Wednesday, 21 February 2018
I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and I thank him for his presence here. Thankfully, due to the efforts of many people, citizens can travel freely across the Border with Northern Ireland without having to be stopped at a military checkpoint. We certainly welcome that development and long may that continue. Unfortunately, it was not always the case. In 1988, one checkpoint had a reputation of being one of the most notorious checkpoints throughout the North. It was a very uncomfortable situation and experience for anybody who happened to cross at that point in Aughnacloy on the Tyrone-Monaghan Border. I can testify to that from personal experience.
Thirty years ago today a young County Tyrone man by the name of Aidan McAnespie, then 23 years of age, was shot shortly after walking through that British Army checkpoint there on his way to Aghaloo football grounds to play a football match. The 23 year old, who worked in County Monaghan, was well known and well respected in the area.
The anniversary, as the Minister can imagine, has brought renewed focus on the as yet unexplained circumstances of the loss of his young life. The members of Monaghan municipal district council have joined others in the chorus of calls appealing to the Irish Government to release the report into the killing of Aidan McAnespie by an 18 year old British soldier in February 1988. Manslaughter charges were brought against the soldier but were later dropped. He was fined shortly after that for negligent discharge of a weapon and allowed to return to duty. He was given a medical discharge from the British Army in 1990. The British Army later claimed that three shots were fired that morning after a general purpose machine gun which the soldier was holding slipped out of his hands which, we were told, were wet at the time. Mr. McAnespie was hit in the back by one of those stray bullets which, it was claimed, had ricocheted off a road a short distance behind him.
Before his death Mr. McAnespie complained and had claimed many times that he had been constantly harassed and threatened by British soldiers as he walked through that checkpoint. The Historical Enquiries Team concluded in 2008 that the soldier's explanation was the "least likely version" of events and in 2009 the British Government said it "deeply regretted" Mr. McAnespie’s death. In 2016, the then Attorney General, John Larkin, referred the case back to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and I understand it is still being considered.
The killing, as the Minister can imagine, caused widespread anger, and the Irish Government under the stewardship Charles J. Haughey appointed Deputy Garda Commissioner, Eugene Crowley, to investigate the killing. However, the findings of that report have never been made public.
The Irish Government has it within its power to hand over the Crowley report. It would be another step in getting the truth of what happened on that morning. There are many families, as the Minister well knows, from both communities who continue to wait for the truth. It is an injustice to stand in the way of that.
Aidan McAnespie's father, John, is now 82 years of age and in failing health. All he and his family are looking for is the truth of what happened on that February morning 30 years ago today. George Washington once said, "Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light." I call on the Minister here this morning to help bring the truth of this case to light by releasing the report at the earliest opportunity so that the family can have final closure as to what happened to Aidan on that morning in February 30 years ago today.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter of importance on what is the most poignant day, the 30th anniversary of the killing of Aidan McAnespie, a 24 year old man from County Tyrone who was fatally shot as he walked through the British Army checkpoint at Aughnacloy on this day on 21 February 1988. What happened on that day 30 years ago was a devastating tragedy for the McAnespie family and for the community in the Aughnacloy area. His death was needless. I am very conscious of the continued suffering of his family and the continued concern in the community.Given the widespread public disquiet at the death of Aidan McAnespie, the Government requested that an inquiry be carried out into the shooting and surrounding circumstances. The then deputy Garda commissioner, Eugene Crowley, was appointed to conduct this inquiry. However, many people in the local community expressed their fears to him as to their safety and security and co-operated only and explicitly on the basis of an assurance of absolute confidentiality and that what they related to Deputy Commissioner Crowley was for the Government only. This report was submitted to the Minister for Justice in April 1988. To release the entire contents of the Crowley report even at this stage, 30 years later, would be a breach of trust of the Irish Government to the parties involved.
I have recently arranged for further copies of the limited summary and the post mortem report prepared by Professor John Harbison to be provided to the McAnespie family through their legal representatives. Senators will appreciate that the Government has a persisting obligation to the commitment that was given to those people in the locality and elsewhere who co-operated with the inquiry. Under these circumstances, therefore, it is not considered possible to publish or further disseminate the report. It is a source of regret to me that this will inevitably be a disappointment to Aidan McAnespie’s family who suffer from his tragic loss to this very day. However, the fact is that I must have full regard to the expectations of the many people who contributed in good faith to the Crowley inquiry on the basis of an explicit guarantee of absolute confidentiality and to the persisting obligation that I have in that regard.
I thank the Minister for his response which, as he noted himself, will be a disappointment to the McAnespie family. As any parent knows, losing a child is unnatural and goes against the grain but to lose a child in circumstances such as those in which Aidan was lost must be heartbreaking. In addition to the life sentence that they are going through, not knowing the circumstances or the truth of what happened on that day only adds to their grief. With that in mind and noting the Minister's comments, would it be possible for him to facilitate a meeting with the McAnespie family at his earliest convenience? The Minister might be in a position to provide more details to the family, over and above what he has just said in the House, in a private setting so that the family can know exactly what happened on that fateful day 30 years ago.