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Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights
Sub-Committee on the Barron Report

Dé Céadaoin, 18 Feabhra 2004 - Wednesday, 18 February 2004.

Public Hearing on the Barron Report

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Mr. Greg O'Neill: This is the first time in this process that I have addressed the sub-committee, apart from saying "Good morning". I want to take the opportunity of expressing my great sense of honour in appearing here, representing as I do the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, and their families. Mr. Cormac Ó Dúlacháin has indicated a moral and political basis for an inquiry. He has touched on the issues of what might be directing our minds against recommending an inquiry.

It must be asked what is there to fear in a public inquiry? It is a practical question, which possibly other contributors have not taken on, but we are here to take it on and take on the practicalities with which politicians and public representatives have to deal in the real world. I suppose one fear is that it will end up as an endless process of inquiry into the troubles, with no end in sight, and that we will be opening a Pandora's box.

Looking at the troubles in that general, generic sense, in a superficial way or in a way born of weariness of witnessing their unfolding over the past 30 years, would be a very easy approach to take. One can look at the troubles and all these different incidents and atrocities as forming some kind of miasma, a fog - something we have escaped from largely since the Good Friday Agreement, and who wants to go back there again?

Unfortunately, however, that is not history or reality because what we are looking into is simply a substantial and nasty crime, perpetrated against the people of this city, the people of Monaghan and the people of Ireland as a whole. It is also a crime which is limited and linked to other specific crimes. A public inquiry will not be an investigation of the troubles; it is an investigation of crimes which were not solved, among the many crimes committed in the name of nationalism or loyalism, the rights of the British in Ireland or the rights of the Irish to Ireland, over the past 30 years.

It is also an investigation into crime linked to other crimes in which there is a grave suspicion of collusion - that is, that those who were given the authority, under the rule of law, to uphold the law, broke the law in the most dastardly fashion one can imagine. Not only did they do that, but they waged an act of war against the citizens of this State by exploding no-warning car bombs calculated to take as much human life as possible. There is nothing of which I can conceive that is more serious and more meritorious of a public inquiry than that.

I am 25 years practising as a solicitor and a great deal of that time of my career has been spent on the defence side. I have never prosecuted a criminal case so I find myself in a somewhat unusual position here, acting in a sense as a prosecutor. However, it is not that difficult because my life has been spent, to a large degree, in attacking and uncovering miscarriages of justice and they take a long time. Only in one recent instance was a miscarriage of justice more or less identified within a matter of weeks or months. Miscarriages of justice are not accidents. They happen because the State apparatus fails to supply to the court the evidence which could leave it open to a court to acquit someone. They usually take a long number of years to uncover and they are damned hard to establish.

The Dublin and Monaghan bombings is a miscarriage of justice because the bombings were not properly investigated. The evidence that could have led to those being brought to justice was not pursued.

In a sense the sub-committee is a court of appeal. Unlike in the cases of the Birmingham Six after 16 years, Nicky Kelly after 12 or any of the other people who I have represented, the sub-committee is coming to this after 30 years and we are saying that it must open this box, must look at the appalling vista and must deal with it.

In so far as the State failed the families, it failed the Reavey's, the O'Dowds, the two men murdered in Altnamackan and their families. It failed all the people that these individuals went on to murder with impunity. That is an unpleasant and harsh thing to say.

I have a lot of time for Mr. Cooney's difficulties with the Barron report because he and his Government have been left with a cloud over their heads. They did not care. They did not take the necessary steps. They were told certain things afterwards but as far as they were aware the Garda was told all these things. I am inclined to believe them, but whether I believe them or not is neither here nor there. The point is: they might be able to plead some ignorance but this Parliament cannot because never has the issue of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings been laid out with more graphic detail before any committee of parliamentarians than it has now. The sub-committee has the benefit of the Barron report.

The Barron process involved addressing and assessing. Mr. Justice Barron addressed it but he only made a few assessments. An assessment is a judgment, a calculation involving a reading of it and drawing conclusions from it. He did not have the equipment to make the assessments in all of the areas he could have, but he did make some assessments which are very valuable and I will go back to them.

The issue of collusion is not something beyond the ken of this State to inquire into on its own, even without British involvement. In any event, to put up one's hands and say, "As a sovereign Parliament in a sovereign State, we cannot investigate this if those we suspect of harbouring the colluders do not co-operate", is to give the last word to a foreign Government over events that happened within a sovereign state.

I always regarded myself as a patriotic Irishman. As someone who has lived through the Troubles, I was often disgusted and sickened by the violence that was perpetrated on this island for political purposes. I never felt ashamed of being Irish but if in a free democracy our Parliament, Government and State abdicates its responsibilities to its citizens, I think I would feel very ashamed.

