Private Members' Business. - Omagh Bombing: Motion.

Tuesday, 17 October 2000

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 524 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 302 Next Page Last Page

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I wish to share time with Deputies Hayes, Currie, Boylan and Crawford.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I move:

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;

–give 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.

The Omagh bombing was the biggest single crime committed on this island in the past 200 years. Two years after the event the people responsible have not even been brought before the courts. According to The Irish Times this morning the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing are back in action and preparing further atrocities at this time. Their identities are known but their activities continue. I welcome the fact that there have been three arrests this morning in relation to Omagh, but there have already been 58 arrests and subsequent releases in this investigation and still there has not been a successful prosecution. The timing of the arrests on the day of this debate is not a matter on which I will comment now.

Two years ago in the wake of this crime the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, described the range of legislative measures then being proposed by the Government to the Dáil to catch the Omagh mur[286] derers as the toughest in the history of the State. The Government told the Dáil that surveillance and intelligence gathering activities would be stepped up, particularly in relation to the Real IRA and the Thirty-Two County Sovereignty Movement. The Taoiseach said he would continue to pursue those responsible for the Omagh bombing to lock them up for a long time. He said the so-called Real IRA cannot hope to take on the people of Ireland and win. He said that the Government was determined to crush and dismantle any organisations that still engage in violence and that the Real IRA should be in “no doubt” about our determination to do everything we can to bring the perpetrators of the Omagh bombing to justice. At the same time the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform got the Dáil to agree to an Offences Against the State Act to overturn the rules of evidence to facilitate prosecution for membership of an illegal organisation.

If the identities of the Omagh bombers are known, as The Irish Times says, why have these new powers not been used against them. The Minister's new Act also created new offences of directing an unlawful organisation, possession of articles for the purposes in certain offences, unlawful collection of information, withholding information and training in the use of firearms. How often have these powers been used against the Real IRA? Very seldom, I suggest.

The Minister, furthermore, asked the Dáil to agree powers of forfeiture of property of persons convicted of certain offences. As no one has even been prosecuted for Omagh, that power is effectively a dead letter. The Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, will lapse in two months time unless renewed. It has been so little used, will it be renewed? What would be the point? Perhaps the Minister will answer.

The Dáil gave the Garda all those extra powers, but no tangible results have been achieved, and it is time to ask why. Most democrats would accept there must be accountability for law enforcement just as there is accountability for other activities of the State. The time has come for an account to be given by the law enforcement authorities of both jurisdictions on this island as to why there have been no prosecutions of the principal perpetrators of the Omagh bombing. That is why Fine Gael has tabled tonight's motion. I hope the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will tonight give a proper account of the reasons for the failure of the authorities here and in Northern Ireland to bring a successful prosecution.

Additional allegations about Omagh have been made in two newspapers in recent days. This debate affords the Minister an opportunity to deal comprehensively with these allegations. The allegations must be put on the floor of the House so that they can be dealt with. For saying we would put these questions about the allegations to the Government tonight, questions about the biggest crime in Irish history, Deputy Hayes and [287] I have been accused by an anonymous Government spokesperson speaking to the Irish Independent this morning of being sucked into a campaign of disinformation aimed at destabilising the peace process. This slander suggests that the Government may be reluctant to face questions about Omagh. The Dáil is the place to ask questions. If allegations are made, in both cases by respectable Irish journalists, about the biggest crime in Irish history, this is the place to ask and answer those questions.

I would like to ask the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, a straight question to his face if he was here. Does he think the two Irish journalists who have raised these matters, Henry McDonnell and Jim Cusack, are trying to destabilise the peace process, in the words of the Government spokesman. If not, who is trying to destabilise the peace process? How can asking questions about the non-prosecution of the Omagh murderers be construed as destabilising the peace process? Surely a successful prosecution of the Omagh murderers would actually stabilise the peace process? That is what I believe. I believe that the failure to bring prosecutions and the limp admission by the authorities of their inability to bring a successful prosecution is what is destabilising the peace process.

I wish to set out briefly the background to the most recent concerns. This morning The Irish Times contrasts this winding down of the Omagh investigation with the situation in the Veronica Guerin case. It states that almost two years into the investigation of the murder of Veronica Guerin there was a sizable team of detectives based in Lucan Garda station compiling evidence and tracking movements of the figures responsible for her murder across the Continent. Many of the original 40 or so detectives in the case have devoted much of the intervening four years to the case. By contrast, the group of 40 or so detectives assembled to investigate the Omagh bombing, which is the worst single atrocity committed on the island in the 20th century, was largely disbanded within three months of the bombing. Is this so and, if so, why? How does that square with the Taoiseach's statement in the Dáil about hunting down these killers? These are matters the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must explain here tonight.

The Minister should also explain the reasons for the statement in the Irish News on 13 March by Commissioner Pat Byrne in relation to the Omagh bombing, when asked if the masterminds of the attack would get away scot free, he replied, “sadly, possibly and maybe probably”. On what basis has the commissioner formed the view that the masterminds will probably get away scot free? The Minister should explain that. Does that admission not make nonsense of all the extra powers we voted here? In the same interview Commissioner Byrne stated: “If I could prosecute people for all the intelligence information I had on them, I can tell you a lot more people would [288] be in jail.” It is obvious one cannot prosecute people on the basis of intelligence information but one can sometimes decide that a crime is so serious that the sources of intelligence should be asked to give evidence in the trial. This is a judgment call. In minor cases one will not ask such informants to give evidence because the information about subsequent offences may be more useful. In the case of the single biggest murder in the nation's history such informant evidence is not being used while it is being used in other serious crimes. If that is happening it must be explained. Can the Minister explain it?

