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Dáil Éireann debate -
Friday, 20 Feb 2004

Vol. 580 No. 4

Nally Group Report on Omagh Bombing: Statements.

This matter was debated last December and it is one to which all sides of the House were anxious to return. I acknowledged in my contribution at the time that many of the relatives of victims of the Omagh bombing would be disappointed with what I had to say. No Member in the House would indulge in an opportunistic competition of compassion or pretend that the determination to see justice done in this case is any greater or lesser on any side of the House. We all still revile the Omagh atrocity and its sick perpetrators. I am equally sure there is no desire on the part of anyone in this House to turn the issues relating to the Nally report or indeed the investigation of the Omagh bombing itself into party political issues. They do not have a party political dimension or an inherent partisan potential.

It is equally important to emphasise that the Nally group was not involved in the investigation of the dreadful crime perpetrated in Omagh. That was and is a matter for criminal investigation by the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I have been assured by the Garda Commissioner that he and his force, in close co-operation with their colleagues in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, remain determined to take every step open to them to bring the perpetrators to justice. I remind the House that the one successful prosecution so far on charges relating to the bombing in Omagh has been in this jurisdiction. All Members recognise the burning desire of those who lost loved ones in the appalling atrocity in Omagh for justice to be done and to be seen to be done. It is a desire shared by all right-thinking people.

In discussing the Nally report, I recognise that most Members are at a disadvantage since the report has not been made available to them. During the last debate Deputies Kenny and Rabbitte acknowledged that I forwarded a copy of the report to them for their personal information. I felt that this was the right thing to do in circumstances where the report could not be made public, but was to be debated in the House. Both are leaders of the main Opposition parties and had previously served in Government. I emphasise that it would be entirely unfair to the Deputies to expect that they could properly put themselves in the position of deciding to put into the public domain any parts of the report, received on that basis, dealing with sensitive issues of national security. Decisions of that kind rest with me as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and I take full responsibility for them. Given the decision not to put the report into the public domain we are obviously not in a position to discuss the detail of it across the floor of the House but if there are any aspects of the report itself which Deputies wish to raise with me privately, they are free to do so.

I do not propose to repeat in detail what I said in the House last December but it is appropriate to set out the background and the main findings of the report again. Before doing so, however, I remind the House that certain legal issues arise because all the allegations which the group looked into were made by a member of the Garda Síochána who is currently suspended and facing indictable charges on unrelated matters. I assure the House that this is not some theoretical legal consideration but one which places real constraints on what any Member can properly say in public. The report deals with the credibility and the motivation of that person. There is a real genuine constraint on me in dealing with that matter in advance of that person having a jury trial. It is not some smokescreen behind which I am seeking to hide. On the contrary, it is a restraint that puts me between a rock and a hard place.

On 22 March the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Mrs. Nuala O'Loan, presented a report to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen. The report in question related to allegations made by a person described as a serving officer of the Garda Síochána about the handling of intelligence information concerning the activities of a paramilitary group in that year, and about drug related matters in the period 1995 to 1996. Despite the fact that the person in question made those allegations to a person outside the jurisdiction who has no direct responsibility for the Garda Síochána, it was decided by the then Government, in view of the absolute gravity of the allegations involved, that an examination of the issues should be carried out independently by Mr. Dermot Nally, former Secretary to the Government, Mr. Joseph Brosnan, former Secretary of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Mr. Eamon Barnes, former Director of Public Prosecutions.

To the best of my knowledge that type of examination was unprecedented and it underlines the utmost gravity with which the then Government viewed the allegations in question. I do not believe any Member would question the suitability, integrity, competence or independence of the people involved. I believe that we are all in their debt for undertaking what was a complex, difficult and, sometimes, thankless task.

In December 2003 I outlined the three categories under which the group characterised the allegations but, in truth, in so far as Omagh was concerned, I accept that, at least in the public perception, the main suggestion was to the effect that the Garda failed to pass on to the RUC information which could have prevented the Omagh bombing. Obviously the implications of that charge, if true, would be of the utmost gravity.

The group informed me that it held its first meeting on 29 April 2002 and subsequently met on 62 occasions. It interviewed 25 persons, some more than once. It received a number of written submissions, some from people it did not consider necessary to interview in person. The group acknowledged that it had the fullest co-operation of the Garda authorities, including access to all relevant material. The group also informed me that it had concluded after careful analysis that there was no foundation to the allegations which it examined.

That is not to say the group dismissed everything the person who made the allegations had to say. Without doubt, that person submitted a considerable amount of factual information to the group but the core of the allegations which would have amounted to egregious misfeasance and non-feasance was examined in minute detail and these allegations were rejected in their entirety. People not familiar with these matters in detail might wonder why, if the report is so clear in its dismissal of these appalling allegations, it should not be put in the public domain for all to see. In its covering letter accompanying the report the group states:

The Report deals with highly sensitive matters involving the security of the State and possible risk to the lives of individuals. It also describes Garda operational procedures and methods, public disclosure of which could adversely affect future operations.

As I indicated last December, if there were no other considerations of the wider public interest I would be more than happy to put the report into the public domain. The position remains, however, that I do not believe that any Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, no matter how strong his or her desire to deal with the concerns of relatives, could simply put such a report into the public domain. The Taoiseach and I have been anxious to put as much information as we can about the report into the public domain. Deputies Kenny and Rabbitte have raised the question of whether anything more can be done to brief the families on its findings. In particular we were asked to look again at whether some redacted form of the report could be made available.

I outlined last December the difficulties with a redacted form of the report. I have since looked at the issue again and the difficulties I mentioned cannot be surmounted at present. However, I hope, once the criminal matter to which I have referred is disposed of, to produce an edited version of the report. However, I must stress there are also national security considerations which will be there regardless of the institution or outcome of any criminal proceedings. I am prepared, if the families consider it useful, to meet them again as I undertook that I would be willing to do and to discuss the report with them in general terms. I do not want to mislead either this House or the families into thinking that I am in a position to disclose in detail the substance of the report. Some of the spokespersons for a group of the relatives make the point that they are the people who have suffered the most as a result of the bombing at Omagh and this gives them an entitlement to see the Nally report. I have no doubt that there is widespread sympathy for that point of view but as Minister I have wider responsibilities. I must act within the law, having regard to the rights of everyone and ultimately to where the public interest lies. It is by no means a question of my not trusting the Omagh families but it is simply not a sustainable proposition that the victims of crime have a right to all information irrespective of its implications for national security, the rule of law and the rights of others.

This State, and the people of this island North and South remain locked in a life and death struggle with the murderous group which perpetrated the Omagh slaughter. It has been thwarted since then in barbarous plans to carry out bombings of the same scale and ferocity. It plans to strike again. My first duty is to prevent it from doing so and I will not help it by sacrificing security in a short-term gesture of compassionate transparency much though one would be emotionally tempted to do so. Having said that, I can assure the House that at any meeting with the relatives I will be as forthcoming as I can within the real constraints which apply.

I mentioned earlier the public perception that the core allegation the group was asked to examine was to the effect that gardaí failed to pass on to the RUC information which could have prevented the Omagh bombing. As I pointed out last December no such allegation was ever made to the group. On this point the group states:

The core allegations . . . about events preceding the Omagh bombing are that: a senior Garda officer would have been prepared, if a vehicle had in fact been stolen . . . to allow it to go through in order to protect [an] informant; and [that] no intelligence was passed to the RUC about information, alleged to have been received on the eve of Omagh that the RIRA, who had been trying to steal a vehicle in the Dublin area, had obtained one elsewhere (place, vehicle type and destination unspecified).

The group acknowledges that these are very serious allegations but goes on to state:

However they are quite different from allegations that the gardaí let the vehicle which was used in the bombing in Omagh go through or that they had intelligence about that vehicle. . . which they had failed to pass on to the RUC. No such allegations have been made to the Group and no basis for any such allegations has come to its attention.

That is a radically important distinction that the group drew and sometimes it becomes blurred in public comment and debate but I appeal to Members to bear that in mind. I cannot overemphasise the importance of that point. It has, for whatever reason — and, I suspect, for hidden reasons of malice — become part of general lore that the Nally group was, among other things, examining allegations that the Garda had intelligence about the vehicle used in the Omagh bombing, that it failed to pass that intelligence to the RUC and that it let the bomb vehicle through. For the simple reason that nobody at any stage made those allegations to the group, the group examined no such allegations.

