Smithwick Tribunal of Inquiry: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann resolves that the terms of reference contained in the Resolution passed by Dáil Éireann on 23 March, 2005 and by Seanad Éireann on 24 March, 2005, pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2004, be amended as follows:

1. in paragraph (I)—

(a) by substituting ‘not later than 30 June, 2011’ for ‘as soon as may be after the tenth day of any oral hearings of the Tribunal’, and

(b) by deleting subparagraph (c);

2. in paragraph (II) by substituting ‘public interest;' for ‘public interest; and';

3. in paragraph (III) by substituting ‘referred to it; and' for ‘referred to it.';

4. by inserting the following paragraph after paragraph (III):

5. ‘(IV) in any event, the Tribunal shall complete its inquiries and submit its final report to the Clerk of the Seanad not later than 30 November, 2011.'

It is always a pleasure to address this House. I congratulate all the new Senators elected and appointed to the House and wish them well during the lifetime of this Seanad.

The motion before the House seeks to amend the terms of reference of the tribunal of inquiry established by the Oireachtas into suggestions of collusion by members of the Garda Síochána, or other employees of the State, in the brutal murders by the Provisional IRA of RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen and RUC superintendent Bob Buchanan in March 1989. The original Seanad motion was passed on 24 March 2005 following the passing of a similar motion in the Dáil on 23 March 2005. The tribunal was established on 31 May 2005 and is chaired by Mr. Justice Peter Smithwick, former President of the District Court.

There has been some misreporting surrounding the reasons for putting forward this motion. Its purpose is not to curtail, impede, confine or interfere with the independence of the tribunal in fulfilling the terms of reference of the inquiry. Neither is it about the winding down of a tribunal, as suggested in the recent headline of a particular newspaper. Rather, it is about fulfilling this House's responsibilities while fully supporting the work of the tribunal.

The purpose of the motion, therefore, is to afford Seanad Éireann the opportunity to consider the current state of play with the tribunal's work. It seeks to do so by establishing a timeframe which is reasonable for the tribunal to complete that work. I do not believe it would have been appropriate, given the respective roles of the Oireachtas and the tribunal, for me to have consulted Mr. Justice Smithwick about the terms of the motion. Nevertheless, some time ago Mr. Justice Smithwick indicated to me that the tribunal would be able to conclude its work in the timescale now contemplated by this motion. It will be both in the public interest and in the interest of those bereaved by the callous murders of the two police officers to underpin that in the motion.

Notwithstanding that, if, for any reason, this does not prove possible, the tribunal's chairman can report back to the Clerk of the Seanad that circumstances have arisen which require that timescale to be extended. I offer a solemn assurance that the Government's response to that will be fully cognisant of and consistent with the need for the tribunal to fulfil its obligations fully and as expeditiously as possible.

These assurances meet concerns expressed about the public imposition of a deadline. While for the reason I have given I did not consult with Mr. Justice Smithwick about the specific terms of the motion, I will convey that assurance to him in light of concerns he has expressed to me about any possible effects of an indication by this House of a deadline and those concerns expressed subsequent to the newspaper report I mentioned.

From my contact with the chairman and comments by others, the concern about the public imposition of a completion date relates to the possible effect on witnesses of this approach, and, in particular, the publicity surrounding it. It is unfortunate that a public impression may have been created that this motion is about winding down or curtailing the tribunal's work. This, in turn, may have led to persons having reconsidered their support for and co-operation with the tribunal. It is most important such co-operation is given. Now that I have put formally on the record of this House the actual position, I believe these concerns should be allayed.

Six years after its establishment and the expenditure of more than €8 million of taxpayers' money by my Department, this approach best protects the public interest. The motion also requires the chairman to prepare and submit an interim report by the end of June. Again, this is consistent with the tribunal's own timescale which envisages public hearings commencing on 7 June with an opening statement by counsel on that date.

There has been some misinformed public comment about this, apparently based on the mistaken view that this is a new requirement. In fact, under the current terms of reference set down in 2005, the chairman must submit an interim report on certain matters as soon as may be after the tenth day of any oral hearings of the tribunal. The motion, therefore, does not impose any substantive additional requirement or undesirable burden on the tribunal.

The Smithwick tribunal has, since early 2006, been conducting its inquiries in private. Given the importance attached to the subject matter of those inquiries, the Government considers it appropriate that the Oireachtas and the public should have an indication of where the tribunal is placed in carrying out the mandate which was conferred on it by the Oireachtas. It is my view and that of the Government that it serves the public interest to have information from the tribunal as to the current status of its inquiry.

