Public Hearings on the Barron Report.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome you all to the resumed hearings in the consideration by the sub-committee on the Barron report of the report of the independent commission of inquiry. I welcome Mr. Justin Keating, a former Minister, who has agreed to meet with the sub-committee to discuss his views on the Barron report. As committee members are aware, Mr. Keating has commented recently in the press on the report and reactions to it. Each member has a copy of the articles Mr. Keating penned. I again welcome the members of Justice for the Forgotten, who have attended on a regular basis. Mr. Keating has stated he does not have full hearing. Can you hear what I am saying, Mr. Keating?

Mr. Justin Keating

Just about.

I ask the members of the sub-committee to speak loudly. I remind you, Mr. Keating, that while the members of the Oireachtas and the sub-committee enjoy parliamentary privilege, you do not. I invite you to make a brief statement.

Mr. Keating

I thank you, Chairman, and the sub-committee for this opportunity to meet with the sub-committee. I had not intended to attend but there are matters on which I would like to put a slightly demurring opinion to the public concerning those awful events in 1974. I should of course start, as others have done, by expressing my sympathy. When loved ones are snatched away without warning it is more frightful than if a person dies in his or her bed surrounded by family; one knows the person is ill and can grieve. This was the killing of totally innocent people out of a clear blue sky, so one can understand the unresolved grieving that still exists.

I should also say, because it has come to me that I am partisan, that my only acquaintance with Mr. Justice Barron was when I was a witness in a case he tried. I do not know him. I have not met him before or since, and in no sense am I a defender of him as an individual. I am simply speaking from what I recall. I must explain that I am very deaf, and it may be difficult or embarrassing for people who want to ask me questions, but bear with me and I will do my best if members of the sub-committee do the same.

I also noted, because I have had a copy of some of the sub-committee's proceedings to date, that people refer to the inadequacy of memory. It is, in one sense, recent - 30 years ago - but I agree with these comments and I recognise the weakness of my own memory. I recognise that each time I replay the tapes of memory, they get a little altered and perhaps I get a little more pure and innocent or a little more centre stage than I was before, and I recognise that distortion. However, when I demur, it is not only because of memory. My assumptions and paradigm at the time were very different from those of most members of the Government. I was coming from a different place. I do not propose to elaborate, but in the circumstances it is not surprising that we reached different conclusions then and now, and I attribute nothing but the best of good faith to the people with whom I disagree.

With regard to the background, I do not have the legal knowledge of some of the Ministers and ex-Ministers who have spoken to the sub-committee and I was very new to Government, as I was to politics. It had all happened too fast and, in hindsight, I was hanging on by my fingertips and very ignorant. In addition, the whole matter of security was not my great priority. I was the Minister for Industry and Commerce six month in office when we had the oil shock. Keeping the economy from crashing, indeed, my great priority was in trying to ensure basic supplies so that factories would not lay-off people because they ran out of raw materials. It also meant that I travelled a lot in that crisis, the awful economic crisis that followed the first oil shock. If the IDA or Córas Tráchtála asked me to go anywhere, I went. It meant that I was away a lot.

Regarding the Government of the time, I noted the Chairman's strictures in the proceedings that I have seen about naming people or apportioning blame and so on. That is not my intention but I am interested in structures. It is not for me to draw the sub-committee's conclusions but I may perhaps mention things that I think relevant to drawing conclusions when that time comes for the sub-committee.

The Government of which I was a member established a security sub-committee. I do not remember it being set up and I know that for some period I did not know that it existed. I now know who were its members. I did not know at the time, for example, that the Minister for Foreign Affairs was not a member. That sub-committee functioned. I think it was quite powerful and it had access to the Taoiseach, but I believe that it functioned with too little reference to the Government as a whole and that people known to be of another cast of mind, as I was, were bypassed. That is fine, except for the fact that collective responsibility applies to governments, as it should, and that, although there were things that I did not know about and would not have agreed with, and in some instances might have been resigning issues had I known in time, I bear the collective responsibility even though I might have demurred.

By and large I did not make a submission to the sub-committee because there are two articles that I wrote inThe Irish Times on 29 December 2003 and 5 January 2004. I may say that I declined a great many offers from all of the media to comment on the Barron report when it came out first and I read it carefully before committing my thoughts to paper. I did not submit a memorandum because what I have to say is in these articles.

