Wednesday, 16 May 2018
European Court Decision: Motion
That Seanad Éireann supports the call from the victims of torture known as "the hooded men" for the Government to appeal the decision of the European Court of Human Rights of 20 March 2018 to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, and that the flawed decision of 1978 in relation to their case should not be allowed to stand.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I appreciate his time. I acknowledge that it is a busy time for the Government and while I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, I am disappointed, as I expect all those interested in this case will be, that the Government did not feel it appropriate to send a more senior Minister for this debate considering its significance.
I welcome Mr. Shannon to the House today. He is here on behalf of the group known as the hooded men, 14 in all, who were selected by the British and unionist governments for special attention. They were separated out and isolated from several hundred men who, like them, were arrested in swoops in the days and weeks after internment was introduced in the North in August 1971. That special attention led to these 14 men experiencing a horrendous period at a secret location, which we now know to be Ballykelly army barracks, where they were tortured by highly-trained members of the British Crown forces whose identity, despite the passage of 50 years, remains unknown to these 14 men. Their identity remains protected by the British Government on whose behalf they practised their nefarious deeds on these defenceless, captive men.
For almost 50 years, the hooded men have been on a mission for truth and justice for themselves, their families and for humanity itself. Four of the 14 men have died during this time and our solidarity and support is with their families today. The remainder continue on their quest for justice. It is a quest that began in August 1971, in a dark, despairing and dangerous dungeon where these men, individually and separately, were hooded, handcuffed to a radiator and systematically and ruthlessly interrogated beyond the point of exhaustion over a seven to ten day period. These vulnerable men were cruelly and grievously injured, physically and psychologically, by their captors. The full resources of the British state were used to try to crush the will of these 14 men. They were guinea pigs in a torture experiment which the British Government had used in other colonies and on other defenceless and captured prisoners.
The methods deployed on Irish citizens, the ABCs of torture, are still followed to this day throughout the world. The toolkit of the torturer was multi-layered. The first and most essential part of the torturers' tool kit was the knowledge that what he was doing had the approval of the British and unionist governments and that he had immunity from prosecution or accountability for his cruel behaviour.The second part was the knowledge that the torturer was trained in his dark arts by the British Ministry of Defence and was well paid for his service. The toolkit also included the torturer's menu - the infamous five techniques. These techniques, when combined, subjected the men to so-called "deep interrogation". These techniques were meticulously refined to have maximum impact on the helpless individual being experimented on. For the techniques to work effectively, however, the men had to be in a state of fear and uncertainty.
They were violently arrested from their homes by the British Crown forces. They were hooded and taken by helicopter to an unknown destination where silence and isolation reigned. They were stripped of their clothes and personal belongings and forced to wear a boiler suit and hood. As Mr. Francie McGuigan told us at the recent briefing here in Leinster House, at times they were stripped and photographed, with their torturers holding up their brutalised bodies by the hair - another form of so-called degrading treatment. That was just like in Guantanamo, in Abu Ghraib and in Palestine. The torturer's handbook is followed meticulously to this very day.
One of the most noted stories of torture endured by these men was when they were hooded. They were brought from the specially-designed torture chamber at Ballykelly to a helicopter and flown for a prolonged period but just four or five feet in the air. While hooded, they were thrown backwards out of the helicopter, thinking they were God knows how high up. The psychology behind all of this was to deprive the men of their normal everyday sensory experience of life. The boiler suit and the hood over their heads covered their naked bodies. They lived in their boiler suits for over a week and performed all bodily functions. The hood was only removed during interrogations. The five techniques included prolonged periods of standing against the wall with arms and legs spreadeagled - the so-called stress position. They were hooded day and night and were deprived of sleep by what the men described as a high pitched hissing noise. They was also deprived of food and drink.
During the recent briefing in Leinster House, we were told it was like the noise went in through one's head and then penetrated every sinew and muscle of the body. It went down into the lungs and came out through the toes. The men were repeatedly and viciously beaten about the head and had their genitals kicked. They were continuously threatened with death. The effect of this was prolonged pain, physical and mental exhaustion, severe anxiety, depression, hallucinations, disorientation and repeated loss of consciousness. Having listened to the men's story, I contest that not only were they subjected to torture over this period but so too were their families. These men were taken from their homes and their people. Their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and wives and girlfriends knew nothing of their whereabouts during the whole duration of their torture. Families were crippled with fear because they did not know where their loved ones had been taken. They went to hospitals. They even went to mortuaries. Their fathers pleaded with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, RUC. It said it did not have them. However, we know it had them. It had them in Ballykelly barracks.
All of this was done at a time when sectarian killings were rife and when young men were being lifted off the streets to meet the cruelest of ends. Imagine the worry for their families and the torture for their families when the very people who arrested them without trial were then telling their loved ones that they were gone and that they did not have them. What happened to them, ultimately, at the end of this prolonged period of torture? There was no wrap-around care, no after services and no counselling. They went into Long Kesh internment camp. They were arrested and held without trial or charge. The entirety and magnitude of all of these frightening ordeals continue to haunt these men to this very day. Most reasonable people know that what these men experienced was torture.
However, the reason Mr. Liam Shannon is with us today is because the European Court of Human Rights decided that the men were not in fact tortured. They are here because the court has a different threshold when defining torture than that which I have just described. Believe it or not, what I have just described is not torture according to the court. The court does, however, readily accept that what the men experienced was "inhumane and degrading treatment". We all agree on that. I, like many colleagues and most sensible people, am baffled as to the legal difference between torture and inhumane and degrading treatment. What is the difference? I do not believe there is any difference. Human rights organisations around the world do not believe there is a difference. The Irish State does not believe there is a difference and that is why it has taken Britain to the European courts twice since 1971.