With hindsight, it may have been a mistake in the original terms of reference to link the timing of an interim report to a number of public hearings having taken place. I doubt very much the House would have envisaged at the time that this would mean that it would hear nothing from the tribunal for six years.

I do not consider it unreasonable that the tribunal should be asked to report progress at this stage. In so far as the proposed interim report is concerned, the motion does not seek to have the tribunal deal with the substance of the matters into which it is inquiring. Rather, the purpose is for the tribunal to give the Oireachtas an indication of the numbers of persons granted representation, progress to date with its hearings, the number of witnesses it may be calling and other matters which the tribunal considers should be drawn to the attention of the Oireachtas.

I am anxious the tribunal should be facilitated to conduct and conclude its inquiries in as comprehensive a manner as is possible. I consider, however, that it is helpful, especially to those most directly affected by these dreadful killings, for this House to indicate a timescale for that. It is not in the public interest or in the interest of the families bereaved by this IRA atrocity that an inquiry should continue indefinitely. The seriousness of the matters being investigated requires greater urgency than that.

The tribunal's chairman has informed me he believes the tribunal will be in a position to complete its work in advance of the date now proposed. If a difficulty were to emerge subsequently with the target date for conclusion, however, the chairman would report that difficulty and the Oireachtas would have the opportunity to consider the matter further. There is no obstacle of any nature to any such report being made in the future to the Houses of the Oireachtas by the chairman.

It is against that background that the motion proposes that the tribunal should conclude its work and report to the Clerk of the Seanad by 30 November 2011. I respect and defend fully the independence of the chairman of the tribunal to carry out his inquiries without fear or favour. It is central to the remit of the tribunal that having completed its hearings, it reaches its conclusions and finalises its report for submission to the Clerk of Seanad Éireann without any interference or its independence being compromised.

It is, however, in the public interest that its deliberations do not continue indefinitely with no public target date for the completion of its work or without accountability to this Parliament or explanation for the duration of its sitting. After all, its original remit was to report on a "definite matter of urgent public importance" on which it is "to make such findings and recommendations as it sees fit". Moreover, its original terms of reference require that when it reports on an interim basis, the tribunal must detail the likely duration of its proceedings in so far as it can estimate it. There must be some accountability to the Houses of the Oireachtas for the progress of its work and the public expenditure connected with it. This was clearly envisaged in the motion to establish the tribunal passed by this House on 24 March 2005, some six years ago.

The amendment to the Government motion is unsupportable. It proceeds from an entirely erroneous understanding of the intention behind the motion. First, it is not the case, as I have emphasised, that the intention is to curtail the work of the tribunal. That is precisely the effect that the amending motion would have. Furthermore, it would be entirely inappropriate for me, as Minister, or the Government to engage directly with the tribunal about its terms of reference. That is a matter solely for the Oireachtas. The Government motion before the House reinforces that position. Additionally, I fail to see how it is considered possible, in view of what I have said about the tribunal's independence, that I or the Government could undertake consultations with any interested parties as to the terms of reference of an independent tribunal established by the Oireachtas. The tribunal would clearly be an interested party and I have been at pains to emphasise that it would be improper for me or the Government to consult it about its terms of reference. Communication with the tribunal on that matter is for the Oireachtas. The Government motion does not interfere with that position. The amendment to the Government motion is in terms which would be likely to bring about further delay.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to bring the motion before the Seanad. I commend it to the House and hope it will receive the support of all Members.

I congratulate Senator Denis O'Donovan on his election as Leas-Chathaoirleach.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" where it firstly occurs and substitute the following:

"notes that:

the Oireachtas established the Smithwick tribunal as a central part of the confidence-building measures which led to major breakthroughs in relations with key parts of the Unionist community;

the work of the tribunal demonstrates that the Irish Government is willing to open up to scrutiny all issues, no matter how potentially uncomfortable they are, concerning actions by the State and its officers in the decades before the ceasefires;

while press briefings have explained the basis for the Government's proposal to curtail the work of the tribunal, no information has been given to members of the Oireachtas; and

while legal costs must be addressed, no move should be made to curtail the work of the tribunal without a detailed report being submitted to the Oireachtas justifying such a move and following a process of consultation with interested parties in Northern Ireland; and

resolves that:

the Minister for Justice and Equality should prepare for the Oireachtas a detailed report outlining all relevant information and arguments concerning the work of the tribunal and how, if the work of the tribunal is curtailed, he proposes to meet the central objective of reaching a clearer conclusion relating to the allegation of collusion; and

consultations be undertaken with all interested parties in advance of any proposal to curtail the work of the tribunal being put to the House."

