In accordance with the Order of the House today, the time has now arrived to hear a statement from the Taoiseach.
Stalker-Sampson Report: Statements.
A Cheann Comhairle, it would normally fall to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Brian Lenihan, as Minister and as Joint Chairman of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council established under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, to make this statement to the House. However, in his absence and in view of the importance and urgency of the matter and the serious concern of the Irish people, the Members of the Oireachtas and the Government about recent developments, I have thought it appropriate to make this statement.
On Monday, 25 January, the British Attorney General, Sir Patrick Mayhew, in the course of a statement in the House of Commons in relation to the Stalker-Sampson report, announced that the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland had concluded that the evidence did not warrant any further prosecutions in respect of shootings which occurred in Armagh on 11 November 1982 and 12 December 1982 and did not warrant any prosecutions in respect of either the fatal shooting of Michael Tighe or the wounding of Martin McCauley which occurred in Armagh on 24 November 1982.
The British Attorney General also announced that the Director of Public Prosecutions had concluded that there was evidence of the commission of offences of perverting, or attempting or conspiring to pervert, the course of justice, or of obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty, and that this evidence was sufficient to require consideration of whether prosecutions were required in the public interest. The Attorney General stated that he had taken steps to acquaint himself with all relevant circumstances, including matters concerning the public interest and, in particular, considerations of national security which he felt might properly affect the decision or not to institute proceedings. He said that he had informed the director fully with regard to his consultations as to the public interest, and in the light of all the facts and information brought to his notice, the director had concluded, with the Attorney General's full agreement, that it would not be proper to initiate any criminal proceedings.
The language used by the British Attorney General was of an elaborate and complex construction but in essence amounted to a blunt admission that while prosecutions were warranted they were not going to be taken for reasons of national security. It was also stated that the report would not be published.
My Government immediately indicated that they were deeply dismayed by the decision of the British authorities not to proceed with prosecutions in respect of those matters which were the subject of the inquiry initiated by Mr. Stalker and completed by Mr. Sampson concerning allegations of a "shoot-to-kill" policy by the security forces in Northern Ireland in 1982 and allegations of a subsequent perversion of the course of justice. The Government further stated that they would be seeking urgent clarification of the announcement by the British Attorney General and of those other matters addressed by the inquiry — specifically, questions relating to the management and structure of the RUC, to Constable Robinson's statement on an incursion on the night of 12 December 1982 and to the question of the publication of the report.
Deputies will be further aware that on Tuesday, 26 January the Government decided that, because of the serious implications of the British Attorney General's statement for public confidence in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland and for cross-Border security co-operation, they would seek an immediate special meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference for the purpose of clarifying the issues involved. A meeting which had been arranged between officials and members of both the Garda and the RUC on policing matters was deferred in view of the call for a special meeting of the conference. I can inform the House that the special meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference sought under Article 3 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement will take place in the very near future.
Let me say immediately that the Government were neither consulted nor informed under the procedures of the Agreement, or in any other manner, about any aspect of the statement made by Sir Patrick Mayhew to the House of Commons on Monday. It is a point to which I will return.
I would like now to outline for the Dáil the sequence of events and the principal happenings in this long-drawn out affair. Allegations of a deliberate "shoot-to-kill" policy on the part of the RUC first arose following the deaths of six people in three separate incidents in County Armagh in the period November-December 1982.
The three incidents concerned were as follows:
(i) On 11 November, three men, Eugene Toman, Gervaise McKerr and Sean Burns, were shot dead by the RUC at a road block near Lurgan;
(ii) On 24 November, a 17 year old youth, Michael Tighe, was shot dead, and a companion, Martin McCauley, was injured, by the RUC in a hay shed near Lurgan; and
(iii) On 12 December, two men, Seamus Grew and Roddy Carroll, were shot dead by the RUC on the outskirts of Armagh.
The court trials which followed incidents lent credence to allegations of a deliberate "shoot-to-kill" policy and a co-ordinated attempt by members of the RUC to cover this up:
—During the trial of Constable John Robinson, charged with the murder of Seamus Grew, Constable Robinson stated that he and other members of the RUC had been involved in a "cover up" of the existence of a special anti-terrorist group in Northern Ireland and also of the fact that members of the RUC Special Branch had operated outside the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland. An incursion by the Northern Ireland security forces on 12 December 1982 was subsequently admitted by the British Government. It was shown, furthermore, in the trial, that several of the shots which had killed Seamus Grew had been fired from a distance of only 30-36 inches. It was also shown that Constable Robinson had emptied his weapon, reloaded and continued to fire.
—During the trial of Martin McCauley (Michael Tighe's companion) who was charged with possession of arms in suspicious circumstances, it was revealed that RUC officers had lied in statements about the incident. The officers claimed that this had been on the orders of senior RUC officers who wanted to conceal the part played in the operation by the Special Branch and by an informer.