Whatever the public perception, it was never suggested to the group that the Garda in advance of the Omagh bombing had any information on the details of a car which would be used in the bombing or where a bombing would take place. In that context I am aware of intensive media speculation about the matters considered by the group while its work was ongoing. It is not for me to offer a view on the basis for that speculation. I am aware too that some of the Omagh relatives appear to have been briefed in detail about certain allegations made by the person in question. The investigating group had access not just to the account of that one person but to a wide range of information which it felt compelled it to reach the conclusions it did.

During the debate last December and during a subsequent debate, Deputy Kenny made several points with which I did not have an opportunity to deal at the time but which I will deal with now. I hope what I have to say clarifies certain matters for the Deputy. I want first to deal with the role of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. He said that Ms O'Loan carried out significant preparatory investigative work which formed the basis of the Nally group report. In fact what happened was that her office was approached by the person making the allegations and subsequently she handed over a report to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Her report was available to the group and it did meet the ombudsman, but it was a matter for the group to examine the allegations having access as it did to members of the Garda Síochána and their records. While the ombudsman's report would have formed part of the material available to the group, it would be misleading to suggest it formed the substantial basis for its report.

That leads me to another point, namely, that the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland does not have a function in investigation allegations made about the Garda Síochána. Members of the Garda Síochána would not be obliged to answer to the Northern Ireland police ombudsman, no more than members of the PSNI or the British police could be made to answer to our Garda Complaints Board — or in future to our ombudsman commission — if the board received complaints from serving members of those police forces. Once this jurisdiction was informed of those allegations it was clearly a matter for the authorities here to deal with them. It may be helpful to point out to the House that in its covering letter with the report the group stated:

On the issue of [the person] raising his concerns with the authorities of another jurisdiction, you may wish to be aware that he told the Group that during an interview with an investigator from the Office of the Police Ombudsman in early 2002 he stated that he intended to report his concerns to his own authorities. He said that the investigator told him that he was of the opinion that the detective sergeant's own authorities would not deal with the concerns properly, that the investigator would make his own report and the Police Ombudsman would go to somebody in the South with it.

I will not comment on the veracity or otherwise of what the person said in that regard but the group in its covering letter brought this matter to my attention. Deputy Kenny suggested that I should furnish Ms O'Loan with a copy of the Nally report on a confidential basis and invite her comments on its findings. I am, of course, aware of the esteem in which Ms O'Loan is held generally and properly but she is a statutory officer of another jurisdiction who has absolutely no responsibility for the Garda Síochána. Apart from that, it is not clear to me how a person who has access to one side of the story — from the person who made the allegations — could reasonably be expected to form superior conclusions on the findings of an equally eminent three-person group which spent several months examining the evidence from both sides.

Deputy Kenny also mentioned that he understood that there was an undertaking that there would be further contact between the Nally group and the ombudsman before the report was completed. I am assured that this was not so, and, I am not aware Ms O'Loan has ever made such a claim. The Deputy also said in the House that it was clear that the ombudsman viewed the allegations in a far more serious light than the Nally group. That may have been a slip of the tongue and I am not sure what he intended to convey by that claim. However, I am sure he did not mean to suggest that Mr. Nally and his colleagues would regard the behaviour which was alleged to have taken place as any less serious than would any other right-thinking person. There would be no credibility in suggesting that three people with the long and distinguished records of public service, which these men had, would regard the allegations made in this case as matters to be treated lightly.

Certain other suggestions have also been made about the Nally group, which also merit a response. It has been suggested that the group lacked the expertise necessary for the task in hand and that it should have been left, instead, in the hands of trained investigators. I reject this — all those involved are former public servants who had reached the highest levels in their profession. All three have had years of experience in dealing with difficult and complex issues of considerable variety, of weighing up information, forming judgments on that information and advising Governments of their assessments. The idea that they were ill-equipped for the task in hand does not stand up to scrutiny.

Outside this House it has also been implied that the presence of the former Director of Public Prosecutions on the team rendered its analysis less than objective. This suggestion should be rejected by all sides of this House. Not only does it imply that the former director lacks judgment, but it feeds into the notion that, right from the beginning, the authorities in this State have been engaged in some kind of cover up. I have already pointed out in the House that the notion of cover up is quite simply preposterous — the record in this jurisdiction in dealing with dissident republican groups certainly does not support the notion that the State is providing cover for those organisations.

Deputy Kenny also raised some specific details in the House about the report, which I had not put into the public domain. I know he will appreciate the difficulties inherent in that approach and I cannot be put in the position of effectively disclosing the details of the report on the basis of responding to what any Deputy might say. However, one fairly widely reported point calls for comment. Deputy Kenny claimed that a key participant — an informant — was not interviewed by the group and refers to this as a major omission in the report. He said the report does not adequately explain why a group appointed by the Minister could not have done more to secure an interview with the participant.

The report sets out the efforts which the group made in this regard and I am not sure what further action Deputy Kenny feels may have been open to the group where a person declined on legal advice to co-operate with it. Today I have heard the suggestion that since this person was on a witness protection programme, the Garda should have had some influence or leverage over the person, which could have been used to get the person to co-operate and to ignore the legal advice given to him. If the Garda used the status of a person on the witness protection programme for that purpose, it could be accused of attempting to taint or blackmail the person and it would taint the evidence that any person gave to the inquiry thereafter.

In any case, while the group felt it was deeply regrettable it did not receive the co-operation it had hoped, it nevertheless felt not merely able but compelled to reach the conclusions it did. The group was asked to carry out a particular mandate completely independently. It felt able to reach the conclusions I outlined to the House. It is open to Deputy Kenny to say "I would have done this" or "I would have done that", but by that logic there could be inquiries into inquiries ad infinitum.

That leads me to calls, which have been made, for some form of public inquiry into this matter. Deputies understandably make the point that we should do anything we reasonably can to deal with the concerns which relatives have. None of us can say that the people who suffered most from the atrocity at Omagh are wrong to explore every avenue and to press for action on every front. As I have said, I am prepared to meet them again in what I hope will be a useful and productive meeting.

However, we cannot overlook the basic facts. One person has made a series of charges, which his colleagues all vehemently deny, after he himself was accused of serious offences. An independent group of the highest calibre investigated those allegations and rejected them as unfounded. In those circumstances there is nothing known to me or the Government which would justify a public inquiry. Repetition of unfounded allegations will not alter that situation.

This leads me to a more general point of which we should not lose sight in this debate. The allegations in question, if true, would have amounted to egregious and wanton misbehaviour on the part of a number of senior gardaí. An independent group has looked at those allegations and dismissed them as unfounded. We cannot proceed on the basis that the only people who have no rights in this matter are the gardaí against whom the allegations have been made.

Ultimately, if people wish to believe that some vast conspiracy is taking place involving many members of the Garda Síochána, myself, my predecessor, the Government and the group to hide the truth, then there is nothing I can do about such a view. However, it would be a desperate pity if one of the legacies of Omagh would be that the Garda Síochána, which now and in the past has relentlessly fought the threat posed by paramilitary groups and whose members have risked life and limb to defeat the Omagh bombers and their fellow members of a murderous conspiracy were, however unwittingly, to be unfairly undermined.

I know it will be the desire of all Members of this House to move forward as positively as we can on this matter and I have indicated that when these criminal proceedings are dealt with one way or another, I will revisit the issue of an edited report to go as far as I can within national security limitations to meet the interests and the genuine complaints of the Omagh relatives and of other members of the public. However, that is as far as I can go at the moment.

I thank the Government for agreeing to move this debate from last Friday to today. I had to attend a European People's Party meeting in Madrid. I am grateful to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for giving me a copy of the Nally report in confidence. I have respected that confidence and will continue to do so. The report is not mine to publish and clearly I have no intention of doing so.

The Nally report was commissioned following documented evidence of allegations given to the Government by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala O'Loan. She obviously felt that the information given to her was of sufficient importance to warrant an investigation of the allegations made. In doing so she travelled to Dublin to present that to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, who passed it on to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, who subsequently commissioned the Nally report.

This short Dáil debate allows for some focus on the process and methodology involved and on the attitude adopted by Government towards the matter. It also allows us to focus on the requirements and needs of the families of the victims and, most importantly, on the type and extent of the follow-up now required.

