We have had the benefit of a number of days hearings before this committee. It is important to bring the committee back to the basis for the Barron report and what gave rise to that process. It arises out of a series of events in the 1970s specifically involving car bombings in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976. These all have a common denominator, namely, that none of them were ever solved and that there is a pool of injured victims and families of deceased. These victims and families have had the common experience of never being informed about the process of Garda investigations nor being seen as material to those investigations. They have felt in many respects that they were left aside. Suspicions were aired at the time and over the years since as to who exactly was responsible for the various bombings. That question has never been satisfactorily answered for them. This process is an attempt to address that.
It was interesting to talk to some of the families after Mr. Dessie O'Malley spoke to the committee yesterday. He placed great emphasis on the fact that in 1972 the State was, effectively, faced with a threat from three illegal organisations, the Official IRA, the Provisional IRA and Saor Éire. He was talking to a group of relatives whose families had been devastated by another threat, a threat from a fourth force of some loyalist nature, with questions of whether a fifth force — a military force — was involved either behind or with it. These threats did not seem to enter the official thinking or discussions and the whole emphasis in Mr. O'Malley's presentation was on a threat from one direction.
Mr. O'Malley spoke about the Dáil being defended by 300 soldiers on the night of 1 December 1972, whereas it appears the real threat was on the north side of the city where two bombs were placed and two busmen lost their lives. The families know there is no such thing as absolute security and that there is no way the State can protect everyone in every place at every time. However, in many respects what they had expected and believed was that if their loved one's life was taken, the State would respond to that and those responsible would be sought out.
What emerges from the discussion today is that there can be a confusion. There are two levels to the question of who was responsible. Obviously, the Garda approached the issue first on the basis of a criminal investigation. However, there is a second sense to the question. It is the type of question that has been asked forcefully in the past few years, in New York after 11 September 2001 and in Madrid more recently. It is a broader public and political question of who is responsible, who poses the threat and what society is doing about it.
The common denominator, starting with 1 December, is a very strong emphasis coming through the media, political statements, political discussions, and even apparent from the Garda investigation, that there was a feeling, belief and suspicion that something more was behind the bombing of 1 December 1972 than simply a terrorist incident. The political significance of the timing and of the effect were all matters that were discussed and emphasised. However, the question has not been answered as to what exactly happened that night and who was responsible.
At one level what has been of assistance is the Garda Commissioner coming in today and making what is a very important concession. Perhaps "concession" is the wrong word and "development" is a more important word. The fact that families can have a direct liaison with the Garda and enter into a relationship with them may mean they will get answers to the many questions they have. It became very obvious as the gardaí who were involved in some aspect of the investigation spoke today that there is far more detail about these investigations and what was done than comes through the Barron report or simply comes through the reading of statements. It is very important for families who have had no prosecution to have the opportunity of engaging with those who were involved in investigations and of hearing the greater detail of what was done because it was done on their behalf.
It is not a State secret to hear the detail of the investigation in Buncrana or to be made aware for the first time, as we heard today, that exhibits in that investigation disappeared from the forensic laboratory in Northern Ireland. The fact that came to light from a discussion with the investigating gardaí illustrates the importance of that relationship. While the Commissioner did not see the merit of further investigation at this stage, in various submissions we have put before the sub-committee, we have indicated the continued existence of fingerprints, photofits, the identity of suspects and issues that can be subjected to further examination and investigation. Whether they will lead to prosecutions is another matter but they deserve to be looked at, considered and investigated.
What is noticeable in listening to the gardaí is how much further the process would have gone if one had had members of the RUC involved in the parallel investigation. Each of these incidents involved criminal offences in Northern Ireland. Each of these tests of vehicles had to be the subject of an investigation. Each kidnapping had to be the subject of an investigation, yet Barron has seen none of the RUC files on any of these incidents. If one goes on to consider what is really at the core of this issue, it is the response of the British Government.
