceptable and the Minister has made it clear that it is not going to happen.
I echo previous speakers in welcoming the Minister to the House this evening for this important debate and I congratulate him on his recent speech, The Challenge to our Republican Values. I am sorry that it was not published in full by our newspapers. I encourage Members and the public to read it because it is a history lesson which all Irish people should take on board and study very carefully.
Moving on to the motion before us this evening I do not apologise for statements I have made in the past, inside and outside this House, on my views with regard to the killing of Jerry McCabe and my views of Sinn Féin and the IRA. I come from a somewhat different position from other Members because I was a member of the Defence Forces for 21 years during which I spent much time in the late 1970s and the 1980s, travelling between Portlaoise Prison and the Special Criminal Court. I also spent time on the Border and travelling from there to the Special Criminal Court. I do not apologise for having an affiliation and a bond with my colleagues who wore the uniforms of this State or for having been a commissioned officer in its one legitimate Army. I do not, never have nor will recognise the legitimacy of any alternative army.
Tonight's motion raises several questions. The Government has a responsibility to negotiate but those of us speaking on the motion do so from a limited knowledge. We do not have the security briefings or intelligence information that people in the office of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or in Cabinet may have. Likewise the Minister must accept that we are speaking from the knowledge that is available to us, whereas he is speaking with greater knowledge. The atrocity in Adare on 7 June 1996 was not caused by a stray bullet. One cannot qualify a death by the number of bullets used. Whether it is one bullet or 14, the man is dead in the eyes of his family and colleagues. There are very precise rules of engagement with firearms and in shooting that are honoured and respected by those who carry weapons. To walk up behind a police car and unleash a volley from a Kalashnikov set to automatic defies all rules of engagement. That is massacre; it is indiscriminate shooting. This was not a ricochet, a loose bullet or a return of fire. The IRA statement on the day was that none of its volunteers or units was in any way involved in the incident in Adare, that there was absolutely no IRA involvement. Mr. Adams denounced the killing of Jerry McCabe as totally and absolutely wrong. He indignantly attacked those who sought to link Sinn Féin to the killing. Two days later, the IRA admitted responsibility. Having done so, it then set about undermining the justice system in the State by intimidating witnesses. One witness served 18 months in prison for contempt of court rather than give evidence. We should not forget this.
I have a difficulty with the fact that Pearse McAuley, who was involved in this incident, was only 12 months out of Portlaoise Prison at the time. Those involved have shown absolutely no remorse for their actions on that day. One of the first steps in reconciliation is a show of remorse. What we have is the glorification of the act and the manufacturing of bodhráns signed by the McCabe killers for export to the United States. Sinn Féin Members of the Oireachtas have posed with the killers for photographs.
Let us clarify a couple of things. An act of regret or some form of recognition for an act of wrongdoing might in some way lighten my tone when I refer to these killers. In recent days we have seen a game of words played out. I fully accept the sincerity of the Minister and the Government. I also accept that their responsibility is greater than ours in moving the peace process forward. I am heartened by the Minister's words. Every time the subject comes up it is a further stabbing at the McCabe family, especially Jerry McCabe's widow. I regret that, as do the Irish people.
It has been stated in the House, and successive Ministers have repeated it, that the release of the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe does not come under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. That is fine, but the interpretation of the Irish people is far greater than merely not qualifying under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement — it is a clear and unequivocal understanding that they do not qualify whatsoever for release.
I could speak on this subject for another 25 minutes but I only have a minute remaining. I wish I had the same latitude as applied to the Minister. When we talk about an end to paramilitarism, like previous speakers, I want a clear verification process. I do not accept that they have any intention of giving it up. I am sorry to say that, but it is my firm belief. I have never believed it is more true that their approach is to have an armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other. That is the game they are playing and is the greatest deception we have ever had in the State. I congratulate the Minister on standing up to these people. The phrase that comes to mind is "give up yer auld sins" of CD and DVD fame. We will meet them half way, but they must be honourable in their intent and stop fooling the people and the Government and leading us a merry dance. Criminal activity is taking place and they have no intention of giving it up. Let us be serious and not play games with the killers and family of Jerry McCabe.
