I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, to the House. Before we begin, I welcome Órfhlaith Begley, MP for West Tyrone, and Catherine Kelly, MLA for West Tyrone, who are in the Visitors Gallery. I also welcome the family of Councillor Patsy Kelly who are in the Public Gallery. I call the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney.
Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland: Statements
I welcome this opportunity for discussion with the House on the critical issue of dealing with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. The key principles of the Government’s approach to that legacy are based on the commitments enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. We must address the legacy of the past and we must remember what happened. We also have a duty to the families of those who lost their lives and those injured to provide whatever justice, truth and healing is possible. Human rights and the rule of law must be upheld for everybody and we must learn the lessons of the past as we seek full reconciliation and, hopefully, a much better future.
In the 21 years since solemn commitments were made to victims and survivors in the Good Friday Agreement, two things have become clear. The first is that translating those principles and promises into a system that can practically deliver what victims and survivors are entitled to expect is immensely complex and politically fraught right across Northern Ireland and, indeed, south of the Border as well. Secondly, failing to get an adequate system in place and, instead, leaving the current unsuitable processes in place in policing, the courts and in politics is simply not sustainable.
Every day that passes without a functioning legacy framework is a day without a prospect of closure for the hundreds of victims’ families who are still waiting for an effective investigation. It is a day without adequate supports for those seriously injured or traumatised and it is a day when policing, public discourse and politics in Northern Ireland remains burdened with the wrongs and the wounds of the past. I want to acknowledge and welcome the family of Councillor Patsy Kelly, who are present with us here today. They are one such family who continue to seek the full truth of Councillor Kelly’s brutal abduction and murder in 1974. The Kelly family met with my officials earlier today and I had the pleasure of meeting with them informally as well. I have directed that my Department offer any assistance possible in the future.
The Government is acutely conscious also of the many people in the South who lost loved ones or were injured in the events of the Troubles. The Government continues actively to pursue with the British Government the implementation of the all-party Dáil motions which call for an independent, international judicial figure to review all original documents held by the British Government regarding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, as well as other attacks in the South. The Taoiseach and I have valued the opportunity of meeting with representatives of the Justice for the Forgotten group. The Government will continue to work closely with them as we seek that review for the entire record of what happened in the appalling attacks of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. On that day, 33 people were killed. It was the largest loss of life on a single day of the Troubles. Hundreds more were seriously injured. They all deserve answers. There is a need for justice, truth and for closure for victims’ families and for survivors. We will continue proactively to seek progress with the British Government in accordance with the successive Dáil motions that have been passed.
We must also remember that there are many victims of the Troubles in Britain who also have the right to acknowledgment and to whatever justice, truth and healing is possible in their tragic cases. I am conscious, for instance, of the 21 families in Birmingham who are at present going through the inquest proceedings into the pub bombings in 1974. While the impact of the Troubles is most profound in Northern Ireland, the bereavement and the pain for each family is no less, wherever people live. That is at the core of the Government’s approach to dealing with the past. We have now had more than ten years of virtually continuous efforts to agree and implement a legacy framework in Northern Ireland, from the Eames Bradley process onwards.
In December 2014, after 11 weeks of intensive political talks, the Stormont House Agreement was finally reached. It provides for a comprehensive, inclusive approach to dealing with our troubled past. The Stormont House legacy framework includes an historical investigations unit to conduct Article 2-compliant investigations into all outstanding Troubles-related deaths. It also includes an independent commission on information retrieval that will operate on a cross-Border basis and enable families to seek, and privately receive, information about the Troubles-related deaths of their next of kin. This commission will be fully accessible to people in Northern Ireland, in Great Britain and in this jurisdiction, as confirmed in the treaty signed by the two Governments on the independent commission on information retrieval in 2015. There will be an oral history archive for people throughout the UK and Ireland to share experiences and narratives related to the Troubles. There will also be an implementation and reconciliation group to oversee the legacy process, draw lessons, and contribute to reconciliation, a better understanding of the past and reducing sectarianism.
The two Governments, and the political parties in Northern Ireland, have spent the years since the Stormont House Agreement developing the legacy framework in full. Detailed draft implementing legislation is almost at the point where it can be considered by the legislatures in each jurisdiction. The British Government held a public consultation on the draft UK legislation last summer.
There were many thousands of responses, including from many victims and survivors in this jurisdiction. These are now in the final stages of review and a response from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will follow.
After many years, we are within touching distance I hope of finally putting a functioning system in place for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, with important elements also accessible for victims and survivors across both jurisdictions. Nobody is saying this system will be perfect and that it can satisfy everyone but it will be vastly better than a status quo that is manifestly not meeting the needs of victims and survivors and is not fit for purpose. We must get the Stormont House framework in place and soon. Both Governments, as well as political parties, must give leadership on this, and we must keep the needs of victims and survivors to the fore and take the necessary steps to get the Stormont House framework established in law in both jurisdictions as soon as possible. The Government will not be found wanting on this.
The drafting of legislative proposals in this jurisdiction to support and implement the Stormont House framework is advancing, led by my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Government has already published a general scheme of a Bill to provide for enhanced co-operation with legacy inquests in Northern Ireland, and a draft Bill is currently being finalised. This legislation will be of immediate relevance for the ongoing inquest into the Kingsmill massacre at the Belfast Coroners Court and any other legacy inquests in cases with a cross-Border dimension. Draft legislation is also being advanced to provide for the establishment of the independent commission on information retrieval. I will also continue to engage with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with the political parties to support a move ahead to a legislative phase as soon as possible, taking account of issues raised in the recent consultation while remaining fully consistent with the Stormont House Agreement framework of course.