—The conduct of two of the trials (the Robinson trial and the trial of three RUC officers charged with the murder of Eugene Toman), was itself a source of concern on a number of counts. Mr. Justice McDermott's decision to acquit Robinson was widely criticised, for example, on the grounds that Constable Robinson's decision to reload and continue to fire into the car at unarmed men did not appear to be consistent with the judgment of the Court that he was firing in self-defence.
—Furthermore, Mr. Justice McDermott did not refer the evidence of a cover-up to the DPP. A number of Mr. Justice McDermott's comments, notably his praise of Constable Robinson's marksmanship, were also a cause of deep concern. In the case arising from the murder of Eugene Toman, the late Lord Justice Gibson's acquittal of the three RUC defendants and his remarks on the occasion were also deeply disturbing.
An investigation into the question of the appearance of a cover-up was instigated by the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions. The results of this investigation, however, did not satisfy the DPP who exercised his statutory power to require full information with regard to the circumstances in which false or misleading evidence was provided by the RUC. Consequently, on 24 May 1984, Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker of the Greater Manchester police was appointed by the Chief Constable of the RUC, Sir John Hermon, to the investigation. Mr. Stalker's initial inquiry took 15 months and in September 1985 he submitted an interim report to the RUC Chief Constable. There have been persistent suggestions that this report was highly critical of the RUC and that it recommended the prosecution of a number of RUC officers. It was submitted by the Chief Constable to the DPP in February 1986, and the DPP requested additional information before deciding whether or not to press charges.
Mr. Stalker was continuing his work on the inquiry when, on 29 May 1986, he was suspended on leave pending the investigation of certain charges against him. Following his suspension as Deputy Chief Constable, he was removed from the RUC inquiry and Mr. Colin Sampson, the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, who had been appointed to carry out the investigation into allegations of misconduct against Mr. Stalker, was asked by the Chief Constable of the RUC to take charge of the RUC investigation also. Mr. Stalker was cleared of all charges of misconduct and was reinstated as Deputy Chief Constable in August 1986. He was not, however, returned to the RUC investigation. On 19 December 1986, he announced his decision — for "personal and family reasons"— to take early retirement from the Manchester police force. That is the background to this affair.
There are four main elements which cause particular concern. First, in the circumstances in which six people were killed and one injured in what have been called "shoot-to-kill" incidents in Armagh in 1982. These incidents have been a cause of continuing deep anxiety to the Government, to the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland and to human rights organisations in these islands and elsewhere. Second, is the question of a covert operation by the Northern Ireland security forces in this jurisdiction on 12 December 1982 which was revealed in court by Constable Robinson in 1984. Third, is the falsification of evidence, instructions to commit perjury and other actions designed to pervert the course of justice which were alleged against the RUC in the aftermath of the "shoot-to-kill" incidents and which the British Attorney General has now confirmed there is evidence to support. Fourth, is the question of the response of the British authorities to the many questions raised by this whole affair.
It is a matter of the most serious and grave concern to the Government:
— that it has taken over five years to decide on the question of further prosecutions; that it has taken four years for the British authorities to reach a conclusion on the claims of perversion of the course of justice made by Constable Robinson under oath in 1984;
— that the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland failed to obtain the necessary co-operation from the RUC, and indeed was misled by the RUC, in regard to the "shoot-to-kill" incidents and the RUC investigation of them;
— that the subsequent formal police inquiry itself has taken almost four years, and is still not complete in that general recommendations of Mr. Sampson are being considered further by another senior police officer;
— that the original leader of the inquiry, Deputy Chief Constable Stalker, was removed from the inquiry in circumstances which caused widespread unease;
— that no action or statement of intention has yet been undertaken by the British Government in regard to the structures, organisation and management of the RUC arising from the Stalker-Sampson inquiry other than the decision to refer the recommendations in the report to a senior police officer, for further consideration;
— that no prosecution has been taken in regard to the killing of Michael Tighe and the injuring of Martin McCauley on 24 November 1982; and
— that after five years of consideration by the prosecuting authorities, by the Northern Ireland courts and again by the prosecuting authorities, no member of the security forces appears to have been held to account for the alleged "shoot-to-kill" incidents or for the attempt to pervert the course of justice.
This is a most extraordinary series of events which has done the gravest damage to confidence in the ability and intention of the authorities to uphold the rule of law and to administer justice fairly.