Getting back to the issues that we have to investigate, that is, a series of crimes, how practical is it for an investigation to be carried out in this State into crimes carried out in Northern Ireland or planned in Northern Ireland and carried out in this State? Margaret Urwin, Cormac Ó Dúlacháin and I engaged with the Barron commission to carry out certain investigative work over a period of three years, not constantly working over three years but in modules of time. We looked at certain incidents and we examined certain events, and I hope to illustrate what it is possible to do when you do not have the resources but have the determination, when you do not have the legal powers but have the will to find out. I also hope to touch upon the issues which Cormac has raised about the potential for the damage that could have been done to the people of Ireland by allowing this gang to run riot.

I will start with an incident which has almost a humorous undertone but was a very serious incident. During the 1970s there was a spate of train hijackings in Northern Ireland carried out by republicans. In many instances bombs were put on the trains and they were set running into towns to cause massive disruption and terror. There was an incident in 1974 involving the hijacking of a train on the Border and the alleged placing of a bomb on that train. The crew were not taken off the train, the deadman's handle was not disconnected and the train was sent on its way into the town of Portadown. A folklore grew up about that incident because when the train got to Obins Street, it over-turned and dangled over the bridge at Obins Street, on top of a Nationalist enclave in a largely loyalist town. The folklore was that a certain ammunitions technical officer in charge of the field brigade area for mid-Ulster had deliberately derailed the train so as to upend the train down on top of the hapless inhabitants of the houses underneath or, on the other hand, that it was a device to clear out the inhabitants of the houses in this Nationalist area so that the British army could carry out a search for ammunition, guns or information about republicans.

When we carried out an investigation into that incident, which Judge Barron felt unable to do because it was a cross-Border matter and he was not going to get co-operation from the RUC-PNSI at the time, we discovered that this story was a myth. The IRA had hijacked the train but the train had been derailed due to the actions of the signal man who had refused to leave the box. The train was derailed in an attempt to save life rather than to endanger it or for any other spurious security reason. The ATO was on the scene not to plant a bomb on the line at Portadown but because he had been told a bomb had been put on board at the Border by the IRA.

It took some weeks for us to do that. It involved interviewing the signal man who is in his 80s and going through public records and private records of individuals, going through engineering reports and visiting the Railways Records Society of Ireland, for example - all kind of obvious places you would think about to look at something which was not investigated thoroughly at the time and could not be investigated by Judge Barron. We exploded a myth which you will find referred to in many, many books about the Troubles.

That leads me on to another issue, that is, the question of the attack on the railway line at Ballinrath near Sallins. That happened in June 1975. The hijacking of trains continued by Republicans in Northern Ireland and then in June 1975 there was an attack made on the railway line under the bridge at Ballinrath in County Kildare. A section of the up-line and down-line was surgically removed by a very professional explosive device. At the same time a local man who came across these people planting this bomb was murdered. His murder is unsolved. The people who carried out the attack on Ballinrath intended to cause massive loss of life. The man who detonated the explosion has not been identified but through our inquiries we understand that he only exploded two other bombs throughout the 1970s, one was in Belfast the day before and the other was some months later when two UVF men lost their lives because the timing mechanism detonated the bomb prematurely. The timing mechanism was faulty too in Ballinrath by three minutes. Had it not been, a train carrying some hundreds of people would have been derailed and there would inevitably have been a massive loss of life.

The attack on Ballinrath is unsolved. We went to the engineering section of CIE and discovered what the engineering of the actual attack was, we got the photographs and were able to have that attack assessed by an expert. Judge Barron has yet to report on that incident. This is, if you like, the type of detective work, with a small "d", that can be done and the kinds of technical information and evidence that can be assembled, if you wanted to do it.

It also pointed out, strangely enough, a lack of expertise on the part of loyalists, if the Ballinrath attack can be attributed to loyalists alone. The first explosion was probably a dry run to see if it worked, the second one was caused by the failed timing mechanism in Ballinrath and the third the failed timing mechanism in Macosquin in Derry some months later when two UVF volunteers were blown up. If you look at that, then you will look at what happened in Dublin and Monaghan.