The date of 15 August 1998 is a day which will be forever etched on the memories of those who lost loved ones in the single worst atrocity of the past 30 years. No person has been charged with this atrocity despite the fact that a great deal of evidence exists as to who the perpetrators were. The effect of the Omagh bomb has consumed the lives of the families of the 31 victims each day since. Their search is for the truth and to ensure that justice is seen to be done. The Government has a duty to see that this happens in accordance with its stated position on the night of the occurrence of the atrocity. Today's debate centres on a report based on allegations of Garda activity in the period both before and after this truly tragic incident.

I do not have a monopoly on compassion, nor does anyone in this House. In the run-up to the current position the Government could have done considerably more in dealing with those who lost loved ones as a result of this bomb. The debate is not just about a report but also about lives lost and damaged by the Omagh bomb. We are here to talk about how the Government in the context of the Nally report has treated the survivors of this bomb.

The Government should be aware and should recognise that for the families of the Omagh bomb victims, the Nally report is not just another official document waiting to be published. For these families, this report is a reflection on the end of life. For many of them, this report marks a day when they too stopped living and began to simply exist. To sit with these ordinary people and hear them take their turn around the table outlining whom and what they lost on that August day five and a half years ago, is an exceptionally sobering experience. The Government should be under no illusion. The report that it has refused to publish, even in part, has become for the families of Omagh a critique not just of the murder but of the humanity of these ordinary people living ordinary lives.

The Government has treated itself to the luxury of keeping these victims anonymous. It has treated them as an amorphous mass. The families, though, have no such luxury nor, in the five years since 15 August 1998, have they had a scintilla of comfort from the Government. They have had no proper meeting despite five years of repeated requests. The 15 minutes offered last Thursday is simply not adequate. I will remove the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government from their comfort zone. These dead people are not anonymous. Those who died were Unionists, toddlers, babies, schoolgoers, Orangemen, Celtic fanatics, Manchester United fanatics and car fanatics. They were Sunday school teachers, businesspeople, engineers, Oxfam volunteers and university undergraduates. They came from Omagh, Buncrana, Newtownsaville and even Madrid. These anonymous people had just one thing in common: their massacre. None of them came home.

Although their murder and the Government's stonewalling of their relatives on the publication of the Nally report is bad, apparently it is not enough. The Taoiseach appointed an emissary to meet the alleged murderers, the Real IRA. He misled the families, the public and this House about his Government's dealings with these terrorists. On 5, 12 and 19 November last, the Taoiseach asserted in this House his commitment to publishing the Nally report. On 11 December, the Tánaiste told the Dáil that the Minister "has the report and is anxious to publish it as quickly as possible". Given those assertions, is it not then offensive to the families for the Government to cite security as a reason the report cannot be published? Aspects of the Nally report have been selectively leaked to a certain journalist, among them the main conclusions and the Government's stated intention never to publish the report in full despite its public assertions to the contrary.

Apart from the lack of political will, there is no valid reason the Government should not give the Omagh families an edited version of the report. It is the least they deserve after their appalling ordeal and the way they have been treated by the Government. I was glad to hear the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform confirm in his contribution that he was prepared to meet with the families again. I hope this happens soon and that the Minister gives them a reasonable amount of time and discusses elements of the report with them. Yesterday I met again the main body of the families of the victims. They fully understand and appreciate that the Minister cannot publish the Nally report in full, nor do they expect him to do so. However, they do expect that the Minister to talk to them about the process of the report and the main findings without infringing on issues of State security that are central to his constitutional responsibility as Minister. The Minister referred to the verbal assurance that was given to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Mrs. Nuala O'Loan. I must take the Minister's word that such assurance was not given by the group, although the information I have differs from that.

The Nally group comprised three eminent public servants to whom no blame can be attached. However, none of them has the investigative background necessary to get to the truth of the grave matter of the allegations given to Mrs. O'Loan, nor did the group have any judicial or compellability powers. I have referred previously, as has the Minister, to the fact that the Nally group was not in a position to interview a key witness who is being protected by the State under the witness protection scheme. In a report that seeks to draw conclusions from seriously conflicting evidence, surely this is a fundamental inadequacy. Neither does the report explain in a detailed way why a group appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform could not have done more to secure an interview with this person. The Minister has referred to the witness protection programme, but there are clearly precedents in which people on such programmes have given important evidence. In this case, surely the evidence of a central figure would have been important.

The witness refused to co-operate with the group on legal advice. Why does the Deputy not acknowledge that?

Questions were submitted to him and to his legal officer. Surely if the State sponsors the witness protection programme, it can lay down conditions that the legal adviser to the witness should be able to vet the answers that were given. Surely some contact should have been made with this person, who is central to the issue of the vehicles and the allegations made to the police ombudsman.

I differ from the Minister in asserting that these allegations were given far more credence in Northern Ireland than they have been here. I will not say in the House that any member of the Garda would willingly or knowingly involve himself in any way in allegations to which the Minister has referred in his contribution, namely, that a Garda officer of senior rank would knowingly allow a vehicle to proceed if there was a question of the potential placing of a bomb in Omagh or anywhere else which would result in damage to life and limb. However, there are differences of opinion arising from the allegations about this.

If we want to move forward, the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister should instigate a Cory-style investigation and report on the Nally investigation, which could result in recommendations to both Governments about how best to proceed. Criminal proceedings and investigations are ongoing, but the Minister is aware that the Nally report contains serious contradictions in the way evidence is viewed. The cost of a Cory-style investigation would not be high compared to those of other public inquiries, but it would provide a focus. A person of international significance would be in a position, through a legal adviser, to have evidence and responses made available from the so-called informant.

The Omagh families need a version of the Nally report. They are entitled to know everything they can about the thinking and circumstances that caused their family members to be murdered. They need the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to give them the time and the respect they deserve. The Minister has confirmed this and I hope the Taoiseach will do the same. Just as there must be justice for the forgotten, there must equally be justice for these people — the ignored. Will they too wait 30 years to hear the truth? That is a life sentence.

I am not alone in thinking that the Government's treatment of these people is a national disgrace. To make some small redress and to restore some national dignity in the matter I will read the names of the men, women and children who died in the single biggest atrocity of the Troubles, the Omagh bombing of 15 August 1998: Olive Hawkes, Jolene Marlow, Debra Cartwright, Mary Grimes, her daughter Avril Monaghan, Avril's unborn twins and her baby daughter Maria Monaghan, Sean McLoughlin, James Barker, Oran Doherty, Geraldine Breslin, Brenda Logue, Philomena Skelton, Gareth Conway, baby Breda Devine, Lorrayne Wilson, Samantha McFarland, Julia Hughes, Elizabeth Rush, Rocio Abad Ramos, Fernando Blasco Baselga, Esther Gibson, Anne McCombe, Vide Short, Adrian Gallagher, Alan Radford, Fred White, his son Brian White, Brian McCrory and Seán McGrath. At the funeral of Philomena Skelton, the bishop said:

What happened in Market Street was something that was palpable evil — to plant a bomb in a crowded street was a sinful act, that nothing can condone, excuse or allow to be talked away. But if the sense of evil was palpable, even more palpable was the outpouring of love and caring. What we will remember most is the way in which people from all walks of life responded to this human tragedy.

Five and a half years on, the Irish Government might join them.

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should meet the families and explain the process involved, in so far as they can. Furthermore, I expect the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, with their counterparts in the British Government, to point a way forward by holding a Cory-style investigation which could provide recommendations as to how best the families can be helped in their quest for truth and justice. Otherwise, a future Member of this House will, in perhaps 20 years' time and just as current Members have done with regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, demand of the Government then in office that an investigation be held into the Omagh bombing.

The perpetrators of this crime are still alive and free. When one talks to members of the victims' families, whose loved ones were blown through shop shutters or killed instantly by flying shrapnel, one begins to understand the humanitarian responsibility the Government has in this matter. I respect the work of the Garda Síochána and the danger in which its members and members of the PSNI put themselves when dealing with terrorism and terrorist activity. This report, however, is just the beginning. There are serious unanswered questions and I have given my view on how we should proceed. I hope the Government will respond accordingly.

On 16 December last year, I said in the House, in respect of the allegations that have given rise to the Nally report: "...there can be no argument but that they are the most profoundly serious that could be made against a law enforcement agency tasked with the preservation of life and public safety". I pointed to the report's firm conclusion that there was no foundation for the allegations and that "the allegations were a direct consequence of and were motivated by concerns arising from the difficulties in which the named garda found himself with his superiors in the Garda Síochána and with the criminal law".