In 1971, the Irish Government - on the men's behalf - took the British state to the European Human Rights Commission. The Commission unanimously found the British Government guilty of torturing the men. The British Government appealed that decision and in 1978, the European Court of Human Rights reversed the Commission's verdict and found the British Government guilty of inhuman and degrading treatment and not torture. Here we are today. Under international pressure, however, the British Government announced that it would never again use the five techniques on defenceless prisoners. In December 2014, following renewed efforts by the men and their families, the Irish Government again took the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights to seek to overturn the 1978 verdict on the basis of new facts. It sought to reinstate the European Human Rights Commission verdict of torture.
In March this year, the European Court of Human Rights upheld its 1978 decision that the British Government used inhuman and degrading treatment and not torture. I ask Members to support this motion calling on the Irish Government to appeal the decision earlier this year and to continue the good work the State began in 1971. Time is quickly running out to lodge this appeal. It is a straightforward matter and the Government should act swiftly. The men - and indeed society here in Ireland and across the world - need and look to the Irish Government to pursue justice for them until it is ultimately achieved. Such persistence sends a very clear message to those governments that continue to use inhuman and degrading torture that their actions are being scrutinised and that they will be made accountable for them.
Francie McGuigan put it very succinctly when at the briefing two weeks ago he said that what they were seeking was simple. They want the British Government to wear the label of torturer on the international stage because that is what exactly what it was. There should be no legal or popular tolerance of torture, no matter what the circumstances. Human rights courts need to be crystal clear on this fundamental issue. When the hooded men came to Leinster House, they moved us with their stories. They insisted that this is not a political issue. They further stressed that it certainly is not a party political issue. They told us this is an issue of human rights. Their lawyer, Darragh Mackin, said that the Irish State had taken this case because it knew the truth of what these men endured. Why would one set out on this legal journey and not see it through to the very end?
I agree with all of those sentiments and I have no doubt but that the other Members do too. Regardless of its significance, the term "legacy case" has almost lost its edge and its importance because there is such a litany of so many experiences from the course of the conflict. This is not just a legacy case, however. This has live immediate lived consequences for these men and their families. It has live legal implications for victims of torture all around the world while states continue to use the verdict in respect of to this case as some kind of cloak of convenience or cover for the torture that they inflict on citizens, whether their own or from other countries.
The book written by Father Denis Faul and Monsignor Raymond Murray in 1975 on the experiences of the hooded men continues to sell all around the world to this day. It is a sad reflection of the interest in this case and the example being looked to by victims of torture all around the world in the form of the hooded men and their campaign. I urge the Minister of State, on behalf of the Government, to tell us that this appeal will be lodged and that the Irish State will not just stand for the hooded men but will stand for victims of torture all around the world. More importantly, I refer to the Irish State standing for any further potential victims of torture in order that we can shine a light and expose what happened to the hooded men and that this State will set an example across the EU and beyond that we stand for justice and truth.
I second the motion put forward by my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile. Many issues could be discussed today as serious issues are happening in our country. We decided, however, as a Sinn Féin team in this House that justice for the hooded men was more important than anything else. That was because this is a very time-limited decision. A decision needs to be made today and it needs to be followed up with a clear process.
We are discussing torture here today. I refer to torture inflicted on Irish citizens by the British Government. I pay tribute to those who suffered this torture and who are here with us today, as well as those who cannot be here. I think especially of Mr. Sean McKenna who passed away in 1975, shortly after being examined by a doctor in Dublin. The doctor cited Mr. McKenna's mistreatment as a cause of death. The groundbreaking documentary "The Torture Files" aired on RTÉ 1 in 2014 and focused attention on this case once again. I commend the RTÉ investigations unit and the Pat Finucane Centre on spending many months trawling through documents at the British National Archives in Kew. They discovered that, as early as March 1971, RUC officers were being trained in the application of the five techniques and that a facility to house the process was also in planning. It appears that the five techniques had ministerial approval and that the individual cases were settled out of court to ensure that no Minister, former or present, could be charged with the conspiracy. The Conservative Party Government of the day authorised torture and subsequent Labour Party Governments covered it up.
The 1978 judgment which turned torture into degrading and inhuman treatment had implications far beyond this island. In 2003, the US Attorney General quoted the 1978 ruling as justification for the use of torture and interrogation methods in Iraq, claiming that what was being done was not torture. Ireland, as a nation of people, has a reputation abroad for standing up against inhumane treatment. We would like to see our Government take stronger action against those who carry out torture and extra-judicial murder, but at least we call it what it is. Let us not be found wanting in our own country.
I am urging Senators to support this motion in order that the moral compass can be recalibrated. Treating individuals in the way described by my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, is torture. The torture he described, which took place in Ballykelly and elsewhere, had a devastating impact on the lives of those who suffered through it and, indeed, who still suffer today as a result of it. Its impact was felt by the communities from which they came. They suffered with the victims. When one of their own was brutalised and tortured, the integrity of the community was dealt a blow. When injustice touches upon areas of human dignity there will always be a reaction. We must ensure that this never happens again. The first step towards achieving this is to define it accurately as torture. All forms of torture must be ended, in Ireland, in Palestine and beyond.
