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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999

Vol. 500 No. 1

Sentencing of Garda Killers: Statements.

The merciless killing of the late Garda Jerry McCabe and the attack on his colleague, Garda Ben O'Sullivan, was an outrage. It was widely condemned at the time by all right-thinking people. I do not believe any of us will forget the shock we felt at hearing of those dreadful events at Adare. While the response to the use of weapons of death in pursuit of any criminal escapade can never be other than outrage and condemnation, there is no doubt that when the weapons are directed at those whose duty and calling it is in our democracy to enforce the law, the crime takes on a level of gravity which distinguishes and marks it apart in the public mind. Then we are faced not only with the savagery and inhumanity which the commission of any such act entails, but also with the widespread sense and reality that the authority of the State has been attacked.

It is right and understandable that the sense of outrage we shared then has not diminished with the passage of time, and the proof of that continuing outrage is the widespread concern about what transpired in the Special Criminal Court last week. It is right too that this House should take the first appropriate opportunity to discuss this matter and I am grateful to the Whips and Opposition spokespersons for their co-operation in arranging this debate.

All Members will be fully aware that under the Constitution the courts are independent in the performance of their functions. The same applies, under the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974, to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Prior to that, the DPP's functions were performed by successive Attorneys General. Although it is widely accepted that successive Attorneys, who were appointed on the nomination of the Taoiseach of the day, performed their prosecutorial functions independently, without fear or favour, it was felt in 1974 that the time had come to reinforce the perception of independence through the devolution of this function to an independent Director of Public Prosecutions.

Introducing the Bill, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach, the late Professor John Kelly, stated that one of its primary aims was "to ensure, as will be generally agreed to be desirable, that our system for the prosecution of offences should not only be impartial but should be seen to be so, and that it should not only be free from outside influence but should be manifestly so".

He further stated it should also remove any grounds for thinking that political considerations influence the Attorney General in carrying out his function as regards criminal prosecutions and that the "Government's objective of a clearly impartial system for the prosecution of criminal offences will be achieved by the provision, expressly written into the Bill . . . that the Director of Public Prosecutions is to be independent in the exercise of his functions".

Deputies will know also that my predecessors in office from different political parties have repeatedly made clear in this House that they were not involved in Garda operational matters, most particularly not in making decisions in relations to Garda investigations of crime, nor did they have a role in decisions about the handling of criminal trials. I am in the same position as they were, and I have respected and will continue to respect the separate role of the Garda Síochána in the investigation of crime and of the DPP in prosecuting crime.

The independence of all the agencies at issue in the matters I have set out is not a convenient cloak, it is fundamental to the manner in which the rule of law and our system of Government operate. In these circumstances the House will appreciate it follows that we have no function in seeking to go behind the decisions made in particular cases; nor, as Minister, would I be in a position to account for the decisions taken by these agencies in a particular case. I am not privy to the detailed discussions among the legal teams handling cases, nor should I be.

Clearly, however, in any democracy the matter does not simply rest there. The House is entitled, consistent with the respective roles of the various agencies I have outlined and in light of my responsibilities as Minister, to hear as full an account as I am in a position to provide in relation to matters which have given rise to public concern. This is particularly so in the context that we as a Legislature have an obligation, as do I as Minister, to address as best we can public concern about particular issues, and make an assessment as to what, if any, action might be open to us on these matters.

Before giving the House an account of the events as known to me, I want to make two points abundantly clear. The first relates to public comment on the question of political involvement in the decision made by the DPP. Neither I nor any official of my Department sought to interfere in any way in the DPP's decision making process in this case. I believe my predecessors would be as appalled as I am by any such suggestion. Deputies on all sides of the House would condemn such interference were it to take place and they would be right to do so.

The second point is that the file on the Adare case remains open. There has been public comment to the effect that other suspects who may have been involved in this crime are at large at present. I can confirm for the House that the gardaí believe a small number of people could help them with their inquiries. I sincerely request Deputies to accept we are all equally anxious to have all those whom the gardaí wish to interview in connection with the Adare crime made available for interview. However, I am sure and am advised that this outcome would not be assisted in any way by the naming of names, nor if we were to speculate here or elsewhere about the likelihood of adopting particular legal strategies to have the persons concerned brought back to this jurisdiction.

The broad facts surrounding what happened in the Special Criminal Court during the course of the trial in question are largely a matter of public record. The trial began on 12 January 1999. During its course it became obvious that the prosecution would not be able to rely, in the case of some witnesses, on the evidence which had been given earlier in statements to the Garda. Two of those witnesses – who were immediate relatives of one of the accused – would not testify in line with what they said in the statement which they made to the Garda and at the request of the prosecution were deemed to be hostile witnesses. A third witness, who had previously stated that the raiders had returned to his house after the robbery, simply refused to testify in the trial at all and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. I shall return to why the witnesses in question failed to testify, but these essential facts set out the background against which a plea bargain was entered into in this case. I make it clear in this context that I am using the term "plea-bargaining" for the sake of convenience. However, it should not be taken from my use of this term that there was any judicial involvement in the process which might be the case in other jurisdictions.

It may be helpful to give the House some background on the practice of plea-bargaining in this jurisdiction. The Law Reform Commission in its Consultation Paper on Sentencing sets out the law generally on plea-bargaining. It pointed out that in the vast majority of cases in Ireland sentence is imposed subsequent to a plea of guilty by the defendant to at least some charges. It points out that practitioners suggested to it that very many of these pleas are the result of negotiations with the prosecution – what is generally known as "plea-bargaining". While it is the case that very many of these would arise in the context of relatively minor cases, the commission, in setting out a list of what it refers to as the practical benefits of plea-bargaining, mentions "The result is certain and may be preferable to the possibility of the accused person being acquitted of a number of charges or of a more serious charge".

Essentially what was at issue in the case we are debating here today was that the Director of Public Prosecutions, in consultation with the legal team conducting the prosecution in court, had to make a judgment in the light of facts and circumstances which began to unfold as the trial proceeded. The consequences of these circumstances, the general nature of which I outlined, were put on the record of the Special Criminal Court by Mr. Edward Comyn, S.C. who the House will be aware is one of the most experienced criminal trial lawyers in this State. Against this background, discussions took place between the legal teams for the prosecution and the defence during which the defence indicated that the accused would plead guilty to manslaughter on the understanding that the murder charge would not be proceeded with. It was obviously the prosecutors' professional judgment that, in all the circumstances, the right course was to opt for the certainty of a conviction, rather than run what was judged to be the unacceptable risk, if the murder charge were insisted upon, that the killers would walk free.