In his statement in the House of Commons, the British Attorney General has indicated that it was, apparently, not in the public interest to prosecute for a perversion of the course of justice in the police investigation of the "shoot-to-kill" incidents. The Government are not aware of the basis for this decision. Let me say that I recognise that the security forces in Northern Ireland are required to operate in a turbulent situation but this can never remove their solemn obligation always to uphold the law. In our view it is most clearly in the public interest and in the interest of our Government who commit so much of their resources to security in this island that there should be confidence in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland and that there should be good relations between the community and the security forces.
Indeed, it is essential that there should be such confidence if we are to make progress towards the achievement of peace in Northern Ireland. Public confidence in the administration of justice is a matter which cannot be divorced from the public interest. In the Government's view, it should be possible for the British Government to provide a great deal more information than has so far been provided, by way of publication of the Stalker-Sampson report or otherwise, in order to answer the widespread unease which this affair has caused.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement provides that the Intergovernmental Conference shall consider security policy in Article 7, relations between the security forces and the community in Article 7, issues of concern to both countries relating to the enforcement of the criminal law and the importance of public confidence in the administration of justice, Article 8. The Agreement also provides that with a view to enhancing cross-Border co-operation in security matters, the conference shall set in hand a programme of work to be undertaken by the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána and the Chief Constable of the RUC and, where appropriate, groups of officials. Although it is clear that under the Agreement the Conference has no operational responsibilities, it is also clear from the provisions and practices established under the Agreement that consultation and the provision of information are the very least that should be expected of both Governments under the Agreement.
The British Attorney General has stated to the House of Commons that he has taken steps to acquaint himself with all relevant circumstances in the matter of the Stalker-Sampson report, including matters concerning the public interest and in particular considerations of national security which might have properly affected the decision whether or not to institute proceedings. It will be part of the purpose of the Government at the forthcoming special Intergovernmental Conference to establish what was the basis of the Attorney General's consideration of the public interest. At this point I can only say that at no stage did the British Government seek the views of the Irish Government on any of the issues dealt with in the agreement which it seems to us should have been taken into account in any consideration of the public interest.
I want to make it quite clear that the Government have attached the greatest importance to the Stalker-Sampson inquiry and have kept constantly in touch with developments. As the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs has told the House on three occasions, in his Estimates statement on 28 May, 1987, in response to a parliamentary question on 16 June, 1987 and in response to a further parliamentary question on 4 November 1987, the Government have been concerned about the whole range of issues surrounding the Stalker-Sampson inquiry and believed that it was essential from all points of view that the matter be cleared up and the necessary follow-up action taken, as quickly as possible. The Tánaiste indicated to the Dáil that he has been using the framework of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to convey his concerns on this matter to the British Government. The British Government have been left in no doubt through repeated references and inquiries at the Conference, in the Secretariat and through other means, right up to the present, of the Government's great concern and interest and of our wish to be informed.
It must be clear to any reasonable observer that the only persons likely to benefit from what has now happened are the paramilitaries. I would have thought that a decision to prosecute would be in the best interests of the RUC and that they would have welcomed action by the British authorities to uphold the principle that in a democratic society the use of lethal force by the police must be the very last resort; that perjury, misleading statements to the authorities and other actions designed to pervert the course of justice should not be tolerated.
I believe it is clear also that the British Attorney General's statement and any other decisions which may be taken on foot of the Stalker-Sampson report have serious implications for the administration of justice in Northern Ireland and the relations between the security forces and the community. A further improvement in those relations which might have been hoped for will be seriously affected by these recent events. We have also indicated in our public statement our concern that it may have serious implications for cross-Border security co-operation.
Co-operation and cross-Border security had been steadily developed in the face of the continued campaign of violence and attempts to import large quantities of arms for subversive use. But such security co-operation can only be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual trust between the two police forces on the basis that the two Governments are firmly committed to political progress by peaceful constitutional means.
The Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference exists as a forum in which Northern Ireland issues of mutual concern to the two Governments can be dealt with. The Government will at the forthcoming special meeting of that Conference put forward their views on the serious crux which has arisen. They will emphasise the importance of confidence in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland and will seek an appropriate course of action by means of which the deep and widespread doubts and anxieties which have been aroused by the British Attorney General's statement can be removed. Matters cannot be left as they are.
I have already put on public record my views on the issues arising here. I intend to repeat them for the House and to add some further considerations this afternoon. Nothing that has been said and nothing that has happened since the British Attorney General's statement last Monday throws any further light on this extraordinary affair. The United Kingdom Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is making a statement at around this time and I have just been informed that he has said that while there will not be prosecutions, there will be disciplinary action within the RUC. To my mind that does not respond to the concerns that have been expressed in this House and elsewhere, nor does it respond in any way to the concerns that are properly ours in view of the history of this whole affair.