I understand there is cross-party support for this motion. The appeals process must be instigated immediately. I thank all of those who have taken an interest. I also thank my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile. It shows the merit of having somebody with a 32-county perspective in this House. We all have such a perspective but Senator Ó Donnghaile lives within that affected community and is able to bring the story to Leinster House. Until the presentation was done in the AV room a number of weeks ago and until we heard first-hand details from the men who had suffered and their solicitor, we were not conscious of it. The story has been brought back to us now. I remember being told about the hooded men as a child. It always seemed like something abstract, as if it could not have really happened. I particularly remember the story of people being dropped out of helicopters. There is a certain amount of disbelief involved regardless of who tells the tale. We might believe perhaps that there is a bias in the telling, but when one hears it straight from the mouths of the men involved and when they recount exactly what was done to them, there is no question that it has to be named and shamed and called torture. If what they outlined is not torture, I do not know what is.
I hope that this appeal will go forward. I trust that the Government will do the right thing. The natural next step is to appeal the ruling. It can be appealed before 18 June. That should happen. I think and hope that the result will be different this time around and that the men and their families will get the peace and justice for which they have waited decades.
One has to recognise that these men were detained in the absence of any due process, judicial process or a proper charging system. It is very important to recognise that. Torture is not acceptable in any way, but it is important to say that what happened in this case is aggravated by the fact that no proper processes were observed. There were no procedures adhered to and the men were not afforded the opportunity to defend themselves. That makes what happened all the more reprehensible.
The men involved were detained in 1971. There are 14 people involved in this and I welcome those present in the Public Gallery. It is worth repeating what these men were subjected to and what they went through. The first form of torture was wall standing. They were spread-eagled against a wall in a strained position for periods totalling between 23 and 29 hours. That speaks for itself. Dark bags were placed over the heads of these men, pending interrogation, and they were held in a room where there was a continuous loud hissing noise. In advance of interrogation, they were deprived of sleep for unknown periods. They were also deprived of food and drink. Furthermore, there were the episodes involving helicopters and the horrendous fear that was instilled in the men as a result.
In 1978, the ECHR found that the use of these techniques on the men by the British authorities amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment but did not constitute torture. The court entered the realm of semantics at that stage. It effectively was torture. I do not know how the distinctions were drawn given the evidence available. The full judgment in that case was that the ECHR did not accept the designation of torture. In contrast, the European Commission on Human Rights, a body which once existed to take evidence, issue reports and decide whether cases could go to the ECHR, had classified the treatment of these men as torture and inhumane. That is a point worth noting.
In December 2014, Ireland requested that the ECHR judgment from 1978 be revised, as is provided for under Rule 80 of the court. Subsection 1 of the rule states, "A party may, in the event of the discovery of a fact which might, by its nature, have a decisive influence and which, when a judgment was delivered, was unknown to the Court and could not reasonably have been known to that party, request the Court, within a period of six months after that party acquired knowledge of the fact, to revise that judgment." The new knowledge arose from the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. We should salute RTÉ and those involved in the programme, and in the documentary relating to this case, for that. New facts, documentation and information emerged which suggested ministerial involvement. On that basis, the Government sought a revision. We are all addressing this issue in a unified and sincere fashion, so I believe Senator Conway-Walsh probably should have placed more emphasis on the bone fides of the Government, particularly in view of the fact that it made the application and then fought the case.There has not been an issue with that, nor should there have been. That merits recognition. It should not have been otherwise.
The basis of Ireland's case arose from the documentary to which I refer. In its 2014 application, the Government stated that, as a result of the documentary, it had obtained a large amount of documents which demonstrated that the then UK Government had withheld information from the original proceedings and questioned the alleged psychiatric expert known as Doctor L. That man testified that the after-effects had not been long-term in nature, which was very wrong.
The request is that the matter go before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. At this point, I have no philosophical objection to that. I doubt that any Member of the Oireachtas would have such an objection or would look at this matter with anything but horror. What happened was wrong and the fact that people were detained and tortured in the fashion described is not acceptable. The Attorney General had to weigh up the facts. I have to put it on the record that up to now such an application has never been granted. That is a very difficult thing.
I want to make the House aware that the Attorney General and Government have to factor that in. My party will accept the motion. It understands the gravity of the situation and has no objection, in principle, philosophically or any other way, to going through the advanced process. There are, however, limits to the potential of that process. That is clear to everyone. We want to exhaust the process to the very end.
I wish to share time with Senator Gallagher. Fianna Fáil supports the motion on the case of the hooded men which relates to events that took place during a dark period of the Troubles. The legal ramifications echo to this very day. The case should be appealed to the courts.
It is disappointing that the Government had to be taken to the High Court by legal representatives of the hooded men in order to be encouraged to take the most recent case, which came to a conclusion with which we are not satisfied. Hence our demand that it to be taken to the higher court. What happened to the hooded men has been outlined, including the interrogation techniques used, such as stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation, food and water deprivation, having hoods placed over them for days at a time and being subjected to physical and mental torture.
One European body found that they were tortured but this was overturned, on appeal, by the relevant court. We know from the most recent revelations in the courts that much of the information which should have been supplied by the British side was withheld. That is why we need to ensure that the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which will comprise 17 judges rather than the seven involved in hearing the case previously, will overturn the judgment handed down and find that what happened constituted torture.
It is important that what the men were subjected to is found to be torture by a European court. The case is being used by regimes, democratic and otherwise, all over the world as an excuse to subject prisoners to the same methods to this very day. Enhanced interrogation techniques were used in Abu Ghraib and other places about which we will never hear. If we do not pursue this to the end, we will be doing a disservice to humanity for generations to come. This ruling is being used time and again by no less an authority than the White House and others to justify the use of torture. No word other than torture can be used to describe to what these men were subjected. To say that enhanced interrogation techniques were used is an appalling use of any language because no human being could go through the treatment these men were subjected to and come out the same person on the other side. To not be affected would be beyond human capacity.
