Statement by Bertie Ahern to the Dáil on the Barron Reports, (30 January 2008)
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Statement by Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), in Dáil Eireann on the Barron Reports, (30 January 2008)
Reports of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights relating to violent incidents arising out of the conflict in Northern Ireland (Barron Reports)
"A Cheann Comhairle,
The debate we are about to hold in this House is on a matter of the greatest national importance.
It is about a series of atrocities perpetrated on innocent people in our country, including the bombings of May 1974 in Dublin and Monaghan which saw the greatest loss of life on a single day during the Troubles.
It is about murder, pure and simple.
It is about the responsibility for that murder.
It is about justice for victims.
And it is about how victims and survivors were and are treated.
Certainly, it is about the past. But it is also about the future.
To move forward to a better future, we need to understand what happened on this island over nearly forty years of senseless violence.
Today’s debate is part of that process.
It is first and foremost about honouring and remembering those who died in the violence of the Troubles, and particularly the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, and of the attacks in Dundalk and in the border region in the 1970s which were the subject of Judge Barron’s reports.
As well as remembering the many lives lost, we must reflect on many more victims and survivors who are permanently scarred, both physically and mentally.
Many of those people are here today in the Public Gallery.
This debate in our National Parliament is about those people. It is about their loved ones and about those issues that matter to them.
Over the years, I have met many of the victims and survivors of these atrocities. I know that many others in the House have too.
I have listened carefully to their stories and tried to understand their pain.
I have tried, through the office of Taoiseach and through my colleagues in Government, to do all I can to address all of the issues they have raised.
No two testimonies are the same, but I have always been touched by the depth of feeling and the continuing sense of pain and loss that are shared by those injured and grieving. Their experiences demand to be heard, recognised and remembered in our wider society.
We have an obligation to those who suffered most in the conflict and we have an obligation to our society as a whole.
This was recognised in the Good Friday Agreement, which affirmed that “it is essential to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation” and recognised “that victims have a right to remember as well as to contribute to a shared society”.
We have to build on the foundations which have now been laid, to ensure a stable, fair, inclusive and peaceful island where our children can look forward to happy and productive lives.
We have always acknowledged that this must not, and indeed cannot, be achieved by sidelining victims or by drawing a curtain of silence and secrecy over the events of the past.
Most importantly, it is the victims themselves, their representatives, and the centrality of their experiences, which are crucial to hopes for a better future; by ensuring we do not forget the mistakes and evils of the past.
I would also like here to acknowledge the work already undertaken in this jurisdiction, including by the Victims Commissioner, the late John Wilson, by the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, and by the Remembrance Commission and Fund.
The Commission’s term has recently been extended, reflecting the fact that the needs of victims and survivors must continue to be properly met. We had a generation or more of violence and, as with the broader process of reconciliation and transformation that is underway, these are issues that will have to be properly and actively addressed for many years to come.
Insofar as we have responsibility in this jurisdiction, the Government will ensure that this will be so.
We will also continue to work on these issues with our colleagues in Northern Ireland. I welcome the appointment by the Northern Ireland Executive of the new team of Victims Commissioners earlier this week.
I recently met Mrs McDougall, the former Interim Victims Commissoner, and I am sure that she and her new colleagues will take up their new task with the energy and sensitivity it requires and deserves.
I also welcomed the establishment by the British Government last summer of the Consultative Group on Dealing with the Past, headed by Denis Bradley and Archbishop Robin Eames. I was pleased to meet with the Group in Dublin in November.
I think it is appropriate to reflect in this new context on what is possible in terms of addressing the legacy of the past, and I believe the Consultative Group can have an important role.
At the same time, I do not underestimate the difficulty of the task in a situation where the very definition of the conflict and of the term victim is so contested.
I am sure the Group will learn much from the work undertaken by Judge Barron, by the Oireachtas Sub-Committee and by victims groups in this jurisdiction.
One of the most important issues for victims and survivors is the simple need to know the truth about what happened.
For many, the knowledge that a neighbour was involved in the killing of a loved one is an additional burden to bear.
For others, the knowledge that members of the security forces were involved adds to their pain. The suspicion that they were somehow involved in the commission of a crime or in ensuring that nobody was brought to justice is often the greatest injustice.
It is almost impossible to imagine how that must feel or how to help deal with such appalling situations.
As the House is aware, we have established a number of inquiries into matters that are within this jurisdiction.
When we began this process with the appointment of the late Chief Justice, Liam Hamilton back in the beginning of 2000, nobody thought we would be discussing the culmination of this work in 2008.
This has been a long and difficult journey.
Questions remain unanswered, but much has been achieved.
We now have much more information about who was responsible for these attacks.
