Private Members' Business. - Omagh Bombing: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion, moved by Deputy John Bruton on Tuesday, 17 October 2000:
That Dáil Éireann mindful of the public outrage that followed the Omagh bomb atrocity in August 1998, a criminal act carried out by the Real IRA, and recognising the continuing anguish caused to the victims of this bombing by the failure to secure convictions thus far, calls on the Government to:
set out the action, if any, taken on foot of the enactment of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998;
details of the further measures currently being considered;
outline the discussions that have taken place between the British and Irish Governments on this matter,
and recognising the excellent investigative work that is jointly taking place between An Garda Síochána and the RUC, further calls on all Members of Dáil Éireann to support the call made by both Prime Ministers for the public to assist both police forces with their ongoing inquiries through the giving of information which may help in apprehending those responsible for this crime.

I wish to share my time with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and Deputies Pat Carey, Brendan Smith and Kenneally.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I agree that we in this House should again express our outrage at the Omagh bomb atrocity which happened on 15 August 1998. We must also express our concern at the failure thus far to secure convictions against those who perpetrated a dastardly and cowardly deed. We must use this and every opportunity to call on anyone who has information to come forward and bring some sense of closure to the ongoing investigations. We should never tire on the path to persuade any individual who knows anything about that day to come forward. It is only when those who have caused such heartache and deep suffering are seen to be brought to justice can such closure even begin to occur. Justice must be seen to be done for the 31 lives lost and the hundreds of lives that were changed forever on that fateful day.

I stress the word "justice" for many reasons. The main one is that I often see headlines such as "Bombers of Omagh are not likely to go to prison" and wonder how I would feel if I were one of those families. How would I feel two years on after having the distressing experience of being at the recent inquest? I listen to and watch news items such as the "Panorama" programme and wonder whether someone will react positively to some of the scenes shown and come forward to either give themselves up or give that vital piece of information that could lead to a conviction. Perhaps this is a very remote chance. Will it lead those who are frustrated at the seeming lack of progress to gravitate towards the negative path of revenge, which is a real danger at this stage? All those to whom I have talked want justice, not revenge.

Therefore, I look to the actions that have taken place and are taking place. Huge efforts have undoubtedly been made on both sides of the Bor der by both the Garda and the RUC. These have, as recently as yesterday, yielded more arrests. One person is before the court at present on charges pertaining to the Omagh bomb. This is progress, even if it is frustratingly slow.

The Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, was a measure many in the House were reluctant to see being brought into effect. However, we were all rightly appalled at such an act of wanton barbarism as Omagh. The question was asked last night as to the value and role of the Act. This seemed to ignore the fact that we passed a resolution concerning this Act late in the previous session, as was required under section 37 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1999, when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform laid before the House a report on the operation of sections 2 to 12, inclusive, 14 and 17 which covered the period from 3 September 1998 to 29 May 2000. In this respect and on a point of clarification, have Members opposite taken the opportunity to read the report, given that part of the motion being discussed requests that information be made available or are they merely seeking an update from 29 May to the present?

As I understand it, according to the report laid before the House by the Minister, while no court proceedings utilising sections 2 to 9, inclusive, or 12 had yet arisen, the provisions had been employed by the Garda when investigating offences. Given that some of the sections relate to the taking of inferences from a person's silence, these, by their very nature, would not yield anything significant until such time that a person would appear in court. With regard to section 10, in the period 3 September 1998 to 29 May 2000, a period of detention was extended on 29 occasions and each detention pertained to a single individual.

I hope the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be in a position tonight to update the report laid before the House earlier in the year to clarify whether the status of those who had extension orders made against them has altered given that, as of 29 May, no person who had such extension orders made against him or her had been subsequently charged with an offence, whether the number of files submitted to the law officers for direction have had decisions made on them, whether any person has subsequently been re-arrested under section 11 and whether section 17 will be invoked in the context of current developments. I also hope the Minister will put on record tonight that the Government is fully committed to having those responsible for the Omagh bomb apprehended and brought to justice and dismiss once and for all the appalling rumours and hearsay reaching us through the media in recent days.

Anyone, including the Taoiseach and various Ministers, who visited the wakes and funerals of so many, young and old, would have to have an inherent will to see those responsible brought to justice. I would like to think that justice will be seen to be done for the 31 lives lost. I trust all those who have information will come forward. I also trust that the relationships that have developed out of this great tragedy will continue to give some small comfort to all the people of Omagh, Buncrana and Spain. Truly heroic people, be they in the voluntary, professional, emergency service, clergy or other sectors, were discovered in these locations on and since 15 August 1998 and they have helped those closest to the devastation in many ways.

Omagh was not the first bomb site but we trust it will be the last. Nothing should be allowed to take us off the true path to peace which exists at present. As the Taoiseach said recently in Galway, we should realise that 95% of the Good Friday Agreement has been implemented. Every effort should be made to work through the difficulties of the Patten report to ensure that this, as one of the final major fundamental issues, can be concluded and that, in this manner, normality can break out throughout Ulster.

It is over two years since the Real IRA's bomb devastated the centre of Omagh. Those two years have been ones during which the families of the victims and those who were injured have had to live with the consequences of mass murder and during which, as people rightly point out, the perpetrators, regrettably, have been at large. In debating this motion, this House is sending a strong message to the killers. It is our firm will that they be tracked down, however long it takes. It is our firm intention that they will be brought to justice in a court of law and that they will be held to account and, upon establishing their guilt, locked away for a very long time. We owe this not only to the people of Omagh but to all the people of Ireland.

As we pursue the bombers, let us never lose sight of exactly what they did. Earlier this month, the Belfast coroner, John Leckey, completed his inquest into the deaths resulting from the bomb. Over four distressing weeks we heard evidence of the most harrowing and difficult kind. We heard how a car was packed with explosives and driven to a busy shopping street by those too callous to care about the entirely foreseeable consequences of what they did. We heard how the timer, which could have allowed two hours to clear the streets, was set for a mere half hour, and of how the bombers thought enough about their own safety to incorporate a device to protect themselves against a premature detonation. We heard of the carnage and confusion in the aftermath of the explosion and of the extraordinary courage and heroism of the RUC officers and medical teams who sought desperately to save injured casualties or to counsel those who searched for their loved ones. The circumstances of each death were chillingly laid before us. We were reminded that, for every victim killed, countless lives were devastated and that, while the town of Omagh is slowly recovering and rebuilding, for many the scars of that day will simply never heal.