The three specific incidents in November and December of 1982 which gave rise to the allegation that there was a "shoot-to-kill" policy in operation by the RUC were very much a part of the situation which inspired the concern which underlies Article 7 of the Anglo-Irish Agreementaly are indeed, paragraph 8 of the joint communiqué that was issued after the signing of the agreement at Hillsborough in November of 1985. Since the agreement was signed, the Governments in London and here have frequently reiterated their commitment to it and their determination to move as energetically and as rapidly as possible along the path it maps out. I think we must accept and recognise that a good deal of progress has been made, although each Government have at different times expressed a wish that progress in one area or another were greater.
From the very beginning of the process initiated by the Anglo-Irish Conference, it was made clear beyond any possibility of misunderstanding that the three incidents in question, the underlying concern about the existence then of a "shoot to kill" policy and the investigation being carried out by Mr. Stalker were matters of the highest concern for the Government in Dublin and for the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland. This concern was expressed repeatedly at conference meetings and during the course of ongoing contacts and relations between the two Governments and between the administrations. I can say without the slightest exaggeration and without any fear of contradiction that up to the beginning of March 1987 there could be no doubt whatever as to the position of the Irish Government on the matter. The Taoiseach in the course of his remarks this afternoon has spoken about the subsequent period and we must take the Taoiseach's remarks as they are set before us.
One question I would ask and one which has not yet been answered is, if it is the case, why was it decided last July to take the question of the Stalker-Sampson report off the agenda of the Anglo-Irish Conference and to pursue it bilaterally between the two Governments? That is reported to be the case; if it is not the case, I should be happy to be assured of that. It was clear from the beginning of that process that the Government here wanted the whole affair to be thoroughly and properly investigated, with whatever consequences might result from it. Our concern was to ensure, in accordance with the terms of Article 7 of the Agreement, an improvement in relations between the security forces in Northern Ireland and the community, with the object, in particular, of making the security forces more readily accepted by the Nationalist community. We put a great deal of thought and effort into that and, indeed, ran a certain political risk in so doing. I have no doubt but that that was the correct course of action to adopt and it is widely agreed and perceived that progress was made.
In the light of all that, the statement by the UK Attorney General last Monday can only be described as astounding, particularly in view of the fact that certainly up to March of 1987 there was a very clear anxiety expressed from the British side that the matter be thoroughly investigated and that the appropriate conclusions be drawn. It is true that the replacement of Mr. Stalker by Mr. Sampson has never been satisfactorily explained although we may see some of the explanation of that in the near future. Notwithstanding all that, there did appear to be an anxiety on the UK side that the inquiry be pursued and concluded. The statement made last Monday by the UK Attorney General, as indeed I pointed out earlier in the week and as the Taoiseach has pointed out this afternoon, is in many ways a fairly transparent code. He says — and I am quoting from the statement:
The Director has however concluded that there is evidence of the commission of offences of perverting or attempting or conspiring to pervert, the course of justice or of obstructing a Constable in the execution of his duty and that this evidence is sufficient to require consideration of whether prosecutions are required in the public interest; and he has consulted me accordingly.
I have therefore taken steps to acquaint myself with all relevant circumstances, including matters concerning the public interest and in particular considerations of national security which might properly affect the decision whether or not to institute proceedings. I have informed the Director fully with regard to my consultations as to the public interest, and in the light of all the facts and information brought to his notice the Director has concluded, with my full agreement, that it would not be proper to initiate any criminal proceedings. He has given directions accordingly.
That to me, when rendered into English, means that were it not for these unspecified considerations of the public interest and national security there would be prosecutions. That is the only way that statement can be read and that is the issue that must now be answered by the British Government.
That statement is all the more difficult to accept because, as I pointed out earlier this week, by late 1986 we had reason to believe, from high political British sources, that a number of senior RUC officers would be charged. Taking that together with the only possible clear reading of the Attorney General's statement I am forced to the conclusion, as I have said, that had it not been for these unspecified considerations of public interest and national security, prosecutions would have taken place. That is where we must have the greatest concern. I do not accept, nor I think should we in this House accept, that considerations of that kind can be brought forward to justify a failure or a refusal to bring prosecutions where the law has been broken. We cannot accept that considerations of that kind in our time can be used to justify police conduct that is outside the law or to shelter the operations of a police force, wherever it may be, from the full provisions of the law. Surely one of the things that we must all want to bring about in Northern Ireland just as everywhere else, but especially in Northern Ireland, is a respect for the rule of law, a respect for the rule of law that requires the same level of integrity from everybody in the community. That is one of the central issues that now faces us in this affair.
This development — if that is the right word for it — this extraordinary affair, is all the more to be deplored in the light of the fact that as a result of the work that was done in the Anglo-Irish Conference and of a good deal of effort deployed by the British authorities, by the authorities in Northern Ireland and by ourselves, there has been objectively a change for the better in the relations between the RUC and large sections of the population in Northern Ireland. I think it only right to say that a good deal of the effort and the moral capital involved in that process was invested by the members of the RUC itself. This statement by the British Attorney General runs a grave risk of setting that at nought and perhaps indeed of going back to an even more difficult situation than had existed in 1982, 1984 or 1985.