I welcome the Minister and the forthright manner in which he elaborated on the republican movement and those involved therein. It has always been my belief that Sinn Féin and the IRA were inextricably linked and that the republican movement is involved in corruption and racketeering, and continues to be involved in punishment beatings.
We, on this side of the House, have no wish to play politics with the issue, irrespective of what the Minister may think. It is our duty as an Opposition to get clear answers to questions put in the public domain. I looked at my party's policy from more than 30 years ago when the Minister was, perhaps, a party member. It spelled out that our policy was the reunification of the country by peaceful means and with the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland. They were the principles under which I joined Fine Gael and they are still our principles. I am glad they form part of the Good Friday Agreement.
When capital punishment was abolished, a cast-iron guarantee was given that anyone convicted of the murder of a member of the Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces would serve his or her full sentence. That was the least the Government of the day or the public expected. Like Senator Minihan, I believe the attitude of the public has remained constant on this important issue. The gardaí, guardians of the peace, have put their lives on the line through turbulent times since the foundation of the State. They have faced down these so-called republican activists who pose a threat to the very existence of the State and its institutions. We continue to owe a deep debt of gratitude to the members of the force for their dedication and bravery in confronting these violent criminals who, according to the information given by the Minister, do not even recognise our courts or the existence of the State and its institutions. The Minister's outline of IRA beliefs concurs with my understanding of the IRA and the republican movement. It is incumbent on us as legislators to have strong deterrents in place which will make criminals think long and hard before they shoot with intent to injure or murder a member of the Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces. That such criminals should serve their full sentences is the least that members of the force or the community as a whole should expect from its legislators.
Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was gunned down in a ruthless, cold-blooded and calculated way by his killers. As has been stated by previous speakers, they only avoided 40 year sentences for capital murder because of the intimidation of witnesses. It is important that the public, especially teenagers who probably do not know anything about this matter, should be informed about the republican movement and what these killers did to people who were protecting us.
As other speakers said, the Provisional IRA and the Sinn Féin leadership stated immediately after the murder that they had no involvement in the killing. A few days later they sought, and continue to seek, the release of these murderers as part of the Good Friday Agreement. Only yesterday we had a challenge from Gerry Adams who stated that in a one to one discussion with the Taoiseach it was said that these prisoners would be allowed release under the Good Friday Agreement. The Taoiseach has continually stated that these prisoners will not be released under the Good Friday Agreement. The Minister reiterated that this evening. I would believe democratic politicians before I would believe the leadership of the so-called republican movement.
It is worrying for Mrs. McCabe and members of the Garda to hear about proposals for deals being made to free the killers of Jerry McCabe if certain eventualities come to pass. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, in his letter in 1999 to Mrs. McCabe pledged that the IRA members responsible for gunning down her husband would serve their full prison sentences. This view is also held by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Dea, and many other members of the Government. In my view that letter was a legally binding contract between the Government and Mrs. McCabe. Reports in the public domain indicate that the two men still being sought by the Garda for Jerry McCabe's murder may be allowed to return home as part of a separate concession to terrorists. That point was raised by Senator Brian Hayes and I do not believe the Minister addressed it.
It was deeply disturbing to see reports in The Irish Times on 13 May about a British source stating that Britain always believed that a deal had been done last October between the Irish Government and Sinn Féin to release the murderers of Detective Garda McCabe. These kinds of reports are disturbing and they were embarrassing to the Government. The caused deep hurt to the McCabe family. We need to know exactly what was agreed at these meetings in October last. Will the IRA disband? Will the current violence and corruption end? These questions must be answered. We have waited long enough for normal constitutional democracy to prevail.
It is unfortunate that, despite all the efforts that have been made, all the infuriation and frustration endured and all the words spoken, five years after its completion, some aspects of the Good Friday Agreement have not yet been achieved. In the most recent negotiations, it became clear to the two Governments that they were unlikely to achieve full implementation unless some issues well outside the scope of the Good Friday Agreement were settled. Those issues remain outstanding. It was from this that the concept of acts of completion came to the fore. What was envisaged in that regard was nothing short of a definite settlement of the Northern Ireland issue involving, as one of its central planks, the complete and absolute end of paramilitary activity.