It is obvious the Garda Síochána had good information about the internal workings of the Real IRA in the months leading up to the Omagh bombing. The Garda intercepted at least six potential bomb attacks in Howth on 8 January, Redhills, County Cavan, on 24 February, Hackballscross on 22 March, Dundalk on 22 March, Dún Laoghaire on 2 April and Jonesboro on 24 March, all in 1998. The Omagh bombing took place on 15 August of the same year. The Irish Times claimed this morning that these interceptions happened because the Garda had infiltrated the Real IRA and had recruited a number of informants, including people used to ferry explosives, to steal cars and to conduct other relatively low level activities. It is claimed that these informants were responsible for the Garda successes. It appears that these informants have not been required to act as State's evidence in a case against the Omagh bombers, whereas informants have been used in other cases. This is in contrast with the Veronica Guerin case in which accomplice evidence was used.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should explain if there has been a difference in approach in regard to the use of accomplice evidence in the Guerin murder and the Omagh bombing case and, if so, why. If a decision was made, what type of decision was it and by whom was it made? The Irish Times speculates that there might be political difficulties in using accomplice witnesses in the courts in Northern Ireland. As the Minister has stated that there has been no political interference in this particular case, I would be grateful if he stated the general policy in regard to the use of accomplice evidence of people currently living in the Republic in cases in Northern Ireland where the RUC is also involved in the prosecution. Is there a problem with this on policy grounds? Due to the magnitude of the atrocity committed at Omagh there should be no such problem. I believe the Irish people would agree with me. Accomplice evidence should be used. The Minister should clarify his policy in general terms and in respect of this case.

It is claimed by The Observer that the Garda wishes to use the same methods which led to the conviction of those involved in the killing of Veronica Guerin in 1996 in the Omagh case and that a protection scheme for witnesses, which was set up in the Guerin case, has not been made avail[289] able in the Omagh case. That should be clarified. We are at a difficult juncture in the peace process in Northern Ireland. Despite the commitment given in the Good Friday Agreement to the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons, no decommissioning has taken place. There has been a proper insistence that every other aspect of the Good Friday Agreement be implemented in full and to the letter but none on the accompanying decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

During the debate on Omagh two years ago I asked that the mainstream Republican movement, the Provisional IRA, act on the commitments given by Sinn Féin in the Good Friday Agreement on decommissioning. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, responded to me by saying, “The answer to the decommissioning question is, ask me in two years time”. Well, two years have passed. The Minister and all those who shared his view then should answer the question now. Will there ever be decommissioning by the IRA and, if not, why was a commitment on decommissioning put in the Good Friday Agreement? Would it not have been more honest to have told the people before they voted on the agreement that they should ask this question in two years and not then, as the Minister was happy to point out after the people had safely voted for it?

It has been said that the RUC must be transformed from a counter insurgency force into a normal police force. I agree. However, we should also understand why some people might want to be sure that the insurgency is over before the counter insurgency methods are disbanded. That is the problem we face now. The continued activity and non-prosecution of the Real IRA creates the impression that insurgency is not yet over. That is why the Taoiseach must live up to his promise two years ago to put the Real IRA out of business.

Mr. Hayes:  I second the motion. We need to do more than make annual and sometimes ritualistic statements about the Omagh bombing. Given that the Dáil was reconvened in emergency session in September 1998 to facilitate a change in our domestic law, it falls on the Government, which originally proposed such legal changes, to set out the progress that has been made to date in relation to the worst atrocity in the 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

The Omagh bombing has left its mark on the collective conscience of the Irish people. It is imperative that those responsible for this crime, namely, the Real IRA, be brought to justice at once. The surviving victims and the relatives of those murdered in Omagh made clear at the recent inquest their compelling desire for justice. They want the bombers, their accomplices and those who directed the bombing to be brought into open court and held accountable for their actions. Nothing must stand in the way of their wishes. Our actions must be guided by the maxim, “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall”.

[290] Last week's “Panorama” programme unleashed an understandable public reaction throughout the country. Everybody is horrified that a small group of people who may be responsible for the Omagh bombing are entitled to walk freely about this Republic as if nothing had happened. Needless to say, there are some who would prefer that the matter be either forgotten about or quietly ignored. This is the same group of people who are worried that increased pressure could lead to a further splintering of the Republican movement. There can be no political considerations in the pursuit of those who are responsible for the Omagh bombing. If this were to happen, it would mean that paramilitaries would still be using violence as a political tool.

Tonight's motion is critically important in calling on the public to support the police authorities on this island. People must come forward and give information to the Garda or the RUC so the final pieces of the jigsaw can be put in place. To date, virtually all political parties have been prepared to call on the public to do their patriotic duty by giving information which could assist in apprehending the Omagh bombers. The Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, reiterated that call over the summer months. I believe a unanimous resolution of this House calling on the public to support the work of the police authorities on this island will give additional weight and support to both Governments.

It is not good enough for Sinn Féin to say today that it condemns the bombers of Omagh while refusing to support a call for the public to come forward with information. That type of double-speak, particularly after the Irish people supported the Good Friday Agreement which was, in effect, an expression of self-determination, cannot be compatible with a party that espouses non-violence. Without evidence given in an open court it is impossible for the Omagh bombers to be convicted. People need to come forward and the State has a responsibility to ensure the safety of such people against the fear of intimidation or threat from any quarter.

Nobody can doubt that the Omagh bombing was a direct challenge to the clearly expressed wishes of the Irish people as expressed in their support for the Good Friday Agreement. The decision of the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA to continue their campaigns of violence after May 1998 was another example of the fundamentally anti-democratic and fascist nature of those organisations. I wish Sinn Féin and the IRA would recognise that those self-styled rejectionist Republicans are doing untold damage to the peace process and the Republican community. I hope they will realise this sooner rather than later.

It would be naive to think that the movements and actions of the small group of people behind the Omagh bombing could go unnoticed in the wider community. Without the support of 50 or 60 people, perhaps more, an atrocity of this nature could not have happened. Somebody knows [291] the identity of the people who stole the car that was used in the bombing, the bogus number plates, the movements of those who were responsible for manufacturing the bomb that killed 29 people and somebody has information about where the car used in the incident was stored.

People in possession of this information must come forward and political parties in this House and elsewhere should stop equivocating on the issue of encouraging people to come forward. We must break the culture of silence which has surrounded the Omagh bombing. This culture of silence has been an indelible feature of political violence in this country since the foundation of the State.

The murder of Detective Jerry McCabe by the IRA in Limerick and the court case that followed were marked by the unwillingness of certain witnesses to give evidence. Some do this out of loyalty to terrorist organisations, others because they dare not speak out. The intimidation used by the Republican movement in Limerick during and after the McCabe murder are clear examples of how ruthless paramilitary organisations will be to protect the guilty.

