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Statement by Michael McDowell, then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, on the Nally Group Report, Dáil Éireann, 16 December 2003

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Statement by Michael McDowell, then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, on the Nally Group Report, Dáil Éireann, 16 December 2003


A Cheann Comhairle,

On 22 March 2002 the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Mrs. Nuala O'Loan, presented a report to Mr. Brian Cowen, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs. The report related to allegations made by a person described as a serving officer of the Garda Síochána concerning the handling of intelligence information about the activities of a paramilitary group in that year and about drug related matters in 1995/1996.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs passed the report to my predecessor, Mr. John O'Donoghue, T.D. who, in view of the gravity of the allegations involved, decided that an examination of the issues should be carried out independently by Dr. Dermot Nally, former Secretary to the Government, Mr. Joseph Brosnan, former Secretary of the Department of Justice and Mr. Eamon Barnes, former Director of Public Prosecutions, with the terms of reference –

"to examine matters arising from the "Report raising concerns of the activity of An Garda Síochána Officers during 1998" dated 22nd March, 2002, prepared by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and on the basis of this examination to report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and, if considered appropriate, to make recommendations."

I received the Group's Report earlier this year and I have consulted the Attorney General about this. It is against that background that I am now making this statement.

Certain legal issues arise because all of the allegations which the Group looked into were made by a member of the Garda Síochána who is currently suspended and facing criminal charges on unrelated matters. In those circumstances in making a summary of the Group's findings publicly available at this stage I want to make it clear that nothing I am saying is intended to - or should be taken as - reflecting on the general credibility of the person in question.

In summary, the Group has informed me that the allegations can be summarised under three headings:

"(i) incidents which it is alleged could have been prevented these are allegations that actions which could and should have been taken by Gardaí could have prevented three terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland in 1998 viz. the mortar attack on the RUC station at Armagh on 10 March, the mortar attack on Beleek RUC station on 9 May and the bomb attack on Omagh on 15 August;

(ii) alleged Ministerial interference with prosecution process this is an allegation of a ceasefire 'deal' after the Omagh bomb between the Irish Government and the RIRA and of Ministerial interference in the judicial process; and

(iii) alleged unlawful or improper conduct on the part of Garda officers these are allegations of encouragement or of complicity in criminal offences or other improper conduct by senior Garda officers."

The Group has informed me that it held its first meeting on 29 April 2002 and subsequently met on 62 other occasions. It interviewed some 25 persons, some more than once. It received a number of written submissions, some from people it did not consider necessary to interview in person.

In particular the Group states: "When setting up the Group your predecessor indicated that the Garda Commissioner had confirmed that the Group would have the full co-operation of the Garda authorities, including access to all relevant material. The Group wishes you to know it has received this full co-operation and access. The Group's thanks are due also to other persons including serving and retired PSNI officers who helped it in its work".

My predecessor, when announcing the establishment of the Group, indicated that he would make a statement on the Group's findings. In accordance with this commitment I can now inform the House that the Group has informed me that it concluded that there was no foundation for the allegations which it examined.

While there was never any commitment that the Report would be published, I am aware of the strong desire of the relatives of those who were killed in the appalling atrocity at Omagh for what has become known as "The Nally Report" to be published. I am aware too that failure to do so may lead some to suggest that in some way the State is refusing to "come clean".

I will return to this suggestion before I conclude my remarks but, at this point let me say that if there were no other considerations of the wider public interest I would be more than happy to put the Report in the public domain. It is a particularly lucid and compelling document and I believe that if people had access to it few, if any, would dispute its conclusions.

The Group itself in its covering letter to me point out that the Report "deals with highly sensitive matters involving the security of the State and possible risk to the lives of individuals. It also describes Garda operational procedures and methods, public disclosure of which could adversely affect future operations".

I hope it will be generally accepted by members of this House that no Minister for Justice in those circumstances, no matter how strong the desire to meet the concerns of the relatives, could put such a Report into the public domain. As to the possibility of putting a redacted form of the Report in the public domain I am afraid that this is not a practical proposition as not only would this require the deletion of the names of individuals but also the deletion of details relating to operational procedures and methods to an extent which would render the logic and force of the Report nugatory and its conclusions no more meaningful.

There have been many media reports about some of the allegations which the Group was asked to examine. I do not propose to comment on or respond in detail to what has been speculation. There is, however, one suggestion that has been persistently reported which, subject to the constraints I have outlined, I feel I must deal with specifically: that suggestion is to the effect that the Gardaí failed to pass on information in their possession to the RUC which could have prevented the Omagh bombing. It is hardly necessary for me to spell out the grave implications of that if it were true and everyone will understand why such an allegation is the matter of such profound concern to the Omagh relatives and, indeed, all right-thinking people.

