Thursday, 10 September 2020

Ceisteanna (8)

Brendan Smith


8. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice if there has been further progress in achieving a full and comprehensive investigation here and in Northern Ireland into the bombing in Belturbet, County Cavan, in December 1972, which caused the death of two young persons and injuries to many others; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22831/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

I wish the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, well in their important work in the Department of Justice over the next number of years.

I have raised with a number of the Minister's predecessors the urgent need for a comprehensive and thorough investigation into the bombing in Belturbet in December 1972, both in Northern Ireland and this State. I am not convinced that an adequate investigation has been carried out in Northern Ireland and I appeal to the Minister to ensure that every possible avenue of investigation is pursued. Will the Minister raise this matter with her counterpart in Northern Ireland, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with the British Foreign Secretary? We must ensure that the perpetrators of this horrendous crime are brought to justice.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I know it is a long-standing interest of the Deputy and I agree that the perpetrators of this crime should be brought to justice. This was an appalling bomb attack that took place in Belturbet in 1972 which sadly cost two innocent young people their lives and injured many others. I extend my sincere sympathy to those bereaved and injured in that terrible attack. Many people are understandably still suffering the effects of it. I appreciate that the Deputy continues to seek answers, in particular with regard to bringing the perpetrators to justice. It is my sincere wish, and that of everybody involved in this, that this should happen.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the matter was thoroughly investigated at the time by An Garda Síochána with assistance from the Defence Forces and the close co-operation of the authorities in Northern Ireland. Despite their best efforts, however, it was not possible to secure evidence which would have led to the prosecution of the perpetrators. I appreciate that this continues to remain a source of disappointment and frustration, particularly for family members of those who passed away. With the passage of almost 50 years and no new evidence forthcoming, I regret that we must be realistic about the limited prospects for a successful prosecution in this case. Nevertheless, I have been assured by the Garda authorities that the case remains open and will remain open and that they will continue to investigate any new information they receive. They remain committed to working with the PSNI where that could advance the investigation. I ask anybody with information in relation to this act to bring it to the attention of the Garda and the authorities. I commit to raising this with my counterparts in Northern Ireland and the UK as the Deputy has asked.

I thank the Minister and appreciate that she will take this up with her counterparts in Northern Ireland. The University of Nottingham recently contacted me with a recent detailed document on loyalist activities in Northern Ireland and, particularly, in Cavan and Monaghan. A very detailed article has been written by Edward Burke, an assistant professor in the University of Nottingham, entitled "Loyalist mobilisation and cross-border violence in rural Ulster, 1972-1974". One of the sub-headings is "Blowing up Belturbet: Loyalist operations in County Cavan". It contains the following:

At approximately 9:00 p.m. on the night of December 28, a red ford escort with at least two passengers, a young man and a woman, crossed the bailey bridge at Aghalane and made its way to the nearby town of Belturbet in County Cavan. An hour and a half later, the same car exploded on Main Street, Belturbet, killing two teenagers, Geraldine O’Reilly (15) and Paddy Stanley (16). Twelve more people were injured, some seriously, including Geraldine O’Reilly’s brother.

I will forward this document to the Minister, to her Department and to An Garda Síochána. There is a lot of information in this. I hope the Northern Ireland authorities will co-operate with our authorities, An Garda Síochána and the Minister's Department to ensure a necessary and proper investigation is carried out.

I have not seen the document the Deputy referred to but I would be happy to receive it, as I am sure the Garda and the PSNI would be. They are committed and where there is new evidence or an ability to reach a conclusion and bring the perpetrators to justice, they want to do that. However, it is difficult without new evidence, given the period of time lapsed. This case will remain open. They are committed to that.

The families in question have recently sought access to files under the Freedom of Information Act and I can inform the Deputy that those records are being prepared for release to the families. I have been advised that the normal response timeframe has passed so it has gone on a bit longer than they would like but, as the Deputy would appreciate, the request necessitated significant work regarding older files and preparations of paper, with any necessary redactions that need to be taken into account. This work is now concluded and they will be released in the coming days. That is something the family have been looking for.

I recently had the privilege of attending, along with the O'Reilly and Stanley families, the publication of the book Children of the Troubles: The Untold Story of the Children Killed in the Northern Ireland Conflict by Joe Duffy of RTÉ and Freya McClements of The Irish Times. It contains the following in relation to the Belturbet bombing:

Geraldine was one of two children killed in the explosion; the other, Patrick Stanley, had been calling his mother from a phone box when the bomb went off.

Nobody has ever been convicted of the atrocity but according to Lost Lives, 'reliable loyalist sources' attribute the bombings to the UVF. ... The bomb killed two people, both children; Paddy and 15-year-old Geraldine O'Reilly are now remembered with a memorial in Belturbet.

Over the years, I have been in contact quite often with the O'Reilly and Stanley families. They seek justice. They know, unfortunately, their beloved family members will not be brought back and they lost them at such a young age. That book, Children of the Troubles, should nearly be compulsory reading in our schools because of the devastation and loss of life during that time. Children were killed by Provisional paramilitaries and by loyalist paramilitaries and some by British State forces. When we talk of children being killed, it amplifies both the futility of conflict and the need for families to get justice.

I agree with the Deputy. The use of violence in any instance is reprehensible and should never be a course of action for anybody, particularly when such innocent young lives are lost. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering that has been faced by the families of these two victims over the years, as well as by the many victims of violence on this island in recent years. Violence should never be the answer and we need to do everything possible to support and work with An Garda Síochána and the communities involved to bring these perpetrators to justice but also to bring other perpetrators who have not been caught to justice for many other serious crimes and murders that have taken place over the last number of decades. I thank the Deputy for raising this and assure him we will do what we can. If there is new evidence or information that has come to light, I encourage the Deputy and anybody else to bring it to the attention of An Garda Síochána.

Question No. 9 replied to with Written Answers.