The sensitivity of its contents had been impressed upon me and the Minister's intention not to publish the report had been made known in advance. As I was conscious of the high degree of sensitivity stated to attach to the report, I could not then place the detail of it in the public domain to any significant extent greater than the Minister had done. My notes made then will, however, form the basis of what I want to say now. I made it clear that, in the time available to me to digest the report, I was not in a position to "query the group's methodology of analysis, to point to unexplored lines of inquiry, to put forward alternative hypotheses or to second-guess its conclusions". Finally, I called on the Minister, in the interim period between that date and today's opportunity for further statements on the matter, to examine whether a version of this report that did not prejudice ongoing security operations could be made available to the Omagh families.

However, despite requests from the victims group and from Deputy Kenny and me, the Minister and the Taoiseach have apparently felt unable to respond to those urgings, presumably for the reasons the Minister outlined earlier. In these circumstances, I am at a loss to know what purpose was served by supplying both me and Deputy Kenny, alone of the 151 non-Cabinet Members of this House — presuming that all members of the Government were given a copy — with the report and then timetabling two sessions of statements in the House on a document that not only the public but most of the Members have not seen and which those who have seen it felt obliged not to discuss in the detail that it undoubtedly deserves.

Perhaps some type of convention was in the process of being invented, along the lines of the convention that a British Government might share confidences with privy counsellors on the opposition front benches. It was, for example, pointed out that both Deputy Kenny and I were former Ministers and members of the Cabinet. If some such distinction was in the Minister's mind when he chose to supply us with the report, it is a precedent which may be better not repeated. If the Government feels unable to publish even a redacted version of a sensitive document, I do not want to see it because, if I am not happy with it, I am in not in an position to explain my concerns as adequately as I should. In fact, the net effect might be to spancel Opposition scrutiny, rather than assist in informed debate. I do not claim that the Minister had such a purpose here. I do not regard my having seen the report and my having had time to think about it in greater detail than when I first spoke on it as conferring a seal of approval on its methodology.

It is now a matter of common and public knowledge that the report deals with an informant of the detective sergeant referred to by the Minister. That informant went to the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman with his allegations as to how the intelligence he was providing was dealt with by the Garda Síochána. The relatives of those killed in the bombing have called on the Garda to allow the PSNI team investigating Omagh to interview the informant who now lives abroad under the Garda witness protection programme. The PSNI's senior investigating officer, Superintendent Norman Baxter, has apparently made three requests to the Garda to interview the said informant, all of which have been denied.

The informant named was a car thief who is said to have had contacts first with the Provisional IRA and then, after the 1997 split, with the Real IRA. He provided intelligence on nine Real IRA bomb plots between February and August 1998. He is widely reported to have organised the theft of cars which were used to transport bombs and mortar rockets to Britain and Northern Ireland. In the transcript of a taped conversation between the informant and the detective sergeant, reported in the British Observer, he says he gave the Garda intelligence about a stolen car to be used in a bombing in Northern Ireland, just 24 hours before the Omagh massacre: “They [the Real IRA] had got a car and they [the Garda] knew it was moving; they knew it was moving within 24 hours of that stage”.

I have some problems with more than one aspect of the report. Deputy Kenny has previously referred to the fact that the major source of the allegations investigated by the Nally group, whose communications with Ms Nuala O'Loan were the cause of the original report by her to the Irish Government, has not been interviewed by the Nally group, let alone by the PSNI. This is despite the fact that the informant apparently remains on the witness protection programme and is in liaison with members of the force — the force against some of whose most senior officers he makes serious allegations. I listened to the Minister's comments about that. The informant's whereabouts are known, but it was not clear from my somewhat hurried reading of the report in December that he had declined on legal advice to assist the investigation. I have no reason to suspect that if the informant had been interviewed, the conclusions would have been in any way different.

However, it remains a difficulty and other issues arise. In general, it appears there is a significant difference between what the inquiry team was willing to accept from the gardaí by way of evidence and explanation as opposed to what it accepted from the disaffected detective sergeant. The team went through a forensic examination of the sergeant's evidence and highlighted inconsistencies and contradictions. However, when it came to the gardaí, a similar level of rigour was not applied and claims by gardaí that were unsupported by evidence were accepted without doubt. Without having been present at the interviews it is difficult to do more than record that observation.

The first allegation dealt with in the Nally report has to do with the theft of a car in this jurisdiction, which may later have been used in the mortar bombing of Armagh RUC station on 10 March 1998. It is common case that the detective's informant had contacted him on 13 February of that year to say that he had been asked by an individual described as "one of the main organisers of logistical arrangements" for the Real IRA, to steal a high-powered hatchback. Although information about a car and its storage locations were provided to the detective, it is also common case that none of this information was communicated to the RUC. The stolen car was found burnt out in County Monaghan three days after the Armagh bombing. The Garda conceded the car may have been used in the mortar attack but said it was unaware of any firm investigative link.

Outlining why the information about the theft of the car was not passed on to the RUC, the report describes a senior Garda officer as explaining:

It has to be borne in mind that the RIRA would have had a lot of cars which might be for special jobs "like bank robberies" but would not be for bombings. If there was any indication whatsoever that the stolen car was going to Northern Ireland or across to Britain, the Gardaí would be on to the RUC or the British police straightaway."

One must bear in mind, however, that the Provisional IRA had been on 'resumed' ceasefire since 20 July 1997, and in October 1997, following a general army convention, republican dissidents had withdrawn to establish the Real IRA. One must also bear in mind that the Garda informant was told by his contact that "the boys are back in business", sometime in mid-January 1998. According to the report:

Much of the information provided by the Detective Sergeant and his informant in 1998 was sensitive and valuable and, together with a great deal of other valuable and sensitive intelligence, was received at a critical period in the establishment of the RIRA.

Another point to bear in mind is that the first action subsequently attributed to the Real IRA was on 6 January 1998, and was an attempted car bomb. Of the 28 incidents attributed by the report to the Real IRA, not a single one was a bank robbery or even closely resembled a bank robbery.

A second example exists. In regard to the theft of a Mazda motor car, the detective sergeant claimed that the Real IRA contact told the informant that the car might or would be used in a mortar attack and that he — the detective — then passed this information on to his superiors. This was denied and it was claimed in rebuttal that an individual such as the Real IRA contact would not tell a car thief what use the Real IRA would make of a stolen car. This assertion was accepted by the inquiry team.

However, in regard to another stolen car, a Punto, the Real IRA man told the car thief that it was to be burnt outside someone's house as a warning. The car thief and the detective disbelieved this and, according to the detective, he informed his superiors that it would probably be used in a mortar attack.

His superiors insist that the only information they had regarding the Punto was that it was to be burnt out. In this case, the previous contention that the Real IRA would never reveal the purpose to which a stolen car would be put is ignored, perhaps because it suited the official position. The inquiry team never raised this apparent contradiction.

In regard to the Punto, the detective claimed, as I said, that he informed his superiors the car might be used in a mortar attack. According to him, his superiors, concerned about protecting the informant, were of the belief that "it was unlikely that any loss of life would result from such an attack" and decided to let the car through.

The response from the detective's superior was:

It was the most insulting thing that anybody could say to him that he would let something go through because it would involve only a mortar attack and only material damage would be likely to be caused because, given his experience he would know well that a home-made rocket is unpredictable and a most lethal and dangerous thing.

To support this case, an inventory of Provisional IRA and Real IRA mortar attacks since 1986 is included in the report. However, the only conclusion from this inventory is that mortars were a lethal weapon in the hands of the Provisional IRA, but not in the hands of the Real IRA.

Six individual Real IRA mortar attacks were reported, but no casualties were reported in any attack. In addition, the failure rate of these mortars was very high. On 10 March 1998, two out of five mortars failed to explode. In regard to the attacks of 24 March 1998 in Forkhill and Armagh no details were provided of how many failed to explode. In the next three Real IRA mortar attacks the device failed to function in each case. However, since the details about mortar attacks are apparently included in the report to bolster the official line, the high rate of failure in Real IRA mortar attacks is not alluded to.

Time and again in the report, reference is made to excellent co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda. The report states:

The Group has been very impressed by the strength of the opinions expressed to it by a serving and three retired senior officers of the RUC/PSNI when they emphasised the total co-operation ... and the degree of trust which had developed between the two police forces.

However, elsewhere in the report we are informed that the PSNI Omagh team identified a link between earlier events in 1998, referred to by the detective sergeant in his intelligence reports, and the Omagh bombing. The official line is that the Garda was not aware of any intelligence identifying such a link. What does this discrepancy reveal about the degree of co-operation? The Garda authorities were not asked about this contradiction.