Some questioned the need for the inquest to relive the horror in such grim detail, particularly as it could not hold those responsible to account. However, I fully share Coroner Leckey's refusal to sanitise or dilute what the Real IRA did in Omagh. As he said, "If you park a car containing up to 200 kg of explosive in a busy shopping street, set a timer and walk away, you do not walk away from responsibility for any resultant carnage". As he also said, the conclusion of the inquest represents the closing of a chapter, not of the book.

All those who died were innocent victims, their deaths an affront to decency and democracy, bringing nothing but shame and disgrace on those responsible and on any cause they claim to represent. We are fully committed to bringing them to justice. With the support of all sides of the House, we introduced new legislation to give the Garda the extra powers it needed. Working in the closest possible co-operation with its RUC counterparts, the Garda has been professional, painstaking and thorough in its work. We would have expected no less. However, it has gone well beyond that. It has carried out its work with a conviction and determination to bring it to a successful conclusion. I strongly commend it for those efforts and for the progress it has made so far. Let it also be completely clear that this Government will never allow political considerations of any type to interfere with the course of justice.

I fully endorse the terms of the resolution before us which calls on any member of the public in a position to assist the police in their on-going inquiries to bring forward information that may lead to the apprehension of those responsible. That is in all our interests. In bombing Omagh, and in its other violent acts, the so-called Real IRA has pitted itself against the will of the people. The Omagh bombers and their supporters regard themselves as a higher authority than the people. They believe their stream of politics to be pure and untainted by compromise, but it is poisoned by hatred. Nothing can flow from it but death and destruction.

The people of Ireland, North and South, have chosen another course. They are prepared to embrace change, to move forward and to leave behind the ancient shibboleths and old certainties. They support the Good Friday Agreement and want it to succeed. They know it involves compromise but they also know that compromise is not a bad word – that it is not a defeat, but a victory for us all. Without compromise we could not have achieved the Agreement and without it we will not see the Agreement fully implemented.

The Real IRA and its supporters know they have no alternative to offer but mindless violence. They know there can be no justification for the murder and wounding of their fellow Irish people. They defy the settled will of the people, North and South, who in referendums in 1998 voted together for the first time since 1918. Defeated at the ballot box, they seek to bend the people to their will through the use of force. However, the Government will use every tool at its disposal to thwart their efforts. The bombers will not be the judges or arbiters of our future and they should be aware that all sides of the House are united in this view. The more they seek to bring the Agreement down, the more committed and determined we will be to see it implemented in full.

The Agreement is the only way forward. It is an honourable and balanced accommodation between the differing political identities and aspirations on this island. As the Taoiseach said at the weekend, the principle of consent which lies at its heart is both a safeguard and an incentive. It ensures there can be no change in the constitutional status unless it is the wish of a majority of the people. However, it also leaves it open to all of us to seek to bring about change by agreement and by peaceful means. As democrats, we cannot tolerate anything else.

The Agreement encompasses much more. It provides for institutions in which the people of this island, Nationalist and Unionist, can come together to build a better and more prosperous future and those institutions are working. The executive in Northern Ireland is uniting with a common purpose, people who just a few short years ago would not have been prepared to sit around the same table. Given the immense controversy that surrounded Strand Two of the talks, that meetings of the North/South ministerial council take place in a low-key manner is surely evidence of their success and of our immense progress.

Yes, we have had, and continue to have, difficulties in implementing parts of the Agreement. It was always going to be so. However, we will continue to talk them through and we will work them out. As we recommit ourselves to the project, we should remember that the real purpose of the Agreement is the creation of a better future for all the people of this island, working together in partnership and peace.

The Agreement says we must never forget those who have died or who have been injured and their families, and we never will. However, it rightly acknowledges that we can best honour them with a fresh start with a new beginning in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust. It is in dedicating ourselves to this task that we will ensure there can never be another Omagh.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Brendan Smith and Kenneally.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

As has been said on many occasions, the Omagh atrocity was the most out rageous act of terrorism this country has witnessed in many a day. Speakers on all sides of the House, and those outside, have condemned the bombing and its perpetrators. It is incumbent on us at all times to add our voices to those who call for the bringing to justice of the perpetrators of that outrageous atrocity.

Almost every Member of this House has been touched in some way by the sense of outrage. Two people from my constituency were innocently shopping in Omagh on that day and still bear the mental scars of the trauma they endured as a result of that visit. They were visiting friends whom they visited on many occasions, some of whom, unfortunately, are no longer with us. They built links with their friends in the Omagh region and I hope they will continue to do so.

I compliment the Garda for its work. I also compliment the RUC for the co-operative effort in which it has engaged in pursuing the perpetrators. It will be difficult to track down these murderers. It is always very difficult to track down terrorists who have a way of protecting themselves and their gangs, and of eliminating anyone likely to provide information to the forces of law and order. However, it is incumbent on anyone with information to make it available to the police forces on both sides of the Border whether by using confidential telephone lines, approaching people they can trust or whatever. The perpetrators are sophisticated and we should not under estimate their capacity to subvert the rule of law.

This bombing was another attempt to divide those who favour democracy over terrorism but the Good Friday Agreement will outlive many efforts to subvert it in this way. There are, and there will be, difficulties. It is unreasonable to expect there would not be difficulties, but I have no doubt the will of the people, North and South, expressed democratically will prevail and that these people who have no support will ultimately discover they are fighting a losing battle.

We must express our concerns for the victims and do everything in our power to support them. This will be a long struggle for them and their families. We are talking about the struggle for justice and not revenge. It would be too easy for anger, hatred and revenge to overcome our anxiety to bring people to justice. Those responsible must be brought to justice but that can only happen with the full co-operation of all Members bringing our views to bear on those in a position to influence others and to fully and wholeheartedly support the Garda and the RUC in building a new, more effective and more democratic society which we all strive to uphold.

No one could fail to have been moved by recent media coverage of the inquest into the Omagh bombing. I reject in the strongest possible terms, any suggestion that the Government has been remiss in pursuing those responsible for the heinous atrocity perpetrated against innocent people in Omagh in August 1998. Every right thinking person alive that day was filled with revulsion by that cowardly act. Along with revulsion there was anger that anyone claiming to be Irish could commit such a deed. Neither the revulsion nor the anger has lessened and to them has been added a determination to leave no stone unturned until all those in any way responsible have been caught and tried. The Government introduced a number of amendments to the criminal justice legislation to enable the Garda to more effectively root out those people and uncover their lair. The Garda has not wanted for resources.

As human beings our hearts went out to all those injured in Omagh, particularly to those whose loved ones will never return. We recognise that hardly a minute goes by without them being reminded of the horror of that afternoon. The process of coming to terms with the event is difficult, and it is made more difficult by the fact that the perpetrators are, as yet, free to live their lives. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will never shirk from the Government's duty to track down those responsible. All those in any way affected by the events of that afternoon need never have doubts on that score. The Government is 110% committed to the achievement of lasting peace on our island.

