The role of Tribunals
Tribunals of Inquiry are established by resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas to enquire into definite matters of urgent public importance. A tribunal’s function is not to administer justice; its principal function is to discover the facts in relation to some matter of legitimate public interest and, where appropriate, to make recommendations. Tribunals report their findings to the Oireachtas.
The Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2004 give a tribunal the powers, privileges and rights of the High Court. Tribunals can order the attendance and examination of witnesses on oath and the production of relevant documents.
A tribunal cannot exclude the public from any of its proceedings unless in its opinion it is in the public interest to do so, especially where there is a risk of prejudice to criminal proceedings.
The following Tribunals of Inquiry have been established:
- Smithwick Tribunal (see below)
- Barr Tribunal (see below)
The Smithwick Tribunal was established in 2005 to investigate suggestions that members of An Garda Síochána or other employees of the State colluded in the fatal shootings of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Robert Buchanan on the 20 March, 1989. The sole member of the tribunal was His Honour Judge Peter Smithwick.
The Smithwick Tribunal presented its final report to the Acting Clerk of Dáil Éireann on 29 November 2013 and it was published on 3 December 2013. Transcripts of the Tribunal are available at the following link: Smithwick Tribunal Transcripts
The Barr Tribunal was established in July 2002 to enquire into the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy at Abbeylara, Co. Longford, on 20 April, 2000. The tribunal’s report was published on 20 July, 2006. Copies of the report are available from the Government Publications Office, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2.