Again, in regard to co-operation, in at least two instances senior Garda officers were quoted as stating that, despite the lack of a paper record, they would have informed RUC counterparts of events such as, for example, burnt out cars being found. The relevant RUC officers cannot specifically recall being informed of these events but stated that if their Garda counterparts said so, it must have happened. I do not query that, but no records appear to exist to buttress it.

Despite the absence of a paper record and the clear failure of the RUC to recall information being passed to it, the inquiry team accepted this as being the case. On the other hand, the disaffected detective sergeant was not at any stage afforded such a benefit of the doubt by the inquiry team.

The report quoted the PSNI Omagh inquiry team as identifying individuals linked to the informant as being connected with the construction of the Omagh car bomb. However, senior gardaí, aware of all Garda and PSNI intelligence on Omagh, said they never received any "even remotely similar" intelligence. They said the informant was a car thief and "not connected to any persons connected to the construction of the car bomb."

To prove an entirely different point, this time in favour of the senior officers rather than the disaffected detective sergeant, the report quoted the Garda as having passed on to the PSNI an intelligence report received from the detective. This was to the effect that when the Real IRA contact learned of the arrest of a car thief who had previously been connected with the informant, and thereby with him, "he was so concerned that he might talk that he arranged to meet the car thief's father the next day and warned him that if he found out that his son had talked about the explosives part of things he would have him shot". I am not clear how that passage is easily reconciled with the assertion that the informant was "not connected to any persons connected to the construction of the car bomb".

I want to make one point crystal clear, I am in no way persuaded of the truth of any of the detective sergeant's allegations, let alone of all of them, and, needless to say, the report of the Nally group does nothing to promote his case. However, I repeat what I said on the last occasion we discussed this matter and earlier in these remarks. It was possible for the ombudsman in Northern Ireland to provide the families most affected by the Omagh tragedy with a considerable amount of information. I strongly believe that the Government must find a way to provide the families with as much information as is possible without compromising the undoubtedly valid arguments the Minister has relating to sensitive security material. I welcome the remarks the Minister made, if I interpret them correctly, in saying that once contemplated litigation is disposed of he may be in a position to make available to the relatives a redacted version of the report. That would be very helpful.

I wish to share time with Deputies Joe Higgins and Boyle.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

In addressing the Nally report and the Omagh bombing of 1998, our first thoughts must be with the victims, the survivors and the bereaved of that terrible atrocity. On my behalf and on behalf of my party, I again express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the Omagh families and to all those affected by the bombing. Sinn Féin said at the time, and will continue to say, that the Omagh bombing was an atrocity carried out by people whose objective was to destroy the peace process and the republican peace strategy. It was the action of a tiny splinter group that set its face against the political path endorsed by genuine republicans throughout Ireland. It had nothing to do with Irish republicanism and it set back the cause its perpetrators claimed to serve.

When statements were taken in the Dáil on the Nally report on 16 December last, my colleague Deputy Ó Caoláin pointed out that it was unsatisfactory that some parties and Independent Deputies were being asked to make statements on a report they had not seen. Some Opposition leaders, Deputies Kenny and Rabbitte, were given sight of the report but others, including my party, were denied this access. This has not been rectified in the intervening period. At that time we called for the publication of the report, but that has not happened either. Therefore, we are relying on the statements of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 16 December and today for our information on the report. This is unsatisfactory. I will leave it at that as I do not wish to make a party political issue of this matter.

In her report on the Omagh tragedy the Police Ombudsman in the Six Counties, Nuala O'Loan, called for a review of the role and function of the RUC special branch, now of course incorporated in the PSNI. According to the Minister on 16 December, the Nally report called for "a written code of instructions and guidelines on intelligence gathering and agent handling". The report said that action has been taken on this but it should be reviewed. Nally also recommended: "consideration should be given to whether legislation covering intelligence gathering and agent handling would be desirable". These recommendations are what could be called spin-offs from the main body of the report which, we are told, finds no foundation for the allegations it examined against gardaí regarding Omagh. Nonetheless, they are recommendations which should be taken seriously and acted upon.

One only has to look at the career of the best known British agent in the Six Counties, Brian Nelson, to see the extent to which such agents played a key role in facilitating State violence against citizens. Nelson's British intelligence handlers used him to target many people for assassination, including human rights lawyer Pat Finucane. Everything was done to prevent exposing Nelson as a British agent. When he was exposed, all further avenues of inquiry were closed off. This is the familiar pattern in the use of agents by State forces in counter-insurgencies throughout the world. They are used as agents for State crimes at every level, often by ambitious police and military officers to further their personal careers, regardless of the cost in lives.

The British Government has suppressed a whole series of reports from Stalker-Sampson to Stevens and to the current report by Judge Cory because they threaten to expose its full complicity in State terror in Ireland. Publishing the Nally report would not only meet the wishes of the Omagh relatives, but would also strengthen the hand of the Government in calling on the British Government to publish its suppressed reports.

I again extend sympathy to all those affected by the Omagh bombing. I hope that, with all the deceased, the bereaved and the survivors of the conflict in our country, whether civilian or combatant, on all sides, their vindication will be a successful process of conflict resolution and the establishment, finally, of lasting and just peace in our country.

I am in an impossible position in debating a report that I have not seen. How can we pass judgment by any reasonable standard on a report the Government is insisting on keeping secret? Much less are we in a position to pass judgment on the allegations made against the Garda Síochána, or elements of it, that it in some way facilitated or made the Omagh bombing possible. This was the reason for the report in the first place.

It is not good enough that elected Members of the Dáil, the people in this State and especially the bereaved and the survivors of the Omagh atrocity are expected to take the word of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that there is no substance to the allegations. In turn, the Minister has repeated what the three person team concluded. We need to be able to independently form judgments on the conclusions and the reasons those conclusions were reached. We need to be able to get behind the conclusions to determine if we agree with them. This is surely a basic demand.

The Government should publish the report. If the names of people against whom allegations are made that cannot be proved must be deleted, then so be it. The relatives of those killed and maimed in Omagh have demanded that the report be published. This should be honoured. A process of investigation behind closed doors is inadequate and unsatisfactory.

Has the Government not learned anything from the 30 year traumatic aftermath of the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings? The victims of those bombings, and the relatives of those killed, have had a 30 year odyssey in trying to bring out the truth of what happened and make some sense of what was a senseless atrocity. Is another group of relatives and injured survivors to be put through a similar odyssey? There must be an open and public inquiry into what happened and then people can make their judgments.

The Omagh bombing of 15 August 1998 was an outrageous atrocity. As usual, the victims were ordinary working men, women and children. The Omagh bomb demonstrated yet again the utterly reactionary nature of paramilitarism, whether Real IRA, Provisional IRA or loyalist paramilitary. These self-appointed organisations had no mandate for the atrocities carried out in the course of decades in Northern Ireland. Of course, the British establishment, and British imperialism, were the creators of the sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the solution to sectarianism does not rest with the British establishment or the conservative political establishment of this Republic.

Sectarian divisions have been deepened by the actions of all paramilitaries, whether they are republican or loyalist. Unfortunately, the political structures imposed on Northern Ireland represent an institutionalisation of those sectarian divisions. The unity of working-class people, Protestant and Catholic, in pursuit of a society in which social and economic ills can be resolved with democratic socialist policies is the basis for a solution. It is in the process of achieving a united working class that the paramilitaries and those who seek to divide the people further will be cast aside.

Tá sé míshásúil amach is amach nach bhfuil tuarascáil Nally maidir le buamáil na hÓmaí ós ár gcomhair inniu. Conas is féidir linn breithiúnas a thabhairt ar thuarascáil nach bhfuil feicthe againn? Conas is féidir breithiúnas a thabhairt ar na líomhaintí in aghaidh an Gharda Síochána? Ba cheart go bhfoilseofaí an tuarascáil seo ar son mhuintir na tíre, go mórmhór dóibh siúd a gortaíodh san ionsaí, agus do chlainn agus gaolta na ndaoine a maraíodh.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, is well aware of the atmosphere of hurt, anger and disillusionment that persists among relatives of the Omagh atrocity's victims. Their feelings are directed in the first instance towards the investigating authorities that have so far failed to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators and provide ongoing information on the how and why of that appalling day in Omagh. The Minister must be especially aware that, in the second instance, that hurt, anger and disillusionment is directed at the political authorities of the British and Irish Governments. That was most pertinently shown by the less than effusive welcome the Taoiseach received in Omagh yesterday.