We have made great strides in the peace process over a number of years but we have more to do. It is after all a process in which there will be many problems, but the attainment of lasting peace is worth all the effort. The end of violence in Northern Ireland means a great deal to people throughout this land and beyond, but it is felt acutely by the people of the Border areas like my own and of the entire province of Ulster who have suffered for decades as a result of the conflict. The construction of lasting peace can only come about through hard work, not by political point scoring.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, the Government pledged to do its utmost to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice. In response to this atrocity the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, was passed by the Dáil in emergency session and that legislation was supported by all parties in this House. I am somewhat surprised at Fine Gael's confusion as expressed recently. On the one hand the Fine Gael spokesperson on Northern Ireland takes account of the excellent investigative work carried out by the RUC and the Garda Síochána, while his party leader states there is doubt as to whether the Govenments are using the full weight of the legislation passed in the wake of Omagh. Fine Gael's confusion regarding what is an extremely sensitive issue offers little comfort to anyone.

During the course of the conflict of the past 30 years, the Omagh bombing of August 1998 was second only to the bombing of Dublin and Monaghan in May 1974 in terms of loss of life. The Omagh bombing was a deplorable atrocity, which took 31 lives and seriously injured many more. Let there be no mistake, it was an attempt to destroy the peace process. I said at the time, and I repeat, that the small unrepresentative splinter group that carried out the bombing clearly do not hold themselves accountable to any community or political constituency. Their ill-conceived campaign is setting back the cause they claim to serve. We must spare no effort to press on with the peace process, thereby ensuring that such tragedies never recur.

In the aftermath of the Omagh tragedy, I was present at the removal of the bodies of Avril Monaghan and her daughter Maura to their home in Clogher, County Tyrone. The next day I attended the funeral mass in St. MacCartan's chapel, Augher, with colleagues from both sides of the Border. The closely knit communities on the Monaghan-Tyrone border felt then, and still feel, the awful impact of the tragedy. The recent inquest has seen the bereaved, the injured and the witnesses having to relive the atrocity. It emphasised that those affected need, and should receive, our continuing support.

This motion has been brought forward in the context of growing and very serious difficulties in the peace process. Those difficulties centre on the failure of the British Government to meet the need for the establishment of a real civil police service in the Six Counties to replace the RUC. It is not about decommissioning, the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party or the political credentials of Sinn Féin.

Nonetheless, this motion is being used to make party politically motivated attacks on Sinn Féin. In proposing it, Deputy Bruton relied heavily on media reports alleging that the Government had applied pressure on the Garda not to pursue the Omagh investigation in a certain manner. These allegations have been dismissed out of hand by Government members in this House. I do not know the ultimate source of those allegations, but the heavy spin being put on them must be seen in the political context of the real difficulties now being experienced in the peace process. Deputy Bruton needs to analyse more deeply the type of reporting which he has given credence to here, and he must question whose interests they serve. This is the same type of grossly irresponsible reporting which in recent days has fuelled the fears surrounding the killing of Joseph O'Connor in Belfast and which has once again been used by opponents of Sinn Féin to urge our exclusion from the Executive. I note that the IRA last night denied responsibility for that death.

I do not have to come into this Chamber to defend the position of Sinn Féin in the peace process. It is a matter of historic record. We have been absolutely central to the creation, maintenance and continuing development of the peace process. All along, we have confronted the realities of the conflict too often deliberately ignored by many in this Chamber. It is on the basis of reality, not fantasy or wishful thinking, that we have been able to lead republicans successfully in this peace process.

The reality is that the RUC does not have the support of the vast majority of Nationalist people in the Six Counties. It is and always has been a sectarian paramilitary force, an active participant in the conflict, responsible for many deaths. I cannot endorse this motion because I will not advocate co-operation with that force. Let the record show once again that we have called – I have made this call repeatedly – upon the group responsible for the Omagh bombing to disband. Our pursuit of a peaceful strategy has won the support of the vast majority of republican opinion.

Against that reality and the centrality of Sinn Féin to this peace process, I view with alarm the efforts of the proponents of this motion who seek to present it as a further test we in Sinn Féin must pass. I totally reject that approach and recognise it as a pointed attempt to pillory myself and my party. On the one hand, the micro-grouping responsible for the dreadful atrocity in Omagh is still working to destroy the peace process and undermine the determined efforts of the Sinn Féin leadership. On the other hand, among those proposing this motion are those who can barely conceal their narrow party political motives as they attempt to denigrate Sinn Féin. I opposed the passage of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, and its renewal earlier this year. I maintain opposition to such repressive legislation and for that reason also I will not endorse this motion. It is important that Members of this House listen clearly to this: my sincere desire is to see justice and truth for all the victims of the conflict, including those of the Omagh bomb. The success of the peace process will be their lasting memorial.

I compliment Deputy Hayes for tabling this important motion. I am proud there have been major links between Sligo and Omagh for many years and many successful cross-Border initiatives. In Omagh, as throughout the country, there is a huge sense of frustration regarding the failure to bring the killers to justice.

Acting Chairman

Deputy Perry, are you sharing time?

That is correct.

I understood he is sharing time with me.

Acting Chairman

Deputy McManus is the last on the list. To be clear, the list I have states that you are sharing time with Deputies Dukes, Noonan, McGinley, Cosgrave and McManus.

There is great anxiety regarding the continuing bomb scares, resulting in low morale among traders in Omagh. It is upsetting that these bomb scares continue. There has been a huge loss of confidence in tourism, particularly in regard to visitors from the South. All of us have a role to play in encouraging the development of tourism in Northern Ireland, particularly in Omagh, which has suffered so much. Omagh is no longer considered attractive for inward investment and it will suffer for many years. The threat still posed by dissident republicans from the Border counties has added to the turmoil and huge grief which still exists in Omagh.

There is a huge sense of frustration that two years on, the physical scars in the town are still plainly visible. There is a great need for investment and the British Government has a role to play, as does the Irish Government through cross-Border initiatives. It is not good enough that the physical scars, in terms of buildings and structures, are still there two years later. Assistance is also needed to recreate a positive image of the town to the outside world. The town of Omagh is synonymous with terrorism and the events of 15 August. The horror of Omagh has made it imperative that all sides live up to the principles up to which they signed in the Good Friday Agreement.

We must recognise there has been a drain on resources locally in terms of counselling for those who have suffered as a result of the bomb and for the wider community. While people may be quite sympathetic, cash and help is needed and this Government could play a role in this as well. This Government has an obligation to those who have provided a counselling service from the start. It would be a great source of encouragement for them if they were given recognition and support in this huge endeavour which will be needed for many years to come.