The Government spoke bravely in September 1998 about its willingness to take on the threat posed by dissident republican groups opposed to the Agreement. The Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, speaking in the Dáil on that occasion said, “They [the Real IRA] should not be in any doubt about the Government's determination to crush and dismantle any organisations that still engage in violence.” The enactment of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, was described by the Taoiseach as “extremely tough, even draconian”. However, two years later the Real IRA and their apologists in the 32 County Sovereignty Committee are still very much in business. In this morning's edition of The Irish Times Mr. Jim Cusack said:

Not only are the people who perpetrated Omagh still free but according to sources on both sides of the Border, they are again actively engaged in pursuing a terrorist campaign aimed at unsettling the North. Security forces on both sides of the Border expect a significant terrorist attack.

Members are aware of well publicised cases in recent months where dissident republican paramilitary operatives have attempted to import arms from Croatia and the United States. This highlights further the extent of the threat that is currently posed. It should not be forgotten that despite a belief that the Real IRA would go away after the Omagh bombing, fund raising activities for that organisation have continued uninterrupted. Since the Omagh bombing, I understand the Real IRA has carried out a further 26 criminal acts, including robbery, possession of explosives and attacks on public buildings and persons. Under any set of objective criteria, it could hardly [292] be said that this organisation has been dismantled.

Some would prefer if such things were not said. There is a belief that talking about these matters is causing “difficulties” within the wider republican community. I do not accept that. The security of this State is a matter of fundamental importance to the proceedings of this House and to the actions of our democratically elected Government. Furthermore, the vast majority of republicans have confidence in the peace process and believe the Good Friday Agreement provides a way forward for all shades of political opinion on this island. However, the vestiges of paramilitarism, which relentlessly hangs on to the threat of violence as a means of achieving its aims, must be forever banished from the new politics we all have created since the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

While the Omagh bombing case is different from the investigations that followed the murder of the Sunday Independent journalist, Veronica Guerin, it should be recognised that success in the Guerin case came after a security clamp down on Dublin crime bosses. This was a clear example where political support for the work of the Garda yielded direct results in terms of apprehending Veronica Guerin's murderers. It is a case in point where new legislation, allied to excellent investigative work on the part of the Garda, brought successful prosecutions, but also checked the direct threat posed to this State from the influence of the criminal underworld.

It is also worth highlighting that the Offences Against the State Act allows the State to confiscate lands or property where it is proven that persons are engaged in or have directed terrorist acts. The Government has a responsibility to set out in the context of this debate if the legislation I have referred to has been used in respect of the Omagh bombing.

While we can say nothing to reduce the pain of the victims of Omagh, we have a responsibility to ensure that justice is done. The most effective way to achieve this is for the perpetrators of that massacre to be brought before the courts. This is something every Member of this House wants to see happen. The longer people get away with this act, the greater the suffering will be for those who are scarred from the Omagh bombing. The victims do not want revenge but rather to see justice established. As the sovereign parliament of the people of this Republic, it is our task to ensure justice is done.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  I did not find it easy in this House to support the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998. It was described by its proposers here and in Britain as draconian. It was oppressive and illiberal legislation similar to that which I opposed in parliament and on the streets of Northern Ireland during the civil rights campaign. I supported the legislation because of the enormity of the atrocity and because I was told it would help bring to justice the murderers of 31 [293] innocent human beings. That has not yet happened, despite the best efforts of the Garda and the RUC. We are told by both police forces it is unlikely the perpetrators will be brought to justice, despite the fact that their identities are known to the authorities and that the BBC can identify them apparently without any fear of libel actions.

When the Minister replies to this debate – I am sorry he is not present – I hope he will tell us if he sees any use in this legislation which some of us supported after considerable agonising. Will he tell us what other action he is contemplating to ensure the perpetrators of this dreadful act are brought to justice because it is completely unacceptable that they remain free, particularly when there is ample evidence they have continued to plan further acts of terrorism and may, even as I speak here today, be planning another Omagh type atrocity.

Let us place Omagh in a wider political context. I have long believed that a power sharing executive in Northern Ireland, enabling politicians from both traditions to work together to combat social, economic, political and cultural problems, could make a major contribution towards reconciliation and lasting peace. I still believe this to be the case. There is, however, another necessity for Northern Ireland which is fundamental, that is, a police service acceptable in all areas of the North and among the adherents of both the unionist and nationalist traditions. When I say “acceptable” I mean in the most basic way of a police service which has serving in its ranks young nationalists, republicans and unionists. Ideally there should be a power sharing executive which would have its laws and regulations enforced by an acceptable police service. I have in the past described as a eunuch, a so-called administration which relies on someone else, in this case the British Government, to enforce its edicts. The Northern Ireland executive should have its own policing function.

Suppose a situation develops where the political situation dictates that a choice must be made between a power sharing executive and an acceptable police service. I hope against hope that such a dilemma will not develop, but the current and deep divisions over the implementation of the Patten report makes such a development at least a possibility. In such unfortunate circumstances, where a choice would have to be made between the continuation of a power sharing executive and the establishment of an acceptable police service, an acceptable police service would have to be the choice. No administration can survive which does not have the support of a police service acceptable to both communities. A power sharing executive is no exception. Acceptable policing must, therefore, be a paramount consideration.

The motion calls on all Deputies to support the call made by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister for the public to assist both police forces with their ongoing inquiries into the Omagh [294] atrocity by giving information which may help in apprehending those responsible. That responsibility applies to the Sinn Féin Member of this House and to the republican movement generally. The Omagh atrocity provided the optimum conditions for all self-respecting human beings to provide information which would lead to the detection of those responsible. This was the greatest single atrocity in the history of the troubles, given the lack of humanity of those who left the scene in the full knowledge of the proximity of so many innocent people and, in political terms, it was a crime perpetrated in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement and its endorsement by the great majority of the Irish people. Omagh was a two-fingered insult to the Irish people. It was also a two-fingered act of defiance to Sinn Féin and the republican movement which had contributed to the agreement. The perpetrators were former ‘provos'. Their expertise in bomb-making and their mode of operation were learned in that organisation. Why then has Sinn Féin not co-operated in bringing the perpetrators to justice? If Sinn Féin is not prepared to co-operate with the RUC why does it not co-operate with the Garda? The party's failure to do so raises questions about its attitude to the institutions of this State. For the future, what weight should be given to Sinn Féin's commitment that in the context of the full implementation of Patten, it will ask young Nationalists and republicans to join the new police service in the North?

In these circumstances the burden once again falls unequally on the shoulders of the SDLP. As so often in the past that party has been put in the position of having to take the tough decisions. The SDLP will take its own decisions and will do what it considers to be right. The conditions must be right in regard to policing. There is no point in the SDLP calling for young Nationalists and republicans to join a new police service unless there is a good chance its call will be heeded. The party's demand for the full implementation of Patten deserves the support of the Government and all Members of this House.