This is an important but tersely drafted motion which does not take into account the human suffering involved or the complex and emotional relations between the peoples of this island and between Britain and Ireland. Let us not forget that the origins of this tribunal ultimately lie in an international agreement between two countries, namely, Britain and Ireland, taking into account the interests of the people and institutions of Northern Ireland. There has been no consultation and no effort has been made to ascertain the views of various bodies or persons such as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the British Government, the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland, the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister on the issue. Last month Mr. Peter Robinson was at home in this country while his Queen was on a state visit. The Government, in bringing forward this tersely drafted motion which provides no explanation of the Minister's position, is massively undermining the relations built in the past 15 years between Britain and Ireland and does not provide any comfort for those involved. It is a terrible motion.

The Minister has misrepresented the Fianna Fáil amendment which does not seek to interfere with the terms of reference of the tribunal. It merely asks that the Minister prepare a report outlining his and the Government's reasons for curtailing the tribunal's work and for consultations to be held with all interested parties in advance of any proposal to curtail the work of the tribunal. That may well be an international legal obligation of the State because of our relations with Britain are the genesis of the tribunal. The Government has not done so and as such has massively damaged relations between the parties involved.

There is no doubt that people are concerned about the cost of tribunals. The mind boggles at the length and cost of tribunals, an issue on which I often spoke as a backbencher in the other House. One cannot rush in with a sledgehammer as has been done in this case. There should be no curtailment of the tribunal's work without proper justification and consultation. The motion undermines the hard work done over many years. While I do accuse the Minister or the Government of breaching or undermining the peace process, the motion brings to mind previous individual attitudes within Fine Gael to the peace process.

The Government is all over the place on this issue. It states the tribunal is to be curtailed, but that it will not force it if there is no agreement on the matter.

What about the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

Other tribunals such as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry set up by the British Government were not curtailed, despite the fact that they cost a great deal, were lengthy and the source of much disquiet in certain quarters. They ultimately were seen to have a beneficial impact on communities and relations in getting answers for people, which is what this tribunal should be about.

I urge Members to consider the Fianna Fáil amendment and not to support the terse language used in the motion. The Minister has many advisers whom I urge to move on from using Civil Service legalese language when dealing with issues such as this. It is important to point out that the language used in the motion is extraordinary. I, therefore, urge Members to support the Fianna Fáil amendment to the motion. Ours is a much more realistic motion which takes into account the complexities of the issues and relations involved, while recognising that tribunal costs and delays are matters of serious public concern. Let us not forget that tribunal results are also matters of serious public interest. Many tribunal reports published during the years have sold out at the Government Publications Sale Office and Internet services have been interrupted as a result of the serious level of interest in them. I have no doubt there will be the same level of interest in the Smithwick tribunal's report when published.

I second the amendment.

I welcome the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, who will also be in the House tomorrow for Second Stage of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011, the first Bill to come before the new Seanad. I look forward to that debate.

I welcome the context in which we are debating this motion, namely, the unprecedented moves forward in the peace process in recent weeks following the successful visit here of Queen Elizabeth II which clearly marked a major step forward in the development of the peace process and relations between the two islands, which is important. I am sure Senator Thomas Byrne did not intend to dispute the Government's support for and commitment to the peace process. As a former law student of mine, I would not like him to be misquoted. Clearly, the Government is deeply committed to the continuance of the peace process.

The Government is also committed to the work of the tribunal. In any debate on it one must start with an expression of sympathy to the families of the RUC officers, chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan, brutally murdered in 1989. To echo the Minister's words, the murders were absolutely brutal and barbaric. It is vitally important that we seek to investigate any allegations or claims of collusion by the Garda Síochána or State agents in the murders. We are all committed to the work of the tribunal which was established six years ago and has to date cost more than €8 million. Concerns have been expressed at regular intervals during the years about the delays in its work and the lack of public hearings. It is reasonable at this point to seek to place some framework on the work of the tribunal. I am glad to hear the Minister say this is not about winding down or curtailing the work of the tribunal, an important acknowledgement. I am also glad to hear that the chairman of the tribunal has indicated to the Minister that he can complete the tribunal's work within the timeframe envisaged in the Government motion. Furthermore, I am glad that the motion provides that the chairman may come back to the Minister or the Oireachtas should the timeframe in this regard need to be extended. This, too, is important.