We cannot have more long processes. Victims and survivors have been waiting for far too long already, and I have met many of them. In this respect it is very welcome that the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland was able to announce last month that the necessary resources will be in place so that the outstanding legacy inquests in Northern Ireland relating to 93 deaths can be heard, consistent with the proposals of the Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland in 2016 and following on from the ruling of the High Court in Northern Ireland in the Hughes case. There are a number of other cases and court rulings in Northern Ireland which have highlighted the failings of the current systems, in particular the unsustainable burden that is placed on the Police Service of Northern Ireland to investigate the past when it should be focused on policing for today. This was underlined once again by the concerning announcement last month that the PSNI discovered significant new material for legacy investigations being conducted by the Police Ombudsman, with up to 30 cases affected, and with families now waiting even longer for the conclusion of the ombudsman’s reports. My thoughts are with those families, and the many others who are being forced to grapple with the current unsuitable system. They should not have to go through the courts to vindicate their rights or have to wait for the conclusion of investigations not adequately resourced under the current system. We must press forward so that court rulings and campaigns are no longer needed.
In this context I want to also acknowledge the family of Mr. Pat Finucane, who have had to campaign unceasingly over the past 30 years to seek to establish the full facts behind his brutal murder. The Taoiseach and I have been glad to meet the Finucane family in recent months. The Government’s position is that a public inquiry is required in the case of Pat Finucane in accordance with the commitments of the two Governments at Weston Park in 2001. This position has been significantly reinforced by the judgment of the UK Supreme Court last month, which made a declaration in favour of Geraldine Finucane that there has still not been an Article 2-compliant investigation into her husband’s murder. The Government will keep engaging with the British Government until there is a satisfactory outcome in the Finucane case and we remain in ongoing contact with the Finucane family, who continue to campaign, like so many other families, with courage, dignity and resilience to seek truth and justice.
The Stormont House Agreement provisions on dealing with the past commence with the affirmation of a set of principles which include upholding the rule of law, compliance with human rights and acknowledging and addressing the suffering of victims and survivors. That means that there can be no hierarchy of victims in the process. Regardless of the circumstances, there is a requirement to investigate a death. We know that the majority of those who lost their lives in the Troubles were killed by paramilitary groups but this process cannot be about numbers. Every case, regardless of the circumstances, is a life cut short and a bereaved family and community left behind. It is not for governments to say that the suffering of one family is of greater or lesser worth than that of another.
The principles of the Stormont House Agreement also mean that there can be no amnesties. It is important to be very clear about that at the present time. All deaths must be properly investigated and prosecuted in compliance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, regardless of the perpetrator. In this regard, the decision announced by the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland that a former soldier will be prosecuted for the murder of James Wray and William McKinney and for the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell on Bloody Sunday in 1972 was a significant moment. I emphasise that this announcement is part of the operation of due legal process. It is important that nothing is said or done by anyone that could be seen to prejudice that process.
As we know, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recently made what she later acknowledged herself were some very wrong, insensitive and hurtful remarks in Westminster. These were a cause of deep concern and did a grave disservice to victims' families, who lost loved ones at the hands of state forces and who continue to seek justice and truth decades after their tragic loss. This includes the families of the 14 innocent people who were killed in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972, the Ballymurphy families in 1971 and many others. The Government will continue to support their honourable and dignified campaigns for truth and justice. It is important that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has since confirmed again that where there is any evidence of wrongdoing, this should be pursued without fear or favour, whoever the perpetrators might be, and that this is and will remain the basis of the British Government's approach to dealing with legacy issues. I strongly support her in that.
The Irish Government has been clear that we would not support any proposal to introduce amnesties for state or non-state actors. I reiterated that to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at our last meeting in London two weeks ago. The Government will also continue to engage with the British Government and with the political parties to get the Stormont House Agreement legacy institutions in place as quickly as possible. This has to be an imperative for both Governments so that victims and survivors can access whatever truth and justice is possible in their case, and to support the achievement of a reconciled society in Northern Ireland, which is ultimately what this is all about.
I look forward to hearing the views of Senators on these most important issues for this island, North and South.
I welcome the Minister to the House and commend him on his speech, which was balanced, reasonable and sensitive. This is a very sensitive area and I will certainly follow the Minister's line in that respect. We all have our own opinions about what happened in the North and this is not really the place to give vent to those. I welcome our visitors and sympathise with them and all others who have been touched by the violence in Northern Ireland. I hope they will achieve closure at the end of it all.
The events in Northern Ireland over a 30-year period have marked the people of the North first and foremost, but also the entire nation and these islands. G. K. Chesterton once said of the Irish that all our wars are merry and all our songs are sad. There was nothing merry about the conflict in Northern Ireland. It must have been one of the most horrific periods of sustained sectarian violence probably anywhere in the world. Wrong was committed on all sides, including by the British authorities and the Stormont authorities, and great wrong was also committed by the paramilitaries on both sides, who thought that they were beyond the law and could act on their own volition to take human life just because they believed in a cause. The violence in Northern Ireland was not inevitable. It was most unfortunate that the work of people such as John Hume, Seamus Mallon and the SDLP and the People's Democracy, which was a non-violent protest, was not allowed to continue to full fruition before it became a sectarian shoot-out between two sides who showed no signs of humanity for each other, for women or for children. Terrible atrocities were committed on all sides, and as the Minister has said, there is no hierarchy in loss of life. Every life is precious. Every bereavement was special, whether someone was killed by the British Army, by the IRA or by loyalist paramilitaries; death is a death.
I live in County Kerry, which is probably as far away from the North as one can get. I had no first-hand experience other than what I saw on television as a teenager growing up. It came close to my family with the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe in west Limerick. His father and my father were close personal friends. That was a big shock to us. For many people of my generation, it was the time we finally said goodbye and parted ways with any sympathy for that kind of paramilitary activity, whether it came from the national side or the unionist side.