The accusation that hurt the most was that the Government failed to show due concern about the whole matter of the atrocities of May 1974. I want to tease out this issue. I could understand the public feeling that the Government did not show due concern. From the contrary side, I assure the sub-committee that the Government, as far as I am aware of these things, was very concerned but did not feel able to act in a resolute and determined way. If people want me to, I will explain the reasons I believe this to be true, but I will wait for members to ask; I will not offer those reasons. They were not good reasons to me, but to the members of the security sub-committee I am satisfied that they appeared absolutely good reasons. From their point of view, I understand that belief, although I do not agree with it.

The second important issue is the question of the relationship between the Garda and the Department of Justice and the quality of the Garda investigation. Drawing on my own experience, I will explain the spectrum of governmental decision. I did not have an agency such as the Garda, but as Minister for Industry and Commerce I had the IDA, the science and technology board, SFADCo, Córas Tráchtála and so on. As Minister, I liaised with a number of boards. On the one hand, there are recorded decisions and, of course, they got their budgets. However, on the other hand, people travelled together and talked and had a drink together. Sometimes one would make suggestions to them, while at other times one protected them from pressure so they could get on with their jobs. I regretted that I did not play golf because I realised how important the golf course was in these interactions. My point is that the interactions between a Department and its agencies exists at many levels and in a complex way. Some are minuted and some are not. Some are so informal that both sides with hand on heart could deny they ever happened. It is not a simple relationship.

Mr. Justice Barron is a very meticulous judge. I indicated my view of him in the first article inThe Irish Times. However, he is a judge, which means he is interested in what can be proved in a court of law. All of us live our lives of the basis on things in which we profoundly believe and upon which we are willing to act - to the extent that our lives turn upon them - but which cannot be proved in a court of law. I believe things with good reason. I have tested the reasons I believe them, but they are not provable.

One of the things I do all the time, since my general feeling about the world is so out of line with most of my peers, is to try to think my way into other people's heads. In that context, I have one question about the Garda. The senior gardaí I have met have come through a competitive system full of properly ambitious young men working their way upwards. They are extremely well-informed, street-wise and subtle and, if they wanted to be politicians, they would bury me any day; I am not in their league. Those people ask themselves questions about the appropriateness of important actions. I ask myself if senior gardaí would have decided to discontinue an investigation quite quickly without referring further up the line. It is a very important decision with ramifications that we are still discussing and thinking about. Would senior gardaí have done that in-house without referring on? I am not offering an answer, I am asking the question. That is a privilege I have at my age.

That is enough said about the two big issues: lack of Government concern and Garda and Department of Justice interactions. I have thoughts about our handling of the whole episode. I understand that people should fix things on golf courses. I also understand, having been a politician a long time ago, that one is pulled by the public, by one's party, by one's Department and by one's loyalty and solidarity with other parties if in coalition. If people are going to play individual games, coalitions do not work. I was profoundly convinced that after a long period of single-party Government, we needed a coalition to hold together in hard times and it held together. However, the business of minuting Government decisions without recording anything in the discussion seems to me to be insufficient considering the 30-year rule. I would like if more information on what the Government thought in 1974 was published next January. I think we need more minuting.

I need to state one or two things that are assumptions on my part. I call them assumptions because I cannot prove them in a court of law, but I believe them none the less. That governments spy on each other all the time, I take for granted. I also take for granted that when the British left Ireland in 1922, they left sleepers behind them in a whole lot of serious locations and that those sleepers, as I call them, have successors.

I believe that spies, the security services, in the world generally, are becoming increasingly powerful and that our civil liberties are being eroded. Many of these spies - I am using the term in a general sense because it is difficult for me to use the term "intelligence service" in the light of what I am going to say - live in a fantasy world and many of them, if one reads history, are very stupid and what they do is counter-productive. That is a rough assumption of mine. When I look at the counter-productive things that various British Administrations have done in Ireland, from the Black and Tans to events in Northern Ireland, I cannot conclude that they are able to discern their own best interest or to act according to it. In this context and given the structure of the old RUC in Northern Ireland, it is so unlikely as to be unthinkable to suggest that there would not have been collusion between some elements of the old RUC - not the whole organisation - and, indeed, British terrorist cowboys within the British army structure and Northern Ireland Protestant paramilitary terrorists, who were going down the same road. Another of my assumptions is that there was such collusion.

In the second of my articles inThe Irish Times I refer to terrorism and stated that I wanted a definition that applies to everybody and that it should not, in this context, rest on the assumption that what others do is terrorism but what “we” do can never be categorised as such. It is a terrible growth and all facets of it must be opposed in a consistent way, not only those parts that are against one. I believe there were moments when, for what seemed to be good reasons to others, we did not oppose state terrorism as rigorously as we should have done in that period. I realise I am saying dissenting and serious things. However, I say them with thought and seriousness while trying to avoid implications of bad faith towards individuals. Thank you, Chairman.