I will pass on that to another incident which was referred to by one of the Irish Army presenters, I think Lieutenant Colonel Kellegher. When referring to the case that the Dublin-Monaghan bombings were not unique or that loyalists had the capacity to detonate bombs, he referred to a bomb attack that was frustrated in Clones on 24 June 1974. He definitively stated that it was a loyalist bomb attack, not a Republican attack. It does seem strange because his views seem to be at odds with the Irish Army ordnance officer who dealt with the bomb at the time and his view is at odds with the leading Garda officer who reported the incident at the time. In fact, all of the people who were involved in investigating that incident at the time were of the view that it was a republican bomb and it was a stunt, a hoax to embarrass the Garda and to show up the republicans who were involved in an earlier attempt to defuse the bomb, which was successful, as protectors of the local community. A lot of what is being asked for to inquire into can be resolved. This is not a miasma, this is not mysterious. The issues we are asking for a public inquiry into can be defined, focused and demystified.

Yesterday our friends in the Pat Finucane Centre dealt with, if you like, what they have been able to discover and put together in terms of ballistics reports connecting the perpetrators of the murder triangle murders with the Dublin Monaghan bombings. We did, some time ago, an analysis of the Rock Bar trial in two ways and it connects to my opening remarks. What is an inquiry looking into? It is looking into the Garda investigation and it is also looking into the issue of collusion and, by looking into both and by looking into connected crimes, you can show that collusion can be investigated and that it can be established.

It is our view that the Rock Bar case presents the most compelling evidence for the existence of systemic collusion by the security forces in Northern Ireland into crimes which are connected to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings through the combination and permutations of the perpetrators suspected of involvement and through the identification in terms of the evidence of people like Colin Wallace, of people who were actual members of the security forces in Northern Ireland or were agents of the security forces in Northern Ireland, these groups having being infiltrated by military intelligence.

One of the few assessments made by Judge Barron in his report, to which I said I would return, was his assessment of the evidence of John Weir. He said that John Weir's evidence had to be treated and considered with the utmost seriousness. As was pointed out earlier, that presupposes that there is going to be some forum to consider and assess his evidence. We suggest that John Weir's evidence is compelling and is to be treated with the utmost seriousness. He implicated a number of members of the Armagh special patrol group in terrorist activities. He implicated, first, himself and a number of named individuals - Gary Armstrong, Ian Mitchell, William McCaughey, Laurence McClure, David Wilson and William Scott. The people I have named have all been convicted of terrorist or terrorist-related offences.

In 1978 William McCaughey made further statements implicating fellow members of the RUC special patrol group. Arising from those confessions, investigations were initiated into the following incidents: the attack on Donnelly's Bar, Silverbridge, in 1975, the gun and bomb attack on the Rock Bar in June 1976, the murder of William Strathearn in 1977, the kidnapping of Fr. Murphy in June 1978 and the find of guns and explosives at Mitchell's farm in December 1978. We know that these incidents are interlinked involving, as I have said, permutations of the same gang and we know that the incidents have given rise to criminal charges and are only a sample of the incidents that actually took place.

The issue arises as to whether the trials were managed or designed in a way to obscure the fact that RUC members were working with loyalists. The inter-relationship between these events was not explored at the trials.

In relation to Silverbridge, charges were brought against Lily Shields and Laurence McClure. These charges were dropped in questionable circumstances. It is to be noted that by dropping the charges relating to the Silverbridge attack, the first incident that results is the gun and bomb attack on the Rock Bar in June 1976. This facilitated the claim by those charged that they were motivated to carry out these actions by the atrocities perpetrated by republicans in Kingsmill.

The effect of dropping the charges against Laurence McClure and Gary Armstrong was that each of them came before the court on one charge only. We believe that may have been orchestrated so that, in due course, a suspended sentence could be handed down. In addition to the case of Laurence McClure, he avoided coming before the courts in relation to Silverbridge, where three people had been murdered.

The late Lord Chief Justice Lowrie dealt with the following trials: 16 June 1980, the Strathearnmurder; 30 June 1980, the Fr. Murphy kidnapping; 30 June 1980, the Rock Bar attack, and 30 June 1980, the charges against James Mitchell of Glenanne with possession of weapons and ammunition. Looked at in this sequence, it is clear that Lord Chief Justice Lowrie was aware from 16 June 1980 that two members of the RUCm who had been members of the special patrol group in Armagh had been involved in the murder of an innocent Catholic. The Lord Chief Justice was also aware that this murder had also involved two loyalists who were not before the court for what were stated to be operational reasons. These were Robin Jackson and R. J. Kerr.