I recommend a book to anybody who wishes to study the genesis of what happened in Northern Ireland, which I re-read recently. It is called Fatal Path and it was written by Professor Ronan Fanning. He takes up the "Irish question", as the British love to call it, from Gladstone's Home Rule Bill of 1886 right through to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. There is no question or doubt in that book that partition in this country was not created by the British or by us; partition was created specifically at the request and insistence of Ulster unionists. They did not want the other three Ulster counties. They had plenty in the six, which they could handle. They got their way. They tried to oppose home rule for all of us at one stage. When they realised that was not going to happen, they decided to cut down on what they were looking for - "Let them have home rule, but we will have our own rule". When they got their chance to have their own government, they abused it. There was total discrimination against Catholics at every level, including housing, education and social welfare. The only alternative for Catholics was to get out, but there were too many Catholics to get out. That is what started it and there was no doubt about that. We are not here to talk about who started or finished it. We are here to deal with the outstanding issues so that we can give closure and a sense of conclusion to everybody, especially those who were bereaved in some way.
Recently the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland decided to prosecute one soldier. As the Tánaiste said, this is sub judice and I will not comment on that. It was a major disappointment to many of the other families. We will have to see how the case progresses and what comes out of it. Bloody Sunday was probably the greatest single atrocity of the conflict, especially as it was carried out by the state authority, and clearly with collusion involving the upper levels of the British Army and Government. As the Tánaiste said, we will not comment further on this at this time.
It is interesting to consider the South African experience where decades of apartheid came to an end. There was a great deal of hatred and bitterness there. They set up a truth and reconciliation department. I am not saying they did everything superbly well but it has succeeded to the extent that the South African experience has been used and replicated in many other countries in Africa to try to bring conflict resolution about. If they can do it there, I do not see any reason we cannot do it here.
The fact that there is no Assembly in the North at the moment is a significant hurdle to achieving reconciliation and peace. If the major parties cannot agree to work together for the common good, how can one expect that there will be equity and equality of respect and understanding for the communities? If the politicians have failed, one cannot expect the ordinary communities to take up this role.
Despite what I have said, there has been great work at community level on both sides of the divide. Northern Ireland remains a bizarre, unnatural entity. We still have to have peace walls and there seems to little sign of engagement, particularly at political level. We are politicians and we know that everything in politics is difficult. At some stage one has to deal with people. As Churchill said: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war". I urge that the major parties in the North get serious and get down to restoring the Assembly there. Both the Irish and British Governments have been somewhat remiss as well. It is a good many years since the Stormont House Agreement was reached. It is five years since it was put in place and there has been a great deal of foot-dragging. I am not saying the Minister's Government-----
The Senator is well over his time now.
-----or the British Government is the cause, but because there is a vacuum in the North, perhaps we have to do a lot more down here.
Unike Senator O'Sullivan, I grew up some 40 miles from the Border in Boyle, County Roscommon. One of the great days of my life was the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. I had just come back from Australia and Garrett FitzGerald was a hero of mine. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was not perfect. It failed to achieve reconciliation among the two communities and to stop political violence but it was the cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement, which for more than 20 years has been ensuring peace on this island. My party has consistently worked to achieve a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of this island, North and South. In government, we helped secure the Sunningdale Agreement, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Stormont House Agreement and the Fresh Start Agreement. We will continue to work with the parties in the North and with the British Government, as we seek to ensure that devolution is restored and that Northern Ireland's voice is heard again at this critical time. We are committed to this work, no matter how many setbacks may arise or how long it takes. This is a shared island with a shared future. We want to shape that future together, working together for the benefit of all of our people. Our vision for the island of Ireland embraces all identities, religions and minorities. Fine Gael has always been about building relationships and bringing communities and people together.
We must recognise that unionism is integral to Irish culture, heritage and history. Comprehensive progress on legacy issues concerning the Troubles is crucial to meeting the legitimate needs and expectations of victims and survivors and contributing to broader societal reconciliation as an integral part of the peace process. The Government will continue to engage in support of that, consistent with its role and responsibilities as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. A Programme for A Partnership Government commits to building on the progress made to establish the comprehensive institutional framework for dealing with the past that is provided for under the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, keeping the needs of the victims and survivors at the core of its approach. Victims and survivors have had to wait for far too long for a suitable and effective system in Northern Ireland to deal with the legacies of the Troubles. During the ten years since the commencement of the Eames-Bradley process in June 2007, successive efforts have been made to address legacy issues, particularly to meet the legitimate needs and expectations of victims and survivors. However, this is still sought and urgently needed. We have engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with all the political parties to support a way forward in implementing the comprehensive legacy framework agreed under the Stormont House Agreement. The Secretary of State agreed on the imperative of moving ahead with full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.
I was very concerned by the announcement by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland on 14 February of receipt of significant new materials from the PSNI. The ombudsman indicated that the discovery of the new materials will delay the publication of the report into events connected to actions of loyalist paramilitaries in the north west between 1988 and 1994. Our thoughts are first and foremost with all the families affected. This is a most difficult and anxious time for each family affected, as they must now wait even longer for the ombudsman's report into their cases. It is important to allow the ombudsman, Mr. Michael Maguire, the necessary space to complete the investigation, taking account of the newly uncovered material. I hope the Government will keep this matter under very close review in the period ahead. The development makes clear that the Stormont House Agreement framework is urgently needed in order to provide a comprehensive process for addressing legacy investigations and issues in Northern Ireland which is focused on the needs of victims and survivors. I ask the Minister and the Government to continue to engage with the British Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland to seek the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement as soon as possible.
The Minister has said that we must address the legacies of the past and remember what happened. We have a duty to the families of those who lost their lives and those who were injured to provide whatever justice, truth and healing is possible. Moreover, human rights and the rule of law must be upheld for everyone. We need to learn the lessons of the past. Reconciliation will build a better future. We have been very concerned, and an all-party Dáil motion has called for an independent international judicial figure to review all original documents held by the British Government on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and other attacks in the South. The Minister rightly said that we are conscious of the 21 families in Birmingham who are currently going through inquest proceedings concerning the pub bombings in 1974. It is a huge issue for each family, no matter where they live.