Thank you, Mr. Keating. I understand that you are talking in a general sense when you speak about state terrorism.

Mr. Keating

Yes. I did not want to repeat myself and go on too long. I discussed it at some length in my second article inThe Irish Times.

I welcome Mr. Keating to the sub-committee. During your period in government were there any formal or informal discussions of which you are aware about the Dublin and Monaghan bombings that you feel would be of interest to the sub-committee?

Mr. Keating

At Government level as an agenda item, I cannot recollect any. That is not to say they did not happen either when I was away or that I forgot. I do not recollect any.

Can you recall at the time if there were many formal or informal discussions or meetings between the Garda and any Government members?

Mr. Keating

In that context I never met the Garda. I take the force of their argument about the security of their covert people. I would not have asked to see them. I understand that certain information is very sensitive and very dangerous and ought to be restricted. The other thing to say about government is, that before the Taoiseach convenes the Government meeting and the agenda is started, of course members will talk to each other. Members talk to each other in the restaurant and when the meeting is over. There is a lot of interchange. These were frightful events and certainly we discussed them. In fairness, everyone felt the outrage that I felt. There was no gradation between different parties or different people.

Was there any concern expressed at any of those informal discussions with your colleagues in Cabinet with regard to the failure to advance the investigation into the bombings? Was there concern expressed as to why the investigation was not progressing into identifying the perpetrators?

Mr. Keating

I find it very difficult to distinguish between the content of those discussions and the conclusions I reached in answer to that question afterwards. I will say what I believe they were about. First, in those informal discussions it was said that if we extradite we have to give reciprocity, and we do not want to do that as it is a can of worms, so we should let it lie. I do not think, based on either my recollection or subsequent thought about it, that this was the major reason. You will stop me, Chairman, if I get off line——

Absolutely.

Mr. Keating

There has been very little discussion of what I consider to be the real reason, but it came up in the informal conversations. There had been the arms trial and the explosive turmoil inside Fianna Fáil. I am not going to be party political about it but this was a factor. There were deep divisions inside the Fianna Fáil Party, and members of the Government and of the security sub-committee of which I was not a member sincerely held that if we extradited somebody and they were put on trial, regardless of whether they were convicted, so much would come out in the trial that there would be an immense sense of outrage around the country at British state terrorism——

I must ask you, Mr. Keating, to resist making comments on what you think of those particular circumstances. I return to Senator Walsh for questioning.

Leave aside extradition for the moment, in those discussions, were concerns expressed about the possibility of gardaí going to Northern Ireland to interrogate suspects? Was that ever discussed?

Mr. Keating

I believe it was.

What was the view, as Mr. Keating would perceive it, of the members of the Government of the day in regard to that?

Mr. Keating

It would not have been a focused discussion in the sense that everyone accepted, I think, that while there had to be Government policy and guidance for the members of the Garda Síochána, it was their job to get on with their day to day work. They were the experts. At that level we did not intrude.

That is in line with what was said. One final question relates to a comment in the article of 29 December 2003, where Mr. Keating says - I will read the sentence if he wishes——

Mr. Keating

Is it on the second page?

It is in the second last paragraph of the second page. Half way down the paragraph it states: "[that] although fair and judicial, the commission was severely handicapped by failure to co-operate on various sides by the loss (deliberate destruction?) of significant documents." Does Mr. Keating have any information, rather than an opinion, on how documents from the Irish side, in other words, the Department of Justice or Garda documents, went missing?

Mr. Keating

This is all hindsight. I would have known nothing whatsoever about that.

I thank Mr. Keating very much. We very much appreciate that he has attended the sub-committee. I ask him to clarify the situation in relation to the Cabinet security sub-committee.

Mr. Keating

In relation to——

The Cabinet security sub-committee. Mr. Keating was not a member of it at any stage.

Mr. Keating

I am very sorry. I am——

The security sub-committee of the Cabinet. He was never a member of it.

Mr. Keating

No. For a long time I did not know it existed.

He did not know it existed but it was a sub-committee of the Cabinet. Would all sub-committees not have to come before the Cabinet before they were established?

Mr. Keating

It must have done but I have no recollection of that. I am not a lawyer - it is a severe drawback at a certain level. Whether it was formally established and formally existed, it functioned and it had its members. However, I do not know to this day if it existed under standing order and law, etc.