Most people who speak about Omagh refer to the past but Omagh's nightmare still continues. The agony of the relatives continues from day to day and at the recent inquest the disclosure of the gory details added to the agony. The failure of the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice has hindered the mourning process but Omagh is also suffering in other ways. Hardly a day goes by without its business life being disrupted by bomb scares. No new industry has been attracted to the town. It is as if the dreadful events of August 1998 have put a blight on the town's development.

The murderers must be brought to justice and other practical steps for Omagh's rehabilitation must be taken, particularly by the Government and Executive which claims jurisdiction and has responsibility for it. I hope the unanimous passing of this motion will demonstrate where we stand on this issue and our determination that justice [295] will eventually be done following the terrible atrocity at Omagh.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  I support the motion. It is an outrage that two years after the greatest atrocity in the history of this State the perpetrators of that crime still roam the country free. Ordinary people cannot comprehend why they have not been brought to justice. It appears that the names of the people involved are well known. Their families and neighbours know who they are and I believe the police authorities, North and South, know who was involved.

I compliment the Garda on the great work it has done in preventing many more such atrocities. Unfortunately, it was not capable of preventing what happened in Omagh. It appears the people who caused the loss of so many lives crossed the Border to inflict great injury on our neighbours and friends in Omagh. It is not acceptable or good enough.

The recent inquest relived the entire horror of what those families went through at the time and they are still suffering. Some people hope Omagh will be forgotten in time but it will never be forgotten. Healing will take place when the perpetrators of this bloody, murderous act are brought to justice, no sooner and no later. Nobody need think that in time it will pass and be forgotten. That is not acceptable in or good for a democracy.

I hope the news that three people were arrested earlier in County Monaghan in relation to the Omagh bombing might be the start of a process that will bring about the arrest, charge and sentence of the perpetrators to the terms of imprisonment they must serve without any conditions attached. Nothing less will be sufficient to satisfy the ordinary, decent people of Ireland who do not like the fact that these people are going about their business, meeting in units and recruiting young people into their organisation.

In one public house not far from this House, young people are openly canvassed to join the Real IRA. If that information can be given to me, it can be given to the Garda. Why are those who are recruiting and encouraging young people to join this organisation not brought to justice? Surely that is an illegal act. I believe more can be done. I do not blame the Garda because I have the highest regard for its work but I and ordinary people feel that in some way its hands are being tied in regard to this issue.

Nothing less than the Taoiseach coming into the House tonight or tomorrow tonight and explaining to the people what is happening clearly and categorically and what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is doing to ensure that these people are brought to book will do. I hope the Taoiseach will come into the House and clear the air not only in relation to Omagh but also the activities of illegal organisations which are masquerading around Ireland. If the officials in the Departments of the Taoiseach [296] and Justice, Equality and Law Reform are not aware of that something is radically wrong.

Mr. Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  I support the motion. I live nearer than most Members to the scene of the Omagh bombing and what happened that day is still on our minds. A total of 31 people lost their lives, including two unborn children who should be celebrating their second birthday within a few weeks. That is some benefit to offer this country by whoever did it, possibly the Real IRA. Victims of the bombing call to my office, as they do to those of other Members, to express horror and anger that nobody has been brought to justice. Hopefully the news that three people were arrested earlier will mean something to them.

The Omagh nightmare still continues two years later. The inquest brought back many memories and the fact that none of the bombers is behind bars is a serious issue for the families and friends of the deceased. The Patten report and the need for a new police force in Northern Ireland was debated by the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body in Galway last week. The report was mentioned earlier in this debate but it is only one element of the Good Friday Agreement. Another element involved the release of prisoners which has been carried out but another important chapter of the Agreement dealt with decommissioning. The failure of Sinn Féin, our Government and the British Government to ensure that element of the Agreement was undertaken is nothing short of a disaster.

Deputy Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach whether he accepted the Sinn Féin commitment to encourage its members to join the new police force if the Patten report was agreed. The Taoiseach said he did. Are the people who gave the commitment on Patten the same as those who gave the commitment on decommissioning? That is extremely important.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Miss M. Wallace): Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  I wish to express the sincere regret of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, that he cannot be present. He had scheduled a flight to return this afternoon from an EU meeting, but the meeting is still ongoing. He will be present tomorrow night for the debate and I wish to express his sincere apologies for his absence this evening.

On behalf of the Government, I accept the terms of the motion. The House is united in its outrage at the bomb in Omagh and in its determination to do all it can to help combat such atrocities. I have no difficulty in fulfilling the terms of the motion, even as it is debated, by outlining for the House the steps taken in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing. The House will appreciate, I am sure, particularly given that a person is before the courts at present on charges arising from the bombing at Omagh, that there are clear constraints on the level of detail I can share with the House. This is aside entirely from the long-stand[297] ing tradition of not commenting on operational security matters.

The bomb at Omagh, the single worst atrocity in the troubled history of Northern Ireland, caused all of us to feel a sense of horror and revulsion and it hardened our resolve to do everything in our power to confront such evil and to advance the cause of peace. In the aftermath of the Omagh bombing, the House in 1998 passed the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act. In legal terms, it represented a significant enhancement of the Offences against the State Acts. In moral terms, it represented our determination to protect lives and democracy itself.

However, before dealing in detail with the operation of that Act, I intend to address other important issues. My comments are not necessary to make clear the unswerving commitment of the Government to bring to justice those responsible for the Omagh bombing. No Government could have a greater commitment. I hesitate to raise the matter, lest even discussing it might be taken as an acknowledgement that there is a substantive issue to be addressed, but I cannot ignore reports over the past few days in certain parts of the media to the effect that the Government has in some way put political pressure on the Garda Síochána with the intention of interfering with the investigation into the Omagh bombing.

The details of the allegation, such as they are, are so preposterous as not to be worth repeating. I reject them with contempt and I ask the House to do likewise. This monstrous allegation can only cause hurt to those who lost loved ones in Omagh and to the survivors of that terrible atrocity, and generate suspicion and mistrust. I ask Members not to breathe life into this contemptible story by saying anything which would be open to the interpretation that they believed it could possibly be true. It is one thing for a grossly irresponsible report such as this to be published in the media. It would be another matter for Members of the House to take up this issue because to even ask the question is to at least contemplate the possibility that the allegation might be well-founded.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Is the Minister of State suggesting that we should not ask any questions?