I can tell the House that, in fact, no such allegation was made to the Group. On this point the Group says:

"The core allegations . . . . about events preceding the Omagh bombing are that:

a senior Garda officer would have been prepared, if a vehicle had in fact been stolen…to allow it to go through in order to protect [an] informant; and

no intelligence was passed to the RUC about information, alleged to have been received on the eve of Omagh that the RIRA, who had been trying to steal a vehicle in the Dublin area, had obtained one elsewhere (place, vehicle type and destination unspecified).

These are very serious allegations. However they are quite different from allegations that the Gardaí let the vehicle which was used in the bombing in Omagh go through or that they had intelligence about that vehicle . . . which they had failed to pass on to the RUC. No such allegations have been made to the Group and no basis for any such allegations has come to its attention".

And, as I outlined earlier, the Group dismissed the allegations which were in fact made as being without foundation.

The Group also made some recommendations. In doing so it stated:

"The Group's only general recommendations relate to the desirability, while preserving confidentiality and security, of

keeping better records of North/South contacts and exchanges in intelligence matters, and

a written code of instructions and guidelines on intelligence- gathering and agent-handling.

The Group understands that action has now been taken on both of these matters but recommends that the arrangements should be reviewed in the light of its report. The Group also recommends that consideration should be given to whether legislation covering intelligence-gathering and agent- handling would be desirable."

I can assure the House that these recommendations are receiving the necessary attention from myself and the Garda Commissioner.

I am sure all members of this House are grateful to the members of the Group for undertaking a difficult task in the best traditions of public service.

That such a Group concluded that the allegations had no foundation is, of course, to be welcomed not least by those Gardaí who had to live under the shadow of these allegations. But I am all too well aware from my contacts with some of the Omagh relatives that some of them will be disappointed that I am not in a position to offer further information. I have to emphasise that had evidence of Garda wrongdoing been established by the Group there would have been no hesitation on the part of the Government in making that finding public.

I have to emphasise what I have set out today is not my assessment in relation to the allegations in question but that of the independent Group asked to examine them and I do not believe that any member of this House would have grounds to call their work into question.

I am aware of calls which have been made for a public inquiry into these matters on the basis that it would dispel the genuine concerns which people have about them. But I have to say that on the basis of the Group's Report there are no grounds for such an inquiry to be established and any repetition of unfounded allegations will not change that situation.

What happened that day at Omagh was one of the worst outrages in the history of this island. Accordingly allegations of culpability on the part of the Garda Síochána or others had to be fully examined and that has been done.

Earlier in my statement, A Cheann Comhairle, I said that I would return to the possibility that the non publication of this Report, for what I believe - and clearly the Investigation Group itself believed - are valid security reasons, may lead some to suggest that what is really happening is that the State is refusing to "come clean".

I doubt, however, if any reasonable person coming to the situation in a fair-minded and objective way, will consider it remotely likely or credible that, not just one, but all three of the following situations apply:-

First, a group of senior Gardaí, knowing the truth to be otherwise, have conspired together to distort and misrepresent the facts about one of the most serious atrocities in the history of this island;

Second, the Government of the day has decided to support that Garda conspiracy. What possible motive could any Government have for such action? Why, if such a conspiracy exists, are so many members of the Real IRA behind bars? And why would the Gardaí, or the Government, risk having the alleged conspiracy exposed by continuing vigorously to pursue the perpetrators, - a pursuit which has resulted, already, in one of those involved serving a sizeable prison sentence?

Third, three distinguished individuals, whose integrity is not in issue and who, as they themselves have acknowledged, were provided with access to all relevant material, have proceeded to join in and support the other alleged conspirators in a cover-up.

The likelihood that any one of these situations would apply has to be considered remote; the likelihood that all three apply is non existent.

Having said all of this, it must be appreciated of course that, even if the reasonable person, looking objectively at claims made about any atrocity involving major loss of life, concludes that the claims do not stand up to scrutiny, it doesn't necessarily follow that those who have suffered directly the consequences of the outrage will readily be able to bring themselves to take the same view. It is a perfectly understandable human reaction for people whose lives have been scarred by such outrages, to attach weight to accounts and interpretations of events, especially those presented by what are taken to be informed sources, in the hope that these accounts may help to explain or throw more light on the circumstances that have brought unbearable tragedy and suffering to their lives.

Understandable though that reaction may be, it nevertheless has to be said, that responsible commentators, including especially those in positions of authority, do those who grieve no service, when - even if it is done in the name of keeping hope alive - they persist in lending credence to presentations of events that actually lead us away from rather than in the direction of the truth.

Against the background I have outlined to the House, it would be the height of irresponsibility for me to put in the public domain information that would be of use only to paramilitary terrorists in waging their campaign. We should not lose sight of the fact that the cruel mass murder at Omagh was committed by terrorists who are intent on using violence to overturn the democratic will of the people on this island and the real priority remains to back and assist the Garda Síochána and the PSNI in their fight to defeat the evil agenda of the perpetrators and to bring them to justice.


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