The question we must now face is what can be done from here. I am glad to note that the Government have reacted strongly and that arrangements have been made to bring forward the date of the next Anglo-Irish Conference. The Government must now insist on having sight of all parts of the report in question, the Stalker-Sampson report, and must insist on having a briefing as to the full meaning of the findings of that report. In the normal course of events one would press for the publication of a report of this kind but perhaps that is not appropriate in this case. If the report indicates that proceedings should be taken against particular members of the RUC then of course it would be inappropriate to publish the report in advance of those proceedings. That is a matter that the Government will have to judge when they have sight and knowledge of the full contents of the report. The Government must insist that they have sight of the report, that they have full information of the findings and that members of the Government be fully briefed as to what all the implications of the report are. That will be a very material consideration as to how we go about the future management of the process set out in the Anglo-Irish only are need paragraph.
We should remind ourselves that since the agreement was signed two different Governments here and two different Governments in London have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to the process set out in the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The full resolution of this Stalker-Sampson affair must be part of the process of that agreement and the agreement must be used in order to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion.
Despite very strong feelings and an understandable sense of outrage on the part of all who are concerned with the operation of the rule of law, it is important that the Dáil approaches consideration of the British Government's decision in relation to the Stalker-Sampson inquiry in a calm and reflective manner. In particular it is vital that the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which is the most important step forward in Anglo-Irish relarions, should not become a causalty of an intensive flurry of recrimination between both Governments, however strong and justifiable those feelings of outrage are in Ireland. This is all the more vital given the undoubted desire of people in many quarters to see the Anglo-Irish Agreement killed off or at least to see it wither away.
The most alarming implication of the Stalker-Sampson inquiry is that it leaves in place within the RUC force in the North a cadre of police officers who are known to have perverted the course of justice and to have organised perjury and misinformation on a massive scale to that end. That is totally unacceptable and the continuance of such a group within any police force can only act as a major blight on the overall reputation of that force. Mere disciplinary action, of the kind that we now hear is going to be taken internally within the RUC, in a situation such as this is completely inadequate in face of an organised effort to subvert the administration of justice generally, as was the case in Northern Ireland.
There is still deep uncertainty as to the extent of the responsibility for this particular conspiracy within the RUC. It is a matter of concern that it has not yet been fully determined how far up in the ranks of the RUC that conspiracy spreads or whether indeed it reaches beyond that police force into the administration in Northern Ireland. Given the seriousness of the implications for the reputaion of any police force faced with this depressing reality, how much more devastating are those implications for a police force like the RUC faced with the difficult task of policing a deeply divided community in which much of one sector has yet to be weaned from a deep-seated hostility and an understandable lack of confidence in the overall impartiality of the police. It is also important to take a deeper look at the articular explanation given on behalf of the British Government by their Attorney General, Seir Partick Mayhew, in the House of Commons on Monday last as to the British Government's desire to suppress the Stalker-Sampson report and pursue no further the matter of investigating RUC wrong-doing in the matter of a possible shoot-to-kill policy in 1982.
It is not unknown for countries to hide behind the cloak of national security as a reason for not investigating completely events which are embarrassing and controversial either in domestic or international politics. In such circumstances it is normally the case that there is little that any other sovereign nation can do where such matters arise. That is most certainly not the case in this instance precisely because of the existence of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. That agreement is a solemn international treaty and gives the Irish Government a formal right, under Articles 7 and 8, as quoted by the Taoiseach, to consider jointly with the British Government matters such as — and here I quote Article 7 (a) (ii):
relations between the security forces and the community.
Article 7 (c) states:
The two Governments agree that there is a need for a programme of special measures in Northern Ireland to improve relations between the security forces and the community, with the object in particular of making the security forces more readily accepted by the nationalist community.
Those two provisions alone highlight the right and indeed the duty of the Irish Government, on behalf of the Irish people, to have the British decision relating to the Stalker-Sampson inquiry fully investigated. It seems to me that they also establish the right of the Irish Government to be consulted about these matters. Therefore, I am disturbed to hear from the Taoiseach this afternoon that there was no consultation of any kind with the Government on this matter before this decision was announced. There is nothing that could be more central to making the security forces in the North more acceptable to the Nationalist community than the tackling of an issue like this. Sadly, it flies totally in the face of that commitment.