I had the pleasure of meeting with the family of councillor Patsy Kelly. His son, Mr. Patsy Kelly Jnr., gave a very measured and emotive outline of what happened to his father. I hope that we will call on the British Government to make a full disclosure on those awful events. As has been said, there have been several cases and court rulings in Northern Ireland which have highlighted the failings of the current system, in particular the unsustainable burden of investigating the past which has been placed on the PSNI when it should be focused on present-day policing.
The Secretary of State recently made remarks which were insensitive, hurtful and wrong. They were of huge concern. Victims were very upset. I was in Westminster at an event held by CHAMP, which brings politicians from the two islands, North and South, east and west, together to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The Secretary of State apologised for those remarks. She noted how extremely hurtful they were. I felt that it was a sincere apology. She made a grave error of judgment, but I welcomed that apology. I have been to the inquest into the deaths of those killed at Ballymurphy in Belfast in 1971, attended by their families. I refer also to the 14 people killed in Derry on Bloody Sunday in 1972. We will continue to support those dignified campaigns for truth and justice. The Kelly family has a very dignified campaign, represented here today.
We in the west of Ireland were not directly impacted by the Troubles and the conflict in that awful 30 years of murder and mayhem. We always felt it was not our problem, but indeed it was. It was a problem for the island of Ireland and for the two islands, and we have come an awfully long way in the 21 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. I hope we can deal with the legacies of the past and increase the friendship and understanding across all political strands. We will have an agreed Ireland where we will co-operate and work together, as well as an agreed two islands, with the friendship between our island and the United Kingdom as good as ever. My father worked there for most of his life, like most Irishmen from the west of Ireland. They worked hard and they were part of the Irish diaspora.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House to speak about this most important matter. I welcome the family of councillor Patsy Kelly. Much has been said by the Minister and by those who have already spoken. Many people in the South speak about the North of Ireland. I refer to people who have never visited and have never been across the Border in their lives. The only thing they can tell one about Northern Ireland is that the Giant's Causeway is there, and yet they speak with great authority. I must say that since Deputy Coveney took over as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade he has been extremely sensitive in the work he has done in Northern Ireland. He has been forthright and honest in his dealings with the North. It is disappointing that there is no Assembly in the North of Ireland. It is particularly disappointing that the last attempt collapsed, allegedly over the Irish language, when in east Belfast some 600 people from the unionist community are studying the Irish language. It is one of the paradoxes that exists in the North of Ireland, and it is rather sad.
There are unanswered questions on all sides. The Minister put it really well when he said there is no hierarchy when we are talking about death and murder. I fully support the opening up of information on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and finding out who was behind them. I fully support also finding out exactly what went on at Ballymurphy. In regard to the Bloody Sunday findings, it is rather disappointing that one soldier has been identified out of all those involved on that day. Having served in the military myself, I question the senior people in charge that day. What decisions were made? What orders were given? Who took decisions? Was there panic on the day? Did somebody lose control? It seems we will never get the answers to those questions, but one soldier will face a court. For many people that is not enough.
I cannot begin to imagine what those who were taken out of their houses or forced into corners felt in the last few minutes of their lives. I refer to those on both sides, because there were atrocities on both sides.
I cannot begin to understand the pain of the Kelly family who are here today. Probably at this stage, all they want to know is what happened.
We were fortunate recently to have had two visits to Northern Ireland during which Senator Ó Donnghaile brought us around. We met people who simply want an answer, to know what happened and the truth. They are not necessarily vying for blood or for people to go to jail. They just want to know the truth. There is probably a strong case for some sort of a truth commission, similar to what took place in South Africa, where people can come forward and tell the story as they saw it.
There are great people on both sides in Northern Ireland trying to bring communities together. As we face into what is likely to be an unsettled period in British-Irish relations with Brexit approaching, it is extremely important we support those civic groups which want to move forward and find a solution. There has even been talk on the unionist side about a 32-county republic and where they see that in ten, 15 or 20 years' time. I do not believe any of them would be running for a Border poll now but they accept that in the future that is the likely outcome. Accordingly, we must build relationships. The Government is doing much of that already.
Much was done in the Good Friday Agreement. Then, collectively, we clapped ourselves on the back and said that is it, we have peace in our time and everything is going well. There are academics in Northern Ireland, however, who feel that the right to an Irish passport is not enough and that we have not bestowed full citizenship on those who obtain an Irish passport. They do not have any rights in elections on this side of the Border or have any control over who gets elected to what. On the southern side of the Border we have a significant amount of work to do.
I urge the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to keep the pressure on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings issue. Nothing would suit more than to have a reputable member of an international judiciary review those files and release whatever information is available. I honestly do not believe, however, that will be allowed to happen in the UK.
The war that was fought in the North of Ireland was a dirty war. Dirty wars have fault on all sides. In my view, there were three sides. There were the nationalists and unionists but there were those employed in official positions on both sides of the Border. We hear much about collusion on one side but there was collusion on both sides. It should not be forgotten that two RUC men were executed on their way home from this side of the Border. It must not be forgotten that there was collusion on both sides of the Border and that it was a dirty war. That is part of the problem in trying to clean up what is left.
People are entitled to answers but we must walk steadily as we seek to get those answers. Our goal should be to bring communities together. The only way to solve the problem of bringing communities together is if we provide answers to those who lost their loved ones. I am not 100% convinced that people want to see court cases, jail and all that for the atrocities carried out. There may be some. However, history shows in South Africa, for example, that people just want answers and not to vie for the blood of those who committed atrocities. There is a willingness on the part of the Government and every other party to meet the families concerned and to listen to their stories. It is a pity that some of the unionist families do not come down here more often and talk about their pain and hurt. We need to hear all sides and find a solution.