In view of that ongoing hurt, anger and disillusionment, the Minister's response today, given the legal constraints within which he operates, will do nothing to lessen those feelings among the Omagh relatives. As has been stated by other speakers, this debate is occurring in something of a vacuum, although it must be accepted that the Minister has offered private grief briefings and given some indication of his situation. However, by not physically presenting the report — perhaps truncated — to those who must examine it, especially relatives of the Omagh victims, we cannot clearly say what right or wrong has been served by this group meeting and producing a report.

Also of concern is the Minister's implication, which I picked up from what he said today and which he might care to refute in his response to this debate, that the right of the Omagh relatives to know compromises or undermines the national security of this State. If that is the weighing-up exercise being done, the implication is unfortunate. I would like it spelt out later in this debate to what extent such a compromising or undermining of this State's security will be occasioned by physically showing the relatives what information is available.

The second implication, on which the Minister should be really forthright, is that somehow the issue is the conflict between the opinion of one person, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala O'Loan, and that of the three eminent people who comprised the Nally group. That is unfair, since we know that Ms O'Loan has her own reputation which the Government has chosen to use regarding our ongoing work in ensuring acceptable policing in Northern Ireland. She is also the head of an agency with its own investigative back-up which is independent of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. To apply that type of weighting and say that it is one person against three or that we are giving more weight to those who happen to be our three people would be an unfortunate implication to emerge from this debate. It would further undermine the confidence of the Omagh relatives in the entire process.

After today, there must be some type of commitment, which the Minister has partially given, that, outside the constraints in which he finds himself regarding the individual referenced in the report and whatever criminal proceedings are being followed, a report will be published. The Minister has talked about that possibility. I would like a firm commitment that it will be done as quickly as possible and include the maximum amount of detail that can be given to help what is most in need of help at this stage, namely, the confidence of the Omagh victims' relatives. Until we secure such a commitment, I fear that the hurt, anger and disillusionment that began on that day in August 1998 will only intensify. We in this House should not add to such an atmosphere.

I live in a Border county. Obviously, in many ways living there is no different from living anywhere else. We have had a long history, over many years, of being touched by what has happened in the North. Dead bodies were left in our county. Murder most foul was committed, and that affected the population generally. With the greatest respect, regardless of anything else, the issue here is the relatives of those who died. They are everyone's primary concern. They should be given the most information as early and as quickly as possible to satisfy them regarding the tragedies that their families and they suffered in that most awful terrorist act.

I wish to compare two matters. I accept what the Minister said. No one doubts the credibility, integrity, commitment and professionalism of the Garda in all matters relating to this investigation, or that of the RUC in the North. The difference is that, in the North, an investigation has taken place into what transpired in Omagh. Nuala O'Loan put on the record in her report exactly what information the RUC had at that time. It is astounding and upsetting to read that report, which is in the public domain.

The first issue is that, on 4 August 1998, 11 days before the Omagh bombing, a ten minute telephone call took place between an informer and the police station in Omagh informing the latter that a terrorist attack of unspecified nature would take place on the police station on 11 August. Three days before the bombing further information was received about unspecified attacks somewhere in the North of Ireland. Nuala O'Loan's report states that the information was not passed up the line in the RUC. That is clearly a damning indictment of the procedures and situation in the RUC at that time. Her recommendations are clear about the changes that will have to take place in the PSNI as a result of this information. The awful fact is that, if only that had been acted on and more attention paid to it or the officers who subsequently interviewed an informer had acted differently, believing that the so-called smuggler was a well-known dissident republican, things might have been different. However, ultimately the bombing took place and the mayhem and terror happened. That is what we must deal with.

Nobody doubts the integrity of the Minister or of the argument that he makes from his perspective. Neither does anyone doubt that the relatives do not accept his view of what should happen now. In the House today, we wish to move the matter on in the best and most constructive way possible. My leader, Deputy Kenny, has made the most constructive suggestion of all. He is calling for someone of international repute with a background in judicial affairs. As in the case of other investigations, the person would have truly international standing and take ownership of this issue on all our behalf. That ownership would be in the context of giving the relatives as many facts as can be given. How does that differ from what the Minister says? The Minister says that there are issues of State security. Of course there are and, as Deputy Kenny has said, no one wants any such information released. Neither do the relatives want it. However, the report also included information that the relatives could and must have. This is a clear and obvious way of dealing with the issue.

The person would deal initially with the relatives. Provided he or she has sufficient international standing, there is no reason he or she could not be given the report and, if the Minister feels he cannot do so, seek a way to communicate some facts and details to the families. They want transparency and openness and an independent inquiry should be able to establish more information which could be given to the relatives.

We have had many inquires north and south of the Border and many more have been called for which have not taken place. The Omagh bombing was the worst single atrocity north or south of the Border and it behoves us to re-examine all available information and consider what we can do about it.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to meet the relatives again and to do the best he can. He must go the extra mile for them. Even if he has three arguments for not holding an inquiry, he needs only one reason to proceed, as I would, to take the step and reach out because the relatives need and are entitled to it.

Nuala O'Loan has been fantastic in her investigation in the North into how the RUC operated on the day of the bombings. She has placed in the public domain her criticisms and the changes required. Having made every possible effort to ensure the Government has available to it all the information she had, Ms O'Loan is entitled to a copy of the report. The Minister stated she is not an officer of this State, which is correct, but she is an Irish person acting in a part of this country in an independent and professional capacity. Her independence and integrity have not been challenged by the Minister or anybody else. Why not give her a copy of the report and allow her to see the results of the investigation conducted here on foot of the information she provided?

The Nally report recommends that the matter be progressed and refers to keeping better records of North-South contacts and exchanges in intelligence, and establishing a written code of instructions and guidelines on intelligence gathering and agent handling. Obviously, I am not aware of the reason the report recommends even these changes, but it clearly contains more information than that in the public domain and we are entitled to know what it is without compromising the integrity, security or identity of any named person or officer.

The least to which we are entitled is to have as much as possible of the report released but we are also entitled to the greatest possible degree of transparency and clearly the relatives are deeply unhappy with the current position in this regard. I urge the Minister to go the extra mile and reach out to those who have suffered most at the hands of awful people.

I welcome the Minister's statement and offer my sympathy and condolences to the survivors and the relatives of the victims of the most serious atrocity to take place in Northern Ireland in the course of the troubles of recent decades. As the Acting Chairman, Deputy Ardagh, will agree, it is ironic that the House, through a sub-committee, is currently dealing with the Barron report on the most serious atrocity ever to take place in this jurisdiction.

I have not seen the Nally report. It is unsatisfactory that a party spokesperson on justice should not be given a copy of it and that it should be made available to only two party leaders. This level of non-disclosure raises a major question mark about the report's value, particularly given that the Minister has informed the House that no further disclosure will be made until such time as the court hearing takes place in the case of the prime participants who feature in the report. The Minister must reassess this approach and consider the possibility of returning with some form of redacted report. The House should not forget that the report before the sub-committee hearings on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings redacted but the sub-committee has still been able to perform its function in recent months.

This is the reason for the considerable dissatisfaction among the relatives and survivors which was evident yesterday in the manner in which the Taoiseach was treated. Clearly, the perception among them is that they are not receiving a fair hearing from the powers that be and this resonates among the relatives and survivors of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings who have felt for years that those in power did not want to effect a resolution or deal seriously with their troubles, grief and problems. I hope we do not arrive at a position in which the same sense of grief, frustration and anger is reflected among the relatives and survivors of the Omagh bombing in the years ahead.

Deputy Kenny's suggestion that the Minister consider establishing a Cory-like inquiry or investigation has some merit. The downside of his proposal, however, is that it would still be a private investigation and we would end up with material which is not amenable to public disclosure in any form. Nevertheless, that approach has merit as a step forward.

As the Acting Chairman is aware, the sub-committee on the Barron report has been engaged in its role for a considerable period. The sub-committee could provide a public forum, in the Houses of the Oireachtas, for the relatives and survivors of the Omagh bombings to tell their story. One of the major grievances is that nobody has heard the story told by survivors and relatives themselves and that there is no public forum for them to do so.