Because of his statutory independence in such matters, it is not a matter for me to account for or defend the decision which was ultimately reached by the Director of Public Prosecutions in this case. However, in saying that, I believe all Members of this House will accept that this would have been one of the most difficult and sensitive decisions which the Director of Public Prosecutions has ever been called upon to make. While it is a matter of regret and deep disappointment that the highly experienced prosecution team found themselves in a situation where, on the basis of their own professional analysis, an insistence on holding to the murder charge carried an unacceptably high risk of failure, we should all acknowledge, in fairness to everyone concerned, that the deciding factor was professional judgment, honestly reached, and not any extraneous consideration. It is the case that the senior gardaí involved in the case were kept fully abreast of what was judged by the lawyers to be the appropriate course before the decision to accept the plea was made. They were as disappointed as everybody else at the way the case was turning out, but they too had to follow the advice they received.

The Minister has exceeded the ten minutes he was allocated to make his statement.

With the agreement of the House, I propose we allow the Minister to complete his remarks and a similar latitude be shown around the House.

It should be borne in mind that the House allocated a total of 55 minutes to deal with this matter.

I support the latitude suggested provided it does not encroach on the time allocated for questions.

An extension to the time allocated to the Minister is agreed. The Minister may complete his statement.

I am obliged.

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle.

For the sake of balance too, it might be worthwhile to reflect on what the reaction might have been if a different decision had been taken, the trial proceeded to an acquittal, those who had committed the killing subsequently walked free and it subsequently became known that the director had rejected a plea of guilty to manslaughter. We have to ask ourselves honestly if the public concern or criticism would have been any the lesser had events taken that course instead.

I mentioned earlier the issue of witnesses being unwilling to give evidence in court on the lines of statements which they had made to the Garda. In common with police forces around the world, the Garda Síochána have procedures in place to afford protection in whatever form is appropriate to persons who are prepared to give evidence in open court in criminal trials. The level of that protection is obviously for operational decision in the light of an assessment of all the circumstances of a particular case. As a general point, I am sure members will accept that protection, however, is not something that can be imposed on witnesses against their will.

In relation to the specific case we are discussing, I can inform the House that the question of protection of witnesses was an issue. I am advised by the Garda authorities that "what the witnesses accepted was the maximum in terms of security arrangements they could be prevailed upon to accept". I am also advised by the Garda authorities that "it would not be in the interest of future prosecutions to disclose information about the detailed security arrangements made". I have noted and fully understand concerns expressed to the effect that witnesses may have been intimidated in this case. It must be borne in mind that witnesses can have many reasons for ultimately refusing to give evidence that do not necessarily relate to intimidation, for example, because, for whatever reason, they do not wish to see a particular accused person convicted or punished for a crime. We have to acknowledge too that because of the very nature of intimidation its existence will not always become known to gardaí and certain witnesses will feel intimidated, irrespective of whether there is any overt threat. In any case the House will welcome the fact that the Garda Commissioner yesterday appointed a superintendent to investigate the issue of possible witness intimidation in this case.

I have legislative proposals on witness protection matters with which we will deal later but, before doing so, I will deal with one further issue relating to the specific events we are considering. I refer to speculation on the question of early release for those who have been convicted of the killing of Garda McCabe. I wonder how many different ways we have to say "no" for people to get the message that those involved will not have the benefit of the early release terms contained in the British-Irish Agreement. There has been clarity from the outset – from the time the British-Irish Agreement was negotiated – about this and the position has been made clear by the Taoiseach and me on numerous occasions. That there will now be manslaughter rather than murder convictions does not alter the Government's stance on this issue.

There has been some speculation about a legal case being taken on the basis that the people involved have a legal entitlement to be released under the British-Irish Agreement. I assure the House that any such action will be vigorously resisted by the State. I consulted the Attorney General about this matter and he assures me that after the British-Irish Agreement the position in law remains that releases continue to be a matter for decision by the Government under the Offences against the State Act, 1939, and the Minister for Justice under the Criminal Justice Act, 1960. It is the case that the Criminal Justice (Release of Prisoners) Act, 1998, which was enacted in the context of the British-Irish Agreement, establishes a Release of Prisoners Commission but its role is solely advisory. Moreover, the commission can only consider cases of persons specified by the Minister to be "qualifying prisoners" and I do not regard the persons involved as falling into that category so the question of referring their cases to the commission will not arise.

I propose to bring forward three new legislative proposals to deal with witness intimidation. The issue of witness intimidation has been one to which I have devoted particular attention as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The House will be aware that I introduced and provided funding for the recently established special witness security programme in high-profile cases. In addition, my Department has been working for some time on the question of whether improvements in the law could be made in this area. In the light of the work we have undertaken and in light of the understandable public concern about this issue, I can announce today that we propose to bring forward, in the near future, in the context of amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which is before the House, important new legal provisions in the area of witness protection.

First, we will allow witnesses who may be the subject of intimidation to give evidence by video-link. Second, we will make it an offence for people to try to trace witnesses who have been relocated as part of the witness protection programme. Third, while it is a common law offence at present to seek to intimidate witnesses in the context of contempt of court, we will be bringing forward a new statutory offence specifically targeted at intimidation of witnesses, with a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment. The House will accept these are sensible changes in our criminal law and they will be welcomed by all sides of the House.

I hope that during my contribution I have been able to address, within the context I outlined, issues which have been raised, particularly and understandably, by Members of the House about this case. The outcome of the case may not have been the one any of us would have wished for, but that was something beyond the control of everybody in the House. It is the case that the Garda successfully apprehended persons who were guilty of the outrage at Adare and on that they are to be congratulated. I am sure everyone on all sides of the House will agree with me in this regard.

I am sure Members will also agree that it would be wrong to let this occasion pass without placing on the record of the House the admiration we all share for the dignity and fortitude with which Detective Garda McCabe's family have borne their dreadful loss. I wish to offer on behalf of all Members our full support to the family in their difficult journey of coming to terms with their great and sad loss.

I propose to share time with Deputy Jim Higgins who will be the main questioner on behalf of the Fine Gael Party.