I also believe that it is in the vital interests of the RUC themselves that the issues underpinning the Stalker-Sampson inquiry are more fairly and comprehensively dealt with than they were in the rather insensitive British Government response of Monday last. That police force in Northern Ireland has suffered terrible tragedies over the past 20 years. To their great credit, particularly since the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed in 1985, they have made considerable efforts, often at great sacrifice to individual members of the force, to improve their standing with the Nationalist community and to convince all right-thinking people that they are committed to the impartial and even-handed application of the law in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the entire force becomes tainted by the unresolved issues raised, tainted indelibly by the unresolved issues raised in the Stalker-Sampson inquiry. The continued presence of a group of officers within that force under such circumstances as those admitted by the British Government can only damage the reputation of the RUC.
The whole affair cannot be left to rest in the state of limbo accorded it by the British Attorney General on Monday last. It is absolutely misguided to believe that brushing the matter of a police conspiracy to pervert the course of justice under the carpet can do anything but severely impede the improvement of community relations within Northern Ireland. It makes more difficult the further development of Anglo-Irish relations on a civilised basis, based on mutual respect for the rights and sensitivities of both people and of both Governments. That is why the Irish Government must press very strongly at the forthcoming Anglo-Irish Conference to have the Stalker-Sampson report and its implications resolved in a satisfactory manner. We cannot keep quiet simply because of the superior interest of maintaining the Anglo-Irish Agreement which is, of course, of such vital importance in the view of the Progressive Democrats and other parties in this State.
I would end with an appeal to British public opinion also. Already three of the leading papers in Britain are critical of what has been done by their Government. People in Britain are rightly and justifiably angered and concerned at unlawful police tactics whether in South Africa or Israel. They share the genuine concern of other democratic nations to denounce security force cover-ups and conspiracies to overthrow the rule of law. But the British public must also realise that the Stalker-Sampson inquiry and their Government's response to it belongs to the same category. It is ironic but, I believe, true that there would be much more concern and outrage in Britain if the kind of decision announced in Westminster this week had emerged from Pretoria.
There was one point only in what the Taoiseach said on which I would specifically like to make an observation because I agree with virtually everything he did say. That is when he said:
We have also indicated in our public statement our concern that it may have serious implications for cross-Border security co-operation.
It can have if people want it to have. My suggestion is that perhaps it should not have. I can understand why there was a postponement this week of a meeting between the head of the Garda Síochána and the head of the RUC but they and their various officers should continue to meet on a professional police basis. The necessary security co-operation on this island should not be affected by how the political winds blow, whether warm or cool, at any particular time. All of us on this island have a common interest in overcoming the challenge to democracy, and indeed often to our very lives, posed by these gunmen. These two police forces, whatever problems may arise from time to time, are those who stand in the front line on our behalf. Certainly, at a professional level, they should continue their co-operation in the closest way in all our interests, and not allow these unfortunate and very important affairs— which naturally concern us all—to affect their professional activity.
So far as the publication of the report is concerned—which the Taoiseach suggested might now take place—it is only right to point out that on 4 November last and earlier, on 16 June, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said here, in reply to parlimentary questions that it is his understanding that police reports of this kind are not normally published. That may have been the case at the time but the circumstances perhaps are somewhat different now. If it is found not possible to publish this report to the public at large, it does seem to me to be a document that should be submitted to the Anglo-Irish Conference. It certainly would be within the spirit of the Anglo-Irish Agreement if that were done. It is something that the Government should press in the context of the conference and at least seek publication there if not full publication to the public.
At the outset I would lodge a brief protest in relation to the manner in which we are conducting this business. The motivation for this discussion, so far as I can tell, was the Special Notice Question I put down to the Taoiseach the day before yesterday. I am satisfied that that would have been an infinitely better way to deal with this issue. I did not raise this on the Order of Business yesterday because of the urgency of the budget, but I believe it would have been a better way; we would have got information from the Government and an opportunity of teasing out the attitude of the Taoiseach and the Government, and there would have been an opportunity for the Taoiseach to respond to points made from this side of the House.
The procedure being followed, for those reasons, is entirely unsatisfactory. We are not here simply to let off steam. As Members of this House, we are entitled to seek and to demand answers to questions. And we are entitled to put propositions before the House on issues of major concern, and to seek Government action where that is necessary.
In a statement issued on Monday last on this subject, I said:
The situation which is now developing in Anglo-Irish relations is perhaps the most serious since the early seventies. It is rapidly reaching a point where it transcends the ordinary Anglo-Irish process. The apparent willingness of the British Government to sanction the perversion of justice displays an arrogance which is unworthy of any democratic state, and which must raise concern in Britain itself as well as here. It will, unfortunately, be seen by many as a sign of the increasing authoritarianism of the British establishment.