We could also invite the Nally group to attend the sub-committee. Its members, a former Secretary of the Department of Justice, a former Director of Public Prosecutions and a former Secretary to the Government, are all senior experienced figures who know the ropes. It would be valuable if they were to attend the sub-committee to explain the methodology they used and the lengths to which they went to elicit information within their terms of reference. The sub-committee could then question them on the issue because some serious questions have been raised by Deputy Rabbitte.

Furthermore, we could also invite the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Ms Nuala O'Loan, before the sub-committee. Is there a good reason that the ombudsman, who raised this issue in the first instance with the Minster for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and has taken considerable interest in the matter, should not come before a sub-committee of the House to find out how far we can advance the issue?

What I am proposing is a format or formula to enable us to progress the matter. The worst course of action would be to allow word to go out again that, having conducted an inquiry, we have information in a report but it will remain on a shelf and will be treated in the most exclusive and secretive fashion of any report to this House.

Two Members of the Oireachtas, apart from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, have been given copies of the report. It is ridiculous in terms of investigation or reportage if it has to be left at that. I suggest that would be a reasonable avenue to be explored by the Minister and I welcome his response to that suggestion. The House could go further and look for statements and written submissions from anybody who might wish to provide them.

The discussion on the Nally report highlights the need for an ombudsman. The three gentlemen who compiled this report had no investigating experience. An ombudsman would have people at his or her disposal and would be in a position to conduct a forensic and professional investigation in accordance with the terms of reference. An ombudsman would have the powers, the methodology and the ability to carry out an investigation in a fine fashion and would produce a credible report.

On the question of informants and how they are to be dealt with, there seems to be a very lackadaisical, ad hoc approach to the matter. There are no guidelines within the Garda Síochána. I tabled a question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the witness protection scheme and Garda informants. It appears they are run on an ad hoc basis. The Minister is not in a position to give any guidelines or suggestions on the level of Garda scrutiny, monitoring and control of informants. We need to know precisely how a Garda informant is dealt with by the police handler.There is a question about the person responsible for this particular informant and questions about the bona fides of the informant, but who knows other than the person who is the immediate handler. There are serious issues of this nature coming to light.

I respectfully suggest to the Minister that we should find ways of moving forward and the suggestion made by Deputy Kenny and me might be usefully explored.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this particularly sad and emotive issue. Like other speakers, I wish to record my sympathies to those who survived the blast and the relatives of those who died. It was a truly horrific act perpetrated on a people going about their ordinary business in the middle of the summer, during the course of the summer holidays, many of whom were from all parts of the country, of all races, creeds and nationalities, who were unlucky enough to be in what somebody else deemed to be the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing can ever excuse the dastardly deed done to them on that day.

I listened with interest to the Minister's speech and to the speeches of the leader of my party, Deputy Kenny, and the Labour Party leader, Deputy Rabbitte, both of whom have had sight of the report. Like other speakers, I believe the integrity of the Garda Síochána is recognised and must be recognised otherwise we have a serious problem. Likewise, I have no difficulty recognising the integrity of the Nally report. From what I can gather and from the distance from whence I am viewing it, the report has done the best it can do in the circumstances. However, there are a number of issues that still remain outstanding. The Minister, Members on this side of the House and I understand that these issues are of concern to the relatives. They are concerned about rumours which have played a great role in the history of this country and they will play an equally prominent role in the future of this country.

Ms Nuala O'Loan was obviously aware of some of the circumstances and a report was made to her by the person who made the complaint — the Garda who is now under suspension. She has produced a report. The Minister pointed out twice in his reply that she is not an officer of this jurisdiction. I do not believe that is relevant. If a person of integrity produces a report within or without the jurisdiction, it should be fully investigated. I hope the Minister will clarify that matter because that was not the impression given in his speech to the House.

The matter of the detective sergeant who is under investigation is of concern. I presume he was under investigation before these issues arose and that in the course of it, he countered by raising his own counter-statements. That does not necessarily mean that he is wrong and that is a cause for concern. He obviously wishes to defend himself and he will draw whatever evidence he can to support his case. The Minister is better informed than I am because he has the access. Much will depend on the degree of detail that the person had, the amount of information he supplied and whether or not there are a number of coincidences. They may be coincidences or they may be something more serious.

I am a little concerned about the person on the witness protection programme. The Minister stated in his speech that the person was legally advised not to co-operate and not to give information. It is obvious that is what he would do and that would be the normal thing to do in those circumstances. I am concerned that there might be wider implications and I question why that advice was given. The person concerned is on the witness protection programme and, as Deputy Kenny pointed out this morning, several other people who have been on that programme have come forward and given evidence which has been used to good effect. I hope the Minister will clarify the matter further in his reply or in the course of the report, abridged or otherwise, which he intends to make available to the relatives and, hopefully, to the House at some later stage.

From the information I have gleaned from the public arena, from the Minister's speech and from the speeches of the two Opposition parties' leaders who have had sight of the report, there would appear to be a number of unanswered questions that remain to be dealt with, apart from attempting to assuage the concerns of the relatives. It is necessary to ensure that not only is justice done and seen to be done. It must continue in the future and the Minister's commitment to that is sacrosanct. I am not critical of what has happened to date but what happens from here on needs to take on some kind of new hue.

The Minister is aware that the O'Loan report would appear to be significant and to have a major impact on the issue. The failure of the witness on the witness protection programme to make a statement, to co-operate or to be interviewed in connection with the Nally report, is more serious. I do not know how the Minister can achieve that without a further examination or report.

It cannot go on forever, it must reach closure at some stage. It would be wrong if we were to allow the opportunity to pass without clearly setting out that the House and the Minister mean business. There can be no refuge for people who get involved in the perpetration of such acts, now or in the future. It is fine to produce rhetoric, but our actions that result from what has happened will have a lasting effect.

We have all heard rumours about where and when the bomb was sourced etc. We have acquired most of our information through rumour. The Minister may have more information about it than we have — he should have more information at this stage. There can be no doubt about what the Minister's reaction will have to be at some stage — there will have to be some retribution and somebody will have to be charged. If no such action is taken on foot of all the information that is in the public arena, the system can be said to be beginning to waver.

According to an order of this House of yesterday, questions can now be taken for a period not exceeding 20 minutes. I remind Members that this debate will end at 12.30 p.m.

I am glad to have the opportunity to ask the Minister some questions. I do not have access to all the information that is available to the Minister. A 300-page statement was made by the detective sergeant who made these allegations in the first instance. Two further reports have been produced by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Why have the families of the victims never been interviewed about this matter? They can give evidence to me or anybody else about a man and a woman who entered shops in Omagh, on several separate occasions some time before the atrocity, to ask shopkeepers and persons who lost loved ones questions about how long one can park a car on the street without it being moved. None of these people was ever spoken to by the Nally group.

I would like the Minister to elaborate on the witness protection programme. I have spoken before of certain instances relating to the Gilligan trial. If the conditions of the programme, which I understand has cost over €1 million already, are set by the State and legal advice is given to the informant, I do not see why some mechanism cannot be put in place to receive information provided by that person. I ask the Minister to respond to this suggestion. Does he feel that something similar to the Cory report would be beneficial?

The Taoiseach said yesterday that we will never let up on our investigations. I understand from the PSNI investigative team that a DNA profile can be made available within 72 hours, or within 48 hours if required urgently. I understand that a request was made by the investigative team last June for two DNA profiles, but they have not yet been supplied. If that is the case, it contradicts completely the notion that there is greater co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the matter. If the PSNI investigative team requested DNA profiles in two particular cases of importance in the ongoing criminal investigation, but did not receive them, surely the claim that there is greater co-operation is contradicted. Is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform happy that the level of co-operation that is supposed to exist between the PSNI and the Garda exists? There appears to be contradictory evidence in that regard. I would like to think that the Minister and his counterpart will ensure that information flows freely between each side.

I appreciate the gravity of the Minister's comment this morning that the group which perpetrated the Omagh slaughter "plans to strike again". The Minister can be assured that his efforts to ensure that the security of citizens, North and South, is protected will receive the wholehearted support of this side of the House.

I wish to correct the impression that was given earlier in the debate that I have not met the Omagh relatives' group. I spent two and a half hours with the group at a meeting in my Department. The group's anger and frustration, caused by various things, were fully and frankly ventilated at the lengthy meeting. The impression that I did not meet the group seems to have got out, but I met them.

That was before the report.

Yes, it was before the report. I indicated to them that I will meet them again, after I have dealt adequately with the Nally report in this House. We did not have much time to discuss the matter before Christmas so I suggested that we have another debate, which is taking place today. I will meet the group again.

