Statement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter T.D. - Dáil Éireann, Smithwick Tribunal of Inquiry – Amendment of terms of reference 16 November 2011
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I move the Motion a Cheann Comhairle.
This Motion proposes to amend the terms of reference of the Tribunal of Inquiry into allegations of collusion by Members of the Garda Síochána or other employees of the State in the murder by the Provisional IRA of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Bob Buchanan in March 1989. The Tribunal was established in 2005 and is chaired by Judge Peter Smithwick, former President of the District Court.
The Oireachtas established the Tribunal in light of Judge Peter Cory’s report in a genuine desire to get at the truth both in the interest of the families who were bereaved by this atrocity and in the public interest.
The House will recall that on the 1st of June this year I proposed an amendment to the Smithwick Tribunal’s terms of reference to afford the Dáil the opportunity to consider the state of play with the Tribunal’s work and to establish a timeframe for its completion. That proposal was consistent with the Chairman’s previous indication to me of a timeframe for his work.
I do not believe it would be helpful to the work of the Tribunal to rehearse again some of the arguments which arose in this House at that time. Suffice it to say that it is clear that the Tribunal has been making substantial progress in its public hearings and there is now an appropriate mechanism in place for this House to be informed of the Tribunal’s progress.
I put it clearly on the record of the House that if, for any reason, it did not prove possible for the Tribunal to meet the timeframe set out then the Chairman could report to the Clerk of the Dáil that circumstances had arisen which required the timeframe to be extended in order that the House could consider the matter.
I also gave the House a solemn assurance that the Government’s response to such an approach from the Chairman would be fully cognisant of and consistent with the need for the Tribunal to fulfil its obligations fully and as expeditiously as possible. I am happy to be able to tell the House that today’s Motion follows through on my assurance.
The Chairman, in accordance with the Resolutions of the Oireachtas in June presented his interim report on 29 June 2011, in which he reported that good progress had been made in the Tribunal’s work to that point. The Tribunal’s opening statement, which the Chairman submitted with that interim report, sets out fully the background to the Tribunal.
Deputies will be aware that the Tribunal Chairman wrote to the Clerk of the Dáil on 5 October 2011 setting out the circumstances which have arisen since June and which lead him to seek a six-month extension for the Tribunal’s work. The Chairman states in his letter that the Tribunal had heard 105 witnesses to that date and has continued with other aspects of its inquiries. I welcome the progress which the Tribunal is making and I am pleased that this House is being kept informed of it.
The Government has considered the extension sought by Judge Smithwick and proposes that the Oireachtas should resolve to extend the timeframe for the Tribunal to conclude its work and to present its final report to 31 May 2012. This is fully in line with the Tribunal Chairman’s request.
The Motion also requires the Chairman to prepare and submit a further interim report by 9 March 2012 on the state of play of its inquiry at that date. It is my view that it is appropriate that the Oireachtas should be kept appraised of the Tribunal’s progress and the interim report fulfils that. Furthermore, I believe that it is in the public interest and in the interests of those most directly concerned by the Tribunal’s work that it should get to the truth and report as soon as possible. That is the objective of the motion before the House. As the establishment of this Tribunal was previously agreed by all sides in the House and as the need to establish the truth relating to the circumstances which led to the murderous atrocity which resulted in the tragic death of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan has not previously been a matter of contention in this House, I found it surprising that this morning on the Order of Business the Technical Group, including my constituency colleague, Deputy Shane Ross, opposed today’s arrangements for the taking of this motion.
The Government hopes that the Tribunal can fulfil its mandate within the timeframe set out in the Motion. However, if an unanticipated difficulty emerges subsequently with the target date for conclusion, I have no doubt that the Chairman will report that and the Oireachtas will have the opportunity to consider the matter further.
A Cheann Comhairle, the Government respects and defends fully the independence of the Chairman to carry out his inquiries without fear or favour. I am confident that the Tribunal will fully discharge its responsibilities and that this Motion will assist in that endeavour.
I commend the Motion to the House.