We also need to recognise the role played by community groups and church groups in re-establishing and in building on the previously good community relations which existed in Omagh. It is important that this rebuilding takes place and that what was, prior to the Omagh bombing, a fantastic community relationship, is re-established. That has been put under pressure. That is where this Government could be more visible in terms of what it is doing in regard to many of those issues. Nobody will forget 15 August 1998. Omagh is synonymous with terrorism and the families have suffered since then. What is needed is action and real help where it will make a difference.

I wholeheartedly and unreservedly support this motion as should every member of every party that signed up to the Good Friday Agreement. There is no room for any member of any one of those parties in this House or outside it to quibble with what is set out in this motion. I regret that a quibble has been entered tonight. I note that since yesterday morning, the scurrilous sham green attacks on my party leader and on Deputy Hayes have ceased. These were attributed to an unnamed Government spokesperson. I conclude that somewhere in the back of the Fianna Fáil mind another bit of jingoism has been rooted out. That is progress.

I agree with everything the Minister for Foreign Affairs said. I listened to him carefully. I could have said all that myself but I think I might have said it with a bit more conviction. The Minister said what he should say and what he is called upon to say. I did not detect in what he said or in his demeanour any sense of urgency or any burning wish to advance the investigation of this crime beyond the point we have now reached.

It was left to Deputy Keaveney, for whom I have a great regard and respect, as I have for every other elected Member of this House, a backbencher on the Government benches to give us the first piece of information we have got during the course of this debate about how the Garda are applying the legislation we passed on an emergency basis two years ago. Why is it being left to a Government backbencher to give us that type of information? We still do not know whether it is true, as has been reported, that the Garda operation in Monaghan has been wound down.

I listened carefully to Deputy Ó Caoláin and I concluded – I think other people who have listened to him and who will read his words will agree with me – that he has very carefully avoided asking anybody who has any information that might help in bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice to come forward and to give that information to the Garda and the RUC. Deputy Ó Caoláin's only call on those people was to disband. I do not want those people to disband, I want to see them in jail. I do not want the Real IRA to disband, to go home and to get on with the rest of their lives as if none of this had ever happened. If Sinn Féin really subscribes to what it signed up to in the Good Friday Agreement, Deputy Ó Caoláin should not be in this House asking that group to disband, he should be calling on people – there are people who know things that would be useful in bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice – and encouraging those people to give information to the Garda and the RUC, to the forces of law and order on this island which are there to protect people like those who were killed and maimed in Omagh. Any prevarication about that is doing nothing more than encouraging those people to believe that there is still a place for their kind of foul philosophy, murder and killing, in the political life of this island.

Mr. Hayes

Hear, hear.

It is surely time we went past that.

The Garda Commissioner in the time that has passed since that bombing, made an extraordinary and unprecedented statement, that in his belief maybe, possibly and even probably nobody would be brought to justice for this. That is an unprecedented statement for a Commissioner of the Garda Síochána to make. I know the constraints under which the Garda work. I was in the Minister's shoes for a period and I know how difficult it is to run a police force in the public gaze but when a Commissioner of the Garda Síochána makes an unprecedented statement like that, we are entitled, in return, to make an unprecedented request of him, that is, to come out and say in public why he came to that conclusion, what process brought him to that conclusion, so that we can know and do whatever may be required to make sure that fear on his part does not come true and that the perpetrators of these murders will be brought to justice.

Of all the atrocities committed in a generation of violence, the atrocity at Omagh was the worst. It was the worst not only because of the number killed and because so many men and women, boys and girls, Protestant and Catholic were maimed and slaughtered but because the peace process had put a whole community off guard and had united it in its vulnerability. The atrocity at Omagh is also the worst atrocity because so far, the efforts of the security forces, North and South, to bring the perpetrators to justice have been ineffective. The commitments of the Taoiseach in this House "to crush and dismantle any organisation that still engages in violence and to bring the perpetrators of Omagh to justice" are beginning to ring quite hollow.

When the people North and South voted for the Good Friday Agreement, they voted for peace, for a new democratic dispensation and for new institutions to allow the elected members of both communities to share in the governance of Northern Ireland. They also agreed to pragmatic and expedient arrangements to allow for the release of prisoners long before they had served their full sentences, despite the hurt this caused to many victims and their families.

Members of this House and the House of Commons introduced measures dealing with the surrender of weapons. These made the forensic testing of such weapons illegal and consequently ensured thede facto closure of the bulk of outstanding cases involving guns. All this was done to heal the wounds of a fractured community and was fully justified on the basis that a historic line had been drawn on the day the Good Friday Agreement was signed and that those involved in atrocities before that date would be treated with leniency because of the absolute need to heal and reconcile. It was also clear, however, that those involved in terrorism after that historic date could not expect such leniency and that the rule of law would apply to all once the new dispensation was in place. This is the nub of this debate. Will the law be fully applied to those who slaughtered the innocent in Omagh or are the Garda and the RUC receiving signals that what is pragmatic, expedient or politic is more important than the rule of law?

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must assure us that this is not so. He must explain, if it is not so, why the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, is not being used against the Real IRA and why the Garda team investigating the Omagh bombing is alleged to have been wound down after three months in contrast with the team investigating the Veronica Guerin murder, which is largely intact after four years. Why does the Government think the Opposition, in asking these questions, is being sucked into a campaign of disinformation aimed at destabilising the peace process, as cited in yesterday'sThe Irish Times and ascribed to an anonymous Government spokesperson? I ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform how would the conviction of the Omagh bombers possibly destabilise the peace process? I am frightened by ambiguity in these matters. The pragmatic, the expedient and the politic can quickly become the amoral and the immoral. We need the reassurance of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the Government remains committed to bringing the Omagh bombers to justice.

The Omagh bombing was the most wicked and deadly of all atrocities committed during the troubles in Northern Ireland. While this murderous act occurred in Omagh, it was a crime against the entire Irish people, an act of almost satanic evil.

I come from neighbouring Donegal, where the people had total empathy with the people of Omagh in their dark hour of horror. What happened to them really happened to us as well. The roots of that friendship and respect between Donegal and Tyrone go back many generations and even partition did not succeed in fracturing it. The atrocity of 15 August 1998 stopped the heart of Donegal. That morning, more than 50 young children and their leaders left Buncrana on a bus for a day out in Omagh. That afternoon, five of them lay slaughtered in that street – James Barker, Oran Doherty and Shaun McLaughlin, all from Buncrana, with their young friend from Spain and his teacher – truly the slaughter of the innocents.

