It is proposed to allow Senator Jim Walsh to speak for 15 minutes as he was a member of the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Barron Report: Statements.
I express the Taoiseach's regret that he is not able to be here today for these statements. He initiated this process following his meeting with the Justice for the Forgotten group on 22 April 1999 and he remains deeply committed to the victims and their families and the search for the truth surrounding these terrible atrocities. As Attorney General at the time, I was centrally involved in these developments.
It needs to be stated that the Dublin and Monaghan bombings left an indelible mark on the people of Ireland. The bombings did not simply affect Dublin and Monaghan. Those who were so cruelly taken on that day and many of those who suffered such terrible injuries came from all walks of life and from all over the country. The Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, whose sole member was first the former Chief Justice, the late Liam Hamilton, and later Mr. Justice Henry Barron, began its work in early 2000. It was asked to undertake a thorough examination involving fact finding and assessment of all aspects of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and their sequel, including the facts, circumstances, causes and perpetrators of the bombings; the nature, extent and adequacy of the Garda investigation, including co-operation with the relevant parties in Northern Ireland and the handling of evidence, including the specific analysis of forensic evidence; the reasons no prosecutions took place, including whether and, if so, by whom and to what extent the investigations were impeded; and the issues raised by the "Hidden Hand" television documentary broadcast in 1993.
This was to prove a difficult and time consuming task. The events being examined took place 30 years ago and many of those who were centrally involved at that time are since deceased. Accessing records both inside and outside the jurisdiction proved difficult and in some cases it was simply not possible. In particular, the non-availability of records in Northern Ireland meant the scope of Mr. Justice Barron's report was, as he described it himself, limited as a result.
Mr. Justice Barron drew conclusions relating to the terms of reference given to the commission. I do not propose to go into all of the conclusions in his report in detail, save to say that it sheds a great deal of light on what happened on that day, why it happened, who was responsible and the actions that ensued.
Key among Mr. Justice Barron's conclusions was that the Dublin and Monaghan bombings were carried out by loyalist paramilitaries, most of whom were members of the UVF, primarily as a reaction to the prospect of a greater role for the Irish Government in the administration of Northern Ireland arising from the Sunningdale Agreement. It was also concluded that these loyalist groups were capable of carrying out the bombings without help from any section of the security forces in Northern Ireland, although it is likely that individual members of the UDR and RUC either participated in or were aware of the preparations for the attacks.
Mr. Justice Barron further concluded that the Garda investigation failed to make full use of the information it obtained and that the State was not equipped to conduct an adequate forensic analysis of the explosions, one consequence of which was that potentially vital clues were lost.
As I said at the time of publication of the Barron report, it would not be possible for me to account for the course of a Garda investigation some decades ago, but it is a matter of regret to me that the report found serious inadequacies with the Garda investigation. Since that time there have been profound changes in Garda structures, criminal justice legislation, available technology and co-operation between police services. Nothing is perfect even now but strides have been made since that time. Although obviously there is concern and disappointment about what the Barron report states about the Garda investigation, we should not lose sight of the fact that in the course of the past 30 years the Garda has proved vital in preserving the security of the State and some of its members have been called on to pay the ultimate sacrifice in that regard.
Mr. Justice Barron found no evidence that any branch of the security forces in Northern Ireland knew in advance that the bombings were about to take place. I put on record my appreciation and the appreciation of the Government for the work carried out by the late Chief Justice, Liam Hamilton, and by Mr. Justice Barron and his team. I also thank Mr. Justice Barron for the assistance he gave to the Oireachtas joint committee. I know the committee greatly appreciated his help.
On 10 December last, Mr. Justice Barron's report into the bombings was referred to the Oireachtas and both Houses of the Oireachtas asked the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights to consider whether the report addressed all of the issues covered in its terms of reference; the lessons to be drawn and any actions to be taken in the light of the report, its findings and conclusions; and whether, having regard to the report's findings and following consultations with the inquiry, a further public inquiry into any aspect of the report would be required or fruitful.
The referral of Mr. Justice Barron's report to the joint committee provided a very useful context for detailed consideration of the judge's report and for further submissions by those who contributed to the work of the commission or who were the subject of comment in the report. I am glad so many submissions were received and that many of those who were the subject of the conclusions in the report availed of the opportunity to meet with the committee and put their points of view. The Taoiseach appeared before the joint committee on 25 February last and I appeared before it on 10 February to respond to questions on points of interest.
Anybody who heard the testimony of those who lost loved ones and those who were injured in the bombings — some are still suffering from those horrific injuries to this day — could not fail to have been moved by their harrowing stories. It is true that for those affected by the bombings following 17 May 1974, their lives were never the same again. It is also true that rarely, if ever, have such distressing accounts been heard in these Houses or by any Oireachtas committee.
I am glad that the inquests into the deaths of those who were killed in the bombings have at last been held. The coroner apologised to the families for the delay in holding those inquests. That apology was welcome because I have no doubt that the absence of inquests contributed significantly to the sense of abandonment of the families. At the inquest hearings, the families had a further opportunity to remember their lost loved ones and recall the circumstances of their deaths. I hope in some small way that this has helped the healing process for those who felt abandoned.
The committee reported back to the Oireachtas on 31 March 2004 and since then Members of the House have had an opportunity to consider its findings. I would like to address some of the issues raised in the committee's report and the conclusions it reached. I would preface my remarks by saying that the Government has not yet considered the report, in advance of the House expressing its views, but the Government will do so in light of the views expressed by Senators in the debate today and in light of the inquest jury's findings.
The committee expressed views on a wide range of issues, as requested in its terms of reference, and each of them requires careful examination. They will be considered by the Government in due course. The committee also considered the difficult questions about whether a public inquiry into any aspect of the report would be required or fruitful. The committee broke down the issues which were of concern to it into internal issues which could be resolved within this jurisdiction, as follows: Why the Garda investigation had been wound down; missing documentation in the Garda organisation; and, what documentation, if any, was missing in my Department.
The committee is of the view that a commission of investigation pursuant to legislation — which, I am glad to note, has now been passed by this House — would be an ideal way to deal with the issues pertaining to this jurisdiction. In particular, such a commission would, hopefully, in the committee's view, resolve those issues in a speedy and effective manner, while fully respecting fair procedures and natural justice.
I know that reservations have been expressed by Justice for the Forgotten about the suitability of this type of inquiry for a matter of this nature. I am sure that Senators will express their own views in the course of our deliberations this afternoon. The Government will make a decision having considered all of those views.
The committee also considered external issues relating to the identity of the perpetrators and whether there was State collusion. Many of the submissions and, indeed, Mr. Justice Barron's statement to the committee, allude to the high level of collusion operating in Northern Ireland at the time, in 1974, and on different occasions before and since.