The techniques used were designed so that people would be affected and afraid, not just those who were subjected to them but also their families. Others would get the message that this could befall them if they did not lie down and remain silent. In this instance, the British Government was the regime which was subjecting what it believed to be its citizens to such treatment. If it happened in Finchley, which, as Mrs. Thatcher believed, was as British as Northern Ireland, I imagine people would have gone to jail. However, nobody has gone to jail. The Crown Prosecution Service is making no attempt to have any of those involved put in jail because they are immune from prosecution due to the fact that this was a political decision taken at the highest level. The European courts are giving it political cover by saying that while distressing as the techniques were, they did not constitute torture. I do not believe anyone in this room or anywhere in the world could support such an assertion by any court. That is why we support the motion.
Is the Government going to have to be taken to the High Court? Having spoken to the solicitors for the men, I understand they will have to take the Government to the High Court again. It is not a legal issue as much as it is a political one. Does the Government have the will to take the British Government to court? It is down to the 17 judges to decide whether what happened was torture but it is up to the Government to take the case to the next level. It is not doing it on behalf of the 14 hooded men or their families. Rather, it is doing it on behalf of all of the people who could be arrested and subjected to the same techniques because of the ruling of a court nearly four decades ago.
I compliment Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile on bringing the motion forward. I attended a briefing in the AV room organised by the Senator and it was one of the most powerful presentations I have ever witnessed. To listen to the men outline their experiences of literally going to hell was very stark. Senator O'Reilly said that the first wrong was that the men were dragged from their homes without being guilty of anything. That compounds the matter even more. There is a duty on the Government to step up to the plate in this regard and not, as Senator Mark Daly said, have to be dragged through the courts again to do what is the only thing to do, namely, the right thing.
This is the second time I have discussed the British authorities today. Earlier, I spoke about the Monaghan bombings that happened 44 years ago. The 44th anniversary of those bombings occurs tomorrow, 17 May. Families have been left waiting for answers as to what happened. The British Government has refused point-blank to release the files in order that we might shine a light on what happened.All we are looking for here is what is right and proper. Again I compliment my colleague to my right on bringing this forward. I am gladdened to hear that all sides of the House will be supporting this. It is now up to the Government to do the only thing that is left to do, which is to do the right thing and pursue this to the very end.
I will be sharing time with Senator Boyhan. We will take four minutes each. Cuirim fáilte chuig an Teach seo roimh an Aire Stáit agus cuirim fáilte speisialta roimh an Uasal Liam Shannon, who was one of the 14. It is great to see him especially and I thank him for coming. I support Senators Ó Donnghaile and Conway-Walsh and the Sinn Féin motion 100%. It is really important. We are dealing with many other important things and this is absolutely up there. If we do not support human integrity and fairness, what are we about? I ask that every colleague here, every Seanadóir, support this 100% and I am sure they will. Let us make a really strong statement here.
It is a very important and hugely valuable to have an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile's input into the Seanad because he brings a perspective in respect of Ireland and of people that perhaps we, including myself, do not have. I very much appreciate that. Gabhaim buíochas leis as ucht an chur i láthair agus as pointí agus rudaí mar seo a chur i láthair an Seanaid.
This is not a political matter, as Senator Conway-Walsh said. This is something we stand for as individuals and as people. It is a matter of what is right and what is wrong. As a nation we only comprise 2.5% of the population of Europe, but we punch above our weight. I ask an tAire Stáit to give this 110%. I support him and the Government in this. People like Mr. Shannon and others deserve it. As Senator Mark Daly put it so well, this is not just a national, Irish thing, this is a worldwide situation. Let us create precedent and let us not accept no for an answer, because there are people who deserve this, including not only the 14 hooded men but other hooded people from all over the world. We have to stand up for those people whom we will never know nor ever meet.
I am not going to go through all of the details that have been mentioned already. I want to share time with my good colleague here. However, this happened in 1971. The Irish Government brought a case to the European Commission on Human Rights in 1976 and the British Government was found guilty of torture. On appeal, that wording was amended so that the word "torture" was not used. As was said earlier, I do not understand the difference. If I may say so it seems to be some form of a cop-out. Let us call a spade a spade. In 2013 declassified documents were uncovered which revealed the existence of the interrogation centre at Ballykelly. As I understand it, this information was withheld from trial in 1976. As somebody who practiced law as a solicitor for a number of years, this seems to me to be a miscarriage of justice and grounds for a mistrial. Evidence which was clearly important was not made available and, as other people have said, but for the RTÉ documentary "RTÉ Investigations Unit: The Torture Files", which brought this to light and but for the great investigative journalism that was carried out, this may never have been uncovered. The Minister of State and I are together on this and for the ten people who are alive and their families - but probably even more so for Mr. Shannon's colleagues who are not here and their families - let us do what we are good at in Ireland and give this 110% and our best shot. I support everybody who has spoken here.
I welcome the visitors to the Chamber. I am mindful of the fact that not all of the people who suffered this terrible miscarriage of justice are here today. That must be a very sad thought but I salute those brave and courageous men who have continued the fight. I hope that as a result of this appeal to the Grand Chamber, if it is successful, this Seanad will perhaps have shone a bright light in support of them.