I will support everything the Government does to move matters forward. I look forward to the day we have an Assembly again in Northern Ireland and interparliamentary groups where we can have open and frank discussions with one another. I hope to see all of these come in the near future. I will not criticise anybody for not being in the Assembly. I do not live there and I do not have to deal with the issues which prevent them from going from one side to the other. I pray, however, that they will find a way to sit and talk together. I spoke earlier today to Deputy Adams. The risks men like him, Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley took, particularly on the nationalist side to meet their unionist brothers on the other side, took fierce courage. We should never ever question it. I ask that we do everything to keep it going.
I thank the Leader for facilitating our request for these important statements. The importance of the legacy of conflict in Ireland did not come to pass 50 years ago. It goes back much further and runs much deeper. Senator Ned O'Sullivan posed the question earlier of what started it in the North all those decades ago. There is not one simple answer to that. It is complex and multilayered. What we can point to, however, is a legacy of the conflict, as well as the neglect and abuse that went before that led to that inevitability. The legacy of conflict has shaped the political institutions here and the political parties which make them up. Whether it is Croke Park, Ballyseedy, Béal na Bláth, Ballymurphy or Birmingham, the legacy of conflict has shaped both of these islands and shapes all of us. I hope that, 22 years after the Good Friday Agreement, it has also encouraged us to move beyond the legacy of conflict and to assist families and all victims to move on to right and proper reconciliation, truth and peace. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade used the word "healing" in his contribution. It struck me because it was right and was also a word used by Patsy Kelly Junior during the briefing today in the AV room. Patsy was not born when his father was murdered. I understand this is a trying day for his family who are present in the Gallery.
The right to truth and justice, or legacy as it has become known, is one of the defining issues of the peace and political process at this point. It is defined by a lack of progress in terms of relatives who lost loved ones in the conflict getting the truth and justice to which they are entitled. It is defined by the extensive measures that the British Government, assisted by the unionist parties, in particular the DUP, has taken to block access to the truth and justice. It is defined by the British Government's deny-and-delay approach to playing its full role in assisting relatives in their search for the truth and justice. It is defined by the negative impact of the British Government's deny-and-delay approach on one of the most crucial parts of the peace process, namely, a new police service.
The PSNI is facing a crisis of confidence within the nationalist community because of the deny-and-delay tactic. The PSNI is regularly in the courts placing obstacles in the way of relatives accessing intelligence files and other information which would help them. This stance of the PSNI is undermining support for it from the nationalist people. It is also hindering it carrying out its duties unrelated to the conflict. The Chief Constable of the PSNI has said publicly that it is not equipped to deal with legacy. This reality is ignored, however, as the British Government uses the courts to prevent relatives from accessing the information they need. In recent weeks, it has been defined by the outrageous comments of the British Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, to which the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade alluded, when she praised the British Army and said its members who killed did not commit crimes but were in fact upholding the rule of law and doing their duty in a dignified and appropriate way.
Ms Bradley’s offensive remarks were followed by the disgraceful and indefensible decision by the Public Prosecution Service, PPS, to prosecute only one para, soldier "F"’, in respect of two murders and four attempted murders on Bloody Sunday, when the British Army shot dead 14 people. All of this is against the backdrop of Britain's Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, saying he would introduce legislation to "protect" former members of the British Crown forces from facing prosecution in Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. There is only one word for this and that is "amnesty". I am encouraged to hear the strong remarks from the Tánaiste regarding any such suggestion from the British Government. An amnesty for members of the Crown forces will totally undermine the Stormont House Agreement, which a British Government was involved in and agreed to. While the British Government is stating this and is blocking access to the truth, it agreed, after months of negotiations, which involved the Irish Government and all of the parties in the North, the mechanisms of the Stormont House Agreement. Those carefully worked out mechanisms, while not perfect, were designed to provide the truth and justice that relatives need. Instead of the British Government implementing the Stormont House Agreement, however, it is now telling us, six months after the end of the public consultation on the proposals, that it needs more time to respond to the feedback from that consultation. While this delay and prevarication continues, some relatives are frail and ageing. Many have died not knowing why their loved ones were killed or who was involved in the killing.
The British Government is cynically aware that as time passes more and more relatives are passing. Some suspect the British Government is hoping the issue will pass with them. The opposite, however, is the case and the Tánaiste knows that. The next generation is now joining in the campaigns to help find out the truth and get justice. The British Government is not just being criticised by relatives' organisations but also by those political parties which support them. Recently, the European Committee of Ministers, which supervises the execution of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, delivered yet another criticism of the British Government’s failure to honour its international obligations on key legacy issues. It specifically criticised the British Government’s failure to set up the Stormont House Agreement mechanisms and implement their independence.
It also called on the British Government to respond by 21 June to the British Supreme Court's judgment in the Pat Finucane case. Very recently as well, a judge in Belfast prevented the PSNI from being involved in any further investigation into the death of Jean Smith in 1972. He did so on the basis that the PSNI lacks the independence required to conduct such an investigation. I am referring to a judge of the High Court in Belfast stating that. When we reduce all of this down to the reality of why truth and justice are important, we end up with families like that of the late councillor Patsy Kelly. He was a 33 year old father of five children when on 24 July 1974 he was abducted and murdered. Two weeks after he was abducted, Mr. Kelly's body was found in a lake some miles away. It was weighted down by two 56 lb weights tied with polystyrene rope.