Some of the most tragic events I have attended during my time as a Member of this House were the funerals of these five young people in Buncrana. The funerals brought the entire nation together with Nationalists, Unionists, Catholics and Protestants united in our outrage and grief. It is unbelievable that after two years, none of the perpetrators have been apprehended and brought to justice. We know the organisation guilty of the atrocity and its membership, and while the BBC has gone as far as naming the bombers, nobody has been charged.

That organisation, the Real IRA, is free and active throughout the country. It is currently engaged in attracting and recruiting young people to its ranks, its fund-raising activities continue unabated and it is probably planning and preparing for further bombing missions and atrocities. This State has at its disposal, under the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, one of the most powerful and draconian anti-terrorist Acts ever passed by the Oireachtas. Yet no one has been charged, tried or sentenced.

The people of Omagh continue to suffer. During the recent inquests, they had to relive their entire nightmare. As I pass through Omagh every week, I see houses being rebuilt, businesses being re-opened and streets and pavements being reconstructed. However, the bereaved are still in deep mourning and the injured and maimed are silently suffering. Some lost limbs, others their sight and others are paralysed or disfigured. Their suffering continues and the perpetrators continue to enjoy their freedom. Until they are brought to justice, the wounds of Omagh will remain raw and running. Only when the guilty are brought to justice will their wounds begin to heal. Omagh, its victims and their suffering will never and should never be forgotten.

I compliment Fine Gael and our spokesman, Deputy Brian Hayes, for tabling this motion this evening. I am glad it seems to have support from all sides of this House because that is as it should be.

I too congratulate Deputy Brian Hayes on bringing this motion before the House. I thank all those who support it – I note that most of the House supports it. It is good to read of the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern's commitment to the final principles of the founder of his party Éamon de Valera. The Taoiseach seems to be finally taking his party back to the policy of realism in which Mr. de Valera was required to engage to deal with the subversives of this State. I also welcome the speech made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, which was most encouraging. Lemass and de Valera knew that the only policy which yields success with terrorist murderers is strong action. Unfortunately, both of these leaders had moved on from the leadership of the Taoiseach's party. Those who succeeded them played footsie with evil malcontents who were prepared to stain their hands with the blood of Irish brothers and sisters in the interest, it would seem, of personal bounty.

Not one acre of land has been added to this State since the House approved the Treaty in 1922 between the Irish people and the people of the United Kingdom. It did not matter which rebel led the charge – not one of them was enough. Our State history has been stained and soiled over the past 78 years by the actions of those who look for justice through violence. These violent people deny those working towards the peace and calm of an environment of non-violence the chance to make progress towards removing injustice and discrimination and allow them at the same time to create a climate of reconciliation between all so that the agenda of the Nationalist people might be advanced.

We must congratulate all those, be they from the North, South or Westminster, irrespective of their politics, who supported and made possible the movement which resulted in the Good Friday Agreement. Let no splinter group, loyalist or republican, be allowed to orchestrate and execute carnage of any kind. The appalling devastation that occurred in Omagh is a revulsion to all right-minded people, its function to shock and incite further retaliation. This action violates all that republicanism should stand for.

I welcome the recent news of Garda activity and inquiries and hope they are successful in bringing those who are responsible for this outrage to justice. It was suggested in the papers recently that the initial wave of determined Garda activity was scaled down within weeks and that all measures have not been taken by the gardaí to secure evidence which will lead to convictions. It was suggested the criminal investigation is stymied by political consideration. The Government must account for this. It must take and be seen to take all possible action to secure a conviction. Given the anguish of those who are left, I call on the Government to set aside its political agenda and act in the interests of all Ireland.

I thank Fine Gael for giving me time to speak on this important motion which I am glad has been tabled. During the dark years in Northern Ireland Sinn Féin had a slogan: peace with justice. That describes this motion which is receiving support from the Government as well as the Opposition. It is salutary to note that the sole dissenting voice comes from a Sinn Féin Deputy who cannot support a motion proposing peace with justice for the Omagh victims.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

As has been said, the bombing in Omagh was a significant and terrible atrocity. It was of special significance because it came after the vote by the people, North and South, who expressed their right to self-determination by voting decisively and overwhelmingly for the Good Friday Agreement. Whatever claim existed to represent Irish aspirations for unity were wrested away, once and for all, from extreme Nationalists when the Irish people established the primacy of democracy over terror and violence in that vote.

Like many other atrocities committed by other militant Nationalists over the years, the bombing of Omagh was an act of premeditated destruction of human lives. It was also an act of terrorism against the Irish people in a desperate attempt to destroy peace in Northern Ireland. It succeeded in destroying and maiming many people, mainly children and women. Although each death has devastated a family not just in Omagh and its outlying areas but in Buncrana, County Donegal, and Spain it failed in its objective to destroy the implacable determination of the people to pursue the path of peace and hope. If anything the bomb reinforced that determination.

I was in Omagh last week meeting representatives of local women's groups. They were concerned about the problems that concern most women – drugs, crime, child care, their children's futures – and I was struck by the way they are getting on with life, working together to make life better for their community. Their resilience was reflected in the new buildings taking shape on the streets of Omagh to replace those that were lost but resilience should not be mistaken for acceptance. I have heard the view that people in Omagh have accepted as fact that no-one will be brought to justice for the bombing, that somehow the price of peace demands this case will not be closed. Commissioner Pat Bryne's comments that the people will probably never be caught are reasonable but nobody who has listened to the testimony given by the relatives of the Omagh victims could be satisfied with that conclusion, particularly when we look at the record.

We should be encouraged in pursuing what is being proposed this evening rather than being discouraged. There has been a number of significant Garda operations against dissident Republicans. It is safe to assume that these successes were largely based on high grade intelligence. The success of the Garda in breaking up a dissident republican training camp in Stamullan, County Meath, and the seizure of an arms shipment in Croatia this summer illustrate the degree of penetration by the Garda into both the, Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. This success is welcome and encouraging and has, no doubt, saved lives but it raises the inevitable question: if the Garda have made progress in those instances are they making every effort and using every means to bring the Omagh bombers to justice? The use of accomplice evidence is one issue which has not been clearly answered by the Government.

The "Panorama" programme highlighted a failure by both the Garda and RUC to make the progress we all desire towards convictions. Naturally, the media in its comment concentrated on the editorial approach but surely the issue is not that the programme was made but that, in a sense, it had to be made because there is still an unresolved matter. It served a purpose in highlighting the difficulties, and the failure, in bringing the Omagh bombers to justice and it may have helped in assisting progress towards the goal of convictions. It is important to put that on the record. We, too, must lend our voice to pursue and persuade the Government to live up to all the promises made in the aftermath of this atrocity.