I will not rehearse the horror stories. I too went to the audiovisual room and I congratulate Senator Ó Donnghaile, all of the Sinn Féin team and all the other people who signed this motion. I thank Sinn Féin for using its Private Members' time for this motion. When one meets these people face to face, one cannot do otherwise than believe them. People do not make up those sorts of stories. It was a horror and a great miscarriage of justice. I thank Sinn Féin for making the arrangements to bring these men here because there is nothing like looking a man in the eye, hearing his story, listening and being moved. The important thing is that we have to be moved into action and we have been moved to do something.
I seek clarification from the Minister of State on a number of matters. I read some reports yesterday in research for this debate and I noted a comment of the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, who stated that the appeal is not straightforward. We need to know what the impediments to such an appeal are. It has been reported that an appeal must be lodged by 20 June. Will the Minister of State confirm that? Separately, I have been informed that the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland is currently hearing civil proceedings in which it is claimed that a PSNI decision to end preliminary inquiries into the deep interrogation methods deployed against the 14 men was seriously flawed and should be squashed. Does the Minister of State or the Government know anything about the progress of those proceedings?
This is about the Government. It is about Seanad Éireann calling on the Government here today. We hear so much about what the Attorney General and the legal advisers say. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State because I work exceptionally well with him, but I was terribly surprised to see him walk across the floor here today, given the significance of the story.
This morning the Minister, Deputy Coveney, was here to talk on a Commencement matter raised by Senator Gallagher in respect of another horror story and legacy issue from the Troubles of this country and this island, namely, the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. Let us remember the victims' families and the people who sought justice for them. Tomorrow is the 44th anniversary of the deaths of the people involved. However, I do not mean to pass remark on the Minister of State. He is doing his job. I just want to share with the Minister of State that in itself, the Minister's absence was disappointing and sent out a message that concerns me. Ultimately we want the Government to make a decision and want this House to be kept informed. I have one request for the men and for us in Seanad Éireann. As soon as the Government has made its decision, which I hope will be soon, I ask that it comes back to this House and tells us.
What happened to these 14 men was truly horrendous. They were subjected to sleep deprivation, wall standing, stress positions, white noise and beatings. Alex Kane wrote in The Irish Newsa few days ago "that the past is always in front of us". Our history and our past are always in front of us. If we want to deal with the legacy issues and with truth and reconciliation, we must have an understanding of what happened. We must find the truth and justice must be done, whether for the State or for anybody else.
In 1971, Ireland made a complaint to the European Commission on Human Rights that these 14 men, who had been interned in Northern Ireland that year, had been subject to five techniques of enhanced interrogation that constituted torture under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR. While the Commission upheld that view, a subsequent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 1978 found that the techniques were not torture but "inhumane and degrading treatment". In 2014, the Government lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights requesting that it revise its 1978 judgment to say that the treatment constituted torture under Article 3 and not inhumane and degrading treatment. The application was based on material released into the National Archives of the UK by the UK Government.
I welcome this motion by Senator Ó Donnghaile. I welcome the fact that Senator Ó Donnghaile is in this Chamber because he brings that perspective to an area about which we have sometimes forgotten about and about which we want to forget. Unless we have truth and reconciliation, these things must be aired on the floor of this Chamber. I thank Senator Ó Donnghaile for bringing the motion. Many issues have arisen in the past 30 years which we can debate and about which we can call for resolution in this Chamber.We are united across party lines to get truth and reconciliation. Senator Ó Céidigh summed it up correctly that Ireland is moving in a different direction. We are seen as independent, with no colonial baggage. We are seen now as independent arbiters around the world. If we want to have a global footprint, we cannot have issues on our doorstep or on our island that we have not addressed. We are talking about the legacies of the past. These things must be deal with, so I support that call.
Some of the material disclosed by the RTÉ investigations unit included a letter dated in 1977 from the Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees MP, to the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan. In that letter, Rees stated his view that the decision to use methods of torture in Northern Ireland in 1971 and 1972 was taken by Ministers, in particular Peter Carington MP, the then Secretary of State for Defence. On 20 March 2018, the court delivered its judgment in the matter of the Government's application for revision. The decision of the court was supported by a majority of six judges to one, but interestingly the minority view was expressed in a strongly worded dissent by the Irish judge, Síofra O'Leary. Judge O'Leary said that the seven-member Chamber had “opted for an extremely narrow version of what the Court was dealing with in 1976-1978”.
The hooded men's judgment was a landmark in international law, as it was the first time a state took on another state at the European Court of Human Rights. However, we can all acknowledge the deep disappointment being felt by the men and their families right now. It must also be said here that four of the original hooded men have since died: Sean McKenna, Michael Montgomery, Pat Shivers and Gerry McKerr. I was honoured to meet Mr. Liam Shannon, who is in the Visitors Gallery. I hope that we shine a light on injustices, try to get the truth and move this forward.
Noting the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in March, the Taoiseach said that these men were certainly subjected to terrible abuse and degrading punishment. He also said at the time of the judgment that the Government would consider it, and having done so make a decision on whether to appeal it. I understand the Government has not yet made a decision on whether to apply for a referral to the Grand Chamber. I also understand that advice from counsel will need to be carefully considered by the Attorney General inter alia before any Cabinet decision to move ahead with the application. I urge the Government to support this cause but, in that context, the Government has decided neither to oppose nor to support this motion.
The motion's proposers are right. I attended events to commemorate the Good Friday Agreement in Washington last week. We went to Capitol Hill to thank the politicians, the members of Congress and the people of the United States for their support in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to the island of Ireland. We thanked them, but we also said that we must renew this. The Good Friday Agreement cannot move forward unless we deal with situations and issues like this. I hope that in the coming weeks the Government will support this decision.