There is a significant amount of material in the Barron report which could suggest a link between some of those who were suspected of having a role in the bombings and members of the security forces in Northern Ireland. The committee considered this issue at length and received oral and written submissions from representatives of victims' and relatives' groups, legal representatives and other organisations. Most of those submissions relate to the issue of co-operation by the British authorities with Mr. Justice Barron's independent commission and the committee itself.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy — whom I met today at Farmleigh in a different context — wrote to the committee and gave his personal assurance that information was provided in the fullest possible manner, consistent with his responsibilities to protect national security and the lives of individuals. However, notwithstanding this reply, on the question of whether there should be a further investigation of or inquiry into the identity of the perpetrators and on the issue of collusion, the committee considered that a public tribunal of inquiry in Northern Ireland and-or Britain was requisite, and represented the best possible opportunity to succeed.
Before any inquiry would proceed, however, the committee has recommended that what is required, in the first instance, is a Weston Park-style inquiry of the type carried out by Judge Peter Cory. The House will recall that following agreement reached between the British and Irish Governments at Weston Park in 2001, Judge Cory, a retired Canadian Supreme Court judge, was appointed to undertake a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion between British and Irish security forces and paramilitaries, in six cases. The aim of the process was to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of collusion between state security forces and those responsible for the killings in each case to warrant a public inquiry.
Such a Cory-style investigation, according to the committee, should be conducted on the basis that the judge conducting the investigation should be of international stature; the investigation should have the power to direct witnesses for interview, the power to compel the delivery of documentation and to inspect premises; time limits should be agreed for the commencement, duration and conclusion of the investigation; the judge conducting the investigation could recommend further action, including whether a public inquiry in either jurisdiction should be held; and the relevant government would be obliged to implement any recommendation within a specified time limit.
The Government will consider this recommendation carefully, although it is the case that a Cory-type inquiry would be non-statutory and, thus, would not have powers beyond those available to Mr. Justice Barron.
The question of dealing with the events of the past 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland is difficult. In this jurisdiction, we have asked Mr. Justice Barron to examine a number of further cases, and he recently sent his report to the Taoiseach on some atrocities that were attempted or perpetrated before 1974. Those include the 1972 and 1973 Dublin bombings, and other bombings and incidents. It is the intention that this report will also be referred to the Oireachtas in the near future, and will be published.
Mr. Justice Barron, for his part, will report later this year on other events perpetrated after 1974, including the Séamus Ludlow case, the Dundalk bombing of 1975, and the Castleblayney bombing of 1976. In carrying out this work, the Government's primary concern has been for the victims of all these outrages and their relatives. The excellent work of the former Tánaiste, John Wilson, in preparing the report of the victims' commission, provided a sound basis for responding to the needs of those who suffered such loss and who, over the years, were largely forgotten.
The Government has established a remembrance fund commission and has provided €9 million to be spent over the next three years to acknowledge the loss people suffered and to provide for the ongoing medical needs of victims. Applications for receipt of funding have recently been invited by that commission. Through the fund, it is also being arranged to make a substantial contribution to the Northern Ireland memorial fund.
There are lessons to be learned. The Government will consider the committee's recommendations carefully and will take account of the contributions that have been made in Dáil Éireann and those that will be made here today. We will take action on foot of what we hear.
I would like to thank all of those who co-operated with Mr. Justice Barron in compiling his report, and with the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights in its deliberations. They have made a valuable contribution to the search for the truth. The committee itself carried out its work diligently and with great care, and I would like to pay tribute to the members of the committee, in particular to Senator Jim Walsh, for the work they did and the sensitive way in which they conducted the proceedings.
Finally, I would like to pay a special tribute to the work of Justice for the Forgotten, who have so ably represented those who suffered so much as a result of the atrocities perpetrated against them. I know that this has been a difficult and lengthy process for them. I know that personally because I was a backbench Deputy in the Lower House at a time when that organisation was attempting to put in place an all-party group to support its campaign. I was glad to be of assistance to Justice for the Forgotten at that time. I am glad that, over recent years, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been able to assist the group financially and that this support will continue under the auspices of the remembrance fund.
In recent years, considerable progress has been made in securing peace and stability on this island of ours. We still have some considerable way to go, but the current position is infinitely better than the dark days of the Troubles when these explosions took place. We are dealing collectively with the legacy of the past. The ongoing work of Mr. Justice Barron helps us substantially to confront and come to terms with that past.
In deference to Senator Jim Walsh, I will be happy to allow him to open the debate, given that he was a member of the sub-committee.
No. I am quite happy for Senator Brian Hayes to start.
Senator Jim Walsh was the only Member of this House to sit on the sub-committee and we are delighted about that.
I welcome the Minister to the House and welcome this debate. It is important that the debate should take place in both House, particularly in light of the agreement on the recommendations from the sub-committee. I ask the Government to consider why it is that, some months after the publication of the sub-committee's report, one of its most specific and straightforward recommendations, concerning a joint resolution, has not been dealt with. I do not see a particular difficulty with this matter. The Minister says that the Government is still considering all the matters in the report, and I appreciate that. However, I do not see why the Government could not, at the very least, have put a joint resolution before both Houses in recognition of the fact that the sub-committee has reported and that the Government is still concerned with and examining the contents of that report. It could still be done even at this late stage and it would give recognition to the work of the sub-committee, of which Senator Jim Walsh was a member.
It is very important that we never forget the large numbers of people in this and the other jurisdiction who were murdered as a result of terrorist atrocities in the past 35 years. If some small comfort can be given to the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombing it is that, at long last, the State is beginning to recognise their plight, the fact that they are all victims and that it is putting in train a process which will give them some measure of comfort. It is also important that we will have an inquest. I acknowledge that the coroner in the case apologised to the victims, which was important.
The Barron report has also been published and the sub-committee has held hearings and made recommendations on an all-party basis all of which, while not giving closure to the families, helps them in some small way to get to the truth. Their situation is unlike other victims. Many people who witnessed, for example, their mothers or fathers being bombed in Northern Ireland or in this jurisdiction have also seen perpetrators charged, placed in custody, brought before the courts and sent to prison. Even if such people were released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement prisoner release programme, at least there was some public acknowledgement of what happened.
However, no prosecution has ever been brought against any named individual or group in respect of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The great difficulty the families have is that there is a distinction between those who have gone through a legal process which has an ultimate result and those who have never seen a prosecution entered against any group of people.
There is some talk of a re-negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement by various parties concerned with how to get it back up on track. If the Agreement is to be renegotiated in some small measure, will the Minister reconsider the role and place of victims at the centre of it? When we negotiated the Agreement, which was passed with such jubilation, we did not give due recognition to the victims of the conflict over the past 35 years who still have to bear the brunt and pain of that suffering.
The victims commissioner, Mr. Wilson, and his counterpart in Northern Ireland have done a great deal of good work. However, we need to give greater recognition to the role of victims. Having studied the report, I have come to the conclusion that the only way we will deal with these outstanding matters in the long term is to have some form of public truth and reconciliation commission on these islands, in which all of the paramilitary organisations and governments will confront each other with our horrible past. That can only happen with the full support of the paramilitary organisations. However, it is invidious that governments are rightly held up to account for their actions over the past 35 years, whereas the paramilitary organisations seem to have no responsibility whatever.