As Taoiseach in June 1996, I had the very unhappy duty to meet Ann McCabe and her five children to sympathise with them on their tragic loss. Their husband and father was taken from them by a group of men, every one of whom was a member of the IRA and reportedly also members of Sinn Féin. That party failed to condemn this murder at the time. Initially, both Sinn Féin and the IRA denied any involvement in the murder. Journalists were briefed to the effect that it was not an IRA operation and that the perpetrators were not IRA members. However, the people who made those claims are now pleading for the early release of those convicted of this offence on the basis that they are members of the IRA, an organisation which, to use the words of Mr. Gerry Adams, is "on cessation". That position is entirely inconsistent and there is no basis for it. Either these people were or were not members of the IRA when the offence was committed. If they were members then the statements issued by Sinn Féin at the time were false. If they were not members then the current statements being made by Sinn Féin are false.

The huge efforts being made by senior members of Sinn Féin to have these men considered as eligible for early release suggest that the links between Sinn Féin and the IRA are deep and strong. Weekend reports strengthen this view. As I said in this House last year, at the top level the direction of the two organisations is identical in philosophy, purpose and execution – they are one and the same. They are two organisations in one movement, with one purpose, one strategy and one direction.

Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was murdered. Legalistic semantics do not alter that fact. He was murdered by a heavily armed gang in the most brutal and callous circumstances, when 15 shots were fired into his car. It is an insult to a brave and dedicated officer and his colleagues, who continue to stand in the front line in preserving the safety of our State, to say that this act was anything but murder. It was a calculated assault on one of the most esteemed symbols of our democracy, the badge of the Garda Síochána, by the military wing of a political party which is represented in this House and which aspires to sharing power in the Government of Northern Ireland.

Less than 12 months ago, we know that members of Sinn Féin lobbied the Taoiseach, Ministers and senior Government officials to have those convicted of this murder released early from prison. Before, during and since the court case from which the convictions resulted, there has been a constant chorus from senior members of Sinn Féin seeking to have these people released early.

In his contribution the Minister asked, "I wonder how many different ways we have to say "no" for people to get the message that those involved will not have the benefit of the early release terms contained in the British-Irish Agreement." He went on to state: "There has been clarity from the outset – from the time the British-Irish Agreement was negotiated – about this and the position has been made clear by the Taoiseach and me on numerous occasions." Bearing that in mind, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that on Radio Kerry this morning the President of Sinn Féin, Mr. Gerry Adams, made alarming comments about the Taoiseach's remarks during the final hours of negotiating the British-Irish Agreement. Mr. Adams said that when he raised with the Taoiseach the issue of early release, the Taoiseach told him only that "it would be very difficult" or words to that effect and that "the Taoiseach didn't rule this out completely". That is an alarming claim and it must be dealt with immediately. It directly contradicts the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's claim that there has been clarity from the outset. Mr. Adams's statement must be dealt with head-on.

These comments are very much at variance with his stance on this subject in recent days. The Taoiseach must stand firm and deal fully with Mr. Adams's account of their meeting in Belfast last Easter, about which these alarming claims are being made. He must also inform the House of the nature of the comments he made to Mr. Adams so that the latter's statement on Radio Kerry can be contradicted forthwith. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must give watertight assurances that under no circumstances will these men be released early.

Given the well known ability of the IRA to hold entire communities in Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland under their particularly vicious form of "policing", it was surely entirely predictable that intimidation of witnesses would be a feature of this case. The failure of the Minister and the Garda to protect witnesses was a serious flaw in the prosecution of this case and the Minister did not deal satisfactorily with that. One witness said in court, "I just want to know why should I be intimidated and threatened before I came to court." This is a question which deserves to be answered by the Minister. However, he did not answer it. He informed us that he has only now appointed a superintendent to investigate witness intimidation in this case. That is an example of slamming the door when the horse has bolted. It is too late to investigate the matter now. The question of witness intimidation should have been dealt with before the case opened because it was obvious, knowing the IRA's record in respect of intimidating communities in Northern Ireland, that witness intimidation would be a feature of this case.

The Kalashnikov rifle used to kill Jerry McCabe has never been found. The same weapon was also fired at gardaí during an armed robbery in Kilmallock in 1994. Presumably this part of the IRA's armoury has now been cleaned, greased, wrapped and hidden. It is still, however, in commission and can be taken out of hiding for use when required. It is a small but deadly part of the arsenal of IRA weapons lying all over this island which the IRA refuse to decommission. I was recently informed by a senior Sinn Féin figure in this House that the IRA has said that it will never decommission and that he believes it will never do so. That statement was made by a signatory of the British-Irish Agreement in this House during the past week.

There will be a contradiction at the heart of the peace process as long as that remains the position of the republican movement. The peace process initiated by Mr. Adams would have had an internal logic if there were no IRA statements to the effect that it would never decommission. Now that the IRA has again confirmed that it will never decommission, there is a fundamental contradiction to be addressed. How could Sinn Féin representatives sign an agreement which contains a commitment to work for decommissioning if they knew and believed that their associates in the IRA would "never decommission"? There was a fundamental insincerity in their signing the Agreement if that is the point of view of the organisation they represent.

There is no point beating around the bush or making politically correct suggestions in the House that this matter should not be raised because it might upset people. I was criticised for telling the truth in this House at the time of the Omagh bombing. I asked a number of hard questions and everyone outside the House stated that I had chosen the wrong time and the wrong place. It is never the wrong time or place to tell the truth. The truth is that the IRA is determined never to decommission and that, unfortunately, Sinn Féin's signature on an agreement which commits its movement to decommissioning is insincere as long as it believes, as was said to me in this House, that to be the position of the IRA. That needs to be said in this House and we need to have the courage to say it.

I do not believe the soft words that are fashionable in some quarters in dealing with the republican movement are good for dialogue with it. This organisation has supported the use of violence in the past, understands plain talk and strong will. There is an obligation on Members of this House who believe that the IRA should decommission and that the mandate of the Irish people for the British-Irish Agreement is a mandate, among other things, for decommissioning, to speak plainly and show strong will in their dealings with Sinn Féin, the republican movement and the IRA in this matter.

The Minister must deal comprehensively with the alarming claim made this morning on Radio Kerry by Mr. Adams when he sought to represent what the Taoiseach had said in Belfast. I do not believe Mr. Adams was telling the truth; I believe the Taoiseach was telling the truth. However, Mr. Adams is effectively calling the Taoiseach a liar in saying he was ambiguous in his answers to questions about this matter. The Taoiseach must come into this House and deal directly with these alarming statements by Mr. Adams.

(Mayo): The decision by the State to accept a reduced plea of manslaughter in what was manifestly a murder, a capital murder at that, was wrong. It represents an unacceptable compromise and strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system. This was a case where there was a clear challenge to the authority and institutions of the State and the State lost. Seldom, if ever, has an outcome to a court case been greeted with such disquiet and universal public revulsion.