I offer my full support to the motion before us today, and I commend Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile and his colleagues on bringing it forward. I also welcome Mr. Liam Shannon to the Visitors Gallery today. More than anything, I want to let the people involved know that I am fully behind them. The hooded men and their families have my full support in their search for justice, no matter how long that may take. I commend them on their bravery in pushing forward with this.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. A big part our work is to look at the legacy of the conflict in the North and the lasting impact it still has on our communities. It has been devastating to hear many of the stories from victims and survivors, and to see the level of unresolved trauma that we are still dealing with now. Speaking to people, one can feel the weight and the burden that is being carried, and how that can result in enduring intergenerational trauma unless it is properly addressed.
I also see this in my work with the RISE Foundation almost every week. In the area of addiction, unaddressed trauma can have such a huge impact on families and children, passed on through generations. In all cases, we have a responsibility to help those involved address what has happened, and this is no different. After the court ruled in March, Francie McGuigan bravely spoke to the thejournal.ie and said: “There were 14 of us – four of the lads are dead but their families still there, so it’s not just about us." That is such a powerful point, and something we should all remember. There is such a large network of people around these 14 men, including families, friends, and their wider community, that is still waiting for justice and dealing with this. We have a responsibility to all of them to provide our support.
I was re-reading some of the old case files this morning. What these men were put through really is unimaginable. On top of brutal beatings and death threats, the men were subjected to the now infamous "five techniques", including hooding, wall-standing in stress positions for hours, subjection to white noise, sleep deprivation, and deprivation of food and water. None of the 14 men involved was ever convicted of any criminal offence. They were simply interned, tortured and abandoned.
I want to put it on the record of this House again that what happened to those men over seven days in Ballykelly in 1971 was torture. It was torture by the definition of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1976, and it was torture by any reasonable person's reading of the brutal, inhumane techniques that were used. When we hear that a man was hooded and thrown from a helicopter to make him feel that he was about to die, we do not need to equivocate. That is torture.
The European Court of Human Rights made a mistake in 1978, and it missed a huge opportunity to atone for it in March. Amnesty International expressed its disappointment at the ruling, saying that it focused on a narrow legal technicality instead of engaging with the substance of the torture claims. This is an important point. Ultimately, the court debated whether the information released in 2014 would have led to a different ruling in 1978, not whether the techniques themselves would be judged as torture in today's society. In fact, the court specifically referenced case law highlighting how our understanding of what constitutes torture has expanded and become more humane as the decades have passed. This is really important, and it speaks volumes about the decision taken in 1978. That initial ruling was an injustice not only to the 14 men and their families, but also in its broader impact on the world in the years since. Amnesty International has documented how since that decision was handed down, many countries, including the United States and Israel, have relied on it to justify an aggressive, horrific legal interpretation of what does or does not constitute torture.
When the world recoils in horror at what was done to human beings in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, we should remember that the US Government specifically referenced this verdict in its legal defence of its actions. What was carried out, it claimed, was not torture but "enhanced interrogation". This is an insult both to language and to human dignity.
It came to be one of the most appalling, defining features of the war on terror, and reminds us of the global impact of decisions like this.
Amnesty International won the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize for its work against torture, and I commend Grainne Teggart and its Northern Ireland office on its continued tireless work on this case. Huge credit must also go to the investigative team at RTÉ and the Pat Finucane Centre for their willingness to work on exposing new information and keeping the fight alive. In light of those revelations, the Government was right to launch the appeal in 2014, and it would be right to get behind the hooded men and their families now. I am glad to hear the Government will not be opposing the motion today, and I urge it to get fully behind this push. We have a duty to these men to call what happened by its rightful name.
Again, I want to send my full support and thoughts to the people involved and their families, and I commend them for their courage and bravery. I was looking at a picture this morning of the group outside the European Court of Human Rights, and I can only imagine the willpower and determination it takes for them to keep going all these years later. It is only right that the Irish State stands beside them in their search for justice.
I am somebody who is a royalist. I come from a southern unionist background. I am also aware that the Provisional IRA engaged in torture during this historical period.However, it is much worse when those activities are carried out by legitimate agents of the State. That is what I find utterly shocking. The men were innocent when they were suddenly lifted off the street. This is a human rights matter.
We hear a lot about western values and the United States and Britain charging into other countries all over the world in defence of western values, but they engaged in extraordinary rendition, torture and drone attacks where the most fundamental aspects of human rights, going back over many centuries, are routinely violated. What happened to the right to be presumed innocent? What happened to the right to face one's accuser? What happened to the right to be legally represented? Oh no. All of those can go. When Britain and the United States engage in these tactics, they are not speaking for me, and they are not speaking for western values. They are the very opposite of western values.
The European Commission on Human Rights found that this was torture. That should have been the end of it. There must have been intense diplomatic lobbying to get that changed to the mealy-mouthed verbiage of inhumane and degrading treatment. That is complete and utter nonsense. It says that if the case was tried now, it would be found to be torture. If it is torture now, it was torture 20 years ago. If an act is torture, it is torture simpliciter. It just has to be torture. It is also an extremely dangerous precedent. If this defective ruling is not challenged, it gives legitimacy to regimes all over the world which continue to engage in these disgusting practices. How can it not be torture to have somebody standing for 29 hours, as somebody said previously, in a stressed position? The muscles would be in agony after that. As for dropping people out of a helicopter, maybe it was from 5 ft off the ground, but the people who were being dropped did not know that. I am surprised that none of them died of heart attacks. I certainly would have been a prime candidate for a heart attack if it had happened to me.