The late councillor Kelly's family believe he was abducted and killed by an Ulster Defence Regiment, UDR, patrol. The Kelly family has been campaigning for the truth about Patsy’s death for decades. They have faced many obstacles put in place, initially by the RUC and subsequently by the PSNI, the British Army and the legal system. Today, the family met officials from the Tánaiste's Department and this afternoon they presented Patsy's case in the audiovisual room. It is long past time for the British Government to adopt a wholly different approach to resolving the legacy issue. It is time for it to implement the Stormont House Agreement and allow the families to access truth and justice. I know and appreciate that the Tánaiste and I are on the same page on this matter. Doing that would allow the families to benefit from the peace process as so many others have done over the last 20 years. They could then feel that same tangible benefit.
I will finish by thanking the Tánaiste for taking the time. He never runs away from these issues, to be fair to him. It would be easy to send someone else but he takes the time to not only meet the families but also to address this issue in the House. While we do not always agree on the nuances of all of this, there has been an upsurge in families seeking to engage the Tánaiste and the Government to assert and affirm their rights to be heard as Irish citizens. We have to move beyond simply bringing the families here. It is a great privilege to do so but I do so reluctantly. That is because I am conscious that it retraumatises the families every time they have to come in, tell their stories and relive those scenarios. That is why it is crucially important that these mechanisms are delivered on. We will talk about it and, hopefully, we will agree in these Houses. I have no doubt that we will. It has now reached the point, however, where the Government has to redouble its efforts because of the crucial juncture we are now at. I know we have a friend in the court in the form of the Tánaiste.
Cuirim fáilte roimh na cuairteoirí sa Ghailearaí. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Tánaiste as ucht an díospóireacht seo a shocrú. In welcoming the families to the Gallery this afternoon, it is important that we remember and thank them for their work. One of the things that has struck many of us has been the dignity of the families concerning Bloody Sunday and the way in which they have campaigned with absolute integrity. Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, spoke on the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement about how we cannot necessarily forget the past but we can also not let it decide the future. That is why it is important, at the beginning of my contribution, to thank the Tánaiste for the work he has done and is doing. It is imperative we acknowledge that work.
Some of the commentariat make comments about my party’s position regarding the North of our country, but the Tánaiste has been very firm, very clear and very focused in building bridges and engaging with people there. In some cases, he has done that in a very quiet manner that nobody is aware of. He has opened up doors and, on occasion, firmly communicated the viewpoint of the Irish Government. I state that as somebody who has canvassed in the North for members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP, and the Alliance Party, and as someone who has forged friendships with members of both parties. In my own case, when I was a seminarian in Maynooth, friends of mine were living in the heart of west Belfast and in other parts of the North. There were many regular visits to the North of our country and engagement with the issues there.
Some 20 years later, the Good Friday Agreement is a living agreement. As the former US President, Bill Clinton, said, the Good Friday Agreement is a priceless gift that has inspired the world. There is a duty on all of us, North and South, east and west, and green, white and orange, to live up to that document and to make the most of it. We can all have different viewpoints on the reports that have come out in recent weeks and we can express our disappointment at the decision to prosecute just one soldier, soldier "F", in regard to Bloody Sunday. We can also talk about other issues and other tragedies and travesties of justice. However, it is ultimately about dealing with the legacy issues, giving justice to the families seeking it and recognising the past.
I watched a documentary on Bobby Sands with a number of people recently. There were three different viewpoints among the people in the room and we all watched the same programme. We were all very strong in our views. In my case, I have always been an incrementalist in what I have tried to do in my political life concerning social change and bringing people with us. That is why it is important we have this debate in the House today. This issue is, ultimately, about truth and reconciliation. As Senator Feighan said, this is about this shared Ireland and this shared vision we all want.
I do not want to be adversarial or disparaging in my remarks, but the Tánaiste was right when he called out the leader of the Sinn Féin Party for marching behind that banner on St Patrick’s Day. That is not leadership. That is playing to one side of an argument. I am not being adversarial in stating that and I do not mean to be in my remarks. This is about all of us coming together and working to achieve what many of us and many of the family members in the Gallery want. That is answers. We can only do that by talking and by engagement and not by polarising and being divisive. I refer to both sides in that respect. We can use the excuses of there being no Assembly in the North or the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, and its engagement with Brexit. If we talk to the ordinary people in many parts of the North of our country, however, they want what we want here in the South. They want to be able to live their lives in peace, have a family, see it grow up, see it reared and have prosperity in whatever shape or form that arrives in.
That is why there must be continuing outreach by all of us to engage. Senator Craughwell is right. There are hurlers on the ditch on social media and in other places who have never been beyond the Border. They have never had an interest in the North other than singing rebel songs after a couple of hours wherever. It is about the exchange of ideas. We had the Lord Mayor of Belfast in the Chamber and she gave a fine contribution. When I was Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health we travelled north and met our counterparts in the Assembly in the North.
Senator Craughwell and Senator Conway-Walsh spoke last week about working with women in healing division. That is the ultimate point. It is about healing division.
The Tánaiste referred to the Government continuing to engage. That is imperative for both Governments so that victims and survivors can access whatever truth and justice is possible in their cases. It is vital to support the achievement of a reconciled society in Northern Ireland. I cannot put it better than that.
I welcome the family of Councillor Patsy Kelly to the Chamber today and I support their campaign for truth and justice. I appreciate the Tánaiste coming to the House today, especially in the context of the ongoing challenges presented by Brexit.
To be able to look to the future we have to deal with the past. We know this because we have listened to the families of the Bloody Sunday massacre, whom we met again earlier this week, and the families of the Ballymurphy massacre. We attended the inquest as well. We have listened to the families of the Loughinisland massacre. They came down to the House as well. We have listened to the family of Stephen Travers, who we saw on a Netflix film that was recently released. We have listened to the family of Patsy Kelly - they are here today - as well as to Pat Finucane's family and many more families.
One thing that struck me after the recent Bloody Sunday findings was how the families were seeking justice not revenge. The stories, pain, injury and loss from across the political spectrum have to be acknowledged. The views of these families have informed our approach to engaging with the past and building for the future in a victim-centred and respectful manner rooted in equality, dignity and justice.