In that context, it is clear the UVF was responsible for the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan. The UVF has a political representative called the PUP. The party's leader, Mr. David Ervine, is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the party also has councillors. However, we have not heard a word from the PUP since the report was published. Paramilitaries must face up to their grisly past and the atrocities they put the people of Ireland and the UK through for 35 years. It is incredible that they can walk away from their responsibilities while governments are held to account on a daily basis for actions for which they may have been responsible.
We need a truth and reconciliation commission and in that regard I understand the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has sought consultation with all the parties. We also need the paramilitary organisations to own up and take responsibilities for their atrocities, one of which led to the death of 33 citizens in the Republic of Ireland. Since it is the political arm of that organisation, it falls to the PUP to play its role.
While we want an inquiry in the other jurisdiction concerning the role of the British Government and certain individuals in terms of the atrocity, ultimately, it is for the British Government to decide to hold one. We must be honest about that. It is too easy for us to simply wash our hands of the matter, hand it over to the British Government and expect to do nothing in turn. Therefore, as part of a wider process, we need to develop some mechanism for dealing with all these outstanding issues on both sides of the Border over the next five to ten years in order to achieve some closure.
I was happy to read the sub-committee's report, in particular because some of Mr. Justice Barron's rather naive comments concerning the Government's reaction in the early 1970s were put to bed once and for all. I do not state that to be critical of Mr. Justice Barron. Nevertheless, fanciful comments were made immediately following the publication of the Barron report last December which were most unfair to former colleagues from Fine Gael and people who had ministerial responsibilities in the 1970s. I am glad to state that, in the course of the sub-committee's work, an opportunity was afforded to people to clear up the matter and have their say in respect of the Barron report. I was also glad to note it emerged that, while at the time the Government was fighting a very difficult situation on two fronts between loyalist and republican paramilitaries, it did its best to overcome those difficulties.
Earlier today the House passed the Commissions of Investigation Bill. It would be wise to establish a commission of investigation to examine the role of the Garda Síochána in the handling of this case, the decision to wind down the operation some years ago and why files on the atrocity went missing. A narrowly confined commission of investigation into that issue could be useful in terms of giving some comfort to the relatives. Time has moved on and the expertise in respect of forensics have changed by comparison to the early 1970s. Nonetheless, a commission of investigation is probably the way to advance these issues. I am sure the Minister will now have a raft of requests for commissions of investigation as a result of the passage of this Bill through the Houses. This might be one and I would support it.
I welcome this debate and congratulate the sub-committee on its work. We are dealing with part of our history, for which we all have to take some responsibility in terms of how we handled matters and helped the victims. There are many other victims in the State who have never seen prosecutions taken. In a funny way there can never be a prosecution in this case because we have all managed to do a deal with the various organisations. The UVF which was responsible for this atrocity is still on ceasefire and there is, in effect, a tacit agreement that no further prosecutions will be taken against this organisation as long as it remains on ceasefire. That is the dilemma. There is a need for some additional mechanism or institution where all these matters concerning victims can be fairly addressed. I ask the Government to address that matter if and when a re-negotiation of the Agreement occurs because the voice of victims has not been adequately addressed to date.
I welcome the Minister to the House. History is littered with examples of man's inhumanity to man, prime examples of which can be seen in different parts of the world. During the Troubles there were examples of that in Ireland, North and South, and in the neighbouring island. Where paramilitary involvement gives rise to these atrocities it is abominable but there is something extremely insidious if organs of the State become involved in any way in either orchestrating or assisting those. It was my duty to serve on the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report and to hear the harrowing tales from families and victims who suffered not only at the time but during the past 30 years. Part of the suffering has come about not only because of the atrocity but because of the manifest failure of the State to deal adequately with such an atrocity. At the latter stage of the sub-committee's hearings, I remember saying that the State has failed the families and the victims. I still hold that view, a view which would be shared by many of those of participated in and followed the hearings.
In late December when Mr. Justice Barron came before the sub-committee he stated, as part of his submission and report, that the investigation had wound down sometime in August 1974. At the time that seemed incomprehensible. I remember making the analogy with the 11 September World Trade Centre atrocity and considering that it would have been akin to the United States administration winding down its investigation of that atrocity in November or December 2001. It would have been untenable and unacceptable. I shall return to that point later.
We acknowledge, as the Minister has done, the many people who came before the sub-committee and made submissions and oral presentations. Those who did not attend and did not accept the invitation to co-operate are identifiable. There were people from whom we had a right to expect better. I shall return to that point later.
It is extraordinary that the first Taoiseach to recognise and acknowledge the pain and suffering of the families by meeting with them in 1999 was the current Taoiseach. The failure of the State to deal with this issue up to then has aggravated and exacerbated the pain and suffering of all involved. I say that because there is now an opportunity for the Government to attempt to bring some closure, so far as it can, for those involved.
The report deals with many issues, one of which is the adequacy of the Garda investigation. In what may be an understatement, the sub-committee said that certain specific criticisms relating to the Garda investigation were included in the Barron report, and that nothing the sub-committee had heard detracted from these conclusions. The Minister has rightly pointed out that in general the Garda has done the State proud in the past and many have paid the supreme sacrifice in protecting society and individuals within the State. Certainly this was not its finest hour and would probably be marked as one of its lowest performance levels in the history of the State.
It would have been welcome if somebody on behalf of the Garda Síochána had given an unreserved apology for the failure to adequately pursue some of the issues that arose. The report states that the Garda investigation failed to make full use of the information it obtained, notably regarding lines of inquiry and seeking to interview suspects. The State was not equipped to conduct an adequate forensic analysis of the explosions and vital clues were lost by the failure to act promptly in the collection and preservation of evidence. It would be fair to say the Barron report addressed many of those issues. The report has included and collated areas where greater diligence was required. Certain issues were not followed up. For example, where photographs were obtained and suspects identified the photographs were subsequently lost and are not available. One or two of these are itemised in the report of the sub-committee. On the day, a white van was reported to the Garda as acting suspiciously before the explosions took place. It was subsequently found on Dublin docks with, if I remember correctly, a gun inside. It transpired that it was hired from a company where it was unregistered and was driven by a member of the British security forces. That person was interviewed by the Garda. There is no record of the interview having taken place and no subsequent follow-up. One of the cars was stolen in Belfast where, allegedly, the owner was held hostage in his home while the car was removed. He was held there all day from 10 a.m. until late evening. Subsequent evidence was given that a person who visited that house, on business during the day, disclaimed the notion that the person was being held hostage and that there were a number of people in the House. That was not pursued. There is a list of issues that should have been but were not adequately pursued and brought to a conclusion.
