I thank the sub-committee for providing me and some of my senior officials with the opportunity to be here today. It has already received a detailed written submission which I hope will be of some assistance. As indicated in correspondence, this is a joint presentation on my part and that of the Secretary General of my Department, Mr. Seán Aylward. My officials and I remain at the disposal of the sub-committee and will endeavour to answer as thoroughly as possible any questions members may wish to put.
I again express my deepest sympathy to those who were so grievously affected by the bombings and other incidents examined in Judge Barron's report. In particular, I sympathise with those who were injured and the families of those murdered. It is a matter of great regret that the perpetrators of those crimes have managed to elude justice.
I commend the work of Mr. Justice Barron and those who assisted him in preparing this and his previous reports. I pay tribute to the sub-committee for this and previous work it has undertaken in building on the work of Mr. Justice Barron and helping to shine some light on the terrible and dark deeds which became the tragic and awful legacy in this State of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Upsetting and distressing as it is and was for the innocent victims of the atrocities, the work of the sub-committee will bring some measure of closure for them.
I turn to the report as it concerns my Department. With regard to the Garda investigations initiated in the aftermath of the various incidents and outrages described in the report, it is important for the sub-committee to appreciate that then, as now, neither the Minister nor the Department would in any sense have shadowed a Garda investigation. It is no longer the practice, nor has it been for many years, for the Department to receive Garda investigation reports as a matter of routine. Some may think from looking at older records — the sub-committee is dealing with older records — that it is still the practice, as it was at the time, for reports on major crimes to come to the Department. The situation is that with regard to major criminal episodes, I would receive at most either an oral or a very short written briefing, perhaps of two or three paragraphs, in order that I would be in a position to handle press queries at the time. I would not receive major Garda reports unless I requested them and even then I would be reluctant to request detailed working papers of Garda investigations because as the sub-committee knows, there is now a different ethos with regard to the relationship between the Minister and the Secretary General and the Garda Síochána than perhaps in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
As Minister, either personally or through the Department, I will be kept informed in a general way about particular investigations of national interest. This is always the case when an investigation involves a threat to the security of the State but it is clearly not a matter for me or my Department to attempt to second-guess members of a Garda investigation team. It follows, therefore, that any documentation within my Department on various Garda investigations constitutes only a very small subset of the information obtained or generated by the Garda in the course of its investigations.
On the details of the Garda investigations, I understand that at the sub-committee's invitation the Garda Commissioner will appear before it next week and I do not think it would usefully assist the sub-committee if I were to attempt to preface or anticipate his observations. Similarly, with regard to the role of the Defence Forces in subsequent investigations of the bombings, the sub-committee will appreciate that I would not be in a position to provide further useful information for it. There is excellent co-operation at an operational level between the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and the reporting structures are such that the Garda investigation file would incorporate all relevant investigative matters.
Regarding relevant documentation in the Department, files and other papers dealing with the activities of paramilitary groupings are handled and maintained within a small unit of my Department known as the security and Northern Ireland division which is headed by a principal officer. Unfortunately, the four senior officials who would have dealt directly with security matters in 1972 and 1973 are all deceased. There is no one serving in my Department who would have been involved in these matters at the time. Therefore, I am not in a position to go to individuals and ask them for their recollections. Nevertheless, I am pleased to note that the independent commission considers that the Department facilitated its work in every way it could. In that context, I am glad to confirm to the sub-committee that for the purposes of Mr. Justice Barron's inquiry into the events under consideration, all files located in my Department were made available to the judge's independent commission.
I am at the disposal of the sub-committee regarding any questions it may wish to ask but before we enter a detailed question and answer session, I would like to make two further brief points. Much has been said, rightly, about the effect of the bombings on the persons left behind who have had to carry injury and grief with them ever since. The sub-committee has heard very moving direct personal testimony from survivors and relatives of those killed. Such harrowing experience has not gone unnoticed and unrecognised by the Government. Last year I announced the appointment of a commission to administer a remembrance fund established to address the needs of the victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland and their families in this jurisdiction. The decision was made following a consideration of the recommendations of the reports of the Victims Commission. The Remembrance Commission is charged with the administration of the remembrance fund for a three year period from the date of its commencement. In particular, its function is to assess and process applications from individuals for financial assistance under various categories and in accordance with the terms of a scheme to be operated by the commission.
In operating the scheme the commission is empowered to make payments under certain categories. It can make acknowledgement of payments of €15,000 to each of the bereaved families of the persons who were either killed in this jurisdiction or resident in the jurisdiction at the time of their death. I know €15,000 is a sum of money but it can never compensate and is not intended as compensation. Second, lump sums up to €15,000 per applicant can be made to spouses and dependent children of victims killed in this jurisdiction or resident here at the time of their death, and to any injured victim. Third, unless already covered by payments under the previous category, unmet and continuing medical costs to cover vouched medical expenses, including home help expenses not already paid by some other State body or agency, can be paid by the commission.
Fourth, relocation payments of up to €15,000 will be paid, subject to conditions, to bereaved families or injured persons who have had to move as a direct consequence of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Fifth, a grant will be paid, on my request and at the recommendation of the Taoiseach, to the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund.
The Remembrance Commission can also make lump sum payments to spouses and dependent children of victims killed in this jurisdiction or resident here at the time of their death, as well as any injured victim, of amounts up to €15,000 per applicant. Moreover, the payment for the counselling needs of persons in this jurisdiction who were injured as a direct result of the conflict in Northern Ireland will be met by the health authorities or by victims' support groups. Although I fully admit they are belated, I believe these arrangements, give some final recognition to the impact the events of the 1970s have had and continue to have on so many people. I was struck, on reading coverage of yesterday's proceedings here, that the point was made that a somewhat less concerned approach generally for victims pervaded public administration in the past. We now have a different attitude. In those days people were expected — wrongly, in many cases, I believe — simply to accept the burden of events and to soldier on without much help from the community. The arrangements I am now talking about are very much belated and I deeply regret they were not put in place at an earlier stage, but we did live in different times, economically, socially and in terms of attitude.
The point I am making is also illustrated by the seriousness with which the Government responded to the sub-committee's examination of the first Barron report into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. I am sure the committee is aware that the Oireachtas has now approved a draft order establishing a commission of investigation into certain aspects of the State's handling of the bombings. I understand that draft terms of reference and a draft statement of costs are being prepared under the auspices of the Department of the Taoiseach for the approval of the Government in due course.
I wish to emphasise that the horrendous bombings of 1972 and 1973, as well as the other events dealt with in the report, took place against the background of sustained conflict on this island. Although great progress has been made as regards bringing that conflict to an end, now more than ever, I believe members of the committee will join me in saying that paramilitarism in all its forms must come to a definitive end.