Did it ever report to Mr. Keating at Cabinet meetings?

Mr. Keating

I have no recollection of such.

Therefore, according to Mr. Keating's recollection, there was a Cabinet sub-committee that never reported to the Cabinet.

Mr. Keating

Not to my knowledge, no.

Can the Deputy ask the question rather than stating something happened or did not happen?

Does Mr. Keating recollect any report from the Cabinet sub-committee on security coming before him between 1973 and 1977?

Mr. Keating

I do not.

Deputy Costello, we are not criticising individual members. I want that stated for the record and I know that you agree with that.

Absolutely not. My question is related directly to page 276 of the report, where Mr. Justice Barron, in his final conclusions, states: "However, the Government of the day failed to show the concern expected of it...". He goes on to state: "The Government of the day showed little interest in the bombings."

Mr. Keating

I have read the paragraph now. Does the Deputy mind repeating himself because I missed some of it?

What is the question please, Deputy Costello?

Mr. Keating stated earlier that he does not recollect the Dublin and Monaghan bombings being discussed at Cabinet. Is he saying that no member of Cabinet raised the issue of the progress of the investigation in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings when he was a member of the Cabinet?

No. Can you please rephrase the question as follows: do you have any recollection of any member raising it at Cabinet?

Can Mr. Keating recollect any occasion on which the Dublin and Monaghan bombings were raised by a member of the Cabinet during a Cabinet meeting?

Mr. Keating

I have no such recollection but it is fair to say that is not a denial that it occurred. I genuinely do not know. I do not recollect but I do not rule out the possibility that it might have been. If it was, it was not a continuously recurring, eagerly pursued issue.

I thank Mr. Keating for attending the sub-committee and helping us with our work. It is much appreciated by us. I have two questions for Mr. Keating. On the Government's position at the time, both formally in a Cabinet setting and also in the informal discussions before and after the Cabinet of which Mr. Keating spoke, did the State's reasons for not extraditing Irish citizens to the UK on terrorist offences play a role in the Government's handling of this issue? Did the attitude of the Irish State towards extradition inhibit the Govenrment's dealing with the Dublin and Monaghan bombings? I do not wish any individual persons to be named in this regard.

Mr. Keating

I am sorry to plead lack of memory, but I cannot give the Deputy an answer with which I would be satisfied.

I do not know whether Mr. Keating recalls that he recently wrote two articles about the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, in December 2003 and January 2004. He also wrote an article in 1993 about the bombings. In that article he states: "It might have been a political decision of theirs [the Cabinet sub-committee on security] not to inform their Cabinet colleagues." He says: "It is perfectly possible—"

This would imply a criticism of the Cabinet sub-committee.

I will explain my position. We had a previous submission from a witness who made it clear to the committee that the Cabinet sub-committee never received a list of suspects for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. This is key to many of the criticisms of the Barron report. We received a submission on this from Mr. Cooney.

We cannot get into this. Mr. Keating has already stated he is not aware of many things about the sub-committee. The Deputy is asking him what happened at the sub-committee.

That is not what I am asking.

Could the Deputy phrase his question in such a way that there is no implied criticism of Mr. Cooney or Mr. Keating and the answer is not an implied criticism?

Can Mr. Keating recall the article he wrote in 1993 in which he stated that in his opinion, it might have been a political decision of the Cabinet sub-committee not to inform Cabinet colleagues? He also stated: "It is perfectly possible that [the list of suspects] went to the Cabinet sub-committee on security." Does he remember these comments?

Mr. Keating

Would it be possible to sit near the Deputies?

I will ask whoever is questioning you to sit beside you.

Mr. Keating

I heard the gist of the question, but not the detail or the nuance.

This matter is important for the purpose of our deliberations. Was a list of suspects who committed the Dublin and Monaghan bombings submitted to the Cabinet sub-committee?

Mr. Keating, can you answer that question?

Mr. Keating

I have no way of knowing if it was submitted.

Mr. Keating, can you answer that question?

Mr. Keating

I have no way of knowing. I had no direct relations with the Cabinet sub-committee whatsoever. I know that other people have said things about that but I would be repeating what someone else said. I cannot answer.

I welcome Mr. Keating to the sub-committee meeting and thank him for his participation. In his introduction he uses phrases such as "coming from a different place" and referring to the Cabinet sub-committee he used the phrase "people of other casts of mind." Will he explain what precisely he means by that?