We had a debate on the missing documents. Obviously the Minister had to defend the Department. There is no documentation in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform which deals with what was the single biggest atrocity in the history of the State. I understand there were files on other similar events, but not on this one. It is unsure, from the evidence given, whether there were ever any such files. It is incomprehensible that an event such as that was not documented within a Department which would have had some responsibility for it. Also, documents were missing from the Garda Síochána files. One of the security files highlighted by Mr. Justice Barron could have been of help to him in his investigations.
Senator Hayes has alluded to the role and response of the Government of the day. I would be critical of that Government and subsequent Governments for their failure until recently to try to address this issue in any shape or form. I was disappointed that some of the senior people in that Government failed to attend the hearings of the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report. That did not help us when members of the British establishment also declined an invitation to attend.
According to the interviews we had and a number of others conducted by Mr. Justice Barron, Mr. Cooney, Minister for Justice at the time, defended strongly the then Government's role as he was entitled to do. Mr. Justin Keating, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, provided a somewhat different version of events. In considering why the investigation closed down so quickly, which is a critical question for the families and the State, I found Mr. Keating's evidence quite plausible. His argument was that there was a serious threat to the State given the burning of the British Embassy in 1972 and the general level of paramilitary organisation. He put forward the view from his recollections that if the authorities had been successful in bringing people to court to hold them accountable for this crime, some of their evidence might suggest serious collusion from the British forces. The consequences of such evidence could give rise to a serious destabilising of the State. Mr. Keating's evidence to the committee was recorded and can be examined.
While it is up to people to come to their own conclusions as to whether they agree or disagree, my personal view is that the dilution in the sub-committee's report of the emphases and criticisms of Mr. Justice Barron was wrong. Equally, the sub-committee's report is more sceptical of the probability of collusion than was Mr. Justice Barron. The evidence Mr. Justice Barron received might have enabled him to take a stronger approach in that area. These are the key issues for those involved in pursuing the truth.
The matter of the composition of the bombs was extraordinary. Some of the evidence given to the sub-committee contradicted evidence provided to Mr. Justice Barron and recorded in his report. Some evidence was confused. An army witness gave evidence to the sub-committee to the effect that loyalist paramilitaries had the capacity to undertake the bombing without any assistance. He supported his reasoning with reference to a bomb at Clones shortly after the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. It transpired subsequently that the Garda was aware that the bomb at Clones was a republican paramilitary device. This made me uneasy about the manner in which people were prepared to give categorical views which were quickly blown away when analysed. It is indicative of a need for the State apparatus to be more diligent and focused in the way it handles these issues.
The sub-committee considered the Government's role in the Garda investigation as it felt the central tenet of the argument of some former Ministers, particularly former Taoiseach, Dr. FitzGerald, and Mr. Cooney, was that the State should not interfere in them. The former Ministers felt the Garda should be independent, which must be accepted. However, in the context of a major atrocity like the Dublin and Monaghan bombings it is essential to ensure that where the State apparatus with responsibility to pursue the issue to a satisfactory conclusion is failing, there is a parallel responsibility of the State body to which it is reporting to take some action. That argument was not accepted by the former Ministers or by senior civil servants who also attended to give evidence. We found that this was not a tenable scenario and we are addressing it. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has addressed this point in recent legislation, which is to be welcomed.
The sub-committee was informed that the State is still not equipped to carry out forensic science examinations independently in circumstances such as the Dublin and Monaghan bombing. This state of affairs should be examined and we have made a recommendation in that regard.
The issue of collusion had an extreme impact on the sub-committee. Members felt the evidence we heard reconfirmed and emphasised rather than dispelled any doubts they may have held. The issue must be tackled. If we are to have good relations with the neighbouring island, it is important that people come clean. It is essential that old sores are lanced. I was not happy with the response of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or anybody else on the British side. Mr. Justice Barron and the sub-committee found in their inquiries that information was forthcoming from the RUC until the Northern Ireland Office became involved, at which stage the flow of information dried up. It looked like an orchestrated attempt to avoid a full investigation. As there is a clear onus on the British Government to co-operate, the sub-committee recommended that an investigation and public inquiry should be held in Northern Ireland preceded by a Weston Park type inquiry. There is a need to accumulate facts and documentation to make any inquiry effective.
While the sub-committee considered that the preferred option would be an inquiry here, such an inquiry would involve a number of difficulties. Justice for the Forgotten and the families were disappointed that we did not make this recommendation. Any inquiry would require access to documentation in British possession which would have to be applied for through British courts while witnesses in their jurisdiction would have to be compelled to attend to give evidence. It would therefore be more satisfactory to conduct an inquiry in Northern Ireland. A major reservation I had with the sub-committee exercise and its report is that nothing to date gives us confidence to believe the British authorities would even remotely co-operate. We have therefore recommended that in the absence of co-operation we should pursue the matter through the European Court of Human Rights. I note in correspondence from Justice for the Forgotten that the group intends to lodge two complaints with the court. The Government will be remiss if the families are forced to pursue matters the State should be pursuing. We owe it to the families and, as Seán Donlon said, we owe it to the duty to exercise our sovereignty to ensure nothing like this is attempted in the future. We must take a strong line and pursue these matters to whatever degree is necessary.
If the above process fails, a proposal was made, which did not receive the support of the sub-committee, to hold a public inquiry in Ireland. Support was not forthcoming only because it was felt that such an inquiry would dilute the emphasis on co-operation from the British authorities. I hope the Government, which has taken up the issue, will fulfil the needs of the families and victims who have not seen appropriate action from the State up to now. Matters should be brought to a conclusion to ensure, in the words of Edward Roice who lost a daughter and is now in his 80s, that before they close their eyes, he and his wife are privy to the truth of what happened and an acknowledgement of what went wrong.
I join other Members in welcoming the Minister to the House. It is useful to provide time for an expression of views from all sides of the House on what was, before Omagh, the worst single incident in the history of the so-called Troubles.
I commend the work done by Mr. Justice Barron and prior to that by the late Chief Justice, Liam Hamilton. In the 30 years since the bombings there were rumours, counter rumours and reports, some substantiated and some not, about what might have happened. We all were privy to that and a general view formed in the Republic and elsewhere as to what might have happened. It was nonetheless extremely useful for Mr. Justice Barron to examine all those reports, to speak to those witnesses who made themselves available and to come up with the report he prepared.
It is clear from reading the report, and this is confirmed by the sub-committee report that followed its publication, that we know most of the facts. We know most of the individuals who partook in this event. We know most of those who were involved in planning it and those who carried it out. It was primarily, if not exclusively, the responsibility of the UVF, in terms of operational activity, in Belfast and Lisburn.
What is less clear is the extent to which there was collusion of one type or another. There are different levels and types of collusion that could have taken place and none of it is exclusive to each other. It is clear from the evidence of a number of witnesses that there was collusion of a general nature at the time between the RUC, the UDR and some loyalist paramilitaries. Some of the individuals thought to have been involved in the particular incident had contacts or connections of one type or another with the RUC or the UDR. However, the judge was unable to draw the conclusion that individuals within the UDR and the RUC or individuals higher up within the RUC and the UDR, as institutions, were directly involved in either the planning or the implementation of the act. That is the reason we still have a difficulty in deciding where we go from here.