At the time internment was being discussed and considered, certainly in the media, and was rightly rejected as an inappropriate response. Instead new, tough, draconian measures were introduced by the Government with a solemn undertaking by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The indications were that the killers would be caught and convicted. At the time a spokesperson for the Department was quoted in the newspapers as saying: "The intelligence and evidence against these people is already there but there is no way convictions would have been secured under existing legislation. There is enough evidence against those responsible for this heinous crime to make strong cases against them under new legislation". Two years later, we have to judge that proposition and we must conclude that it did not deliver on the promise made to us by the Government. We recognised at the time that we were making difficult choices and that extraordinary events require extraordinary measures, ones that in normal circumstances would be anathema to us in terms of human and civil rights. We must weigh up the outcomes of decisions made in this House and the performance of the Garda and the RUC and determine the way forward in making the greatest possible effort to ensure that those who have killed, and if they are not apprehended may kill again, are convicted of the foul deeds of which they are guilty.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this very important motion and that we are accepting it. The Opposition and Government do not often agree on matters but this is one on which we are largely agreed. I hope it will send out a message from this House.

Like everyone else, I was reviled by what happened in Omagh a few years ago. It was probably the worst atrocity in Northern Ireland over the past 35 years. When we think of what has gone on there over that period that is saying something. I often wonder about the kind of inhuman individual who does something like that. Such people must have a mental problem. What the Minister said last night was apt: you may be beyond reason but you are not beyond the law. They are certainly beyond reason. Anyone with any spark of decency could not be involved in destroying innocent men, women, children and the unborn in such a callous fashion. I wonder how such people live with themselves. When we consider what the relatives, the people in Omagh and those who have been maimed have to live with, in whatever cause the bombing was done it was not in the cause of nationalism.

I have no doubt about the resolve of the Government and the Garda to bring the perpetrators to justice. It is often much later that we find out about the Herculean efforts of the Garda to bring various criminals to justice. When an investigation is ongoing it must be shrouded in secrecy. Quite often people might think nothing is happening and the Garda are not doing anything. Invariably we find out that is not the case, often as a result of television programmes going back over cases or through the media or someone writing a book. Time and again we have found out the marvellous work done. We do not know what is happening at present.

I watched the "Panorama" programme with interest. While it showed much of what is known, most likely it did not show all that is known. I disagree with Deputy McManus when speaks about the lack of progress by the police forces on both sides of the Border. I have no doubt but that far more progress has been made than was shown but it could not be allowed into the public domain. Originally I had an open mind about the programme. I was mindful of what some of the relatives said and their fears that cases might be prejudiced as a result of it. However, it was handled very well and sensitively. If anything, it might encourage people to come forward and give vital evidence to the police forces in the North and South. I listened afterwards to some of the phone-in radio programmes, where people were suggesting that businessmen – I do not know whether they are guilty – who were shown on that programme should be blacked. Whether or not they should be, it is easy for people like me who live 150 miles from the Border to say that.

We must remember that we are all in this together. We cannot leave it to the Government or the Garda to sort out. The entire public is involved in this. Unless we all stand together and isolate the men of violence, we will not solve this problem.

I welcome this opportunity to contribute to this debate. I had intended speaking last night, but I was attending a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers and I could not make it home in time.

As the House will know, the Government agrees with this motion. This House was and remains united in its revulsion at the atrocity at Omagh. It was, and I am sure remains, determined to bring forward whatever measures may be necessary to protect innocent lives, and democracy itself, from the nihilistic violence of groups such as the so-called Real IRA. This challenge faces us at the very moment when there is a very real prospect of lasting peace.

There can be no doubt that advancing the peace process has been the greatest challenge facing Governments here in recent years. It is a task which requires judgment and sensitivity. There have been setbacks but, for all that, if even ten years ago someone had predicted the huge progress which has been made, they would have been met with widespread incredulity.

Members on both sides of the House have played central roles in advancing that process and, generally, those in Government could rely broadly on the support of the Opposition parties. It was in that spirit of unity, arising from what is undoubtedly the shared view of this House in relation to Omagh, that the Government agreed to the terms of this motion. I very much regret, however, that the debate last night, from what I have read and heard of it, did not reflect the solemnity and gravity which should surely characterise any debate on the Omagh atrocity.

Perhaps the main issue of substance, in so far as there was any issue of substance, raised by the Opposition, was the contention that the 1998 Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act has effectively been unused since its enactment. I will deal with that point in a moment, but first I will deal with certain other matters raised by the Opposition.

Despite my hopes that this debate would not become politicised and that the House would exhibit a dignified unity of purpose on Omagh and its aftermath, removed from the normal political rancour of which the public despairs, I realised that the omens were not good. Last Sunday, Deputy Hayes, in whose name this motion has been tabled, issued a press statement concerning newspaper allegations that the Government was interfering with the investigation by the Garda Síochána into the Omagh bomb for political purposes. Deputy Hayes' statement called on the Government to challenge these allegations immediately, saying that it would be entirely unacceptable that a criminal investigation could be hampered by political considerations, that unless the story was challenged by the Government, observers – whoever they might be – could, in effect, make the allegation that collusion has taken place between the institutions of this State on foot of the priorities of paramilitaries, and that if the allegations were let stand they would undermine credibility in our system of justice and would damage the Garda Síochána. Much the same was said last night, when Deputy Bruton, referring to the newspaper allegations, said this debate afforded me the opportunity to deal comprehensively with the allegations, and that the allegations must be put on the floor of the House so that they could be dealt with.

I do not for a moment query the right of Deputies to ask questions on any matter or to seek to hold the Government to account, but with rights comes responsibility. Deputies surely have a responsibility, above all in dealing with a matter such as the atrocity at Omagh, to be aware of the consequences of what they say. It is simply disingenuous for the Deputies opposite to claim they merely asked some questions on a matter of public importance which had been raised in the media. It is one thing, however deplorable, for such allegations to be made in a newspaper; it is quite another for the matter to be raised by the main Opposition party's spokesperson on Northern Ireland, supported by the leader of that party. The reality is that the way in which the matter was raised by Deputy Hayes, with the allegation set out in detail in a press statement and accompanied by an apocalyptic analysis of the consequences should the allegation prove to be true, clearly threw the weight of the Opposition behind the credibility of what was alleged. I am aware that Deputy Hayes, on "Morning Ireland" this morning, accepted the Government's denial of the allegation, but that goes nowhere near compensating for the damage which has been done.