When the Fr. Murphy kidnapping case came before the Lord Chief Justice on the same day as the Rock Bar and James Mitchell cases, again it was the RUC officers who were members of the special patrol group in Armagh who were before the court - in this case, McCaughey and Armstrong. When the Lord Chief Justice proceeded to the Rock Bar trial, again before the court were RUC officers who were members of the special patrol group in Armagh. In this case McCaughey and the three others, Laurence McClure, Ian Wilson and David Mitchell, were charged with the Rock Bar attack. By the time Lord Lowrie dealt with the Rock Bar incident he knew: the facts relating to the Strathearn murder case, as this was contested and evidence called and statements admitted; that McCaughey was guilty of involvement in three incidents; that McCaughey was a former member of the RUC special patrol group in Armagh, and that between the three incidents, five other members of the RUC special patrol group in Armagh were involved.

Chairman: Lord Lowrie is deceased. Even so-----

Mr. O'Neill: This is a matter of record. I am not drawing any inferences. I am just reading out what he knew.

Chairman: What piece of paper have you got? We do not seem to have-----

Mr. O'Neill: It is one of our reports. I will disseminate it afterwards. I did not have time to dig it out and disseminate it before we started. I will give a copy to every member of the committee afterwards.

Chairman: I ask you to be careful, not only regarding living people but also people who are dead. We do not want to infer guilt or innocence.

Mr. O'Neill: It is not my intention to draw any aspersions. I am simply stating what was known in the criminal justice system.

Chairman: You should just refer to the criminal justice system rather than specific cases.

Mr. O'Neill: Very good.

Chairman: Thank you. I intend no offence. This marker has been set down before every person who has appeared here.

Mr. O'Neill: I will skip over this passage: "At the end of these trials, four members of the RUC, each charged with involvement in only one incident, got suspended sentences."

Chairman: Will you repeat that, please?

Mr. O'Neill: "At the end of these trials, four members of the RUC, each charged with involvement in only one incident, [which involved an attempt on the life of an individual] got suspended sentences." Mr. Armstrong got a two-year suspended sentence, Mr. McLure got a two-year suspended sentence, Mr. Mitchell a two-year suspended sentence, and Mr. Wilson a one-year suspended sentence.

Chairman: It would help very much if we got a copy of this because then we would be better able to go through it.

Mr. O'Neill: I will give that out as soon as I am-----

Chairman: We are getting it.

Mr. O'Neill: Thank you. The Rock Bar trial and the related trials are very important. They concern events with links to individuals, places and activities, which, it is alleged, are connected with the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. They are also, in like manner, connected to the bombings in Dundalk and Castleblaney. In so far as there is a conspiracy by the RUC and the DPP, and ultimately the courts, to keep secret the full extent of collusion and conspiracy involving the security forces and loyalists, then the conspiracy extended to preventing the detection and prosecution of persons in Northern Ireland who were responsible for murders in this State.

The fact that these four trials took place indicates that there is a significant body of documentation in the possession of the authorities in Northern Ireland. We are not talking here about MI5 or MI6 files, and we doubt, in fact, whether one will find any evidence of collusion in such files, other than if files are kept on agents. The fingerprints for collusion are to be found in the police files and these are available.

An examination of the transcript of the Rock Bar trial discloses the following: that the presiding judge had before him a book of evidence; the book of evidence was divided into a number of pages and exhibits; that there was scientific evidence about the bomb device and explosives; there was a statement from the army technical officer; there was a ballistics report on the shots in the premises; there were photographs of damage done to the car; there was a medical report on the injuries sustained by Michael McGrath; that there was a statement of the owner of the Mini car stolen from Market Street, Armagh; that there were statements from all four accused.

Chairman: You are not making an accusation against the presiding judge.

Mr. O'Neill: No. I am just pointing out that the wealth of material the Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten were able to discover was available on the public record. Collusion can be ascertained, if one wants to look, and one does not have to dig too deeply - much of it is on the public record.

Finally, I will pass briefly to a further matter, which is the car bomb explosion in Castleblaney on 7 March 1976. I will outline again that while we are dealing with 34 deaths, if the bus parked at the bottom of Kildare Street, which was full of children from Letterkenny on a tour visiting the Dáil and the National Gallery, had been parked any closer to where the bomb was detonated, we might be talking about 84 deaths, not 34. The same applies to the Castleblaney bombing. One man was murdered in that bombing, a Mr. Mohan. He was standing near the bus-stop in Castleblaney outside the Three Star Inn in Main Street when the car bomb exploded. It is our view that that bomb was designed to explode at a time when the Ulsterbus bus from Derry would be stopped, which usually would be for ten or 15 minutes, at that bus stop. You could actually set your clock by that Ulsterbus bus. It was very regular. Maybe there is something CIE can learn from Ulsterbus. It arrived on time, all the time. You could set your clock by it, and the bombers did too but there was an accident on the road to Castleblaney that day and the bus was delayed by five minutes. That bus was carrying up to 80 people. By not investigating the 1974 bombers and by not pursuing them, it is only by the grace of God that we are not dealing with hundreds of casualties as a result of neglect. You have an opportunity, ladies and gentlemen, to stop that awful litany of neglect.