I share the Minister's view that the Fianna Fáil amendment would not be workable. I would be concerned that the resolutions provided for in the amendment would undermine the work of the tribunal far more significantly than, as Fianna Fáil is alleging, the motion. The amendment would provide that the Minister would prepare a detailed report for the Oireachtas. It is up to the tribunal to prepare such a report. The motion stipulates that an interim report be submitted by 30 June which represents very little difference to the original terms of reference of the tribunal which were that it would produce such a report as soon as may be after the tenth day of any oral hearings. We know that oral hearings are due to commence on 7 June. The Fianna Fáil amendment would also require the tribunal to complete its findings and submit its final report by the end of November. We have heard from the Minister that the chairman has indicated that that timeframe would be workable for the tribunal.

One should acknowledge in any discussion of the tribunal's work that it has faced serious obstacles, including national security issues, gagging orders and, as reported at one point, an industrial relations dispute. Clearly, there were issues that contributed to the delays in the process. One should be mindful that in his opening statement six years ago Mr. Justice Smithwick said he hoped the inquiry would proceed expeditiously, which is what we would all like. It is in the interests of the bereaved families and other persons interested in the outcome of the tribunal that it proceed expeditiously. The tribunal has done a great deal of investigative work at this stage.

We are facing public hearings and a date has been given for those. It is reasonable to anticipate that the tribunal could complete a full and thorough investigation by the end of the timeframe envisaged in the motion. I support the motion. It does not, in any way, seek to undermine or curtail the important work the Smithwick tribunal is doing.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the opportunity to comment on the motion.

The public have an underlying expectation that, at a time of tremendous pressure on resources, we do what we can to minimise unnecessary expense, particularly on tribunals. For that reason, I am concerned that the Smithwick tribunal might be the innocent victim of the notoriety generated by the lengthy activities of another tribunal. It is important to respond to public concerns and acknowledge that this tribunal has been going on for six years at a cost of €8 million. That is clear.

However, I stress the importance of what we are doing with regard to this tribunal. There is a background here. It is the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain, and particularly the question of responsibility. We are seeking the greatest possible measure of co-operation from our British counterparts with regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. It is important, not least for that reason, that we not be seen to skimp on the investigation into this notorious killing of two senior RUC officers in 1989. That was a date which will live in infamy, to borrow a phrase made famous elsewhere.

Another issue arises. It is the importance of maximum consultation with the Oireachtas. I spoke earlier today about the need for the Government to avoid rushing off to hold press conferences prior to bringing matters before the Oireachtas. I find myself sympathetic to the proposal of my colleagues on the Fianna Fáil side that a report should first be submitted to the Oireachtas justifying the Government's proposed move.

It is a matter of trying to cut down on unnecessary expense. That is a big issue at present. We must also have regard to the specific importance of this tribunal. I accept that the Minister says he does not see himself as cutting short the work of the tribunal. I also accept that it will be possible for the chairman of the tribunal to seek an extension of time. That said, I see the Minister's proposal as a sudden foreshortening. There should first be a report to the Oireachtas justifying the move the Government proposes to make rather than a relatively short debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas today followed by a whipped vote. For that reason I support the Opposition amendment.

I, too, welcome the Minister to the House. I thank him for the fair outline he has given on this matter. I support fully what he said and what Senator Bacik said. Extensive investigations have taken place in private. I know matters are very sensitive and it is unfortunate that there has been some misrepresentation of the position. I hope that does not adversely affect the public hearings or the witnesses who may have to come forward and who, no doubt, have been interviewed. I hope matters will work out satisfactorily. A date has been set for the public hearings. There is no imposition that cannot be met. In fact, it is rather fair. I am sure Mr. Justice Smithwick is very happy with matters while he may not be happy with the misrepresentation.

What is outlined here is reasonable. The Minister has made it clear that if, due to unforeseen circumstances, there is a delay the tribunal will communicate with the Oireachtas and the matter can be dealt with. Given the indication from Mr. Justice Smithwick, to which the Minister has referred, I do not think that will happen. This approach best protects the public interest and does not impose a substantive additional requirement or place an undesirable burden on the tribunal.