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  On that issue.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Why?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy will have an opportunity to deal with the matter during the right to reply to the motion.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Will the Minister of State yield?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  That is a matter for the Minister of State.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  I have an amount of detail to cover in the time available.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Will she yield?

[298]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  It is unusual to yield so early in a contribution.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  There is an amount of detail to be covered in the time available but I will clarify the issue for the Deputy because it is important.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Minister of State is suggesting that we have no right to ask questions in the House.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  No, we are talking about one aspect. There is no problem with Members asking questions. I do not know if the Deputy was listening to the particular area I covered.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I was.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  I am asking the House not to breath life into the contemptible story.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I read all the newspapers to which the Minister of State referred. We are entitled to ask questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  It is the early stages of the debate and there will be ample opportunity for further debate.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  We do not want to breath life into that contemptible story. This is the simple point.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The Minister of State should answer questions, deal with them and put them away.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  The commitment of the Garda Síochána and the Government to bring the Omagh bombers to justice is beyond question – we are all at one in that regard. So too is our determination that everything possible should be done to prevent further such atrocities, and immense work has been done in this respect by the Garda Síochána in terms of arrests, detentions, charges and the discovery of firearms, explosives and related material. That this determination and work is necessary and that those responsible for the Omagh bomb might contemplate further such atrocities is in itself shocking, but that is the reality.

Those responsible for the Omagh bomb and their fellow travellers reject peace. They reject the peace process and its democratic legitimacy. They reject democracy itself. They reject all the values we hold dear and they are ruthlessly dedicated to the imposition of their will on the people of this island. They will have no regard for what we say in the House, but it is important, nevertheless, for us to restate our total commitment to the peace process and to opposing with all means at our disposal those who seek to destroy it through violence. There is a great deal at stake. We cannot allow those who represent no one except themselves and who are prepared to commit the [299] most appalling atrocities to bring down the peace process. I am sure that is the joint determination of the House.

The 1998 Act amended the Offences against the State Acts in a number of important respects. First, the Act made changes to the rules of evidence which previously applied in relation to the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation and more generally for the purpose of other offences under the Offences against the State Acts and scheduled offences under those Acts. Second, the Act created certain new substantive offences of particular relevance to the activities of unlawful organisations and those who provide support for them. Third, the Act gave additional power to the courts in respect of those who provide support to the activities of unlawful organisations or engage in offences on their behalf. Fourth, the Act extended the maximum period of detention permitted under section 30 of the Offences against the State Act.

It is worth recalling in more detail some of the more important provisions of the Act. Section 2 deals with the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation – it is one of the key provisions of the Act. Its effect is to provide that where, in any proceedings against a person in relation to that charge, evidence is given that the accused failed to answer or gave false or misleading answers to any question material to the investigation of the offence while being questioned in relation to that offence, the court may draw such inferences from that failure or from the furnishing of a false or misleading reply as appear proper.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Has that section been used in any case?

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  I will deal with that point later.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I have a comprehensive reply to all my questions.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  Section 3 of the Act, which made the second important change in the area of evidence, also relates to the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation. It provided that in proceedings for such an offence the accused shall not, without leave of the court, call any other person to give evidence on his or her behalf unless notice has been given of his or her intention to do so.

Section 5 is not restricted to the offence of membership but, provided the offence carries a penalty of five years imprisonment or more, it has application to any offence under the Offences against the State Acts, scheduled offences for the purpose of the 1939 Act and offences arising out of the same set of facts as an offence under the Acts or a scheduled offence. The effect of this section, which is closely based on a similar provision in the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) [300] Act, 1996, is to allow a court to draw inferences where the accused relies on a fact in his or her defence that he or she could reasonably have been expected to mention during questioning or on being charged but did not do so. This section, as with section 2, incorporated important safeguards whereby it will not have effect unless the accused was told in ordinary language what the effect of a failure to mention such a fact might be and provides that a person shall not be convicted solely on an inference drawn from such a failure.

The second main objective of the Act was the creation of five new substantive offences in sections 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12. Section 6 established the offence of directing, at any level of the organisation's structure, the activities of an organisation in respect of which a suppression order has been made under the Offences against the State Act, 1939.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Why is the Minister of State dealing with a Bill the House enacted two years ago?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  It is unusual in a debate of this kind for interruptions of this nature and questions, particularly at this early stage.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  On a point of order—

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Why is the Minister of State outlining a Bill that was enacted two years ago?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Minister of State has 30 minutes and she is only nine minutes into her contribution.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  It is a Second Stage contribution.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  It might be in order to ask questions near the end of her contribution.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  It is a disgraceful speech.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Members of the Deputy's party will have further opportunities to question matters arising during the course of their contributions.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is an insult to the House to tell us about legislation enacted two years ago.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  They have taken a speech made two years ago off the word processor.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy will be free to make those comments when he has an opportunity to speak.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  Allow the Minister of State to make her contribution.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, is in possession. She has 30 minutes so please allow her to continue. Deputies will have a chance to make whatever [301] comments they wish on the contents of the Minister's speech.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  Deputy Bruton interrupted the Minister of State's contribution.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  We have a yield procedure.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Yes, later but not at this early stage of the Minister's contribution.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  She will have plenty of time.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  If it is of any help to Deputies, I will not give any more details on the Bill.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  She does not have to explain it to us, please.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  I will cover other points which I feel are important. The motion before the House calls on the Government to set out the action which has been taken on foot of the enactment of the 1998 Act.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Yes.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  Of course, it is not a function of the Government to enforce the Act, but rather it is for the Garda Síochána and the courts to apply its provisions in appropriate cases. It is quite right, however, that this House should keep under review the operation of the Act. Indeed, this is provided for in the Act itself, under which each year the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must lay before both Houses a report on the operation of key sections of the Act as a prelude to a vote in both Houses on the renewal of those sections, in the absence of which they would automatically lapse.

The first such report was laid before this House on 15 June this year and a resolution continuing in force the provisions of the Acts was passed by both Houses on 20 June. I do not propose to repeat everything that was said on that occasion either, but I am glad of this opportunity to reject emphatically the view which has been expressed in some quarters that little or nothing has been done to enforce the Act.