On the question of the appeal to the Grand Chamber, of course they must do it. There should be no mealy-mouthed farting around about this sort of business. My decent friend, Senator O'Reilly, said that no appeal has ever been successful. I do not know whether that is true but it does not matter a damn whether it is because if we say we will not take an appeal because an appeal has never been successful, why not abolish the entire appeals process? There is no point in it if nobody will use it because so far nobody has been successful. That is outrageous. We must take that on. The Government has a moral obligation to defend the human rights of these unfortunate people who were so grotesquely and wrongly mistreated.
I intend no insult whatever to the Minister of State. He is a very good Minister and a decent Wicklow man, but I do not know what agriculture has to do with torture. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs should be here today.
He should be in here because this is a vital matter not only for the State of Ireland but for the question of human rights across the globe. There is nowhere else that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade should have been this evening rather than in this Chamber.
I ask the Minister of State to carry back to Government the very strong feeling on all sides of this House that there must be an appeal to the Grand Chamber. It would be an outrage against decency if the Government does not take this stance.
I want to begin by welcoming Liam Shannon, who is in the Gallery. Where do I start after what we have heard this evening? It is fundamentally depressing to think that August 1971 is nearly 50 years ago, and still we wait for justice for these men and their families.
I was not able to attend the presentation in the audiovisual room some weeks ago because along with my colleague, Senator O'Reilly, I was in the Council of Europe. It struck me that the European Convention on Human Rights was delivered by the Council of Europe. It also struck me on my first visit to the Council of Europe that we have a very good team of people there working on a human rights agenda on behalf of this country. In what was almost the first conversation, and Senator O'Reilly will confirm this, people were highlighting in particular our judge, Síofra O'Leary, and the fantastic work she is doing. It is no coincidence that she was the judge who held the minority opinion in this case.
I want to elaborate on what Senator Feighan said in his very fine contribution about the way Judge O'Leary emphasised the gravity of the issue before the courts. She noted that an interstate application is "not the exercise of a right of action to enforce the applicant state's rights but [and she stresses this] an action against an alleged violation of the public order of Europe".
The value of legal certainty therefore should be balanced against this public interest. The public interest in this case is particularly salient in light of the fact that the original judgment was utilised by, amongst others, the United States to legitimise and defend what it termed enhanced interrogation techniques during the so-called war on terror.
Criticising the judgment, and this is significant, she stated the majority focuses almost exclusively on the "two illustrative cases" to the exclusion of all other detainees who were subjected to the five techniques. The reason "two illustrative cases" were "heard" by the commission was for reasons of "procedural economy", that is, it would be too burdensome for the commission to hear from all the detainees. However, the commission and the court had received written evidence pertaining to 14 of these cases. Instead, the majority judgment focuses only on the "two illustrative cases".
There we have it. The judgment is fundamentally flawed, and an Irish judge on that court called that out clearly. When it is that clear, we have to insist that the Government pursue this appeal. If it is somewhat problematic, that is fine. Let it be somewhat problematic but they must pursue the appeal because to do anything less does not just let down these men and their families or ourselves as a nation; it lets down the world.
I was reading earlier about a man I had never heard of previously named Baha Mousa. He was killed by the British army in 2003 during the Iraq war as a direct contribution of the same five techniques. After the inquiry in 2011, then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said we must ensure this never happens again. I think he was forgetting something.
We have the most horrendous example of human rights abuses carried out on these men. Nearly 50 years later, we are still waiting for justice. It is highly significant that Members across this Chamber, and I include my colleagues in Fine Gael, have called clearly for the Government to pursue this case. It would be shameful if legal excuses are used. It would be shameful if these families are forced to go to the High Court again.
It has been a frustrating couple of days. Yesterday, we were discussing the horrendous abuses and murder in Palestine yet, unfortunately, the Government was making fine speeches about not taking any action. It would be shameful if the Government does not follow the advice of Senators O'Reilly and Feighan and pursue this case. I hope that when we get the Minister of State to clarify the position he will indicate that. He should not tell us about the problems. He should tell us that we will overcome those problems and that this appeal will be lodged.
I have another comment to make, and I say this out of regret and not anger. Where are the Labour Party Members this evening? We are talking about the most egregious abuse of human rights in this State and they are not even here.I cannot get over that. We have strong unity here this evening, and rightly so. However, I ask that there be no illusion about the Government doing whatever is required in this case. It will never be allowed to forget about it. Let us stand together for humanity, human rights, Liam Shannon and the families. Let us stand by them and support the motion in full.
I welcome Mr. Shannon to the Gallery. I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak on an issue which goes to the core of human rights. Operation Demetrius was a British military operation which flagrantly disregarded the human rights of communities in the North. Not only were these men tortured, but 342 people were interned without trial. This number grew to 1,981 by December 1975. In 1978, this State was the first to bring a complaint against another through the European Court of Human Rights. The case was Ireland v. the United Kingdom. At that time, the State prioritised standing up for human rights over cautious diplomatic relations. This should be considered in light of the recent events in Gaza and the tenure of Israeli diplomats within this State.