Given these circumstances, we should be calm about this matter. The Opposition may have been well intentioned. I do not impugn their motives. However, this is a most reasonable proposal and will be acceptable all round. I commend it to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. During the most recent phase of the conflict, more than 3,500 people died. Thankfully, the armed conflict has ended but the conflict resolution process continues. That process presents many challenges to all of us, especially those who were party to the conflict. Our political leaders, and all of us, must rise to the challenges the conflict resolution process still entails.

Many families are still grieving and seeking answers regarding the deaths of their loved ones. All families deserve the truth and Sinn Féin fully supports their quest for truth. Sinn Féin has consistently supported the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday and the inquiry into the murder of Rosemary Nelson. Sinn Féin also gives ongoing support to the family of the murdered solicitor, Pat Finucane, and the families of the victims of the Ballymurphy and Springhill massacres.

In 2008, Sinn Féin supported the unanimous request of the Oireachtas to allow independent international access to all original documents held by the British Government relating to attacks that had resulted in fatalities in this State as a consequence of collusion between unionist and loyalist paramilitaries and the British State. Last month, as Members will be aware, Sinn Féin published a Private Members' Bill dealing with the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. We called on the British Government to release the important files relating to those bombings. I know the Taoiseach has called on the Prime Minister to release those files, but he has refused to do so. These are legacy issues that we must deal with. It is widely believed that this attack, which involved the greatest loss of life of any incident in the conflict, was carried out with the involvement of British intelligence. One of the bombs exploded near to where we are standing today.

Sinn Féin proposed the establishment of an independent international truth recovery process to be convened under the auspices of a credible international third party. We put forward the option of the United Nations. Any process convened along those lines should be victim centred. We need to make sure that the families of those victims, on all sides, get the truth they deserve. Those who were killed, on all sides, deserve the truth. The Oireachtas established the Smithwick tribunal of inquiry into the alleged collusion of a member or members of An Garda Síochána in the killing in 1989 of senior RUC officers Harry Breen and Robert Buchanan. As Sinn Féin has stated previously in the Dáil, anyone who has any relevant information should come forward to assist this tribunal of inquiry, and it is important that this call be made here again today.

I do not have any difficulty with the Government seeking an interim report from the tribunal. However, it is a mistake for the Government to look for a final report by 30 November as this will feed the conspiracy theories that the Government and the Garda have something to hide, and the Minister should be mindful of this. There are arguments over costs which, when families are seeking truth, are petty and irresponsible. We need to make sure that all of those families get the closure they want.

The British Government obviously has a responsibility in regard to collusion and truth, and the Irish Government has a constitutional, legal and moral responsibility to actively promote and encourage this course of action. We all have responsibilities. In recent weeks and months, there has been much talk of moving on and all of us collectively want to move on. I am a strong supporter of the peace process and of the conflict resolution process. However, for people to move on, especially victims and their families, they need justice and they need the truth. All of us collectively must rise to those challenges to make sure those families get the truth they deserve.

I thank Members for their contributions and in particular Senators Bacik and Coghlan for the support expressed for the motion and for their obvious understanding of its intent. It is important we do not forget the events that lie behind the tribunal. The savage details of the cold-blooded killing of two unarmed police officers are set out in Judge Cory's report and, as he said, these shootings were brutal, cowardly and demonstrated a callous insensitivity to both the suffering of individuals and to life itself. While I would not suggest there is any hierarchy in terms of the degree of brutality attaching to the many murders which were committed in connection with the Northern Ireland Troubles, the murders of these two officers, as described by Judge Cory, leave one feeling particularly numb at the manner of their murders.

The two men were targeted in a well-planned ambush. Both Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan were hit several times by a hail of bullets while still in their car. Bob Buchanan suffered many fragment wounds in the head and upper body, and it is probable that he was dead by the time his car came to a stop. He had also been shot in the head at close range, almost certainly after he had died. Harry Breen had been severely wounded but it appears that he had left the car after it came to a stop, waving a white handkerchief. Eyewitness accounts indicated that a member of the IRA murder squad walked up to him and simply shot him in the back of the head.

This tribunal is carrying out an important inquiry to establish the truth behind suggestions that gardaí or other State employees colluded in those brutal killings and it must and will be allowed to carry out its work without hindrance. As I have already stated, it is my understanding that the concern about the public imposition of a completion date relates to the possible effect on witnesses of this approach and, in particular, the publicity surrounding the approach detailed in our motion. It is unfortunate that a public impression may have been created, fuelled, I might say, by uninformed public comment that this motion was about "winding down" or curtailing the tribunal.