The report shows that up to the end of May, 29 persons were held in the extended detention provided for under the Act. Clearly, this demonstrates that one of the central provisions of the Act is being utilised by the Garda Síochána to the extent that they consider appropriate. It cannot credibly be argued that the power of extended detention ought to have been used more widely. Certainly, we in this House cannot form a judgment on operational issues as to when such detention might be justified. That is a matter in each case for the Garda Síochána and the courts.

It is also worth recalling the reason the Oireachtas required positive yearly approval by both Houses of the key provisions of the Act, following a report by the Minister, Deputy O'Don[302] oghue, on their operation. That was the recognition that these are strong provisions which, by their nature, must be kept under review. It would be distinctly odd, in those circumstances, if the House, being so alive to the potency of these provisions as to require their annual renewal, in effect was to urge the Garda Síochána to implement them in circumstances where the Garda Síochána does not, in its professional judgment, consider it justified.

It is also worth bearing in mind the consideration that some of the provisions are such that, when activated, their impact is not immediate, but is none the less real for all that. I have mentioned, for example, the provisions on the drawing of adverse inferences from silence during Garda questioning. Those provisions are activated during Garda detention when relevant questions are put to the person detained, but are only availed of at a subsequent trial when the court or the jury, as the case may be, is empowered to draw inferences in appropriate circumstances.

Turning to another aspect, the motion calls on the Government to detail any further measures which are currently being considered. Of course, the House will appreciate that for obvious security reasons, it would not be appropriate to go into the specific details of any further measures which might be under consideration, but certainly it is the case that the capacity of the criminal law to respond to atrocities, such as Omagh, is kept under constant review in the light of experience. The Government will not hesitate to bring to this House any further proposals it considers necessary. More generally, there is a committee currently sitting under the chairmanship of former Supreme Court Judge, Anthony Hederman, which is reviewing the Offences against the State Acts, including the 1998 Act, and the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, expects to have its report before the end of the year.

The motion also calls on the Government to outline the discussions that have taken place between the British and Irish Governments on this matter. The Governments are united in their determination to confront terrorism of the kind that led to the atrocity at Omagh. There is the closest possible co-operation between the two Governments in this regard and, of course, between the Garda Síochána and the RUC. Only last week the Taoiseach met with Prime Minister Blair to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland, including security matters. Later this week, the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, will meet the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The motion also calls on all Members of this House to support the call made jointly by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister for anyone who may have fresh evidence on the Omagh bombing to come forward. I am glad to add my voice and that of the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, to that particular call. There is not just a legal but a moral obligation on any such person in this jurisdiction to contact the Garda Síochána. [303] Every effort has been and will continue to be made by the Garda Síochána to bring to justice those responsible for Omagh, but for that to happen evidence of guilt must be found. Even the provisions of the 1998 Act, strong as they are, do not and could not obviate the need for actual evidence. It would be unforgivable if such evidence were known by persons, other than those responsible for the bomb, but not made available to the authorities.

There is a great deal that has been done and can yet be done. The Government will continue to work with this House to develop whatever further measures may yet be necessary to protect our democratic values. We will continue to work with the British Government in co-operation against the threat we both face. The Garda Síochána will continue to make every effort to deter and detect terrorist offences. They will never give up on the hunt for the Omagh bombers, and I know they have the support of all sides of the House in their endeavours.

It is right that this House should address the issues raised by the atrocity at Omagh. It is important that the debate should be characterised by the seriousness it deserves and, as I am sure it will be, by a sense of responsibility. All sides of the House will agree that this, of all subjects, cannot be allowed to become politicised in a way which would engender public dismay and cynicism in equal measure, and cause further hurt to those bereaved by Omagh. In this context, I would particularly like to re-emphasise the importance of not giving currency to utterly unfounded allegations concerning political interference with the investigation into Omagh; allegations that, in effect, there has been a massive and wholly incredible conspiracy on the part of the Government and the Garda Síochána to pervert the course of justice. I cannot imagine what agenda might be served by those who promulgate such allegations.

I am not suggesting that Deputies should remain silent in the face of these preposterous allegations, but simply that this debate as a whole should reflect what I am sure the House will agree upon – that it is unimaginable that any Irish Government would do what has been alleged.

This House shows a face united in defence of democracy and against the violent threat to our democratic values. We say to those responsible for the Omagh bomb and to those who even now may be contemplating further atrocities, “You may be beyond reason, but you are not beyond the law”.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  If the Minister of State does not intend using the other ten minutes available to her to amplify any of the points made by the Fine Gael speakers, I will commence my own remarks if I may. The Omagh bombing, the worst single incident in more than 30 years of violence on this island, was a particular shock given that it came [304] within a few months of the signing of Good Friday Agreement and its subsequent endorsement in referenda by the overwhelming majority of people, North and South. It is hard to think of a more callous act than to drive a car bomb into the centre of a busy town, on a Saturday afternoon, crowded with innocent people going about their lawful business – shopping, meeting friends and sightseeing.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is the Deputy sharing his time?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I did not expect to have the full amount of my time tonight. I had planned to share it with Deputy McManus but I think she has left the House. We will have to see how we go, a Cheann Comhairle. With your indulgence, Sir, I expected the Minister of State to take her full time allocation.

As with so many other such incidents in Northern Ireland, Britain and here in the Republic, the Omagh bomb did not differentiate between Catholic or Protestant, Nationalist or Unionist, adult or child, resident or visitor, as it cut a swathe of destruction through the busy main street of that town. The Omagh bombing was an act of indescribable evil. It was recognised at the time as not just designed to bring death, injury and destruction to the people of Omagh, but also an attempt to destroy the entire peace process in Northern Ireland. The initial shock at the horrific carnage speedily gave way to a sense of determination – expressed by all sides in this House when the Dáil was recalled in special session on 2 September 1998 – that those responsible for this unspeakable outrage would not be allowed to usurp the clearly expressed wish of the people for peace and for new political structures on this island that would make political violence, permanently, a thing of the past.

We all share some of the responsibility for allowing Omagh to slip down the political and policing agenda. Time passes and other issues arise, but for those directly involved, that awful event is indelibly and permanently carved into their lives. The relatives of the dead and those maimed in the bombing can never forget the awful damage done. Many of them have had to relive the awful trauma of August 1998 during the recent inquest on the victims. The recent BBC “Panorama” programme focused attention on the failure of the authorities on both sides of the Border to deliver on the promises made in August 1998 that those responsible would be brought to justice. For those who lost loved ones or who were maimed, there can be no closure, finality or end until those responsible have been brought and called to account.

