Tuesday, 17 May 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister to the House. It is appropriate that this would be the first Commencement matter, as Senator Robbie Gallagher is from Monaghan. Today is the anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Senator Gallagher, along with the Taoiseach, the Lord Mayor of Dublin and many others, attended a ceremony to mark the anniversary of that awful day earlier.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. The Minister is very welcome to the House for this very important debate. As the Cathaoirleach said, today, 17 May, marks the 48th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. As he said, I attended a wreath laying ceremony earlier today on Talbot Street, along with the Taoiseach, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alison Gilliland, and the cathaoirleach of Monaghan County Council, Councillor Aidan Campbell, along with many others. It was a very poignant event.
Every year, we gather here to discuss this issue, but unfortunately little or no progress or forward movement is being seen for the victims, survivors and their families. Some 33 people lost their lives in Monaghan and Dublin on 7 May 1974. It was the greatest loss of life in one single day during the entire Troubles. As the anniversary occurs today, our thoughts and prayers are very much with the victims and their families.
It is very difficult and frustrating to try to understand how, 48 years on, the hunt and search for the truth and justice for the tragedy in which 33 people lost their lives, seven in County Monaghan and 26 in Dublin, as well as for the 300 people who were injured, is still going on. We can only imagine the pain they have had to endure as a result. That pain, unfortunately, is compounded today in many ways by the fact that, 48 years on, they are still waiting for the truth of what happened on that fateful day.
I pay tribute to all of the families who have worked tirelessly to try to lift the lid on what happened. I also pay tribute to the Justice for the Forgotten group led by Margaret Urwin, which has campaigned vigorously to find out the truth, as well as Members in this House and the Lower House, including the Minister, who have also campaigned to find out the truth.
For years, we have pointed the finger at the British Government for its agencies' refusal to hand over any documentation whatsoever. There was some light or a bit of hope with families in recent times with Operation Denton and an investigation carried out by John Stalker, a former chief constable, regarding what happened. It is heartening that the British entities we have pointed the finger at, and rightly so, for many years for refusing to hand over documentation, namely, MI5, the PSNI and the Ministry of Defence, have now handed it over.
It is deeply worrying, and very sad and frustrating, for the families to learn that the obstacle or blockage now rests with An Garda Síochána. I understand it is a legal interpretation of the terms of reference which it signed off on 12 or 18 months ago. Instead of referring to Operation Denton or the investigation by John Stalker, it is using the term "inquiry". For that reason, it seeks clarity from the Attorney General on what it can and cannot hand over. That is all very well, but meanwhile the families are still waiting.I would appreciate it if the Minister has some news for us regarding what this blockage is and the imperative and urgency with which the Government will seek to alleviate this problem to enable information to be handed over. As I said, 48 years is a long time to be waiting for justice. People wish to know who was behind this and why it was done and to ensure those responsible are brought to justice. It will only be then that the families of those who lost their lives in Dublin and Monaghan will finally be able to have some closure to this sad episode and put the memories of their loved ones to rest.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue, and particularly for doing so on this day. I express my and this Government’s condolences to the families whose loved ones were killed or injured in the terrible events of 17 May 1974. Those callous acts will always be remembered as the single deadliest day of the Troubles, where 33 people lost their lives, as the Senator mentioned. Many others were injured and had their lives changed forever. It is, frankly, hard to believe on a day like this, when we think of everybody here in Dublin and in other parts of the country going about their daily lives, that so many ordinary people going about their lives on this day in 1974 were so callously and brutally attacked in the way they were. There were many such incidents of violence on this island during the Troubles. This was a tragic reality for those caught up in the bombings on 17 May 1974.
I state clearly the Government’s continued support for the victims and survivors of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We will persevere in our efforts to seek the truth behind these events and, hopefully, to secure some measure of comfort for the families. Even though a long time has passed, it is important that we can secure that form of comfort for these family members. The Government has worked consistently to implement the all-party Oireachtas motions calling on the British Government to allow access by an independent international judicial figure to all the original documents in its possession relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We also continue to raise this case regularly with the Government of the UK. We did this most recently in March at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, raised the Dublin and Monaghan bombings with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, and with the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Conor Burns. Again, the Minister emphasised the need for this matter to be progressed.
Regarding Operation Denton, at the Senator mentioned, it falls under the general umbrella of the Operation Kenova series of ongoing independent investigations or reviews into the Northern Ireland legacy cases. It is led by a former chief constable. Operation Denton is an independent and analytical review into collusion involving the Glenanne gang. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings are included as one of the incidents in Operation Denton. I must stress that An Garda Síochána is committed to co-operating to the greatest extent possible with the Operation Kenova endeavours. A high-level agreement is already in place that supports co-operation and an exchange of information with the operation investigation team in the context of criminal investigations. The historical investigation co-ordination unit within An Garda Síochána continues to support this partnership.
As the Senator also mentioned, Operation Denton is a distinct strand in the work of Operation Kenova, which is an analytical review rather than a criminal investigation. It was as a result of this context that it was necessary to request legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General to progress clarification of how co-operation can take place within An Garda Síochána. Given the lack of a statutory framework for information sharing, co-operation necessarily involves complex legal issues. Following the receipt of advice from the Attorney General, work is already under way in my Department to establish the necessary mechanisms to allow relevant information to be shared with Operation Denton and it is anticipated that the mechanism should be in place by the summer. As Minister, I will do everything I can to ensure that mechanism is in place by the summer and that all information that can and should be provided by An Garda Síochána to this process is provided.
I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response. One line that struck me and stuck with me when I heard it was that to be forgotten is to die twice. That is why I feel it is imperative that there be a resolution of the blockage the Minister referred to and the problem An Garda Síochána now finds itself dealing with in the context of awaiting clarification from the Office of the Attorney General. The Minister said she hopes this will be ironed out and resolved by the end of the summer. I ask her to do all that is in her power and within her gift to expedite this process and ensure it is undertaken as fast as possible.Hopefully, if we are all alive and well and back here in 12 months time, we will be able to have some progress made or at least a pathway for the families so that they may finally get closure to this horrible event.
I thank the Senator for his comments. In respect of the quotation and the comment he has just made, I wish to reassure him and those family members and communities who have campaigned tirelessly on behalf of their loved ones that they will not be forgotten and that they have not been forgotten, despite the fact that almost five decades have passed. As a Government, we have consistently raised these issues with our colleagues in the North and with our British Government counterparts. We have continued to insist that there must be engagement and truth, and that we must find answers to all of the questions that these families have. There must be some conclusion to all of this so that they can, in some way, shape or form, be at peace with what has happened and I do not know if that will ever be the case for many of them. There is an onus and an obligation on us to do everything we can for these families and I assure the Senator that every effort has and will continue to be made to ensure that that is the case.
Obviously, we have seen further developments in the UK today with proposals around other legacy-type issues and how they would be dealt with. I want to stress here that any proposals must be worked with and dealt with in a comprehensive and collaborative way. Any unilateral action will simply not be tolerated by this Government and the legislation today is certainly not something that we can accept. We will be making our views very clearly known and, in particular, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will be doing so.
I thank the Senator again for raising this issue and I reiterate my heartfelt condolences to all of the family members on what is a very difficult but very important day for them today. I will do everything I can to ensure that this mechanism is in place by the summer and that An Garda can pass on the information that is required.
I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for coming in today, for taking this Commencement matter personally and for addressing Seanad Éireann. I know that she is a very busy Minister but for the families, their loved ones and the victims, it is important that this issue is raised in Seanad Éireann on this day, the anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and I thank Senator Gallagher for bringing that Commencement matter before the House today.