On 7 June 1996 Detective Garda McCabe and Detective Garda O'Sullivan were escorting a postal van with £81,000 in cash. It was a well planned robbery. The Mitsubishi Pajero jeep rammed their car from behind. Two men in balaclavas approached the car in which the gardaí were sitting and, at point blank range, shot dead Garda McCabe and seriously injured Garda O'Sullivan. Ballistic experts confirmed that the bullets were fired from an AK-47, the standard weapon of the Provisional IRA. Four men were charged with capital murder.

For 16 days the State ran a murder trial. On day 16, as a result of negotiations between lawyers for the State and lawyers for the defence, the State agreed to accept the reduced pleas of manslaughter. It was a wrong decision. From a situation of total denial of their involvement in the killing of Garda McCabe the four accused changed their plea. Essentially they said they were at the scene, had guns and killed Garda McCabe but did not mean it.

If ever there was a case of cold blooded murder this was it. It was a planned, fully fledged Provisional IRA raid. Balaclavas and Kalashnikovs were used and a barrage of gunfire was fired into the body of a garda, not in self defence but with the intention of killing him and anybody else who got in their way. The intent was clear and how any State prosecution doubted its ability to prove it is beyond me. The net result is that instead of a mandatory sentence of 40 years the killers of Garda McCabe will now be back on the streets within eight years.

Indeed, if Sinn Féin decides to use the release of the four men as a bargaining ploy in the peace process – it is its stated intention to have them walk free within two years – the people of Ireland are entitled to know what happened behind the scenes. What was put to the State in terms of substance that made it doubt the validity of its case? Why was there a dramatic change of approach by the State? Why did the State settle for a much lesser charge? Who initiated the negotiations? When did the Minister become aware of what was going on? Did he discuss the change of tactics by the State with the Taoiseach? There was little forensic, but strong circumstantial evidence. Why were the judges not allowed to draw their own conclusions and inferences from the book of evidence as presented, from the strong circumstantial evidence and from the clear evidence of blatant intimidation?

The State should have vigorously pressed the capital murder charge and it would not have risked all being lost. Section 6 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1990, states: "Manslaughter is available as an alternative verdict". The section goes on to provide that where a person is accused of capital murder, or what is now properly called murder contrary to section 3 of the Act of 1990, if the evidence does not support the conviction for capital murder then a verdict of murder might be brought on. It goes on to provide that if the evidence does not support a conviction of murder but warrants a conviction for manslaughter the person can be found guilty of manslaughter. There was no need for the State to hoist the white flag, as happened in this case.

The compromise of accepting a manslaughter charge sends out all of the wrong signals. It is a clear indication that intimidation rules and it compromises the safety of the gardaí by effectively stripping them of the protection and deterrent of a capital murder conviction. It underlines the manner in which intimidation can compromise the principles of democracy. It undermines the judicial system and subverts law and order.

The Government has seriously misread the mood of the public with regard to the extraordinary situation which led the DPP to accept pleas of guilty to manslaughter charges from those who had been charged with the murder of Detective Garda McCabe. Apart from the sense of sympathy and concern for the family of Jerry McCabe there is also a sense of anger and frustration among the public at what it sees as a serious failure in our legal system. The law may well have taken its course but justice has not been done. The public finds it impossible to reconcile the acceptance by the State of a guilty plea to charges of manslaughter with the graphic account of the violent death of Detective McCabe given to the Special Criminal Court a few weeks ago.

To all of us the term "manslaughter" means causing the unintentional death of somebody, perhaps through carelessness or omission. How does this compare with the events of Adare on the morning of 7 June 1996? We know from evidence given to the court that Garda McCabe and Garda O'Sullivan were detectives from Limerick doing a routine job escorting a post office van delivering cash to various centres in Limerick. We know that when the van and its escort stopped in Adare at 6.50 a.m. their car was rammed by a jeep, that a number of men wearing balaclavas emerged from the jeep and that one of them without warning discharged 15 bullets through an automatic rifle into the confined space of a Garda vehicle. We know that the two detectives had no opportunity to draw their own weapons, that Detective McCabe died instantly in that hail of bullets and that the men fled the scene leaving Detective McCabe dead and Detective O'Sullivan seriously injured. By any standards what happened in Adare was premeditated brutal murder and the inability of the State to secure a single conviction for murder is a serious failure of our legal system.

Over recent days the Government has been placing great emphasis on the separation of the political and prosecutorial system. I doubt if anybody in this House would question the principle of that separation, nor do I have any reason to disbelieve that the DPP took the decision to accept pleas to reduce charges on his own initiative and that it was a bona fide decision of what he believed was the best course of action to take. I also accept that the Government has no responsibility for the decisions that the DPP must take with regard to any case. However, the Government has a responsibility to address public issues arising from the growing practice of plea bargaining. The Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have an absolute responsibility to ensure that witnesses are free from intimidation and that no evidence which should be available to a court is withheld from it because of acts or threats of intimidation. The Government has failed utterly in this regard. It is clear that intimidation of witnesses played a major role in the events which led to the State accepting reduced charges in this case.

The Minister, when in Opposition, chanted a mantra of zero tolerance. It is time he showed zero tolerance to intimidation. Our legal and judicial system can only operate if those who are called upon to give evidence in the courts can testify honestly, openly and truthfully without fear of intimidation for themselves, their associates and their families. For all his talk of zero tolerance, the Minister can no longer give that guarantee to the public.

We know from evidence given to the court that three witnesses failed to stand over detailed statements they had given earlier to the gardaí and which were of vital importance to the State's case. We know that one witness who gave evidence, and who must be commended for his courage and civic spirit, said at the end of this testimony that he had been subject to intimidation. According to newspaper reports, gardaí are satisfied that six witnesses were victims of intimidation and that one had been threatened that his house would be burned if he gave evidence in this case. The lessons those charged with serious offences in the future will draw from this case is that intimidation pays.

Why did the Government allow a situation to develop where those who had crucial evidence to give in a case of capital murder, the most serious charge which can be laid, were left to the mercy of thuggish elements whose commitment is to intimidation and not to justice? What is being done to bring those responsible for the intimi dation in this case to justice? What steps are being taken to ensure that this pattern of intimidation does not recur?