I reiterate, as doubt seems to be creeping in already, that as soon as the criminal prosecution is out of the way, regardless of what happens in that regard, I will set my mind to producing as much as I can of the Nally report in a form in which it can be read by the public. I will explain this to the relatives when I meet them.

There are two reasons, why in effect, I am "between a rock and a hard place", as I said earlier. The first reason relates to the criminal proceedings which are in train. A good deal of the Nally report centres on the motivation and credibility of a person against whom serious charges are about to be made. I could not place that material in the public domain without saying, in effect, that the criminal proceedings have come to an end. That would have its own implications. The second reason I am "between a rock and a hard place" relates to the security interest. I will do my best to overcome the considerable and substantial difficulties that exist in that context.

I emphasise that the Real IRA and the 32-County Sovereignty Committee, the political adjunct of the Real IRA, are planning, as we speak, to plant another bomb of this type. They have made many efforts to put together bombs of this type and they have been frustrated and thwarted in a number of ways. They have attempted to take many people's lives and they intend to continue trying to do so. My first duty must be to prevent another incident such as that in Omagh in 1998. Therefore, I cannot place in the public domain something which assists the organisations in question in changing their modus operandi, so that they can get away with it the next time. Everybody agrees with me that it should be my first priority.

Deputy Kenny asked me why the relatives were not interviewed in Northern Ireland about this matter. I have no official function in this regard, but I presume that any relatives with information such as that to which Deputy Kenny refers are available to the PSNI now. I stress that the file is not closed. If admissible evidence is ever made available which enables the Director of Public Prosecutions or his counterpart in Northern Ireland to prosecute anybody — somebody who was centrally involved or a person who was peripherally involved — I do not doubt that there will be a trial. I cannot decide whether evidence is or is not available. It is a decision to be made by independent constitutional officers on either side of the Border.

Deputy Kenny asked if something analogous to the Cory report would be beneficial. Deputy Costello put his finger on the problem in this regard, which is that the Cory report, just like the Barron report, operates on the basis of an absence of statutory powers. If there are no statutory powers, there is only so far one can go. A method of inquiry — the tribunal system — is in place under the 1921 Act and subsequent legislation, but it would be wholly unsuitable for this matter because tribunals are required to operate in public. One could not have a public tribunal dealing with this kind of material. In the near future I hope this House will get on with the commissions of inquiry legislation so there will be alternatives to public tribunals of inquiry. If I asked Judge Cory, Mr. Justice Barron or any other judge to look at what these three men have done, whoever that judge might be would face exactly the same problems they faced as regards the informer who was on a witness protection programme.

Superficially, one might ask why there should be a problem about getting somebody who is on a witness protection programme to co-operate with the subsequent inquiry. The whole point of a witness protection programme is that that person's anonymity is fully respected, and that his or her privacy and new life are sacrosanct. In this case, I want to make it clear that it is not as if the three people did not make every effort to contact him. They first approached the individual through his legal advisor. He was on the witness protection programme of the State. They put questions to him, via his legal advisor but, despite repeated efforts to elicit replies, they never received any. They were told on more than one occasion by his legal advisor that he was not prepared to reply to questions but it was held out to them that he might be prepared to do so at some time in the future. They also requested through the legal advisor, an interview with the informant but that was refused. They concluded and stated that it is deeply regrettable that they should have to report without having had replies to those questions. The implication has gone out that somehow they said, "Well, that's fine. We're indifferent to that issue", but it is quite the reverse. They regarded what happened as deeply regrettable but they were not in a position to punch through the witness protection programme and somehow summon this person before them and examine him on the issues that arose. Neither Judge Cory, Mr. Justice Barron nor anybody else would be in a position to do that, as far as I can see.

Deputy Rabbitte said that some things were used to bolster the official line. I know that may just be a turn of phrase, but I certainly repudiate the suggestion that there was an official line of the Irish State and that these three men hunted for material to bolster the official line. If I thought for one minute that the allegations that were made were true or had a really substantial element of truth in them, I would act immediately to deal with this issue.

Is this Question Time?

What about the DNA?

I am unaware of the particular requests that have been made regarding DNA, but I cannot imagine that the Garda Síochána is refusing to hand over DNA samples to people in Northern Ireland. I was at a meeting earlier this week, and the degree of co-operation, trust and mutual confidence between both police forces is at an all-time high; it is very close.

In so far as it is possible, our first responsibility should be to the survivors and relatives of the victims of the Omagh bombing. We know how frustrated they are from events, even as recent as those of yesterday. Will the Minister re-examine the documentation in the Nally report and provide an extensive briefing — not a general briefing, as he has suggested — in addition to a document that would reflect what took place in the substance of the Nally report?

I have suggested that we should provide a forum in this House for the relatives of the victims and the survivors to tell their stories. It took us 30 years to provide such a forum for the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. A forum, such as I have suggested, could also invite the Northern Ireland ombudsman to attend. Since she has made a public statement in Northern Ireland about the Omagh bombing, there is no reason it cannot be stated before a committee of this House. We should also invite the Nally group to inquire about its methodology in dealing with the terms of reference and its conclusions. That would be a mechanism for moving the matter on, which would be in the public arena and would not interfere with the matters to which the Minister has referred, which could not be disclosed.

My final point concerns the PSNI and the RUC. If there was no record of the contact between the Garda Síochána and the RUC on the RUC side, and there was no memory of that contact, surely there is a problem of record taking, record keeping and communications. No matter what the Minister says about the goodwill that exists between both forces, if there is no mechanism or structure in place, I do not know where we are going. It harks back to the events of 30 years ago, about which we have heard the same description of communications.

Deputy Boyle wants to ask a brief question. We have only four minutes left for the Minister to reply.

Given that the time for whatever information is likely to be made available is predicated on the imminent criminal proceedings, have the Minister or his Department made any general inquiries to the Courts Service as to when a case would be heard, for how long it is anticipated to run, and what likely appeal process would follow? Are we talking about a process of six months or two years?

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not direct the Courts Service or find out from the Courts Service what happens.

Not directly.

This is litigation involving the DPP and I do not want to comment on it. I understand it has been adjourned on a number of occasions and that it will be dealt with. It is not in the blue yonder, it will be dealt with in the relatively near future.

As regards the keeping of records, the Garda Commissioner has assured me that the recommendations of the Nally group have been acted upon. I would not like anybody to think it has fallen on deaf ears.

In the context of dealing with informers, I want to say one thing that I think is of some significance. It was suggested by Deputy Ferris that somehow the use of informers is wrong in principle, but his view is wholly wrong in itself. The biggest damage that has been done to the organisation that perpetrated the Omagh bombing was a major criminal trial in which an informer — an American man — penetrated it and informed on it. When one is dealing with cruel and vicious people who will go to any lengths to kill others, it is proper, subject to proper safeguards, for that kind of evidence to be used. If one was to exclude all inside information, both for intelligence purposes and ultimately, on occasion, for trials, the alternative would be to say simply that the rule of law was completely helpless in the face of highly disciplined conspiracies, such as those with which we are dealing.

Deputy Costello asked whether a sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, of which he is a member, should offer a forum. I have no principled objection to that but it is a matter for the committee. I see that the chairman of that committee is Acting Chairman here today. The practicality of doing that should be discussed by the members of that committee, which is hugely overburdened. I recognise, however, what Deputy Costello and a number of other Deputies have said. They do not want to act in an off-hand manner towards people who have been subjected to these terrible things. I will play any constructive part I can in addressing the sense of grievance, hurt and unresolved wondering as to precisely how all this took place.

Members mentioned the inadequacies or otherwise of the investigation, as found by Ms Nuala O'Loan. However, while that may be the case and mistakes may have been made, let us not forget that the primary moral liability lies with those who constructed and placed that bomb, who were absolutely reckless as to the outcome of their actions and who have 31 murder victims on their hands. That is where the responsibility lies.

I reiterate that these people are trying to carry out similar operations. They have been foiled on a number of occasions and the Garda Síochána has done a fantastic job, as has the PSNI, in stopping the carrying out of such operations. A massive car bomb was found entering Derry which had been assembled in County Donegal by the same organisation with which we are dealing in this case. Our primary concern must be to face down these people and defeat them, rather than to give them succour by saying that, somehow, there is fault on the part of the State, which is engaged in a life and death struggle with them. It is wrong that such matters should come back to haunt the State rather than the people who are doing this at present, and who must be confronted and prevented.