I will return to the recommendations regarding an inquiry. I was struck by remarks the Taoiseach made in the immediate aftermath of the Madrid bombings a few months ago when he said he knew from his experience — I assume he was referring to his experience in regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings — that it was extremely difficult for the relatives of victims or victims who survive to find closure in regard to such incidents. Even in those circumstances where it is possible to determine who carried out such an act and people are prosecuted and convicted, the relatives of those who died and those who survived still find it extremely difficult to determine why it was that their particular relative — their daughter, son, husband or wife — died.
It is in the nature of terrorism at its purest that it is random. Terrorists seek to terrorise a population and the fact that a particular individual or individuals became involved was purely a matter of the awful chance of being on a particular street on a particular day at a particular time. It is in that context that we must consider the issue of closure. I was struck by what Senator Brian Hayes said about the issue of considering even now victims not only of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, but of other incidents that have taken place over the past 30 years. It is an issue with which I have some difficulty.
I have no problem, in principle, and I am sure nobody else does, with the notion of a victims' forum that would allow for views to be exchanged, a feeling of solidarity among victims to be nurtured, for support, counselling and so on. Something along the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was held in South Africa requires, as Senator Brian Hayes rightly pointed out, the co-operation of the paramilitary organisations concerned. That will only come to pass and be granted, if at all, in the context of an amnesty, which is what happened in South Africa.
In this context, it is worth examining the South African experience, as that is the experience on which we draw. The response and the result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission under Archbishop Tutu was mixed. It is true that some victims found out facts they did not previously know or could not previously confirm. A small number of victims were able to find within themselves the forgiveness to move on and the closure which the process offered. However, it is also true that it opened up many wounds for individuals and society there. That was within the context of a process where clearly there was a past, a present and a future process, where black majority rule was in the process of being established and the apartheid era was over. Even in that fairly clean break of a set of circumstances, where a line could be drawn under the past, it seemed to be difficult for victims to find closure. In terms of society there, it probably opened up more wounds than it closed. It is an experience on which we need to draw in a practical way.
I do not approach this issue with any ideological baggage or prejudice except in so far as we, as a society, can provide closure to individual victims and the circumstances which would allow for greater reconciliation between the two societies in Northern Ireland by virtue of providing such a forum. However, let us not imagine that this is an open and shut, black and white case; it is not. There are two sides to this issue and the experience of the results elsewhere was mixed.
The Minister pointed out that the Barron report and the sub-committee's report basically examined two types of issues — the issues that are internal to this State and those that are external. We need to be clear about the issues that are internal. I find it extremely shocking, as Senator Jim Walsh rightly said, that the report of the investigation of the gardaí into what happened in May 1974 was closed down effectively, or run down, within three months. That is astonishing. I had to look again at the date to see whether I got the year wrong when I first saw it. Even with the benefit of hindsight, that circumstances have changed greatly and that relations between this State and the other authority on this island and this State and the UK are different, it still seems astonishing that could have happened. Even taking into consideration the measure and nature of the atrocities that were happening on a fairly regular basis, it still seems, in whatever context one would want to put it, astonishing that should have happened. We need an explanation in that regard. The recommendation of the sub-committee in regard to the Bill we passed in this House today and that has already been passed in the other House to provide that a commission of inquiry be established must be followed up.
The issue of addressing the lost files is a little more complicated. I read the sub-committee's report and it is not clear from it whether files were lost, whether they ever existed or if they were true copies, full copies or whatever. There is an issue in that regard. There is enough to be concerned about and inasmuch as we will have a commission examining the other issue relating to the Garda inquiry, that issue should also be examined. I note from the sub-committee's report that it suggests that this type of thing is unlikely to happen because of the National Archives Act and the new procedures that have come into place on foot of that, and I take some solace from that fact.
There is an outstanding issue, on which Senator Jim Walsh touched, regarding forensics and how we approach that area. The suggestion from Dr. Willis, the director of the Forensic Science Laboratory, that even now we would not, or might not, be in a position to deal adequately with forensic evidence if an atrocity of that nature were to happen again is worrying and it is something the Government must address.
I regret that the time available is short because I have a great deal more to say. I will skip to the bottom line. There are issues with which we cannot deal in this State. I was confused by an extract in the sub-committee's report quoting what, I presume, was only part of what the Taoiseach said. He appeared to say that, on the one hand, he is satisfied we have got everything the British are willing to give and, on the other, that he thinks there might have been some MI5 or MI6 reports we do not have. One point is clear — we need some clarity on this issue. Such clarity can only come about by virtue of the political process and bilateral contact between the British and Irish Governments. It is incumbent on the Government to bring this to finality by approaching the British Government — I presume it has done this already and, if not, it should do so — and pointing out that we need co-operation. If the Cory-type report is a better way to go, and it seems that there is a good prima facie case made for it, we should go that way. If that in turn produces enough, then we should have a public inquiry in Northern Ireland or in the United Kingdom.
This was a truly horrendous event. In some ways I find what we now know about potential collusion less shocking than perhaps I should because I suppose most of us suspected that all along. What is shocking is the extent to which this State failed in terms of the Garda investigation and to some extent — I am not totally persuaded by the defence that has been put up by Dr. FitzGerald and Mr. Cooney — at governmental level to pursue this matter as far as one might reasonably have expected, even allowing for everything that has come to light with the benefit of hindsight. That is truly shocking and, on the basis of the one or two details isolated by the sub-committee, deserves further investigation. I trust the Government will soon take a decision to go that route.
I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment Senator Jim Walsh on his most informative contribution, which certainly provided great insight into the workings of the sub-committee and the thought processes that led to its conclusions. I obviously welcome the opportunity to speak on Mr. Justice Barron's report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. Even after 30 years, these bombings have the power to evoke a cocktail of sorrow, frustration and anger. One is sorrowful because people going about their daily business had their lives taken from them so needlessly and cruelly. Consider the O'Brien family. John O'Brien, his wife, Anna, and children, Jacqueline and Anne-Marie, were killed in Parnell Street. One is also sorrowful as one bears in mind the continuing anguish of the families of the victims. As John O'Brien's brother, Thomas, related to the sub-committee, his mother remains heartbroken over the events of that spring evening. What of the unfulfilled hopes and dreams of those who remained? Thomas O'Brien often wonders what the two kids would now be doing. Is it any wonder that even after 30 years, people are still dealing with this trauma?
I feel frustrated that after three decades we still do not know the full story of what happened on the day of the bombings and that vital Garda documents, which might have shed light on why gardaí failed to make full use of the information they had obtained and failed to seek assistance from the RUC to interview suspects, have been lost or destroyed in the intervening years. I am particularly frustrated because the investigation was wound up so quickly.