The State has an opportunity within its grasp to seek absolute justice for these men. The grave injustice done to them was not carried out by rogue military officers, it was co-ordinated carefully by those in the upper echelons of British politics. These wrongs must come to light and the island must be one which stands against violations of core human rights. I commend Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile on his work in respect of this issue and on the way in which he has championed human and civil rights on every part of the island. It says something about him that, notwithstanding the fact that he is one of the younger Members of the Oireachtas, he and his office have taken on an prioritised something that happened 50 years. This goes to show that young people demand rights and peace, not only from the gun but for people living as survivors. I commend the Government for not opposing the motion and assert that the case must be fought with absolute vigour by the Department. For over 45 years, Mr. Shannon has fought alongside others for justice and we must honour that fight by our efforts in all further litigation.
The prevention and eradication of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has been a cornerstone of Ireland's approach to human rights for decades. Ireland is rightly seen across the world as a defender of the international human rights framework, including through its work in the EU and at international fora such as the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The case taken by Ireland against the UK in 1971 broke new ground in the international protection of human rights. As the first inter-state case to be brought before the European Court of Human Rights, Ireland v. the United Kingdom showed that all states which signed up to international agreements on human rights could and should be held accountable. That is a principle by which we stand today.
On 2 December 2014, the Government announced its decision to request the European Court of Human Rights to revise its 1978 judgment in the case taken by Ireland against the UK. On the basis of new material uncovered, the Government contended that the ill-treatment suffered by 14 men in Northern Ireland in 1971 should be recognised as torture. The court's judgment was delivered on 20 March. It refused the Government's application to revise the 1978 judgment and find that the men had suffered torture. The refusal was made on two grounds. First, the court did not believe the new documents contained a sufficient prima faciecase that one of the witnesses had misled the Commission and the court about the long-term effects of the five techniques of interrogation. Second, the court did not accept that even if Dr. Leigh had given misleading evidence, it might have had a decisive influence on the court's finding in the original judgment.
The men who suffered this treatment have understandably been disappointed by the court's decision. Four decades have gone by since the case was first decided by the court and the men have shown great courage and dignity in continuing to seek to have their treatment recognised as torture. My colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, met the men recently to hear of their experiences. From speaking to him, I know that he was deeply moved by what they told him. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the fortitude and persistence of the men who became known around the world as the hooded men. They have had to deal with the long-lasting effects of this treatment and my thoughts are with them this evening. It is important to remember that nothing in the judgment of 20 March changes the finding that the men suffered inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of their rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Nor does it mean that this treatment is not, by current standards, torture. The revision procedure is about looking again at the case as it was at the time and considering whether the new information would have changed the court's decision at the time of the original judgment. In this case, the court decided that it would have changed the original judgment.
Many people are eager that the Government should seek a referral of the revision application to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. While this is possible, it is important to note that there is no automatic right of referral. Any application to have the case referred to the Grand Chamber must first be considered by a panel of five judges. No application to refer a revision request to the Grand Chamber has ever been successful. The Government has not ruled out making such an application but it is a decision we will not take lightly. The Government has three months from the date of the decision to apply for a referral. We are using that time to consider the judgment carefully before any Cabinet decision on whether to move ahead with the application. When the Government has made a decision on whether to apply for a referral to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, that decision will be made public.
I assure the men whose treatment led Ireland to take this case in 1971 and all those who have campaigned with them in the decades since that the Government regards this case with the utmost seriousness. That is why we will consider the judgment of 20 March very carefully before reaching a decision based on the information and advice that we have.
I thank the Minister of State for attending and for his contribution to what, in light of the comments of Members across the Chamber, has been a significant and important debate. I thank all Members for their contributions. I note the broad range of signatories to the motion before the House. We had five of the hooded men down to brief Members in the AV room. They also met the Tánaiste on that day. I thank him for taking the time to meet them. I have no doubt that he appreciates the nuances and global significance of the judgment and how it has been utilised and abused by other states internationally. That is why this appeal is so fundamentally important.
While I have the floor, I will take the opportunity to read into the record of the House the names of the 14 hooded men, namely, Jim Auld, Pat Shivers, Joe Clarke, Michael Donnelly, Kevin Hannaway, Paddy Joe McLean, Francie McGuigan, Patrick McNally, Sean McKenna, Gerry McKerr, Michael Montgomery, Davy Rodgers, Brian Turley and Liam Shannon, who is with us tonight. Behind each of those men is a family and a lived experience of that awful time and of the legacy of the torture they and so many others endured in those much darker days of our conflict. Sometimes legacy issues and cases lose their edge and pointedness, but legacy is a lived experience, not just for these men but also for all of those affected.As Senator Norris noted, many people have been hurt and affected by the conflict, and we want to see a scenario where all of these people have access to truth and justice moving forward. It is the most modest and basic requirement of any democracy for anyone who believes in and upholds the process of natural law and justice.
I want to put on record that because of the indisputable and very welcome cross-party unanimous support for the motion I will not push it to a vote. The Minister of State said in his summing up that the Government is carefully considering this issue. It is important and I wish it well in its deliberations. I hope it knows that when it is dealing with the hooded men and their families, these men have campaigned for 50 years. They have been to every court not just in this land but beyond. These men endure. These men suffered the horrific torture we have outlined, and we cannot do service to the way they can outline their experiences, which is why the briefing and the meeting with the Tánaiste were so important. These men will continue to campaign and they have our full support, endorsement and solidarity. They have our full best wishes in the sure and certain knowledge that we all know in this House that those men were tortured. All they ask, and other colleagues have said why it is so important, is this is rightly recognised for what it was. I said in my earlier contribution that it really affected me and hit me when Francie McGuigan, one of the hooded men, very simply stated during the course of the briefing that the British should wear the label of torturers on the international stage because that is what they were.