We know more about the circumstances in which the attacks were carried out.
We know more about the investigations of these crimes and where these investigations failed.
In some cases, theories that had been advanced over the years have been tested in a thorough and systematic way to the best extent possible given the information available.
And thanks to the work of the Joint Committee, the testimonies and experiences of victims and their families have been heard publicly in an appropriate forum.
Where it was appropriate, in the light of those investigations, formal apologies have been made by the Garda Siochána and by Ministers.
In meetings with victims and survivors, I have offered my apologies on behalf of the Government for mistakes made in the past.
I wish to place that once more formally on the record of the House today.
For many families, their pain was heightened by the suspicion or knowledge that perhaps agents of the State - whose duty it is to protect its citizens and promote the rule of law – had played some part in the loss they had suffered.
In too many cases, official denials and contested facts made things worse and had a negative impact on confidence in policing and the administration of justice.
Of course, the question of collusion between the security forces and terrorists in perpetrating these attacks has always been a central unanswered question.
Sadly, in many cases, that remains the case to this day.
We have consistently called for the British Government to meet its responsibilities to co-operate with inquiries in this State and to help the process of uncovering the truth about what happened.
I repeat that call in the House today.
The willingness of the British authorities to cooperate with the various inquiries has been tested and in many cases found wanting.
We tried to address these issues by establishing inquiries in certain important and representative cases in discussions with the British Government at Weston Park in 2001.
For our part, we have abided by the commitment to establish the inquiry into the murders of Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan, which is now proceeding under Judge Smithwick.
While inquiries are underway into the cases of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright, the inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane has not been established by the British Government.
The House and the Government have made clear our view that a proper independent inquiry must be established as recommended by Judge Cory. I again repeat that call today.
While I regret that all of our efforts to date have not been fully successful for the victims, that does not mean we will give up trying to get those commitments honoured.
I know we have the support of the entire House in that regard.
In more recent years, the valuable work of the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland has uncovered further clear evidence of collusion.
For example, the detailed report into the killing of Raymond McCord was truly shocking, even for those who had long suspected the level of collusion.
It also proved that the issue of collusion matters to all of us, and to all communities in Northern Ireland. It is not a purely nationalist concern, as has been eloquently demonstrated by Raymond’s father’s campaign for justice for his son.
As we speak of “dealing with the past”, I am acutely conscious that no strategy or formula, however inventive, can diminish that sense of loss or undo the harm that has been done.
We need to constantly remember the sheer scale of the horror and loss which was visited on so many families during the Troubles.
More than 3,700 people lost their lives during the Troubles, while over 40,000 suffered injury.
We must constantly remind ourselves of the appalling price that many people have paid over these long years - the loss of life, the injury, trauma, psychological damage and lost opportunities suffered and endured by so many people.
That suffering was endured by people all walks of life, of all ages, from all traditions. Nobody has a monopoly on suffering or victimhood.
When we speak of collusion, it is also essential to remember that many members of the security forces and their families underwent terrible pain and suffering arising from the conflict.
When we contemplate the vicious attacks on the Catholic community along the border, we must also remember the equally vicious attacks on members of the Protestant community in that same area.
The families of those who died know better than anyone that pain and despair does not distinguish on the basis of political belief or religion or any other human attribute.
That pain is felt by the relatives of the dead in Belfast, in Derry, in Enniskillen, in Omagh, in rural County Armagh and in so many other places that have become so tragically associated with death and suffering.
It pierces the hearts of victims and survivors in those places as much as it does those victims who are with us today.
The enormous political progress of recent years cannot wipe from our memory the dreadful consequences of all violence – the loss of trust, the damage done to community relations, the undermining of confidence in the administration of justice, and, perhaps the greatest price, the entrenchment and deepening of divisions between the two communities in Northern Ireland and between the two traditions on this island.
We need to understand that collusion occurred.
We need to understand how that was allowed to happen so that we can ensure it never happens again.
We need to understand why it matters, not just to victims but to all of society, so that we build a sustainable, peaceful future.
It is essential that the impressive gains made in policing reform and accountability and the growing cross-community confidence in the transformed policing environment in Northern Ireland are consolidated.
The work of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Historic Enquiries Team, the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland are all essential to a better future.
The completion of British demilitarisation is another tremendous sign of hope.
The completion of the devolution project through the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster as agreed at St. Andrews will be a further essential step.
We have reached a profoundly positive new stage in the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Relationships, between unionism and nationalism, between North and South on this island, and between these islands, have never been better.
What drives us all now is the realisation that never again should our people experience and bear witness to a terrible conflict.
The work of reconciliation must continue.
The victims and survivors must be as much a part of the future as they are of the past."
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