What emerged from the talks in 2003 was a complex set of understandings and agreements with which all parties to the Agreement were to engage. The parties came close to settling the issue at that time but, unfortunately, fell at the final hurdle. The Government is engaged in new negotiations to bring about a definite end to the situation in the North. However, there appear to be a few additional ingredients being brought to the table which might, in some way, create common ground. One can only hope that such common ground will be achieved in something that was missed in the previous negotiations. This might help bring forward some new resolution.
The elements involved are no secret. I refer here to stability of the inclusive institutions, the ending of paramilitarism in all its forms and the decommissioning of all illegally held arms. I use the word "illegally" because certain spokespersons who talk about the decommissioning of arms become caught up in the difference between what are legally and illegally held arms. Some arms are held legally in the North of Ireland, even though one element involved in the negotiations would lead us to believe that this is not the case. We must also deal with the areas of policing and human rights.
It is unhelpful in any negotiation if people seek to take one element of a deal, move it outside the only context in which it is relevant and try to make a case for it. The question of releasing the prisoners from Castlerea is a case in point. This matter is consistently raised by Sinn Féin. There is also the question of how to deal with those paramilitary crimes that were committed by people who are now on the run. How do we respond to this matter within the terms of the Agreement? The fact is that neither issue comes under the Good Friday Agreement. This was one of the main stumbling blocks in the previous negotiations. Sinn Féin made it clear at that stage that it could not convince the leadership of the IRA to make any kind of positive gesture unless the prisoners were released. Having listened to the Minister's comments earlier and those of Sinn Féin's spokesperson on "Questions and Answers", I wonder how hard that organisation tried to convince the IRA to make such a gesture.
The position of the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Government on this matter has been outlined in categorical terms and it is to the effect that unless and until complete assurances are given as to the end of paramilitarism and the completion of decommissioning, this matter will not even be contemplated. The Minister also stated earlier that, in the event of such a happy ending, he would be willing to go to see the most important people in this drama and explain his and the Government's position.
Successive Governments since the foundation of the State have tried to achieve what we are currently trying to achieve. There is no prospect of the restoration of the devolved arrangements or of the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in the absence of such a definite outcome.
Any decision the Government takes will come about in the context of this island being a better place in which to live. We would then be living in a new and historic situation which we would never before have enjoyed. The Taoiseach, the Minister and the Government should, if such a day arrives, be answerable to the people alone for whatever steps they were obliged to take in achieving that particular and desirable goal. They will not be judged by the media, in soundbite form, or by any jumped up journalist who may or may not know what he or she is talking about.
The Government has always made it clear that these prisoners will not be dealt with under the Good Friday Agreement. That has been reiterated on numerous occasions and the Minister reaffirmed it this evening. If one needed to inform oneself as to the bona fides of the Government, one would need only consider the stout defence it mounted when these prisoners went to the Supreme Court seeking to have themselves included under the Good Friday Agreement. Needless to say, the Government won its case.
Everyone in the House is of the opinion that these individuals should serve their sentences. No right thinking person would say otherwise. However, the Government is involved in complex discussions aimed at trying to bring about acts of completion on all sides and it must take account of what might, perhaps, be unpalatable actions in order to achieve its goals. If men can see their way, in the manner of that wonderful Garda Ben O'Sullivan, to the development of a situation where that may happen, the rest of us should find it in our hearts to look the same way.
Many good points have been made in this evening's excellent debate. The security of our State is the backbone of our democracy and when that security is threatened, we are all threatened. If we do not punish those people who threaten our security, we weaken our democracy. The crimes of the killers of Garda McCabe are unacceptable to every right-thinking person in the country. Not many years ago this killing would have been a hanging offence, but the killers have only received the punishment for manslaughter. Many people would consider their sentence very short.
These people were members of an illegal organisation which, as the Minister said today, continues massive criminal activity and intimidation North and South. Members of this illegal organisation are still at large. The Minister was asked why he cannot apprehend and lock up these people. I accept he is doing his best. We know this criminal activity is going on North and South and we cannot stop it. That is not good enough.