I am also annoyed by the attitude of the British Government which, despite repeated affirmations that it would co-operate with Mr. Justice Barron's inquiry, failed to pass on any relevant files. The paucity of its contribution is highlighted by the 16 page letter from the Northern Ireland Office supplying information deemed to be of relevance. Not one document from the 68,000 or so documents held by the Northern Ireland Office was given to the inquiry. As Mr. Justice Barron stated, if one does not see the original documentation in its context, it is obvious one is not getting the full picture. Contrast this with the British Government's own exhaustive inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday.
I, along with those who survived these heinous atrocities and the relatives of those who did not, feel angry that the perpetrators remain unpunished. I am also angry that while these events occurred three decades ago there are still elements, both international and domestic, which continue to regard the kinds of atrocities visited upon Dublin and Monaghan as a legitimate extension of the political process.
The report of Mr. Justice Barron and its subsequent analysis by the sub-committee of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights are to be commended. It was vitally important that the stories of ordinary people from Dublin and Monaghan were told. In telling their stories, I hope the victims of the atrocities have found some relief from the anguish they have suffered for so many years. While listening to the testimonies of the victims, one could hear the anguish and sorrow in their voices. What impressed me most was their need to know why and how the bombings took place, who carried them out and what can be done to bring them to justice. In this regard the sub-committee has made recommendations, some of which I would like to touch upon.
Like the sub-committee, I would also rule out a tribunal of inquiry or any investigation under the commissions of inquiry legislation. The only useful investigation would be one undertaken in the neighbouring jurisdiction. This is most likely where the evidence is to be found and most certainly the location of the perpetrators. I commend the Government on its efforts thus far to secure the co-operation of the British Government, but the time has come to redouble those efforts. I do not harbour great hopes that the British Government will acquiesce to any request of ours to set up an inquiry in its own jurisdiction without the threat of more serious action hanging over its head.
One such threat would be to mount a civil suit against the British Government in the European Court of Human Rights. Alternatively, a civil suit initiated in Great Britain or Northern Ireland by individual victims or their relatives may succeed in goading the British Government into action. I have, however, a word of warning for our own Government. Should the latter approach be taken, we must be prepared to fully indemnify those taking the action against legal costs regardless of whether the action has a reasonable chance of success. This should not be seen as a precedent. However, given that those concerned would be taking an action in the interests of the State, they should be supported.
We may never know the full story of what happened in May 1974 but we can at least take measures to ensure that such events never occur again. While Ireland is largely at peace with itself, notwithstanding anxiety over the possibility that subversive groups might again take up arms, the world today is a very dangerous place. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, given that this has been brought about by decades of terrorism, inter-jurisdictional co-operation with our neighbours and other states internationally is now much better than it was when the Dublin and Monaghan bombings took place 30 years ago. I trust that the Government will take on board the recommendations of the sub-committee.
Once again, I commend the work of Mr. Justice Barron and the sub-committee. In particular, I pay tribute to the work of Justice for the Forgotten, which has ensured tirelessly that the victims will not be forgotten and will receive justice in due course.
I, too, welcome the Minister. The date 17 May 1974 proved to be one of the most devastating and darkest days in the history of this country because of the callous and calculated murder of 33 people, including an expectant mother, through bomb explosions in Dublin and Monaghan. As has been stated, 33 people who were going about their daily business had their lives cut short by the cowardly, savage and inhuman actions of people whose motives were as incomprehensible as their actions.
I can only imagine the devastation, trauma and shock endured by the families, relations and loved ones of the victims — our citizens — and the emotions that continue to be felt because of the lack of closure regarding the circumstances surrounding the bombings. We heard clearly in the evidence to the sub-committee on the Barron report that those emotions are still felt.
Questions remain to be answered to satisfy the families of the victims and the nation as a whole. Everything should be done to bring the perpetrators to justice and ascertain the full facts and causes of the bombings.
The Barron inquiry was completed in 2003 and was charged with the task of assessing all aspects of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, including the nature, adequacy and extent of the Garda investigation, along with co-operation with and from the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland, and the handling of evidence, including scientific analyses of forensic evidence. It was also charged with the task of determining the reasons no prosecutions took place and whether investigations were impeded in any way, and with investigating issues raised by the "Hidden Hand" television documentary in 1993.
The conclusions and Mr. Justice Barron's report have been published, yet there is no finality on the issue. It is true that many questions were addressed and answered in a clear and concise manner. The failure to secure the full co-operation of the British Government has meant that a substantial amount of the vital information was not made available to the inquiry. This was most regrettable. The failure of the Government and of the Taoiseach to secure the full co-operation of the British Government hampered Mr. Justice Barron in his efforts to investigate collusion, as Mr. Justice Barron himself stated in 1999. The inquiry was provided with only selected detail from documents within British control. This was a significant factor in hindering the inquiry. Until such co-operation exists and we see the release of all the original documentation from the UK authorities, it will not be possible to come to a definitive conclusion.
Mr. Justice Barron's assertion that he encountered difficulties in locating all the relevant files believed to be in this jurisdiction is a matter of grave concern and one which will have to be resolved. This matter has been addressed by previous speakers. The sub-committee has proposed that a commission of investigation be set up to investigate the identity of the missing files, the reason they are missing, whether they can be located and whether systems have been put in place in the meantime to prevent a recurrence of this problem. This is a most important matter which should be addressed urgently. The sub-committee was correct in its statements in this regard.
Where do we go from here? Inquiring into the identity of the perpetrators of the bombings and the issue of collusion requires further consideration. To do this it would appear that the establishment of a public tribunal of inquiry in Northern Ireland or Great Britain would be necessary as many of the key witnesses reside in those jurisdictions. Access to original documentation in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is vital to the success of any future inquiry. I hope the Government will use every means at its disposal to persuade the British Government that such an inquiry is essential to secure the full facts and the truth behind the bombings.
The failure of the British Government to co-operate in this regard would add force to speculation that it may have something to hide regarding the issue. I support the sub-committee's recommendation that Ireland should take the United Kingdom to the European Court of Human Rights if it fails to put in place an appropriate investigation. I agree that it should not be left to the victims of the bombings to pursue that. We should pursue it as a State.
The families and loved ones of the victims of the bombings deserve the full support of the House in seeking the truth and the full facts and circumstances surrounding the bombings and in bringing the perpetrators to justice. I join the Minister in complimenting the work of the former Tánaiste, Mr. John Wilson, in preparing the report of the Victims Commission and the work of Justice for the Forgotten, which represented those who suffered so much as a result of these atrocities.
It is easy to be wise after the event and 30 years is a long time. I do not join Senator Walsh in his criticism of the Government of that time. The members of that Government came to the sub-committee and gave honest reports of what they felt the situation had been at the time. This is in marked contrast to the selective amnesia of some people who have appeared before tribunals in the last number of years.
We must be concerned with the victims and do everything possible to ensure that they get some closure on this event.
Fáiltím roimh an Aire. I express my appreciation of the work done to bring about the Barron report and the work of the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report. It is evident that the sub-committee was meticulous and sincere in its approach to a very harrowing matter. All of us who observed at first hand the terrible anguish of the relatives of the victims have come to accept that for them there will be no closure at this time. The atrocities, which must rank among the greatest tragedies of the Troubles, must be fully investigated and those responsible brought to justice.