I believe there is now a need for this country to declare that as a sovereign equal State we refuse to be treated in this way. Far from seeking meetings of the Anglo-Irish Conference, we should give serious consideration to refusing to meet, at this or any other level, until the British Government understands that this country has a right to be treated as an equal.
If we regard this incident as yet another example of British insensitivity, of the kind with which we have become familiar, we would be making a very serious mistake. The more one examines the facts surrounding and behind the case, the more one has to become convinced that this incident may mark a turning point in our relations with Britain.
Let us consider some of the salient facts. A number of men have been killed, shot in cold blood. These men have been described as "suspected terrorists"—not terrorists, but suspected terrorists. No inquest has ever taken place into any of these deaths. No individual has been held to account for these deaths. Two trials have taken place.
The Director of Public Prosecutions in the North, after an examination of the facts that emerged at these trials, came to the conclusion that lies had been told. So, clearly, did other authorities, and the result was the appointment of Mr. Stalker to investigate the whole unsavoury and vicious mess.
Of course we know now that just as Mr. Stalker appeared to be on the point of finalising his investigation, he was removed, and subjected to a witch-hunt on what turned out to be totally spurious grounds. Nevertheless, the investigation was completed, and the results presented to the same Director of Public Prosecutions who had decided some years earlier that he was being told lies. It is clear that left to his own devices he would have initiated prosecutions. He had a case, and was evidently willing to pursue it.
He was prevented from doing so as a result of a political decision. The British Attorney General apparently decided that the national interest was not compatible in this instance with the pursuit of one of the most fundamental principles of English law — namely the principle that justice must be seen to be done.
There have been many murky and sinister elements in this case. The Freemasons have been mentioned; M15 and M16 have both been implicated; there has been mention of missing tape-recordings.
But no element of the case is more sinister than this latest development. The first question I have to ask here is why was the whole business allowed to drag on so long if the findings were not going to be compatible with the national interest? It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that somebody in authority, either in Britain or in the North, was content to let the investigation continue only as long as it failed to establish the truth. Once it began to appear as if the truth would emerge, that person or persons in authority took a different view.
What is the truth that they are so afraid of. If the result of this investigation clearly showed that there was no shoot-to-kill policy, the details would be splashed over every newspaper in this country and in the UK. Every reputable journalist working in this country knows that there is no body more adept at leaking information that is in their interest than the security forces operating in the North of Ireland.
Similarly, if the investigation had established that a shoot-to-kill policy was being operated at their own initiative by a small number of maverick policemen, with no authority from above, I have no doubt that this information would have been made public.
In short, if the result of the investigation had exonerated everyone in authority, and if there was no danger of any dark secret being revealed in court, I do not believe that the view would have been taken that prosecution was incompatible with the national interest.
For all these reasons, the only conclusion possible is that the Stalker-Sampson investigation did reveal two main things. First, it must have revealed that there was in fact a shoot-to-kill policy. Second, it must have revealed that that policy had the clear sanction of someone in authority.
And that process of reasoning leads inevitably to one final conclusion. The reason for suppressing the report, and for not proceeding with prosecutions, is to protect the identity of those in authority who sanctioned this policy.
We are entitled to know — and the British people are entitled to know — who sanctioned such a policy. Where would this have stopped if the report had been published? Would the finger of suspicion have led to the Chief Constable of the RUC or to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or into Downing Street itself?
The other thing we are entitled to know is what steps our Government are to take in relation to this whole issue. We have heard within the last few days that an urgent meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference is being sought to get clarification of the issues involved. We need to ask if this is really the appropriate way to proceed. And we need to think carefully about the answer. If the meeting will proceed as we now are led to believe, I would ask the Taoiseach to insist that the British Attorney General be at that meeting to explain in detail the reasoning behind his decision to the Irish Attorney General. If there are to be further reports or investigations, could we not insist that they would report to the conference rather than reporting individually to the British Government? Perhaps this is a line which the Taoiseach and his Ministers could pursue.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, the shoe was on the other foot. Suppose the British authorities had reason to believe that we were suppressing information of vital interest to them. Suppose they believed that we were refusing to proceed with prosecutions in which they were vitally interested. Is it likely that their response would be the relatively mild one of seeking a meeting to clarify the issues involved? I think not.
We have a reasonably recent example of similar circumstances that I believe we should look at. When the Rainbow Warrior outrage was committed by French Secret Service agents in New Zealand, the Prime Minister of that country did not mince his words. In the court of world opinion, he made it clear that he was holding the French Government directly responsible.
There is no doubt in my mind that that is precisely the approach that the British Prime Minister would take if she were the aggrieved party in this case. I would therefore argue that it is time we put our foot down. Far from seeking meetings with the British authorities, we should be giving serious consideration to what steps we can take to embarrass and shame the British Government.
