The Morris tribunal will shortly commence its public hearing of what exactly the Garda was up to in relation to the deliberate and wrongful attribution of blame to the immediate and extended McBrearty family in the matter of the death of Richie Barron. It will also investigate the planting of explosive devices across the Border in Northern Ireland, the planting of an explosive substance on the MMDS mast at Ardara and a host of other serious allegations.
I welcome the establishment of the tribunal and wish it well in its deliberations. As the person who first and persistently raised activities in County Donegal and asserted that the only way to establish the truth was through a tribunal of inquiry, I am passionate in my desire to see it fulfil its brief. However, it will not be able to do so unless the persons central to its deliberations are properly represented legally throughout its proceedings.
Much credit for getting us to this juncture must go to the McBrearty legal team which clinically and thoroughly exposed the manner in which the State had scandalously vilified and attempted to convict a completely innocent family. It had destroyed family members' reputations and good standing in the community and left their business in tatters. For the best part of five years the McBrearty legal team had fought its clients' case, challenged their arrests and, eventually, vindicated their innocence. As the State wrecked the McBrearty business, the legal team representing the family has not received a single penny in payment of the substantial costs incurred. The McBrearty family is central to a huge segment of the tribunal's proceedings, the reason they must be legally and properly represented.
Lawyers, like other professionals, must put food on the table. One cannot expect them daily to commit unpaid to a tribunal which might continue for years. There are clear precedents for some form of interim payment, as happened in the case of the Stardust tribunal in 1981 and the Lindsay tribunal. The Stardust happened to be in the constituency of the then Taoiseach. If such a payment is not made in this case, the McBrearty family will not be at the tribunal rendering it largely meaningless and a waste of taxpayer's money.
On 18 December last Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicating that Amnesty International would send Professor Stephanie Farrier as an observer to the tribunal. It expressed major reservations at the manner in which the issue of legal representation was being dealt with. It also expressed a long held view of mine that the terms of reference of the tribunal should include examination of the respective roles of the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Garda Commissioner, Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions and Donegal State Solicitor. The failure to include the performances of those in senior executive positions while this sordid saga was unfolding in the terms of reference of the tribunal is incomprehensible. If people have nothing to hide, why should they not have their respective performances examined by the tribunal?
The intervention of Amnesty International is highly significant and very embarrassing. The fact that a respected international human rights organisation has deemed it necessary to make its strongly held views forcefully known to the Government must encourage it to respond positively with regard to the two areas which are of grave concern. I urge the Minister to bring an amendment before the Oireachtas to expand the tribunal's terms of reference as recommended by Amnesty International and put in place a scheme of interim payments to provide the McBrearty family with proper legal representation permitting it to appear before Mr. Justice Morris.