It is extraordinary that two letters have come to light at this committee hearing. The first is in response to a letter by Martin Douglas who wrote to his MP in England, Nigel Evans. On 10 January Tony Blair signed a letter sent to Nigel Evans but effectively directed to Mr. Douglas. He said, "It is entirely understandable that those who have suffered the loss of loved ones still yearn to find out what happened. The British Government is committed to doing what it can to give those people the best chance of achieving that". On the same day Tony Blair writes to the Taoiseach and concludes, "It is our judgment, given our experience of the scale of the task in identifying the relevant material in the Dublin-Monaghan and Dundalk bombings, it would not be possible to conduct another major search through our records for material relating to the 1972-73 bombings within the timescale of the inquiry". In one letter it is committed to doing everything it can but in the other it simply is too time-consuming or involves too many resources. That has to be identified for what it is — an absolute lie.
The sub-committee heard Mr. Donlon say very clearly yesterday in his evidence that in his experience files and records of governments bear record numbers, dates and references to material contained in them. They are effectively codified and collected under various Departments and kept in a format that makes them accessible. At the outset Barron was told by the British Government that there were 64,000 files. What is relevant is not the number of files but the ease with which they can be accessed. These events happened in 1972-73. They are the first files that are relevant.
The second aspect in relation to files is that Mr. O'Malley tried to give the impression yesterday that the PSNI, when established, rid itself of all the files held by the RUC. There is no basis for that suggestion. The one thing that is certain about Northern Ireland is that for the last 30 years it has been an experiment in information-gathering and collating. If there is any place where there is a system of information management and for accessing information, it is Northern Ireland.
For the last three years we have visited the national archives in England to look at whatever files have been released. They do not adopt an overly conservative approach. In fact, there is greater access to contemporary files relating to Irish affairs in the national archives in England than there is in the National Archives in Dublin. From our examination of those files, it is very clear that they are very easily identified and accessed. Within a short period of time one becomes very aware of the personalities involved, the type of information gathered and the lines of reporting.
To turn around at the outset of the Barron process and try to create a fog of information around figures such as 68,000 files was a deception which has caused the Barron inquiry to take nearly five years to come to fruition. At the end of the process, in a letter dated 10 January directed to one victim, it is said they are committed to doing the best but they then tell the Irish Government two things — the first directed to the recommendation of this sub-committee — "No, we will not establish a Cory-style inquiry into the 1974 bombings" and, second, in relation to Mr. Justice Barron's request, "It would not be possible to conduct a search in the timescale of the inquiry".
The timescale of the inquiry started four years ago; it did not start on 10 January 2005. Effectively, what faces the sub-committee is as follows. In our submission these are the matters the sub-committee has to focus on. First, it should endorse the process being recommended by the Garda Commissioner because it is a very important advance, of relevance not alone to the victims of these atrocities but of many other atrocities also. Second, it has to acknowledge that it cannot simply shut up shop and accept Tony Blair's letter as an end. Effectively, it can keep this question alive and can do so in a number of ways. It has yet to receive two further reports from Mr. Justice Barron. It can come back when all these reports have been received and, in a fuller sense, consider the question of what evidence has emerged in relation to collusion, what should be done about it and how it can be further inquired into.
If the British Government is not even willing to consider searching its files to provide whatever innocent information may be available, the Oireachtas is not powerless; it can extend the terms of a commission of investigation to at least accept further evidence of collusion. It might not need to investigate or inquire but at least there can be a source to which that evidence could be taken and subjected to further scrutiny. Second, it can decide that it will not back off and will review its decision not to hold a public inquiry. It may reconsider the recommendation in the light of that response. Third, it can do what other governments have done. Specifically in relation to the Lockerbie bombing, the American legislature decided to change its laws. It removed sovereign immunity in respect of claims involving State involvement in terrorist acts where those actions at present cannot be the matter of any court cases in this jurisdiction. The Americans and various state legislators changed their laws. If there was a problem, they simply removed it by law.
The committee can take a number of initiatives. Our submission today essentially states that this issue must be kept alive. It is absolutely unacceptable that the letter from Tony Blair should be accepted as a final note or as the end of the Barron process. It does not end there. Through the Good Friday Agreement, the Government committed itself to a process designed ultimately to ensure a society free of all violence. By focusing on these bombings we have probably brought back to people's minds the absolute horror involved with the worst form of killing and murder, which is a public service in itself. However, we must focus on this on the basis that subversives, unlawful individuals and states are not beyond the law or beyond answer and should be amenable to investigation. This committee can keep the issue alive by simply refusing to issue a final report in which it closes the affair and wraps up.