During the most recent phase of the Stormont negotiations the British Government agreed with Sinn Féin to release the legacy inquest funding requested by the Lord Chief Justice; to commence the consultation on legacy legislation minus reference to the Statue of Limitations; and to establish the Stormont House legacy mechanisms. We know that the way to honour these commitments is the immediate establishment of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. I call on the Tánaiste to play his part in ensuring that is done.
I commend the great civic engagement and the wonderful work being done across communities by so many different groups on this island and in Britain. One such group is the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace founded by Colin and Wendy Parry. I had the privilege of meeting Colin Parry several years ago with Martin McGuinness in London. He was one of the most inspirational human beings I have ever had the honour of meeting. He was able to reconcile the pain that he and his family had gone through and yet bring that forward to do such wonderful work with the peace foundation that he subsequently formed.
The Stormont House Agreement, an agreed template for how we can address issues, needs to be implemented. In the meantime, legacy issues remain painful and combative. Republicans continue to be attacked by unionist politicians for remembering our patriot dead. Our party chairman, Declan Kearney, and others have repeatedly said that we have every right to respectfully remember our patriot dead and we respect the rights of others to do the same.
Acts of war can never be romanticised regardless of the wider context in which they occur. Multiple narratives exist about the political conflict in the North, including those of republicans, the British state, unionism, constitutional nationalism and indeed those who purport to suggest that the conflict was nothing to do with them. Sinn Féin accepts this reality and believes our society must move to a point where we can collectively agree to disagree. We must not create a new battleground to fight a war that no longer exists. Sinn Féin is pursuing the establishment of an independent international truth commission. The actions of British state forces and their agents through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s are part of the reason the past is so contested today. British state opposition to opening the millions of files that disclose information on the actions of its forces and agents has turned the legacy into the slow waltz described by the families affected. That magnifies the pain and suffering of the victims of the conflict.
I welcome the statement from the Tánaiste. In particular, I welcome his comment that all deaths must be properly investigated and prosecuted in compliance with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights regardless of the perpetrator. I thank the Tánaiste for the work he has done to date. I am encouraged by much of the work he has done. It is our responsibility - by which I mean all of us collectively, including the Irish Government, the British Government and all of us as legislators - to ensure we have peace and reconciliation and prioritise the structures that are needed to put these in place so that people are not bound by the past.
I thank the Tánaiste for coming to the House and taking this important debate. I know the case of Patsy Kelly has been raised already. That is only one of the many legacy issues. They are referred to as legacy issues but they are still murders. They are simply uninvestigated murders in many cases. A historical inquiries team was set up to investigate many of these but they really should be murder inquiries. We saw recently the decision by the British Government to only prosecute one of the paratroopers involved in Bloody Sunday. It is amazing that the British justice system could convict the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven with no evidence when, with 14 dead bodies, the same system was unable to convict paratroopers involved in Bloody Sunday.
Along with my colleagues I was up in Belfast for the Ballymurphy inquest. It is amazing that an inquest would take so long to be carried out after people were murdered. We will no doubt see a similar farcical process of alleged British justice when it comes to prosecutions in that case. Prosecutions for murder in Northern Ireland seem to depend on whether the person involved was wearing a British uniform.
We also see other legacy issues, including a request from the loyalist side for the Taoiseach to support Raymond McCord. The point is that the Government would not be seen to be partisan in respect of who it seeks justice for because there are people who were murdered in the loyalist community too. Raymond McCord wants the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to seek a full independent public inquiry into the murder of Raymond McCord Jr., who was killed on the instructions of a paid informer of the RUC special branch. This was done under Operation Ballast, which was a major inquiry by Nuala O’Loan, the then Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. As we all know, it found widespread collusion between the UVF and UDA and the British security services and RUC special branch.
That collusion went all the way to the top. When we are looking for an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, we should also seek public inquiries into events such as the murder of Raymond McCord. It is clear that he was murdered. There was a dead body. Everybody knows who carried out the instructions and the murder, yet nothing is happening. Justice is constantly denied to both communities by a system that seems incapable of addressing the most fundamental right of any family which has lost a loved one, namely, that they would get justice and the truth. However, the truth is being denied, as we see in the case of Patsy Kelly, where evidence uncovered in recent years has been withheld from families to ensure that justice is not done.
We need the Government to ensure that there are inquiries into the cases with which we are all familiar such as the Ballymurphy massacre and the murders of Patsy Kelly, Pat Finucane and others. It should also ensure that other families, such as that of Raymond McCord, get the justice they deserve in regard to these issues. We often discuss legacy issues, but these are murders that have never been investigated properly and for which, as a result, there has been a failure to prosecute. This is due to a systematic process within the British Government whereby it is waiting for people who should be prosecuted or who have evidence and would be able to assist in prosecutions to die, with the effect that justice will be denied to the families who are so entitled to it after all these years.
I did not intend to speak on this issue but I wish to say a few words, largely because, thanks to my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, who is beside me, several families of victims have visited the Oireachtas in recent times. It is a privilege to have the family of Patsy Kelly here today. We have met family members affected by the Ballymurphy massacre as well as members of the Finucane family and others. I spoke at the Council of Europe not too long ago on the issue of the heartbreak suffered by families who are waiting and waiting to hear the truth about their loved ones and the fact that, unfortunately, it is clear that there is major obfuscation on the part of the British Government. That is unacceptable on a human basis, apart from anything else.
I wish to acknowledge the contributions of Senators across the Chamber to this debate. The House seems to be, for the most part, at one on this issue. However, the families must continue to wait. I was struck that when I raised the issue at the Council of Europe among my British colleagues, it was met with silence on all sides, which was more than disappointing. Surely, beyond the political challenges there must be a common humanity which we must all embrace. I appeal to the Tánaiste to do everything in his power to ensure that the interminable waiting and suffering does not continue. If he goes about that work, as I am sure he will, he will have the support of all Members of this Chamber.