What we cannot forget, or allow them to forget, is the fundamental principle that has been tainted by the actions of the British Government. The rule of law can only survive for as long as justice is seen to be done. That is a fundamental tenet of democracy which the British gave to the world. We should not let them forget it.
The decision of the British Government not to publish the report and not to initiate proceedings is both inexcusable and inexplicable. An acceptable police force in which the majority of the public can have confidence is an essential prerequisite for political progress in Northern Ireland. This decision by the British Government has done much to undermine the considerable progress that had been made in recent years towards achieving an acceptable police force. It is worth remembering that the major objective of the civil rights campaign people who took to the streets just 20 years ago in Northern Ireland was to secure reform and the disarming of the RUC. These demands were in fact largely conceded by the British Government in 1969 but the progress made was literally blown away by the Provisionals when they launched their campaign of violence in the early seventies.
The RUC have had a chequered career since then. There were certain events in the seventies in which their conduct was totally unacceptable. There is little doubt that in recent years significant progress was made in reforming the RUC. In the past couple of years especially, it had become increasingly accepted by the majority of people across the sectarian divide, that more and more people in Nationalist areas were seeing them as a normal police force and were prepared to call them in to deal with normal petty crimes — housebreaking, car stealing and so on — which have become such an unfortunate feature of urban life both North and South.
As part of our constant campaign for a bill of rights in Northern Ireland, The Workers' Party have always called for the reform of the RUC, in particular for an independent complaints procedure and for civilian control.
The killing of six people by the RUC in dubious circumstances within a period of a few weeks in 1982 quite rightly shocked many people in Britain and Ireland. The decision to hold a full inquiry into the 1982 shootings was a welcome development but unfortunately the handling of it since then has been a disaster, and the only people to benefit are the paramilitary groups.
Circumstances in which the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, Mr. John Stalker, was removed from the investigations was a grave cause for concern, but the decision not to publish the findings of the inquiry or to take action against those involved was a blunder of enormous proportions which will undermine the efforts of those many people who are involved in the difficult task of building democracy and civil rights and defeating terrorism in Northern Ireland.
Britain's Attorney General in his statement to the House of Commons said quite clearly that there were grounds for proceeding against persons alleged to have conspired to pervert the course of justice. The decision not to do so on the grounds of security is quite unacceptable and simply illustrates the deplorable double standards that have become the hallmark of the Thatcher Administration. Mrs. Thatcher's obsession with protecting her security forces is legendary, but on this occasion she has shown an unprecedented contempt for legality. One must suspect that the real reason for her wanting to put the lid on this affair was that publication of the report would, as the Belfast Newsletter put it in its editorial yesterday, point to a trail leading to Downing Street.
The Irish Government have a legitimate interest in the outcome of the inquiry. People in the Republic have suffered, and will continue to suffer, from the spillover of the campaign of violence in Northern Ireland. We have a vested interest in peace in Northern Ireland. Anything that will make the establishment of peace and democracy there more difficult must be of concern to us. There is no doubt that the decision of the Thatcher Government on this matter will have that effect. Our national interests are also affected here. It is in our national interest to ensure that the Stalker-Sampson report is published and that those guilty of offences, no matter how high a position they hold in the RUC or the British Administration, are prosecuted and dealt with in the normal way. The Irish Government must exert all possible pressure on the Thatcher Administration to reverse their decision, and they will have our full support.
We must ensure that nothing is done to worsen the already difficult situation in Northern Ireland or in any way to give aid or comfort to the Provisionals. While the RUC have quite correctly been criticised for their shoot-to-kill policy in 1982, the Provisionals have been pursuing a far more vicious and deadly shoot-to-kill policy for the past 20 years and have been responsible for the vast majority of the 2,500 deaths there. They claimed their latest murder victim only last week, Constable Colin Gilmore a young man who left a widow and a baby.
The State and all its institutions must be bound by the rule of law. To depart from that principle is not only to demean the State and its servants, but it is to place the State on the same plane as the terrorists. Unfortunately statements are made by some politicians in the North and Britain which carry the message that it is regrettable that the security forces and the police service are bound by the rule of law. This would be a negation of civil rights and democracy and the hallmark of a totalitarian state. Human rights and civil liberties must be upheld whatever one's religion or nationality.
In the last few months of 1987 the terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland, and particularly the Provisional IRA, were more isolated and demoralised than at any time. The vast majority of people North and South demonstrated their abhorrence of terrorism in the aftermath of the Enniskillen Remembrance Day massacre. This development, together with the devastating news I have just received from the Old Bailey in London —"All Birmingham Six case convictions upheld. All appeals thrown out", — have thrown a lifeline to the Provisionals. Mrs. Thatcher, who rejoiced at the sinking of the Belgrano cannot be expected to have much regard either for Irish lives or for Irish liberty.