Mr. Keating

I am a minority viewpoint; I could never aspire, for example, to lead the Labour Party because I am too minority a viewpoint. I am not a Christian; I am still an old-fashioned, unreconstructed socialist. I do not believe the version of economics of Adam Smith, etc., that is taught. I do not believe in the free market because I think it is bad economics. I could list all the things that are part of the general consensus.

The point is made.

My second question is whether the negative attitude to you within the Cabinet was related to your views on the North and on perhaps your being sympathetic towards the Nationalist community or was it solely because of your economic and socialist leanings?

Sorry, Deputy, there was never a mention of a negative attitude.

I was referring to the phrase "people of other casts of mind" or different viewpoints.

That is Mr. Keating's attitude and it is not relevant to the Barron report.

Mr. Keating

Part of the casts of mind that I talk about is that I do not accept the philosophical position of either-or. It is clear from my articles that I loath terrorism of all kinds. I loath it if it is Protestant-Unionist terrorists or if it is IRA-Sinn Féin. I deliberately use that formulation because I do not believe that they are separate, etc. I think that somebody like me has a duty to rally whoever is getting the most thumps and at the time in Northern Ireland, there was not, to my mind, the faintest question that the most thumps were against the Catholic Nationalists. I thought that the affirming and bringing to the Irish Catholic Nationalist consciousness that Protestant Unionists had a pride, a viewpoint and a history, was right and I concurred with that, but I thought it was unbalanced to at that time give their rights equal rights with the Nationalists.

I have one more question. Mr. Keating, you describe Mr. Merlyn Rees as bumbling, ineffective but decent. Are you convinced that he knew absolutely nothing about issues of collusion or alleged incidents?

The answer to that question could imply guilt or responsibility.

In his article, Mr. Keating uses the words "bumbling, ineffective but decent". If I may ask Mr. Keating if he is convinced of the integrity of the Northern Secretary of State at the time?

Mr. Keating

I am convinced of his integrity, yes. The question that I pose——

That is fine. Thank you very much.

Mr. Keating, can you name the members of the Cabinet security sub-committee?

Mr. Keating

I could not at the time. I can only name them with what I have read in recent times. Will I go on?

No. Next question.

Mr. Keating, you said the Government of the day was concerned but that it did not feel free - or maybe you said "able" - to act in a determined way at the time. Can you give the reasons you made that statement?

Mr. Keating

I thought there was great sensitivity——

We are not in a position to criticise the then Government. The answer to that, from what Mr. Keating has said, could be a criticism of the then Government. That is not what we are at, Deputy Hoctor.

Chairman, can I be advised on another way of putting the question as it is a valuable statement? I do not believe Mr. Keating wishes to criticise the then Government but as a member of the Government of the day, he believed that it was not able or perhaps free to act in a determined way.

We will have to take what Mr. Keating and you said together as what the record states without any embellishment. Further embellishment from Mr. Keating would be a criticism of the then Government. He has already stated it and it is on the record. I prefer if it was not elaborated. It is not necessary.

I do not agree with you, Chairman. It could be due to the political climate of the day and other reasons. It was an appropriate question. However, I accept your decision.

The Deputy can put it like, "Was it the climate of the day?"

Mr. Keating, you stated that the then Government was concerned but did not feel able at the time to act in a determined way. Was this due to the political climate 30 years ago, which was very different from now.

Mr. Keating

I have already mentioned extradition which was a sensitive issue. It was less sensitive than the fact that if there were to be a revelation of co-operation between British state terrorists and Northern Unionist terrorists, the country would have become practically ungovernable. The outrage and reaction here would have been so powerful as to make it ungovernable. I did not share that opinion and that is why I demurred. It was a totally understandable opinion, sincerely and honourably held.

You put the question to the sub-committee, would senior gardaí have decided to discontinue an investigation without referring "up the line". Why did you put that question to the sub-committee?

Mr. Keating

I believe the question of the relationship between Departments and their agencies is a subtle and complex one and is not to be expressed in simple formulas such as "that is their business and we do not go near them". I have known instances when the senior people in some of the boards that worked for me were very anxious to know what does the Minister think. These are skilful, subtle, clever, able and powerful people. Of course, they do not want to get out of step.

I apologise for the interruptions, Deputy Hoctor but I wanted to keep the proceedings afloat. I thank Mr. Keating for attending the sub-committee. As a former Oireachtas Member and member of the Government I have always held you in great esteem and a man of great principles. I will continue to do so.

The sub-committee adjourned at 7 p.m. until 1.15 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 March 2004.