No matter what negotiations the Minister and the Government must enter into to ensure we have peace North and South, the majority of the people would find it unacceptable if the McCabe killing were used as a pawn in the process. It is unacceptable that members of an illegal organisation would use it as a tool to get what they want. If the release of these prisoners is the only outstanding issue, it is being used as a continuing excuse not to bring about the peace we all want and expected following the Good Friday Agreement. These people have only a short remaining period of their sentence to serve so let us not use the situation as a pawn.
The IRA and Sinn Féin have removed their balaclavas and donned pinstriped suits. Let us not be fooled by the facade.
I am grateful to Senator Terry for allowing me take part in this debate. I had not anticipated having the opportunity to speak this evening because I was attending the launch of the Bloomsday programme in the James Joyce Centre.
This is a serious matter. I commend the Minister for his clear and forthright statement on the matter. There was much fudging on the issue and this Minister has been clear and unambiguous. The situation is difficult. We are in the endgame of a horrible situation of conflict. Many people would think, perhaps correctly, that the release of the McCabe killers is a price worth paying for final peace. In my opinion it is only worthwhile if we really see the end of the IRA, the destruction of the arms and explosives and get a statement saying the war is over and the IRA is disbanded.
Many people from both sides in the North have suffered terribly. Outrages were committed by beasts from both sides. The families have been asked to accept that the book must be closed while they still experience traumatic loss. Most of them have accepted this with dignity. It is important that Mrs. McCabe is consulted and kept informed on these matters. That may not always have been done.
Some terrible killings have taken place in the North. One I had forgotten about was in the news again recently. It was the killing of two decent young men, friends from childhood, one a Roman Catholic and the other a member of the Church of Ireland. The Church of Ireland man was to be married and his Roman Catholic friend, in a lovely ecumenical gesture, was to be his best man. They were both slaughtered by Protestant thugs, yet those people are to be released.
Another case involved an IRA man called McGinn who openly rejoiced in the killing of British army personnel. An unfortunate off-duty RUC man entering a sweet shop to buy a packet of sweets for his girlfriend was blasted off the face of the earth by McGinn who later laughed in the court about it.
The other evening I switched on my television to watch Senator Ross, who unfortunately did not materialise, on "Questions and Answers". However, Mary Lou McDonald was there, as bold as brass and twice as unnatural. She had unspeakable gall. She was hoity-toity about torture in Iraq. What about the people who are belting hell out of people with——
It is a pity she is not, because I would say it to her face. We will erase her name; I wish I could. However, torture is still carried on in Northern Ireland.
The McCabe murder was murder. The killers got away with the charge of manslaughter because they intimidated the witnesses, which is a disgrace and should not be tolerated in this country. They pumped shots into the two gardaí while they were strapped into their car. I saw the reprinted photograph in the newspaper the other day. Those gardaí did not have any chance whatsoever. Imagine the thoughts in their minds as a brute approached and fired shot after shot at them to kill them. The IRA then lied and said the killers were not attached to it and that it was not an official action. Now, however, it claims them.
It is appropriate to ask a question which was asked very cogently by Vincent Browne on his programme the other evening. Is being a member of the IRA sufficient reason to get off any charge? The action that involved the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe was just a criminal act, a bank job to fund the pockets of the perpetrators. An excellent point of principle was made by Vincent Browne when he asked whether they would also have got off if they were found and convicted of paedophile rape. That is the question we ought to ask. Vincent Browne did the country a service by asking that question. It underlines the principle involved.
I thank the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for his timely statement in Limerick on Monday night. He left nobody in any doubt of where he and the Government stand with regard to Sinn Féin and the IRA. I come from Adare and what happened there in June 1996 was a brutal murder. Every time we walk through the village we are reminded of it.
I am delighted the Minister has said the killings have nothing to do with the Good Friday Agreement. We have trust and confidence in the Minister and how he will implement his statement. If we have a full cessation of violence, a sufficient period, which could be up to two years, should elapse before there is any implementation or any discussions on the element discussed here today. I wish the Minister well. I have listened carefully to all the speakers on this motion and urge Members to give full backing to the Minister to carry out the declarations outlined in his statement.