This case also raises serious questions about Sinn Féin's claims of commitment to the democratic process. We know there were members of Sinn Féin among the accused and that some of them who failed to back up the statements they gave to the gardaí with evidence were members of Sinn Féin. I have yet to hear any representative of Sinn Féin condemn outright the murder of Detective Garda McCabe in the straightforward way that is required of every citizen. We all remember with a cold sweat the weasel words of Mr. Pat Doherty on "Questions & Answers" in June 1996 when he ducked, weaved and dodged every invitation to forthrightly condemn this murder. I have yet to hear any word of condemnation from Sinn Féin of the intimidation of witnesses.

One of those convicted of serious offences arising from the events in Adare was the beneficiary of the early release programme introduced by the previous Government in the aftermath of the first Provisional IRA ceasefire. Is this the way the republican movement will repay the vote of trust this society places in it by releasing its prisoners early?

The latest suggestion from Sinn Féin leaders that they may resort to the courts to try to support their contention that those responsible for the murder of Detective Garda McCabe are entitled to avail of the terms of the British-Irish Agreement for early release from their already lenient sentences is another example of hypocrisy from the republican movement. They are prepared to resort to the courts of this jurisdiction when it suits them, yet those associated with the republican movement are willing to resort to the vile practice of threats and intimidation to pervert the course of justice and to prevent members of their organisation from being held to account in the way that the vast majority of the citizens want and expect.

I advise Sinn Féin of the real danger that the genuine goodwill it has enjoyed in the State for the constructive role it has played in the negotiation of the British-Irish Agreement is now in danger of being washed away by a tide of revulsion caused not just by the attitude of the republican movement to the murder of Detective Garda McCabe and the subsequent trial, but also to the continued daily accounts of punishment mutilations in Northern Ireland and the refusal to make any movement on decommissioning.

I welcome the statements by a number of Ministers, including the Taoiseach which was re-echoed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform today, that those convicted in this case will not benefit from the early release provisions of the British-Irish Agreement. Public opinion would not tolerate such an early release. I listened with alarm to the words quoted by Deputy John Bruton of the President of Sinn Féin on Radio Kerry today, if they are true. It is important that there is an unequivocal statement that it is not only the political will of this Government but the clear legal advice of the Attorney General, which should be published, that those responsible for this vile act are not legally entitled to qualify under any early release programme.

I refer also to the claims made that some of those arrested in connection with this case may have been ill-treated while in Garda custody. I note that the Special Criminal Court in giving its judgment last Friday dismissed in absolute and unequivocal terms the claims that there had been ill-treatment of one of the accused, Mr. John Quinn. It stated that the judges were satisfied that Mr. Quinn had been treated in accordance with the law and with the utmost professionalism.

There is a need to look at procedures for monitoring interviews of persons in Garda stations which would not only protect accused persons but ensure that members of the Garda Síochána are not subject to spurious accusations of abuse. The most effective way to provide this protection is through the videoing or audio taping of interviews. As far back as 1984 the Criminal Justice Act provided for the electronic recording of interviews. Yet 15 years later, only a handful of Garda stations are equipped to do so. Whatever about the technical difficulties in providing video recording facilities in Garda stations, there is no reason audio taping should not be provided in every Garda station as is standard practice in British police stations.

In light of this case, there is also a need to look again at the convention that the DPP does not give any public explanation for decisions he takes either in regard to accepting reduced charges or the reasons for failing to prosecute in a particular case. I understand the reluctance of the DPP and the fear that he might be asked to comment on the reasons behind his action in virtually every case. However, there are clearly understood special exceptional circumstances, especially in cases of major public importance where the public interest would be served by the DPP setting out briefly the reasons particular decisions were made. The Attorney General should seek to exercise the power available to him under section 2 (6) of the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974, to consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions over the general practice of plea bargaining and on what steps may need to be taken to ensure the prosecutions do not fail because of the intimidation of witnesses. It would be interesting to hear and I will certainly be posing it by way of question to the Minister.

The outcome of this case represented a set-back for our democratic and legal systems. I could not summarise the situation better than to quote from the statement issued by the Association of Garda Chief Superintendents, the representative body for the most senior Garda officers in this State – a responsible and cautious organisation, not given to flights of fancy, yet who were forced to conclude yesterday:

This association believes that the murder of Detective Garda McCabe was a deliberate act committed by ruthless, practised and dedicated terrorists. The sentence imposed on those individuals does not reflect the seriousness of the crime committed, nor does it serve as a warning to those who might follow their example. What occurred in Adare was an attack on one of the institutions of the State, the Garda Síochána, by the private army raised and maintained by the republican movement. What occurred in the Special Criminal Court last week was the same people taking on the criminal justice system of the State. They won on both occasions.

Well said.

(Mayo): During the Order of Business the Taoiseach undertook that during the course of this debate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would provide the gist of the advice from the Attorney General. What was the general advice to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform from the Attorney General? What is the Minister's reaction to the assertion by the President of Sinn Féin on Radio Kerry this morning that it would be difficult but the Taoiseach did not rule this out completely? Is he worried that two of the key players who on behalf of Sinn Féin negotiated and signed the British-Irish Agreement are openly challenging the assertion of the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Government by their declared intention to have these people released under the terms of the British-Irish Agreement? What legal safeguard has the Minister to ensure this will not happen?

The advice of the Attorney General is as I outlined in my original statement to this House, the powers of release are clearly contained in the Offences Against the State Act, 1939, whereby the Government has the power of early release, and are also contained in the Criminal Justice Act, 1960, under which the Minister for Justice of the day has the power of early release. It is true that following upon the signing of the British-Irish Agreement there was subsequent legislation dealing with the setting up of a commission on the release of prisoners but that legislation specifies quite clearly that the question of the commission advising on the release of prisoners is precisely that, an advisory role, they do not have the power to direct the Minister of the day to release a prisoner. In tandem with that it is for the Minister of the day to refer prisoners to the commission for their advice, which he may or may not accept.

It is clear in those circumstances that this Minister and subsequent Ministers will not put before the commission the names of those convicted of the killing of Detective Garda McCabe. That is the position. Deputy Jim Higgins referred to the statements made by Sinn Féin leaders and it has been made clear on numerous occasions by the Taoiseach, by myself and by members of the Government that the people who were involved in killing Detective Garda McCabe will not qual ify under the terms of the British-Irish Agreement. On 21 April 1998 when discussing the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill I stated, as reported in volume 489, column 1080 of the Official Report:

While emphasising that I will not speculate about the implications of the Agreement for individual cases, it is right that I should comment on one case, that is the case of those facing charges arising from the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe which has been the subject of certain recent media speculation. While obviously it would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on any case pending before the courts, the Government has made clear in its contact with all groups its views that persons who may be convicted in connection with this murder will not come within the ambit of the Agreement.