Ms Margaret Urwin: I would just like to demonstrate to you the thinking of the Irish Government five years ago when it was attempting to bring pressure on the British Government to set up a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. We are talking about April 1999. This is the test that the Irish Government was applying as to what was required in order to justify such a public inquiry.

In a letter to Dr. Mowlam, the Department of Foreign Affairs said:

The accumulated evidence is sufficient to give reasonable cause to the public to believe that collusion may have taken place. Moreover, the allegations serve to undermine confidence in the rule of law and the concept of equality before the law. In my view, they can only be answered with confidence, one way or the other, through the mechanism of a public inquiry.

These are the words of the junior Minister for Foreign Affairs, Liz O'Donnell. She further stated:
We very much approached the Pat Finucane case as a reckoning with the past so as to signal that the new dispensation of the Good Friday Agreement represents a new reality and the promise of a new future.

The Department of Foreign Affairs then refers, in the Finucane case, to "the compelling circumstantial evidence presented by the marked change in the pattern of loyalist killings between 1988 and 1994". This is what Judge Barron has done in the case of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. He has found compelling circumstantial evidence. When we talk about the marked change in the pattern of loyalist killings between 1988 and 1994, you certainly got yesterday from the Pat Finucane Centre, and again today from Mr. O'Neill, the pattern of loyalist killings in the murder triangle from the early to mid-1970s. There was a particular pattern of loyalist killings in the 1970s, as you had between 1988 and 1994.

The Department of Foreign Affairs' letter also refers to the belief that RUC officers failed to co-operate with, and possibly sought to frustrate, the Stevens investigation. In the case of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, Judge Barron states that he believes that the RUC did not fully co-operate with the Garda.

The letter further states "there was a widespread belief in the Nationalist community that members and units of the security forces were involved in systematic purposeful collusion". In the case of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, for many years and even more strongly since the publication of the Barron report, there is a widespread belief among the general public that members of the British security forces were involved. Certainly, Mr. Justice Barron believes the bombing was organised from the farm of the RUC reservist, James Mitchell, of Glenanne.

The Department of Foreign Affairs goes on to state:
It has been a poignant characteristic of relatives who have lost loved ones in such circumstances that the desire for truth and justice reaches a particularly acute point during sustained peace; that the lack of corrective action denied them the normal solace of the pursuit and prosecution of those who inflicted such pain and loss; and that those failures endorsed an existing sense among nationalists of being undervalued and unequal in the eyes of the law.

That resonates with us, having worked so long with the bereaved families and survivors of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. This is their experience. They have felt undervalued and unequal in the eyes of the law. The then Minister of State, Deputy Liz O'Donnell, went on to state that however desirable in terms of political reconciliation it may be to draw a line under the past, victims' relatives will inevitably carry their burdens into everyone's present, and will continue to do so unless they have answers that help reconcile them with their loss; and that the pursuit of certain cases can serve to be representative of that process of candour and truth. What more appropriate representative case could be taken, and public inquiry established, than into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the greatest single atrocity committed on this island since the Second World War?

Senator J. Walsh: Do we have a copy of the letter from the Department of Foreign Affairs?

Chairman: We will get a copy of it.

Ms Bernie McNally: Serious questions have been raised by Mr. Justice Barron. The many people who, through their lives and their line of work, past and present, and who have appeared before the sub-committee and made oral and written submissions have only added to the questions he raised. The sub-committee's responsibility to find the truth is enormous, and it must be done through a full public tribunal of inquiry. It cannot be weighed and measured in silver or gold because truth is invaluable to every citizen of this country, and it must be achieved whatever the cost.

The passage of time cannot be allowed to discharge the Government of its duty to the citizens of this nation in finding that truth. It must be one of our fundamental values that we build our nation on peace and reconciliation. The Government continues to shrink from its duty to the 34 people who were murdered, to their families and to those of us who were maimed and had our lives totally disrupted. This neglect continues. It has gone on for far too long and the time for truth is now. Will our children be sitting here in 30 more years accusing this sub-committee and this Government of further neglect and abandonment?

After Dublin and Monaghan many more lives were lost through collusion as past Governments sat by as passive spectators. I ask the sub-committee to please be strong enough to fight for the truth.

Sitting suspended at 11.30 a.m. and resumed at 11.55 a.m.

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