Unfortunately, the pledges of resolute action from the RUC, the Garda and the Irish and British Governments have come to nothing. The initial determination that those responsible would [305] be caught and brought to justice seems to have been replaced by a resigned shrug of the shoulders that, despite our best efforts, it is now unlikely that those directly responsible will ever be charged. This view was publicly articulated by the Garda Commissioner, Pat Byrne, in an interview with the Irish News in March of this year when he said that the Garda had the intelligence to identify those involved but lacked sufficient evidence to bring charges. He said that the masterminds of the attack “possibly and maybe probably” would evade justice. Many people felt their hearts sink on hearing those words. The Garda Commissioner is a determined and able man who leads a determined and able force, but it is a dreadful admission for all of us committed to justice and law that those responsible for this most heinous of crimes possibly, and maybe probably, would evade justice.

Comparisons have been made with the investigation into the Veronica Guerin murder. In the aftermath of that outrage, a very substantial Garda team was put in place, huge resources were made available, extensive use was made of the witness protection programme and there was a visible determination – a zeal – to bring those responsible to justice. It showed results, with some of those principally involved now serving long sentences and other individuals facing charges which have yet to be heard and determined by the courts. Despite the scale of the death and destruction in Omagh, the same level of resources and commitment does not seem to have been applied to this investigation.

Apart from the handful of those who were directly involved in the manufacture, transport and detonation of this bomb, there must be a significant number of people who are aware of those who were involved or who have information which could lead to the arrest and conviction of those involved. It is to our collective shame as a society that so little information has apparently been forthcoming and that people apparently have not been prepared to identify and testify against those involved. I have no lack of knowledge of the pressure that must be on those people and of the fear that is engendered by this gang of thugs and murderers.

The need to see justice done for the victims of Omagh should be superior to the needs of any political cause, party, policy or objective. I would have thought that, given that the Omagh bomb was a clear, overt and direct attempt to destroy the Good Friday Agreement and to defy the will of the Irish people as expressed only ten weeks earlier in the referendum, there would not have been equivocation on the part of anyone who was a party to the Good Friday Agreement about the need to co-operate fully, completely and wholly with the authorities, North and South, in their efforts to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.

[306] Unfortunately this has not been the case. Given the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, no one will have been surprised by the refusal of the republican movement to co-operate with the RUC, although I and many in this House believe they should. What really shocked people was the refusal of the republican movement to urge anyone who had information about the Omagh bombing to provide it to the Garda Síochána. People will long remember the sickening letter from Gerry Adams to the parents of the 12 year old victim, James Barker, defending his decision to refuse to encourage those with information about the Omagh massacre to provide it to the Garda. This cruel snub to the Barkers and the Garda is hardly consistent with a claim recently made by Deputy Ó Caoláin that Sinn Féin recognises and accepts the Garda Síochána.

The republican movement is rooted in those communities from which the bombers came. It is very likely that members of the republican movement have knowledge that could lead to the conviction of those responsible. The failure to encourage people to co-operate with the Garda in the hunt for the Omagh mass murderers casts a serious question over the attitude of Sinn Féin not only to policing in Northern Ireland but also to policing in this jurisdiction.

The immediate response of the Government to the Omagh bombing was to seek considerable additional powers for the Garda Síochána in the form of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998, details of which were again put on the record by the Minister of State this evening. The Labour Party recognised the need for a strong and unequivocal response from the Oireachtas to the Omagh outrage and to demonstrate clearly that those responsible would not be allowed to get away with mass murder. We also agreed to support the legislation because we were led to believe that the law then in operation would not be adequate to bring those responsible to justice and that the further powers clearly expressed in the legislation were required.

Newspaper reports at the time quoted a senior Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform official 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 the new legislation.

The Oireachtas made a unanimous decision to deliver those powers to the Garda Síochána but, to date, the force has failed to deliver the prosecutions and convictions the Minister led us to believe would follow the enactment of the legislation to which I refer. As far as I am aware – a question on this matter was put to the Minister [307] of State earlier this evening – only one prosecution has been taken arising from the Omagh investigation. That prosecution is currently before the courts. Nobody has been charged with the mass murder which occurred in Omagh; nobody has been charged with direct involvement in the bombing. The longer the investigation goes on, the less likely it is that anyone will be charged.

It is disappointing that no convictions have been secured following the enactment of the legislation. However, what is even more surprising is that there has not been a single prosecution taken or conviction secured under this legislation which the Government informed us in September 1998 was so urgently and badly needed. Not a single prosecution has been made under any of the sections, although in June, on the day before the extension order came before the House, the Minister informed me in reply to a series of Dáil questions that a number of files had been referred to the law officers.

As the Minister of State indicated earlier, the only section of this Act that appears to have been used is the power to extend the existing period of detention of people in custody. In June of this year, the Minister, in a reply to a parliamentary question, informed me that no court proceedings utilising sections 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 12 of the Act have arisen. This is the legislation we were promised would be the weapon necessary to bring those who perpetrated this awful crime to book. Up to June, 29 people had their period of detention extended but not one of them was subsequently charged, much less convicted. I do not believe the situation has changed since the Minister put those details on the record of the House in June.

The Act provided strong new powers in respect of the forfeiture of land or property on which certain offences have been committed. Again, that power has never been used. Why did the Minister enter the House two years ago determined to strike at those fellow travellers who are providing succour and secure depots for those involved in storing arms or explosives if that power was never to be utilised? The Act created new offences relating to the training of persons in the making or use of firearms or explosives. Again, however, nobody has been charged in that regard.

The Act created a new offence relating to the withholding of information, but nobody has been charged. It also created a new offence relating to the direction of unlawful organisations but, more than two years later, this has never been used. One can read through each of the additional powers or new offences we created and the question which continually arises is why, if these powers were so urgently and desperately needed in September 1998, have they not been used in the intervening period?

In my opinion the Garda should be given all [308] reasonable powers to deal with paramilitary organisations. However, I am concerned that the Oireachtas has been asked to give what the Taoiseach described as “draconian powers” and to create serious new offences which are simply to be placed on the Statute Book and not utilised, despite the fact that we are being exhorted to support them.