I cannot put it any further than that. I have given the assurance on numerous occasions and so has the Taoiseach. This matter was raised during the negotiations which led to the British-Irish Agreement and it was made clear by officials from my Department that those who were convicted of that atrocity would not qualify under the early release provisions of the British-Irish Agreement.

(Mayo): Will the Minister comment on Mr. Gerry Adams's statement regarding his negotiations with the Taoiseach, to which I referred? Will the Minister reflect on the fact that the commitments he gave this House on 21 April 1998 related to persons convicted of the murder of Detective Garda McCabe – and nobody has been convicted of his murder – the convictions have been in respect of the manslaughter of Detective Garda McCabe? Can the Minister see there is a technicality which quite obviously can be challenged in the courts? What is to stop a legal challenge being mounted and succeeding in the courts in relation to the 1939 Act or the interpretation of the British-Irish Agreement?

I am saying categorically that the position has been made quite clear and what Deputy Higgins now refers to as a technicality would I suggest be better termed as playing with semantics. The reality is that the position was made quite clear: anybody who was convicted in respect of this offence would not qualify under the British-Irish Agreement. If the Deputy wants to play with words, he should read what I said on the debate on the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill... "the Government has made clear in its contacts with all groups its view that persons who may be convicted in connection with this murder will not come within the ambit of the Agreement."

I honestly believe and I say this with the greatest sincerity that it is clearly the wish of the democratically elected representatives of the people of this country that those who were convicted of this atrocity should serve their sentences. I believe that no Minister for Justice would or indeed could find acceptance for a position whereby he would release these people under the British-Irish Agreement. I think that is something which everybody in this House accepts. I have stated again and again that it is a matter for the Minister for Justice of the day to refer the names to the commission. I will not be referring those names to the commission and I do not believe that any successor to this office will refer those people to the commission. More over it was clearly understood during the negotiations on this Agreement what the position was and I do not believe there is any need for any Member to cause, however unintentionally, the slightest worry to the family of the late Detective Garda McCabe.

Will the Minister respond to the statement I read out from the Association of Chief Superintendents? Why were witnesses, who were clearly liable to be intimidated, not protected adequately? What action has the Minister initiated to bring to account those responsible for intimidation in this case? Will the Minister state clearly, in response to the question posed twice by Deputy Higgins, that the remarks made by Mr. Adams, which have been reported to the House, about his conversation with the Taoiseach at the time of the conclusion of the British-Irish Agreement are false?

I want to state categorically that I believe those statements to be false. I have had numerous discussions with the Taoiseach in relation to this case, long before it arrived in the Special Criminal Court, in the context of the early release provisions of the Agreement and he made it very clear to me at all times that the people who were convicted of this offence would not qualify for early release under the terms of the Agreement.

With regard to whether the witnesses were protected—

They were not.

—it is, of course, a matter for the Garda at any time to decide what level of protection, if any, witnesses should be given. In the case of Mr. Patrick Harty, to whose house it is alleged those involved in this atrocity returned following the commission of the offence, the question of the witness protection programme was discussed, but, as I stated earlier, the level of protection which he ultimately was offered was the maximum level of protection which he would accept.

Protection was offered, certain protections were given, but it would not be appropriate for me, because of the fact that there will no doubt be other cases in the future – please God of a different nature – which might be affected, to disclose what level of protection was given. In the cases of Mr. Bewick and Mr. Bowden, they did report intimidation to the Garda and they also were offered protection by the Garda. They accepted a certain level of protection, which the Garda was very pleased to tender.

With regard to what I have done in terms of the prevention of intimidation of witnesses, we are introducing three new offences in the criminal justice Bill. This is an operational matter and the Garda Commissioner has appointed a superintendent to investigate all the allegations of intimidation and no doubt if charges can be proffered in due course, they will.

Does the Minister agree that the Attorney General should exercise his powers under section 2(6) of the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974, to consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions over the general practice of plea bargaining? Does he further accept, if plea bargaining is to become a feature of our criminal justice system, that specific legislation should be enacted to deal with the matter?

The Law Reform Commission is dealing with the question of plea bargaining, but I wish to make it clear that plea bargaining is not provided for by statute as it is, for example, in other jurisdictions.

That is what I am asking.

The Judiciary is not involved in any pleas which may or may not be accepted by the DPP in relation to any given case. With regard to the question of the DPP accepting a plea to a lesser charge, he would want it to be made very clear from an ethical point of view that the DPP does not charge with the higher offence to see if he can get a conviction of a lesser offence. The DPP brings forward a charge on the basis that he can prove it. The notion that the State goes into court to secure a conviction, irrespective of whether the individual is guilty of that offence or a lesser offence, is not correct. The DPP would only agree to a lesser charge where he was not satisfied that the higher charge could be established.

I wish to put two questions separately to the Minister. It is more than two and a half years since Garda McCabe was killed in Adare. At the time there was a view that the group involved were dissident members of the IRA. In his discussions since with the Garda authorities, has the Minister established whether they were acting as a dissident group or whether this was an officially authorised and planned Provisional IRA act?

I do not think that anybody will disagree when I say that we should never give the impression that it makes any difference in terms of the gravity of the outrage which took place or the moral culpability of those involved whether the commission of the crime had the approval of the IRA hierarchy. I have no con crete evidence available to me that it had the approval of the IRA hierarchy, though there is some indication that there may have been somebody other than those involved on that fateful day involved in this matter, but I could not be definitive in regard to the hierarchy question.

I did not ask the Minister if he had concrete evidence. I asked him what was the view of the Garda authorities as communicated to him. The Minister will be aware that in part of the case that was tried in court evidence was put before the court of senior IRA officers meeting the persons who were convicted in the car park of Finnegan's near Limerick city and discussing this the night before. He will also be aware that the accused wore green ribbons, which are a symbol of the prisoner release campaign, when they were in the dock in the Special Criminal Court. He will be further aware that the prisoners are subject to the commands of the Provisional IRA commanding officer in Portlaoise prison and he is no doubt aware, as is everybody else in the country, that the leaders of Sinn Féin, Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness, have been assiduous in claiming the convicted persons as their own and have been openly advocating their release under the prisoner release scheme. This happened as late as this morning on Radio Kerry. Taking all that into account, will the Minister answer the question? Is he of the view that this was an authorised operation or an action of dissidents?

The Deputy will appreciate again that I cannot be definitive in this respect, but there appears to be some information to the effect that the operation did have an involvement outside of those who were actually involved in Adare that day.