Justice for the Forgotten, which has made a statement available to Senators, recognises the work done by the sub-committee. Some clarity has been brought to this terrible period in the lives of the members of the group and in the life of the State. This is a step in the right direction. This clarity is particularly necessary because one can only imagine the amount of work done by the group in previous decades to ensure that the forgotten would no longer be forgotten. We are now seeing a step towards closure in this regard.
I support the proposal to hold a public tribunal of inquiry within the State. I say this because the atrocities happened within the State itself. This was the preferred option of the sub-committee but it went on to list the difficulties with that course of action given that the perpetrators, witnesses and information are all outside the jurisdiction of the State. I draw a parallel with the International War Crimes Tribunal which deals with perpetrators, information and witnesses from outside the immediate jurisdiction. What is required in such a case is goodwill and co-operation, particularly from states.
As it is now becoming evident that there was collusion by the security forces in the North of Ireland in these atrocities there was, by extension, collusion by the British Government. Collusion does not have to be active involvement in the act itself. It may be prior knowledge that something is to happen or the fact that a structure which would enable it to happen is allowable and acceptable. If one looks at the International War Crimes Tribunal one sees the same logic, legal and otherwise, being applied when states or leaders of states are brought to justice or asked to account for crimes committed in the name of the state or with the collusion of the state or its leadership.
If the families of the victims are requesting a tribunal the first step in setting up such a tribunal should be taken, even though we know there will be difficulties down the road. When we reach those difficulties I propose that we request the British Government to give the same co-operation to an inquiry of this nature, which concerns us so directly as a good neighbour of Britain, as it would give to its demands, involvement and co-operation in international war crimes tribunals. I see no difference. Is Britain prepared to show good neighbourliness, involve itself and interact directly with such a tribunal?
How can that be progressed? We must not be afraid of what is revealed in such a process and not feel that because we are making progress in bringing about normality within the island, it is necessary to be hyper-diplomatic in such a case. That would build progress on a false premise and we would not be living up to our responsibilities to our own citizens who are our immediate concern. We are not just talking about the families of the victims, but about all citizens who want to be sure they enjoy the protection of the State now and in the future. We must be prepared to take that stand irrespective of what is revealed.
It is unbelievable that the investigation into such atrocities could be closed down after three months. Nothing can justify even closing it down after three years or 30 years because over and over we have seen other cases being reactivated by the gardaí and other forces.
The Government of the day has not fully absolved itself in this case. I am not talking about individual Ministers but about the Government's responsibility for leadership within the State. That is another case where we must be careful. We are not being critical of any political grouping. We are talking about the corporate State.
It is vital that the external aspect of these events is recognised. We should not be tempted to believe that by demanding that justice be done and a process set in motion to bring about that justice, we would hinder political progress that has already been made. There have been other cases that do not just involve the relationship between Ireland and Britain, but between Britain and other countries.
If we are really to respond in a manner that will give Justice for the Forgotten the confidence that we are acting on behalf of the victims and their families, we must listen to them rather than to doubts or expediencies we might believe we should exercise. Perhaps I am at variance with what has been said here but I reiterate that we should not look at the obstacles down the road to a public tribunal of inquiry to be established under the 1921 Act. We should do what is right and then we should demand of our neighbour, Britain, that it also does right.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. Unfortunately our words will be of little consolation to the families of the people who were murdered in Dublin and Monaghan. The work of Mr. Justice Barron and the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report, however, have been steps in the right direction.
I remember the events of 1974. An aunt of mine came within inches of being a victim herself on that day so I often heard it spoken about at home. We are talking about a search for truth and that search can sometimes be painful because the truth can open many wounds as it is teased out.
As we look back, however, at the actions of the Government of the day, we must put the events of 1974 in context. Hindsight is easy. We talk now about inquiries into child abuse and other such horrors from the pages of Irish history and ask ourselves how Ministers in the 1940s and 1950s were so willing to preside over what was so definitely wrong. That was then, however, and this is now and context is important in this regard.
We must reflect upon the political situation in Ireland in the early 1970s. The dreadful events of May 1974 were the largest individual tragedy on the island but at the time the island was in turmoil and the political spectrum was divided. On one side there was a cross-party coalition of decent men and women led by Liam Cosgrave and Jack Lynch who were doing everything to prevent the island being dragged into outright civil war. On the other side were people who were planting bombs and trying to rip the country apart. As we look back, therefore, at the Government's response to the bombings of 1974, and we reflect on the critical comments of Mr. Justice Barron, I ask that it be put in context.
This was a particularly dangerous time. We are looking back ten years after the 1994 ceasefire but in 1974 this island was on the verge of outright civil war. Any Government had to proceed with extreme caution. By 1974 there had been dozens of dreadful outrages, mainly in Northern Ireland, committed on all sides of the political and sectarian divide. These events brought the horror right to the capital city. The efforts to portray the then Taoiseach and the Ministers for Justice and Foreign Affairs as somehow being inadequate in their response to the atrocity is unfair and we should bear in mind the political and security considerations of the time.
In an ideal world, every crime would be investigated and every perpetrator would be identified and punished. Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world and there has been violence on this island for generations, with thousands killed. It is said that the truth will set us free but getting to the truth of all of these actions can be difficult. The Government of the time was supported across the floor of Leinster House by the Opposition leader, Jack Lynch, who knew the extent of the crisis and who co-operated fully with the Government, as Liam Cosgrave and Brendan Corish had done when Jack Lynch was Taoiseach.
The recent report recognised that we do not appear to have got the full co-operation of the British authorities. I agree with Senator Ó Murchú that at times we are overly diplomatic. The non-disclosure of facts might solve a problem in the short term but it does not help in the long term. We have reached a stage on these islands where we should be in a position to be more frank and open with each other. The relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom has improved dramatically since 1974. If that relationship is to be perfected, some issues need to be addressed and questions still require answers. There could have been a more positive flow of information from the British authorities. In 1999, the Taoiseach expressed the hope that there would be full co-operation. It must be noted that co-operation was not as full as it should have been. Despite the Taoiseach's best efforts, he did not achieve the result he desired.
We have not yet reached a stage of maturity in our ability to deal with the past and with our complex relationship with Great Britain. This morning on the Order of Business, some Members congratulated a former Member who is also a former constituency colleague of the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, on his receipt of an award from the British establishment. It was a well-deserved award for work well done. I was disappointed with some of the remarks made by Members which seemed to belittle the award to be made to the former Minister, Deputy and Senator, Mr. Michael O'Kennedy. We must clear our mindset of that type of thought in order to ask the hard questions and to provide answers in truth and fairness. It is only when both countries are able to admit to their own failings and offer up all the answers that a final conclusion to these issues will be reached.
The Senator has been given considerable time latitude.