The very suggestion that this Government would seek to interfere with the Garda investigation into the Omagh bomb is horrifying. Can the House imagine the effect that such an allegation could have on those who have lost loved ones in Omagh and who yearn for those responsible to be brought to justice? One might have thought that the very incredibility of the allegation would mean that the bereaved might not take it seriously, and might thereby escape the cruel suspicion that refuge was being given to those who committed the atrocity. However, might the bereaved not now think twice, given that the main Opposition party apparently judged the allegation sufficiently credible to justify the response it has sought from the Government? I will say nothing more about this despicable allegation except this: if the Opposition is not prepared to hold back from even the most outrageous slur on the Government, and in reality on the Garda Síochána, which would have to be party to what was alleged, will it at least have regard to the effect its indiscriminate broadsides might have on those outside this House?

I will now turn to another matter raised last night by Deputy Bruton. According to the official record, Deputy Bruton said:

I welcome the fact that there have been three arrests this morning in relation to Omagh but I have to point out that there have already been 58 arrests and subsequent releases in this investigation but still not a successful prosecution. The timing of the arrests on the day of this debate is not a matter on which I will comment now.

I do not know what Deputy Bruton had in mind when he made that comment, but it could, most regrettably, be taken as implying that the arrests were made by the Garda Síochána as a measure of political convenience for the Government in this debate, where we faced criticism that not enough was being done in bringing those responsible for the Omagh atrocity to justice. I am sure that, upon reflection, Deputy Bruton will acknowledge the interpretation to which his remark is surely open, and, from what I know of him, I am confident he will take the earliest available opportunity in the House to clarify his remarks.

I very much regret having had to deal with those matters but, having done so, I will return to the main issue raised by the Opposition parties in this debate, which is whether the 1998 Act has been unused since its enactment. The 1998 Act was enacted in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing and, as has been noted in this debate, contained robust measures designed to enhance the capacity of the Garda Síochána to respond effectively to outrages such as that. In recognition of the potency of the key provisions of the Act, the Oireachtas provided that they would lapse on 30 June 2000 unless a resolution had been passed by both Houses continuing them in force for a period not exceeding 12 months. Provision was also made for further such resolutions. The Oireachtas also required me, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to lay a report on the operation of the relevant sections of the Act before both Houses prior to any resolution continuing those sections in force.

I laid the first such report before both Houses on 15 June 2000 and a resolution continuing the relevant provisions of the Act in force for a further 12 months was passed by both Houses on 20 June. My surprise can be imagined, therefore, when I read in the Official Report of last night's debate that Deputy Bruton, having lamented what he saw as the non-use of the Act, extraordinarily, and completely incorrectly, informed the House that the Act would lapse in two months' time and wondered whether, having been so little used, it would be renewed. Comment is superfluous, although I cannot help wondering whether the Opposition was altogether wise in resisting the attempt by the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, last night to explain the provisions of the Act. It might have done no harm.

Let us get to the nub of the matter. It is unreal for the Opposition to imply, as clearly it is implying, that were it in office, the Omagh bombers would be behind bars. The intensive Garda investigation, in close co-operation with the RUC, would take exactly the same course no matter who was in office, and if the Opposition cannot concede that to the Government, I readily concede it to the Opposition. The Garda Síochána and the RUC have done and continue to do immense work in their investigation into the Omagh bombing. They are utilising the 1998 Act. As my report on the Act revealed, at that stage 29 persons had been held in the extended detention provided for under the Act. The related provisions in the Act on the drawing of inferences from silence are relevant only to trials, so they do not have the same immediate impact as arrests and detentions, but they are nonetheless real. We should not overlook the reality that no one ever pretended that the post-Omagh legislation would, or should, allow people to be charged without evidence.

There is on this island the real prospect of peace, an end to the violence that has destroyed and disfigured many lives. We cannot allow those who for their own ends are opposed to peace to succeed in denying the democratically expressed wish of the overwhelming majority of our people. The persons responsible for Omagh, in their opposition to the peace process, clearly have no regard for democracy. In the savagery of the bomb at Omagh they have demonstrated that they have no regard for human life. They represent nobody except themselves and are intent on imposing their will on the people of this island through violence. We in this House must never, and we will never, give in to such senseless violence. I did not hesitate in the aftermath of Omagh to bring proposals to this House which became the 1998 Act. I acknowledge readily the support I received on all sides. I understand the disappointment felt by everyone at the lack of progress in the Omagh investigation, although one person is currently before the courts in this jurisdiction on charges arising from the Omagh bombing. I hope this human frustration does not result in needless doubts being cast on the efficacy of the measures in the 1998 Act or in the commitment on the part of the authorities to enforce them.

It is in the nature of ruthless terrorist acts such as Omagh that investigations can be lengthy and difficult. The Garda Commissioner earlier this year struck a note of realism when he spoke of the difficulties in the Omagh investigation. Be in no doubt that the Garda Síochána will never give up the hunt for the Omagh bombers. Let me state unequivocally without fear or favour in reply to queries which have been raised in relation to this matter, the Government is intent on pursuing those who were responsible for the Omagh bomb. Nobody, but nobody, should be in any doubt about that.

In truth, despite the distractions which I have had to deal with, this House is united in the face of those responsible for the atrocity in Omagh who may even now be planning further violent acts. Let that be the message which goes out from this House tonight, because that is something upon which we can all agree.

I am sorry to say that was a most unhelpful speech.

I wish to share time with Deputies Finucane and Hayes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion. I am taken aback by the severity of the Minister's remarks on this issue. My party put down the questions in good faith. It is part of the work of an active Opposition to question the Government when we are of the view that it has not performed properly. I view the Minister's comments as unhelpful. Certainly he has changed his attitude to the whole political process since attaining high office, and that is not helpful to politics.

The Omagh bombing was the most savage and horrendous crime of murder that has taken place in Northern Ireland since the beginning of the troubles in 1969. It was the most savage and heinous crime because it was committed after the signing of the peace process when the public was off guard against terrorism and trying to live a life of commonality and ordinariness which we in the South have taken for granted for decades. The perpetrators of this heinous crime still walk free. It is inconceivable that there are people living in the State who do not know who planted the bomb.

I agree with my colleague, Deputy Dukes, when he questioned the speech made by Deputy Ó Caoláin, who does not support the motion, who called for the disbandment of the Real IRA. I do not want to see the Real IRA disbanded, I want to see those responsible for the bomb arrested and spend the rest of their lives in prison where they deserve to be. Sinn Féin and Deputy Ó Caoláin could be more positive on that issue. They say they do not support the motion. This raises the question of whether they are interested in having those responsible for this horrendous crime put behind bars.