Why have other measures which have been used with such success against the criminal gangs – I raised this matter by way of parliamentary question last week – not been used against the Real IRA and other paramilitary organisations? I refer here to measures such as the Proceeds of Crime Act and bodies such as the Criminal Assets Bureau. Every single paramilitary organisation on this island is involved, to some extent or another, in racketeering, gangsterism, armed robbery, smuggling, money laundering, property protection rackets and – in some cases known to the Garda – drug dealing. The nefarious criminal activities to which I refer are used to grease the financial wheels of these paramilitary organisations.

The most effective way of destroying paramilitary organisations is by cutting off their money supply. We have been successful in this regard against the drug gangs that were decimating this city a few years ago. Unfortunately, newer gangs have replaced those to which I refer. However, we must not forget that the powers we put in place by enacting the proceeds of crime legislation were utilised effectively by the Criminal Assets Bureau to smash the original gangs. I have always found it inexplicable why those powers and the Criminal Assets Bureau have not been used in the same way against paramilitary organisations involved in racketeering and other criminal activities.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, recently announced that special legislation was to be introduced in Northern Ireland to establish a body similar to the Criminal Assets Bureau to target specifically the finances of paramilitary organisations in that jurisdiction. We already have the legislation and the necessary bodies in place. What seems to be missing – perhaps the Minister of State or the Minister will have an opportunity to respond to this point – is the political will to use those powers against the paramilitary organisations.

The various political parties, groupings and individuals involved in the ongoing peace process have always recognised that there would be a cohort of irredentist die-hards who could not grasp at a changed world in which a new order of peace held sway and who would have to be confronted. According to the most recent media publications, those people continue to recruit and they still pose a threat to this jurisdiction, to Northern Ireland and to the safety of the citizens of both. Most of all, they are determined to smash [309] the Good Friday Agreement which was so clearly and overwhelmingly endorsed by the peoples of this island, North and South. These individuals must be confronted and the State must use whatever forces are available to it in that regard. It is for that reason I ask why the mechanisms we used so effectively to smash the dangerous gangs involved in drug dealing in this city and throughout the country were not used in the same way against paramilitary organisations.

This debate takes place against the background of a delicate and difficult political situation in Northern Ireland. The question of policing remains an extremely divisive issue, with politicians on both sides taking entrenched positions. We all know David Trimble faces yet another challenge to his leadership and confidence among unionists in the Good Friday Agreement appears to be ebbing away. The recent feud between sections of the UDA and the UVF in west Belfast which resulted in three deaths, many injuries and hundreds of people being driven out of their homes shows that these organisations retain the capacity and the will to cause death and destruction.

Questions remain about the bona fides of the IRA. There is, at least, strong circumstantial evidence of the IRA's involvement in the murder of Mr. Joe O'Connor in Belfast on Friday last. A number of other murders have been attributed to the IRA in which that organisation has not denied its involvement. A number of people were convicted in Florida this summer on charges of attempting to acquire arms for export to this country. One of those convicted is reported to have described himself to the United States authorities as an international representative of Sinn Féin. If the republican movement has genuinely put violence behind it and is now committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means why are people allegedly representing it involved in the acquisition of arms in the United States?

Against this background there is a need for additional confidence building measures on all sides and particularly on the part of the republican movement. There has been some speculation in recent days that another inspection of arms dumps is imminent. I hope this is the case. It would be timely, helpful and useful to the maintenance of peace. Another confidence measure would be for the IRA to lift the exclusion orders it has served on hundreds of people in Northern Ireland over the past decade. Often these people following a knock on their door are told to be out of Northern Ireland within 24 hours. People in Northern Ireland know the consequences of disobeying an order of that nature. Revoking those apartheid-like exclusion orders would be a particularly appropriate gesture in the aftermath of the recent decision of the British Government not to pursue extradition warrants against 21 republicans whose arrest it had been seeking.

[310] No one knows how many have been exiled from Northern Ireland in the course of the conflict by threats of death or injury at the hands of various paramilitaries. It is clear that despite the ceasefires the practice is still going on. Despite signing up to the Mitchell principles and the requirement of a peaceful environment, those activities continue. Figures quoted recently by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Mandelson, suggest that 335 people had been exiled in 1998 and a further 256 in 1999 by order of paramilitary kangaroo courts. Some of these people subsequently returned but others are still in exile, in fear of their lives and cut off from their families and communities. Often, very young people are dispatched from Northern Ireland at the decision of some dispenser of kangaroo justice. Both loyalists and republican paramilitaries have been involved in these despicable practices. Some people were driven out because they were involved in, so called, anti-social activities. Others were regarded as having in some way betrayed the paramilitary organisations of which they were members. Some simply wanted to end their paramilitary involvement.

The paramilitary organisations have been among the principal beneficiaries of the Good Friday Agreement. Hundreds of prisoners, including those convicted of the most appalling crimes, have secured early release and have been allowed to return to their families. Substantial public moneys have been spent on schemes designed to assist the re-integration of former prisoners into their communities. It would be bizarre if those jailed for serious offences were allowed to return home free and helped to re-establish themselves in their communities while those who have not been convicted of any offence were forced to remain in continued exile.

Despite the continuing difficulties and the problems which remain to be resolved we must not lose sight of what we have achieved in recent years. The Good Friday Agreement was negotiated in difficult circumstances. Despite the pessimistic view that we would never broker an agreement that would win the support of both the Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin and the SDLP, that was done. We are familiar with this huge advance. Nevertheless, this is a critical time. We all have our parts to play and I urge all not to ignore what has been achieved in recent years and to bear in mind the potentially disastrous consequences for this island and all who live in it and for our neighbouring island if the carefully balanced edifice created so painstakingly in the Good Friday discussions is allowed to collapse.

Cecilia Keaveney: Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  I propose to share my time.

This is still a very emotive topic for the people of my constituency and of the north-west. Deputy Howlin has reminded us of what has been [311] achieved. We must believe that something has resulted from the terrible atrocity that was Omagh. Lives have been ruined, families wrecked and a terrible occurrence visited on many homes. We must hope that an atrocity such as this will not happen again. We must concentrate on what was achieved by the Good Friday Agreement. Life cannot return to what it was like before 15 August 1998.

For the families of my three young constituents and their Spanish friends life continues to be bleak and less meaningful since the loss of their children. The same is true for the people of Buncrana and County Donegal. I speak for my own constituents but I know the people of other areas are just as deeply hurt.

Debate adjourned.

Last Updated: 11/09/2010 01:32:56 First Page Previous Page Page of 302 Next Page Last Page