I compliment the work of Justice for the Forgotten. Its members have ploughed a lonely furrow on behalf of their forgotten and they deserve all credit. As we inch forward towards political progress, let us hope that we can get answers to the questions they still ask.
I welcome the Minister for Defence to the House. I congratulate the Taoiseach for commissioning the Barron report which was a very worthwhile exercise. I also congratulate the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report and Senator Jim Walsh, my colleague, on the work in carrying the investigations as far as possible at this time. I echo the respect to the Justice for the Forgotten group for pursuing this matter and not allowing it to rest during what certainly appeared to be long years of either embarrassment or indifference.
I have a very clear recollection of the day the Dublin and Monaghan bombings took place. I was in Tipperary and I saw it on the news that night. The event made a deep impression on me at the time. It was a terrible event and those things never go away during the lifetime of those closest to the victims. Any one of us living in the jurisdiction at that time could have been among the victims.
We need to remember the political context. This happened towards the end of one of the more courageous political initiatives, known as Sunningdale. There was an Executive and there were to have been North-South bodies. The bombs in the South were an attempt to kill off that settlement. There was an Ulster Workers' Council strike going on in the North at the same time, with not very much active resistance from the security forces. The event was clearly an attempt to intimidate, from whatever source, the people of this State from pursuing any initiative of that kind. With the benefit of hindsight and more than 25 years later, it is still not fully in place. We have a settlement that is in certain respects and in respect of the North-South bodies not dissimilar to Sunningdale.
It is necessary to draw some distinctions. There has been some discussion of the actions of the Government of the time. As a junior civil servant in the Department of Foreign Affairs I was in Germany during the following years. I was a little surprised at how quickly the events fell out of the arena of discussion and debate. There are some reasons that happened. The Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act was only enacted in 1976. Once the perpetrators escaped back across the Border, there was no extradition arrangement and it would have been too difficult for the Government at that time to have sought extradition. The Government was very focused in a single-minded way on the threat from republican paramilitarism which was very real and perhaps was only secondarily focused on the threat from loyalism. Some criticism is justified.
Senator Ó Murchú referred in his contribution to the fact that some people, mainly Unionists, make the argument that one cannot dredge through these issues without upsetting the peace process and political progress. Like him, I agree that one should not be deterred by that type of consideration any more than one should be deterred from cleaning up rackets along the Border for fear of upsetting the peace process. One must do what must be done.
Some distinctions should be drawn between different types of atrocities. The atrocities at Enniskillen and Greysteel, for instance, were dreadful tragedies but relatively straightforward in that the organisations responsible admitted responsibility. Naturally enough, they did not say who precisely had carried them out. There was no suggestion from any other source that questioned or challenged that attribution of responsibility. At least people were clear that in the case of Enniskillen, it was the Provisional IRA which was responsible. I believe this is a slightly different case of collusion or alleged collusion, than in the Finucane case. In that case, it was local forces of various kinds that were involved.
The allegation in the case of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings is that there was assistance, participation or collusion by agents of the British state, by which I do not necessarily mean the local security forces. A person who presented himself to me as a former member of the UDR gave me considerable detail alleging precisely this and I passed a report on the matter to the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report.
As a member of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body, I had the opportunity of meeting the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, a few months ago. I put to him strongly that it was in the interests of the British Government to examine this issue and co-operate because serious suggestions have been made that an agent of the British Government who is still in high position in another part of the world was involved. Neither I nor Mr. Justice Barron have any means of knowing whether this allegation is true but it is a very serious one which should be properly investigated.
To return to the political context of the time, a minority Labour Government was in power during a period when the British security services were paranoid about the Wilson Government being semi-communist. This was, of course, pure paranoia. People involved in the security services have gone on record and provided substantial circumstantial evidence of efforts to destabilise the British Government of the time. However bizarre this may sound, part of these efforts involved the Northern Ireland network and part of the aim may have been to wreck relations between Britain and Ireland.
There is no point glossing over that the British Government is deeply reluctant to get involved in inquiries of this kind. While the case of Pat Finucane is a can of worms, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, of which no politician in office in Britain has any serious recollection, probably go even deeper. If this matter is to be cleared up, it will require much more active participation by the British Government than has been evident thus far.
Tá áthas orm teacht ar ais don Teach seo agus go háirithe deis a bheith agam éisteacht leis an Seanadóir a labhair ar an tuarascáil thábhachtach seo. Gabhaim buíochas faoi leith leis an Chathaoirleach agus leo siúd atá sásta iarracht mhacánta a dhéanamh chun an fhírinne a bhaint amach.
I thank Senators for their considered and thoughtful contributions. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, has stated that the Government has not considered the report of the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report in advance of both Houses of the Oireachtas expressing their views on the matter. I assure the House, however, that the Government will give full and careful consideration to the complex issues emanating from the report in light of the views expressed by Deputies and Senators and the findings of the coroner's inquest jury.
The Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings had a very difficult task to perform, not least because of the lapse of time since those terrible events. Many of the key people involved have since passed away and, as Mr. Justice Barron so graphically describes, the frailty of human memory over such a period can sometimes play havoc with any attempt to get to the bottom of even the most basic events. Nevertheless, the Barron report manages to provide a wealth of information on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and answers many questions about the preparation, execution and aftermath of those terrible events. We should not underestimate either the comprehensiveness of the results of the inquiry or Mr. Justice Barron's conclusions.
In terms of moving forward from the solid bedrock of information, the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report has done us a major service in clarifying matters. Sensibly, the sub-committee broke down the issues into internal matters which could be resolved in this jurisdiction, that is, issues relating to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána and Garda investigation. The sub-committee is of the view that a commission of investigation, under legislation passed in the House earlier today, would be the best way forward in dealing with the issues pertaining to this jurisdiction.
The sub-committee also considered external issues relating to the identify of the perpetrators and the issue of collusion. On the question of whether there should be a further investigation or inquiry, the sub-committee found that a public tribunal of inquiry in Northern Ireland and-or Britain is required and represents the best opportunity to be successful. Before any inquiry would proceed, however, the sub-committee has recommended that what is required in the first instance is a Weston Park style inquiry of the kind carried out by Judge Peter Cory. The sub-committee then went into some detail on the nature and remit of such a Cory style inquiry. A variety of views has been expressed on this and other matters this evening and I thank all contributors.
On the question of a joint resolution before both Houses of the Oireachtas, the Government will consider this matter in the context of its overall consideration of the report of the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report. On the question of a truth and reconciliation commission, former Tánaiste, John Wilson, who considered this matter in the report of the Victims Commission concluded that circumstances were not right for this approach as the conflict was not yet sufficiently resolved. The Government will, however, consider Senator Brian Hayes's views in this regard.
I appreciate there is understandably much emotion and heartfelt concern about how we proceed with regard to the report of the Sub-Committee on the Barron Report. The Government is fully committed to this enterprise, which the Taoiseach initiated following a meeting with the Justice for the Forgotten group in 1999. He and the rest of the Government remain deeply committed to the victims, survivors and their families and I assure the House that action will be taken.