I thank Senators for the way in which this debate has proceeded. It is appropriate in some ways that members of a family directly involved in this issue are present in the Visitors Gallery. The commentary has been respectful and dignified, which is what we are trying to achieve in this political and cross-community discussion on how we deal with the real challenges of reconciliation which, to be honest, are generational challenges. They will not be met overnight. We need to ensure that the language used in this House and by the Government is balanced and that the examples we use and the victims' families with whom we choose to engage are similarly balanced.
I have had the privilege of meeting families impacted by Bloody Sunday, Ballymurphy and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, as well as the family of Pat Finucane. Today, I had the privilege of meeting the family of Patsy Kelly. I have also met families affected by the Kingsmill massacre, many of whom do not see me as somebody who wants to help to solve their problem. I have spoken to many unionist families who are deeply concerned by how people who were heavily involved in the Troubles are still commemorated and the language that is used around those commemorations. If we are serious about resolving this issue - and I certainly am - we must bear that in mind. The most important thing in my political career is the impact I hope I can have on Northern Ireland in my current position.
However, we need to try to use different language when we speak to each other because, otherwise, it will remain tribal and identity-based, whereby community members console each other regarding the pain, frustration, anger and sense of injustice that is clearly very strong and genuine within those communities, but that does not reach out across communities. That is very difficult politically. When I speak to unionist or nationalist and republican leaders, I get a deep sense of the obligation they feel to represent the concerns and injustices that apply to many in their communities. When they are set up, the real test of the structures agreed at Stormont House - the historical investigations unit, the independent commission for information retrieval, the oral history archive and the implementation and reconciliation group - will be how communities start talking to each other and how, in time, families can, it is hoped, start relating to each other. That has been evident in some of the work done by victims groups and the ombudsman. However, political parties need to try to also move into that space and think about how the messages they give and reinforce on a weekly and monthly basis are heard by other communities. I do not wish for this to sound like a lecture because it is not meant to be such. The language I use is as important as that used by leaders within communities in political parties.
The Government approach on this issue is as I earlier outlined; it must be equal for everybody. Where possible, we need truth and justice for everybody, regardless of who they are, their background, whether uniforms were worn or in what their families or relations were involved in the past. If we are serious about reconciliation and allowing Northern Ireland to move forward, first and foremost, people have a right to know what happened. As was mentioned, in some cases it will not be possible to secure convictions. However, even in the absence of formal convictions, possibly due to insufficiently strong evidence to secure a conviction, truth is part of the reconciliation process that we need to achieve.
I am deeply committed to this process and will work with the British Government. I will ensure the Irish Government plays its part in terms of the legislation to which we have committed. I am very conscious of the commitments I made to the Kingsmill families regarding legislation which we committed to passing and which will come through this House, as I am very conscious of the commitments I made to the Ballymurphy families and others in terms of supporting comprehensive inquests and structures that can, over time, provide truth, with the funding mechanisms to ensure that happens.
The British Government is committed to that also. I have to say, because it is the truth, that passing legislation on legacy through Westminster is currently complicated and difficult. In some ways, the debate is somewhat one-sided. That poses major dangers and creates genuine concerns, among nationalist communities in particular, because of the lack of a voice to create balance in the debate in Westminster. I am not getting into the issues of taking up seats in Westminster and so on; that is a totally different debate. I accept the perspectives of different people on it. Whatever way one describes it, however, there is not a balanced debate on this issue and, therefore, the Secretary of State faces genuine challenges in ensuring legislation that is fully balanced and fair and takes into account all sides equally. She is committed to achieving that. She knows she made a real mistake but she wants to move on from that and reassure people that she can achieve what is required in a way that is balanced and fair. I have had long conversations with her about that. As I stated before, Ms Karen Bradley is a good person and I can and will work with her.
I reassure all parties in this House that the Government's perspective, which I outlined, is very clear and will be argued very strongly. If the legislation moves in the wrong direction, we will call that out. We have an obligation to do so. We will continue to work with the British Government where we can on other outstanding issues, such as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and we will do what we need to do here to try to reassure families who may regard the Irish Government as an entity that has questions to answer in regard to cross-Border co-operation, potential collusion and so on so that we can ensure that we can contribute to the inquests taking place on a cross-Border basis and a cross-jurisdictional basis. This is very difficult to do internationally and there is not much precedent for it but that is what we are doing through the legislation, which would effectively allow a member of An Garda Síochána to give evidence to an inquest taking place in Belfast through a court system in Dublin. We are passing legislation to facilitate that in an effort to be fully transparent and in the spirit of co-operation to try to establish the truth for everybody.
I look forward to working with this House on this issue in future debates. There is a range of other points I could make on Northern Ireland, the need for political leadership on reconciliation, and the re-establishment of devolved institutions. It is very hard for the Good Friday Agreement structures to work without those institutions functioning, without North–South ministerial councils functioning, and without political direction for North–South bodies. All of this is creating stagnation in Northern Ireland at best, and polarisation at worst. We have got to change that together.
As has been said, there will be differences of opinion on certain issues and we will call each other out at different times when we believe stupid things have been said. Ultimately, however, we have got to work together across all parties to try to provide a basis for agreement that can start to create positive momentum in Northern Ireland again. It has been absent for far too long. Northern Ireland and the rest of the island of Ireland are in far too vulnerable a place in the context of decisions that are being taken for us not to do what I describe.
Once again, I thank the Kelly family for being here today and for helping to create a better understanding of its own case, experiences, frustrations and tragedies. I hope that, by working together in this House and in the Dáil, and by working with the British Government, we can ensure the legacy structures that are so badly needed for so many families can be put into operation quickly so more people will not pass away without obtaining the truth and justice in respect of the past.