(Mayo): What does that mean?

The Minister said that persons are still being sought for questioning. We know from the newspapers that one of these may be on relief work in central America and the other may be on the run in continental Europe. Both of them seem to be activists. Is the Minister now suggesting that a senior officer in the higher echelons of the IRA is being sought in connection with conspiracy to commit an armed robbery and conspiracy to murder Detective Garda McCabe? Is that part of the continuing Garda inquiry?

As a former Minister for Justice, the Deputy will be aware that it is clearly not possible for me to give a full reply to his question in what is essentially an operational matter. It is abundantly clear that a number of other people are being sought by the Garda at present in connection with this atrocity. It would not be correct for me to identify those people because to do so would, in all probability, clearly prejudice the possibility of a subsequent successful prosecution. I have gone as far as I can in answering the Deputy's question, however.

The Ceann Comhairle had agreed to allow the debate to run on.

The Ceann Comhairle has just informed me that we have to conclude at seven minutes past 6 o'clock. That is in about five minutes' time. The two names he gave me were those of Deputy Ó Caoláin and Deputy Finucane. I will call those two Deputies first.

(Mayo): May I put a collective question to the Minister?

If the Minister is agreeable we will take a question each from Deputies Jim Higgins, Gay Mitchell, Finucane and Ó Caoláin.

Will the Minister note that in this highly charged atmosphere, I am very conscious of the grief of Detective Garda McCabe's family and that of the many other families who have suffered over the past 30 years? I know that there is much genuine anger surrounding this case. It was an appalling event that occurred in Adare on 7 June 1996. The killing of Detective McCabe was wrong and abhorrent.

Does the Deputy condemn it?

Does the Minister recognise that there has been widespread speculation—

Mealy mouthed hypocrisy.

Will the Deputy please allow Deputy Ó Caoláin to continue?

—as to the reasons the reduction of charges occurred in this case but that few, so far, have focused on the strong evidence that exists, evidence that no doubt would have emerged had the trial proceeded, that there was ill-treatment—

And intimidation.

—in Garda custody of people detained in connection with the case, including some of those convicted?

Does the Deputy condemn the murder?

I tabled a question to the Minister asking if he proposed to take action in relation to the joint report of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the British-Irish Rights Watch on allegations of ill-treatment of people arrested in connection with this case.

Does the Deputy condemn the intimidation and the murder?

On 2 December 1997 the Minister replied, stating: "It would not be appropriate for me to take any action on the allegations of ill-treatment in the report until the courts have fully disposed of cases before them, arising out of the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe."

Does the Deputy condemn the murder?

A question please.

I am asking the question, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. That was the Minister's reply to me. Now that the courts have fully disposed of these cases, will the Minister initiate a full and open independent inquiry into the allegations of ill-treatment?

Does the Deputy condemn the murder?

Will the Minister agree that we all have a duty – that includes Deputy Bruton, although it appears that it has often escaped him and several of his colleagues on the Fine Gael parliamentary benches – to ensure the success of the peace process with all the difficult decisions that entails, so that such tragedies can never recur?

What about decommissioning?

The Deputy condemns alleged ill-treatment, but not the murder. It is total hypocrisy.

Allegations of ill-treatment were made against the Garda in the course of the trial in the Special Criminal Court. In connection with one of those persons, Mr. John Quinn, the court was asked to consider whether statements made by him while in Garda custody were admissible. It was the subject of a trial within a trial. In the end, the court was not required to rule on the admissibility of the statements because four of the accused men pleaded guilty to manslaughter and, in the case of Mr. Quinn, to the charge of conspiracy to rob. However, it is important and in the interests of setting the record straight it would be useful to repeat the comments of Mr. Justice Johnson in the course of his sentencing of the five men. He said:

In the course of the last three weeks many insinuations have been made against the guards in the course of a long and detailed cross-examination on behalf of Mr. Quinn. It should be pointed out that in the course of his detention Mr. Quinn visited hospital on no less than four occasions and was examined by no fewer than four doctors before he came to Dublin, and was in the presence of numerous ambulance men and other medical auxiliaries. At no stage did he make any complaint to any one of them regarding his treatment by the gardaí. The court is satisfied, having heard the evidence, that Mr. Quinn was treated whilst in custody strictly in accordance with law and with the utmost professionalism, despite the fact that at the particular time the gardaí must have been under immense pressure. The court was particularly unimpressed with the photographs taken of the accused leaving the hospital in Limerick and rejects absolutely the implications which it was intended that the court should take therefrom. The guards in our view, as stated, acted with patience and professionalism during the questioning and detention of Mr. Quinn.

It will be clear that the court was clearly of the view that there was no ill-treatment in this case. That seems to close the matter. Mr. Quinn has made a formal complaint to the Garda Síochána Complaints Board, alleging abuse of authority by the Garda, as well as the use of force and violence. These are, of course, being investigated by the board.

Allegations were made by Mr. Jeremiah Sheehy about ill-treatment. Upon his arrival at Portlaoise prison, Mr. Sheehy alleged that he had been ill-treated by the gardaí and he was referred to hospital for medical examination. His allegations of ill treatment were investigated by a senior Garda officer who found that there was no ill treatment of Mr. Sheehy. Mr. Sheehy has made no complaint to the Garda Síochána Complaints Board about ill-treatment.

Allegations have been made generally about ill-treatment by the gardaí of those who were sentenced last week by the Special Criminal Court. I have now expressed what the position is and I sincerely hope that what I have had to say will lay to rest, once and for all, uninformed comments regarding this matter.

Certainly not, Minister.


I will now take three brief supplementary questions together.

Is the Minister concerned about the level of intimidation that was involved in this case, which obviously influenced the change of charge from murder to manslaughter? As the Minister is aware, intimidation can take many shapes and forms. The Garda Commissioner has appointed a superintendent to investigate the intimidation involved. Does the Minister honestly and sincerely expect that people who have been intimidated as such, even if they knew the names of individuals, will wreak further intimidation on themselves by revealing them? Does the Minister feel the measures he has laid down in order to contend with this intimidation process in future will reassure gardaí who are worried about the trend that this case has taken?

Brevity please, Deputy Finucane. I want to get your colleagues in if I can.

Will the Minister agree that the measures he has adopted will provide positive reassurance to the Garda Siochána and to the people?