Deputy Ó Caoláin and Sinn Féin as active partners in the peace process should encourage any person who may have information to give it to the security forces. If they do not wish to give it to the RUC, they surely have no objection to giving it to the Garda Síochána. Given that Sinn Féin is prepared to sit in this Parliament, its members must respect and accept the law enforcement agency, namely, the Garda Síochána.

I attended the SDLP dinner in Dublin last Saturday. The major issue pertaining to Northern Ireland was the full implementation of the Patten report on policing. The implementation of that report is fundamental to the future development of the peace process. Seamus Mallon said it is necessary that the Patten report is implemented in full. The progress of the peace process in Northern Ireland is essential if all Nationalists are to feel free and confident to join an independent and fair policing service. This is more important and fundamental than keeping the Northern Ireland Executive in place. Following from this, it is fundamental that the parties who support and have given specific commitments to the peace process should play an active role. Sinn Féin could play a pivotal role if it was to request the Provisional IRA, as a matter of urgency, to allow future inspections of its arms dumps and encourage the start of decommissioning. I have no doubt if Sinn Féin played this role, the Unionists would come on board and the Patten report which is fundamental to the peace process would be implemented in full. While all parties try to get their side of the Agreement implemented and are not willing to push and take the risk for peace, we will have the difficulties that are being experienced in the whole peace process.

The reality is that if Mr. John de Chastelain is requested to make a report on the progression of taking arms out of use, he would not be able to give a favourable report and the Northern Ireland Executive would fall. I support the motion tabled by my colleague, Deputy Hayes. Fine Gael, as our history shows, is as responsible as ever about the future of Northern Ireland. We would not do or say anything to put the peace process in jeopardy.

I compliment Deputy Hayes and my party for tabling this motion. There are certain defining moments in our history. With the drugs issue it was, regrettably, the Veronica Guerin murder. The Omagh bombing was another such moment. Most people have focused on that tragedy. This motion was tabled for debate two years after the Omagh bombing and before the "Panorama" programme was broadcast.

It is only right that the main Opposition party should table this motion. We are reflecting the viewpoint of most of the population who are most distressed that although there have been arrests, there have been no prosecutions following this tragedy. With regard to the Offences Against the State Act, when the Oireachtas returned in September 1998 to pass that emergency legislation the Taoiseach made it clear that it would crush and dismantle illegal organisations such as the Real IRA. It is understandable, therefore, that there is so much disappointment and unease that no prosecutions have followed.

This motion is timely. Everything possible should be done to initiate prosecutions. After the Veronica Guerin murder the previous Govern ment introduced a raft of legislation which tackled the drug barons. It is time we took on organisations such as the Real IRA.

Mr. Hayes

I thank my colleagues on both sides of the House who contributed to this debate. No matter what was said last night or tonight, nothing can undo the pain and suffering of the victims of the Omagh bombing. Nothing in our deliberations will lessen their burden. The one thing that came from the inquest in Omagh was that the victims want justice done. They want to ensure that those who slaughtered 29 people and two unborn children two years ago and inflicted injuries on almost 300 others are brought to justice.

It is disgraceful that, in the context of the unanimous support in the House for this motion, a Minister of the Government came to the House to conduct political point scoring. It is an affront to the victims of Omagh that a Minister would entertain himself with such a speech. It does not do him justice and he should reflect on it. I will give him the opportunity between now and 8.30 p.m. to apologise not just to the victims of Omagh but to the people of this country for an outrageous speech on a motion which was unanimously supported in the House.

I welcome the Minister's attendance tonight. He did not see fit to reschedule his diary and come to the debate last night to deal with the worst criminal atrocity in the past 30 years. He arrived rather late in the day to throw mud at the Opposition. None of it will stick because people have genuine questions to ask and Members of the Opposition will apologise to nobody for asking them.

There was not one word in the Minister's speech about Sinn Féin and the IRA. What comfort is that to the members of An Garda Síochána or to the memory of Detective Gerry McCabe who was murdered by the IRA? Their political apologists in the Republican movement in Limerick brought untold intimidation to bear on witnesses in the trial. What did the Minister say about Deputy Ó Caoláin and the equivocation we heard? Not a word.

He used the speech to attack the leader of my party and myself because we had the temerity to ask questions about Omagh. We had the temerity to ask the Government fundamental questions about the legislation which was unanimously supported by the House in 1998. There was not a word about Deputy Ó Caoláin and his equivocation or about Sinn Féin. The Minister needs to cop himself on. He needs to realise that the people of this country have genuine questions which Members on this side of the House will continue to ask until those who were responsible for the worst single atrocity in the 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland are brought to justice.

I will say no more about one of the worst, mean spirited speeches by a Minister. The speech by Deputy Ó Caoláin was most unhelpful. I believe Sinn Féin and the IRA are committed to the peace process. I accept theirbona fides on that issue. They want the peace process to succeed. An integral part of the Hume-Adams talks when they were initiated by John Hume over ten years ago was that one day, North and South, a new self determination would be created on this island. That self determination was established in May 1998. For my generation self determination is the Good Friday Agreement and we will have it rigorously enforced.

Every criminal act since May 1998 is not just an attack on the Good Friday Agreement, the elected Members of this House and the new dispensation that has been established in Northern Ireland but also on the mainstream Republican movement which supports the Good Friday Agreement. It is not acceptable for Sinn Féin to say one day that it condemns the Omagh bombers and to call the next day for the disbandment of the Real IRA. As Deputy Dukes correctly pointed out, the victims of the Omagh bombing and those who care most for those who were murdered two years ago want justice to be done. They want the people responsible for those killings to be put behind bars. They do not want the disbandment of the Real IRA, although it is something they would support.

Deputy Ó Caoláin equivocated in his speech because he could not support the RUC and An Garda Síochána. That was compounded by the Minister who refused to support the Garda given the speech made by Deputy Ó Caoláin. Instead he attacked us. The people who watched the "Panorama" programme want one thing, those responsible for the Omagh bombing to be brought to justice. They are horrified that a group of people can walk freely about our Republic having killed people in Omagh only two years ago.

I spoke earlier tonight with a victim of the Omagh bombing. That person asked me to ask one question at the end of this debate – why is it that the 32 County Sovereignty Movement is entitled to have bank accounts in this city and other front organisations and apologists for that organisation are entitled to raise money and continue their criminal acts? As I said last night, 26 criminal acts have been committed by the Real IRA since the Omagh bombing. It is not good enough for the Government to send its patsy to the debate tonight to attack the Opposition. The people of this country who support the Good Friday Agreement want answers to their questions and the Minister did not have the guts to give the answers tonight.

Question put and agreed to.