I thank all the contributors to this debate, including the Minister. It was an excellent debate. While we disagree on this issue, because it is a matter of strategy and of principle, all of the voices of constitutional politics in this House should be heard on this issue.
It is not and was never the intention of our group in putting forward this motion to divide the House on a spurious matter or to seek party-political advantage. However, we believe the Government's strategy on this is wrong. We have now reached the time when those parties connected with the republican movement must make a decision once and for all. By offering this carrot in the form of this amendment in the context of overall ending of paramilitarism, we are giving away a game we should not give away. I believed the Taoiseach when he gave that commitment in 1998. I do not believe Mr. Adams. The Minister posed that question. I do not believe Mr. Adams because I spoke privately to people who were in Capitol Buildings that night who told me that the IRA leadership came directly and asked the Government whether these people were included, and they were told "No". I believed the Taoiseach on that.
The dilemma is that the goalposts have been moved since 1998. The Government is wrong in putting forward this amendment, this final carrot in terms of the ending of paramilitarism. It is naive to view this group of killers as the only group remaining and to believe the IRA will go out of business, that all criminality will cease and that knee-capping will end. That is the group of people it denied in its first statement. The Minister knows better than I that a close family member of one of the people who is serving a sentence, a constituent of mine, was taken across the Border recently in South Armagh and shot in both knees.
The notion that the provos have great respect for the four people who are doing time in Castlerea is nonsense. It is naive to believe the world will be transformed if they are allowed out. I do not believe the world will change simply because these people are released from their prison sentences. That is the issue of strategy I suggest the Government has got badly wrong on this occasion. As the Minister knows, there is cross-party agreement on the Northern Ireland peace talks, but we disagree on this issue, and it is right that this disagreement be heard in public. One of the great dilemmas of this process is that it has been between executive and executive and has bypassed most of the parties in this House. For ten years we have put up with it. For ten years we have seen advances by the Provisional IRA as it continues to use bargaining chips along the way and make fools of us all.
The time has come for that to end. We must tell them we will not cross this Rubicon. If the Minister accepts the motion and takes the attitude with these people that our republic is strong, that we will not capitulate to every demand they put on the table, that after ten years we have had enough of them, he will be in a much stronger position in the end-game discussions to which colleagues have referred.
The Minister is well aware that 55 people in this State and 444 people in Northern Ireland were released under licence.
It was in Northern Ireland. If the Minister has evidence that any of the 55 people released in this State have been involved in the type of criminality that he has rightly put on the record of this House, I advise him to test it in the courts. These people have already got away with murder. It would be adding insult to injury if they were allowed to be involved in smuggling, racketeering and other forms of criminality. On that point I ask the Minister for greater clarification. If there is evidence, let the Minister have it tried in the courts, convict those people again and put them behind bars.
The Minister did not reply to my specific question about the two on the run who escaped prosecution eight years ago in Adare. Are these people part and parcel of one ultimate deal? They must face the charges, as the other men did, if they come back and are arrested in this State. We should never countenance in this State the notion that crimes can be simply expunged and put to one side. In the name and memory of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and other fine officers who have given their lives for this country, we should not allow terrorists to rewrite our history. On that basis, I will be calling a vote.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 30 (Eddie Bohan, Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, Brendan Daly, John Dardis, Timmy Dooley, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Michael Kitt, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Pat Moylan, David Norris, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Mary O'Rourke, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 14 (Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Joe McHugh, Kathleen O'Meara, John Paul Phelan, Shane Ross, Sheila Terry)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators U. Burke and Cummins.
Amendment declared carried.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 30 (Eddie Bohan, Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, Brendan Daly, John Dardis, Timmy Dooley, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Michael Kitt, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Pat Moylan, David Norris, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Mary O'Rourke, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 14 (Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Joe McHugh, Kathleen O'Meara, John Paul Phelan, Shane Ross, Sheila Terry)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators U. Burke and Ross.
Question declared carried.