I have no knowledge of how plea bargaining works. It is news to me that this is in place. I hope the exploratory nature of my question will be helpful to the Minister. Presumably, the Director of Public Prosecutions was not the point of contact for such plea bargaining but the legal team for the prosecution was the point of contact, before they made a recommendation to the DPP. Will the Minister give an absolute assurance to the House that it was not intimated to the legal team, or any member of the legal team, by any solicitor, barrister or any other person, that a plea along the lines accepted would in any way be acceptable to a Minister or to the Government as a whole?

(Mayo): Was the Minister with the Taoiseach when he discussed these possible releases with Mr. Gerry Adams? What is the Minister's recollection of that meeting? Did he meet members of Sinn Féin and discuss these releases?

Regarding the point raised by Deputy Noonan, on 9 December I asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention had been drawn to the fact that an aid worker with APSO was being sought by the Garda for questioning in relation to possible criminal activities in Ireland. I supplied details – Mr. Paul Damery, working with APSO in Nicaragua. The reply I received from the Minister for Foreign Affairs was as follows.

The Deputy is making a statement. I ask him to put a brief question because we want to give the Minister a chance to reply.

(Mayo): I will not go on as long as Deputy Ó Caoláin. The Minister for Foreign said:

In October 1996 the Garda informed APSO that they wished to interview the person concerned regarding a serious criminal offence. At that time and since, the individual has been in Nicaragua. The Garda asked APSO to provide information on his whereabouts and work. This was provided to them. On a number of occasions since then, APSO has voluntarily informed the Garda of any change in the person's situation. APSO has at all times co-operated with the Garda in this matter. It is understood, however, that no contact has been made by the authorities with the individual in question.

This relates to a prime suspect in relation to involvement in the murder of Detective Garda McCabe. He is working for a State funded agency and APSO has notified the Garda that the individual is moving between different locations.

A question please, Deputy.

(Mayo): What steps are being taken to ensure the Garda will be afforded the opportunity to interview this individual and bring charges, if necessary?

Deputy Finucane asked whether the measures which are being introduced in the new Criminal Justice Bill will be sufficient to deal with intimidation. Three new offences will be created and I hope they will assist considerably in the fight against intimidation. However, it must be remembered that there have been many paramilitary type cases before the Special Criminal Court in the relatively short time in which the State has been in existence.

There was no witness protection programme before I introduced one. I do not seek credit for that, but I wish to highlight that prior to the introduction of the witness protection programme, successive Garda Commissioners offered protection to witnesses where possible or desirable. That judgment is invariably made operationally on the ground by the Garda Síochána when faced with a given situation. The measures I intend to introduce will be of considerable assistance although one cannot be certain that one will prevent intimidation.

Deputy Mitchell asked about the legal team. I assure the Deputy that the legal team was led by one of the most experienced criminal trial lawyers in the country. He has vast experience of conducting cases such as the one in question. He advised on how the matter should progress in conjunction with other members of the legal team. The decision to accept a plea of manslaughter was honestly reached. It was not influenced by any extraneous viewpoint. There was no involvement whatsoever by me as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Taoiseach or anybody else politically in the decision reached by the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was one of the most difficult decisions the Director of Public Prosecutions ever had to reach.

That is not the question I asked.

Who initiated it?

It went very far.

The Minister, without interruption.

The legal team was not influenced by any comment from any politician in regard to how the matter should proceed.

That is not the question I asked.

I will draw the debate to a conclusion if the Deputy does not allow the Minister to complete his answer.

No politician or member of the Government was involved in, or had anything whatsoever to do with, influencing the decision reached by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

That is not the question I asked. The record will show the Minister did not answer my question.

The question is about discussions with the Attorney General.

Please allow the Minister to reply without interruption.

The Minister is raising my suspicions by not answering my question.

Please, Deputy Mitchell.

The Attorney General, pursuant to the 1974 Act, can and does have discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding the functions of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions from time to time.

Did he have discussions?

My information is that, on the night prior to the acceptance of the plea to manslaughter, the Director General of the Attorney General's office was informed as a matter of courtesy that a plea of manslaughter would be accepted the following day.

Was the Minister informed?

Was the Taoiseach informed?

I was not informed, nor was the Taoiseach. I understand the Attorney General was informed of the position the following morning. He obviously tried to communicate the matter to the Taoiseach who was attending a meeting at the time. I understand the Taoiseach learned of the position after the court had accepted the plea. There is no difficulty in relation to answering questions on this matter.

Is the answer to my question "no"?

Perhaps the Deputy should repeat his question and I can appease him.

Was there consultation on 29 January between the Attorney General and the State?

I said, presumably, the Director of Public Prosecutions was not the point of contact and the senior counsel for the prosecution team would have made recommendations to the DPP. I asked the Minister to give an assurance that no person with the knowledge of any Minister, including any barrister, solicitor or other person, let it be known to counsel for the prosecution that this deal was acceptable to a Minister or to the Government. Is the answer "yes"?

The answer is that there was no involvement whatsoever and it was not indicated that the plea would be acceptable to any member of the Government.

That is not the question.

It was not indicated that it would be acceptable to the Attorney General.

There was no consultation.

Deputy Higgins asked if I met Sinn Féin to discuss the releases. The answer is "no". My officials were meeting Sinn Féin at that time, but I had numerous telephone conversations with the Secretary General of the Department while the negotiations were ongoing. I made it clear at that time that the people who were convicted of the killing of Detective Garda McCabe would not come within the terms of the British-Irish Agreement.

Was the Minister present?

I explained that I was not present.

Was the Taoiseach present?

So the remarks are false?

I ask Deputies to allow the Minister to conclude.

I am satisfied that the Taoiseach who gave his word on this matter is telling the truth. I do not know anybody who has given as much to the cause of peace on this island as the Taoiseach.

What does the Minister say about Mr. Adams's statement?

Was his statement false?

I do not know anybody who was more appalled by the atrocity at Adare than the Taoiseach.

Everybody was appalled.

Was Mr. Adams lying? We must be clear about this point.

It has been stated ad nauseam that the people convicted of the terrible atrocity at Adare do not qualify for early release within the terms of the British-Irish Agreement. As regards the people sought by the Garda Síochána in connection with this atrocity, it must be acknowledged that it would be quite wrong of me to become involved in any way in identifying the people being sought. Suffice to say that if for example it was the case that a given individual was in a foreign jurisdiction, clearly the Garda in those circumstances, assuming it had the evidence available to it, would clearly seek extradition. I cannot go into the case of any person sought by the Garda Síochána as regards this matter, other than to say that the Adare file is very much open.

The newspapers said last week the Minister had met with people from Sinn Féin. Is he saying he did not?