It was the Minister's own spokesman who briefed the newspapers.

I hope that what I have said in this House will reassure those people there is no such intention. The independence of the tribunal is fully respected in the original motion. No attempt is being made to prevent it getting at the truth in so far as it can do so. There is no question that the Government or the Garda engaged in any cover-up of any nature whatsoever. What we need is the truth and we need to get to the truth for the sake, in particular, of the families who were bereaved by this atrocity. I have made it very clear that if, for some unforeseen reason, the chairman cannot complete the inquiry in the timeframe proposed, he can report back to the Clerk of the Dáil to the effect that circumstances have arisen which require that timescale to be extended. This House can then consider the matter.

I also referred to the fact that prior to the tabling of this motion, the chairman indicated to me that he believed this tribunal would complete its work within the timeframe detailed. Since the publicity arose, the chairman has corresponded with me to indicate concerns in regard to witnesses attending before the tribunal. We have responded to that and will be forwarding to the chairman the speech made by me in the Dáil setting out clearly that we want the tribunal to do its work, to continue to act with integrity and independence, and to reach a conclusion and make recommendations on the facts available to it within the terms of the motion originally passed in 2005.

I regard it as reasonable that a tribunal that has cost the State in excess of €8 million and that has been sitting in private for six years would make an interim report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I note with interest and curiosity the motion tabled by Senator Byrne, who wants me as Minister for Justice and Equality to prepare a detailed report outlining all relevant information concerning the work of the tribunal. How can I do that in the context of an independent tribunal? Is that not why we want an independent report from the tribunal to this House, namely, so this House knows about the workings of the tribunal?

We are seeking the reasons that the Minister formed the opinion.

We are entitled to know, under the terms of the motion tabled before the House by the Fianna Fáil-led Government in 2005, what the tribunal estimates as its likely duration, how many witnesses it intends to call, who has been granted legal representation and to be furnished with any other additional information. I did not notice Senator Byrne indicate to me in any shape or form that it was envisaged when this tribunal was created in May 2005 that it would be silent for six years, with no public indication or report to the Houses of the Oireachtas as to where matters stood with regard to its work.

I greatly regret Senator Byrne's gross and ill-judged attempt to play domestic politics with the Anglo-Irish Agreement or with Anglo-Irish relations. His hysterical and grossly distorted misrepresentation of the Government's position and of the motion before this House is to no benefit of this State or his party, and certainly does not give us any indicator of his capacity to understand the depth of the peace process, the commitment of the Government to Anglo-Irish relations and the very close relations that have been clearly fostered by the Government since its formation following the last general election and, indeed, the relations I have as Minister for Justice and Equality with my counterpart, Mr. David Ford, in Northern Ireland.

Will the Minister outline the consultations he had with Mr. David Ford on this issue?

It is important that we deal with these issues with a degree of common sense. I will conclude by reiterating that the Government is anxious that this independent tribunal independently completes its work, concludes its inquiries and produces recommendations. We have no intent of any nature to interfere in that work or to influence it. However, we believe a tribunal created by the Houses of the Oireachtas has an obligation to report to the Houses as to the progress it is making and as to its likely duration. We believe it is not unreasonable that, after six years of sittings, we set a date within which it should report in circumstances in which the procedures of both Houses facilitate the chairman communicating with the Clerk of the Dáil at a later stage if he discovers there is a difficulty in completing his work within that timeframe.

I am personally conscious of the type of difficulties that could occur during the course of the oral hearings of the tribunal and which might result in that type of communication from the chairman. However, it is important, where a tribunal is created to report on an urgent matter of public importance, which was the phrase used in 2005, that we encourage the tribunal, after six years, to progress its inquiries, complete its deliberations and make its recommendations within a reasonable timeframe. The motion provides for this.

On a point of order, the Minister has failed to outline consultations he has had with his Northern Ireland or British counterpart or with the First Minister or Deputy First Minister.

There are no points of order——

That is a crucial aspect of our motion because, as it states, they are interested parties.

The Minister has concluded the debate.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 32.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D’Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O’Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O’Keeffe, Susan.
  • O’Neill, Pat.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O’Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan.
Amendment declared lost.
Motion agreed to.