Senator Ian Marshall:
"I thank the Minister for Justice and Equality for his attendance in the House. I ask him to provide an update on the publication of the proposed Bill to provide for enhanced co-operation with legacy inquests in Northern Ireland. The Kingsmill massacre was a heinous crime. It was an affront to humanity and an attack on all the good people who lived and worked in the small sleepy townland of Kingsmill near Whitecross in south Armagh. I remember the atrocity vividly as an eight year old boy growing up a few miles from where the carnage took place. It was described as one of the deadliest mass shootings of the Troubles in a vicious parade of tit-for-tat murders in a small geographical area where the scale of the loss of human life was unimaginable.
On 5 January 1976, on a dark, cold winter's evening, a minibus with workmen travelling home after a day's work was stopped on the side of a lonely country road by armed gunmen. The workmen were ordered out and lined up against the minibus. The one Catholic on the minibus was ordered to run away and the 11 remaining passengers were faced with summary execution and slaughtered in cold blood. There was no self defence and no chance. One man, Alan Black, survived despite having been shot 18 times and he has survived to this day, no doubt reliving the horror many times over on a daily basis. The local community was in a state of shock.
Last week in Belfast, Judge Brian Sherrard heard representations from stakeholders on the ongoing debate on whether the inquest into Kingsmill should name the two deceased suspects in the case. These were two individuals who were in receipt of on-the-run comfort letters. Judge Sherrard also made reference to the Birmingham bombings inquest, in respect of which senior IRA figures in Dublin had authorised the naming of four deceased suspects, names which the inquest subsequently published. He appealed for anyone with information on Kingsmill to release this to the families or the authorities and to give answers to some of the questions that have tormented the families for over four generations.
During the hearing, counsel for the coroner, Sean Doran QC, noted that the Dublin authorities gave assurances that a Bill allowing the coroner to travel south to question Garda officers would be progressed in September 2018 but unfortunately, there appears to be little or no advancement of this. Alan Kane QC, counsel for some of the families, made the point that families had lost hope, partly as a result of the apparent lack of appetite in Dublin to move on this, but also because of concerns that any further written questions regarding the massacre to the Dublin authorities would be a distraction from the lack of progress on the Bill.
When this was reported last week in the Belfast Newsletter, Philip Bradfield noted that the newspaper had contacted the Irish Department of Justice and Equality, which had responded that the drafting of the Bill was "at an advanced stage" and would be published very soon. Criticism was also levelled at the Northern Ireland Office for a failure to present a witness to provide evidence on the on-the-run scheme, even though contact had been made as far back as February.
This atrocity goes down as one of the darkest episodes in the Troubles across the province. Families, torn apart with grief and loss, have felt abandoned by the State on both sides of the Border. These families, as passive onlookers to other inquests and inquiries, namely, the Bloody Sunday inquiry, Ballymurphy, the Birmingham pub bombings and, as recently as yesterday, the developments in the Daniel Hegarty case, feel completely abandoned and left behind with a sense of unfairness and a feeling that there is absolutely no regard for their redress, for closure for them, for answers to their questions or an opportunity to get whatever small degree of comfort or closure they rightly deserve, 43 years later.
These people are living this horror on a daily basis. It never goes away and it never will go away. The wrongs cannot be righted nor their loved ones returned but what can be done is to hasten the progress of this Bill to assist with answers to questions, to assist with the legal process and to demonstrate to these families that there is no hierarchy of loss, pain or suffering, that there is no hierarchy of victims and that all victims' families deserve answers and closure.
What is the status of the Bill? What is the reason for the delay and when can the House expect to see the advancement of the Bill? Could the Minister give assurances to the families of the Kingsmill massacre victims that no stone will be left unturned to answer their questions and to facilitate the coroner in his attempt to fill the information gaps in the 43-year struggle fighting for answers. Furthermore, I appeal to the Kingsmill massacre inquest in Belfast to release the names of the suspects in this case.
If there is any degree of humanity or compassion in those responsible for this atrocity, they should see fit to authorise the release of the suspects' names. The release of names in the Birmingham inquest has set a precedent, not only to identify those responsible but to take the suspicion and stigma away from those in the locality mistakenly labelled as perpetrators. There is no doubt this one act was a defining moment in the history of south Armagh and it drove a wedge of mistrust between communities that would take decades to heal. This Bill will not bring back the deceased, but it will go some way to reassure the families that they are as important as others and like others, they too deserve answers."
I published the general scheme of the criminal justice (international co-operation) Bill in December 2017, following approval by the Government. This proposed new legislation is an important further step in the Government's ongoing commitment to implement measures to address the legacy of the Troubles on this island and to support the victims of the Troubles and their families. In addition to enhancing the co-operation provided to coroners' inquests in Northern Ireland into historical Troubles-related deaths, these proposals will further underpin the Government's commitment to full co-operation with the framework of measures set out in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement. The proposed legislation will provide for a mechanism for coroners in Northern Ireland who are conducting inquests into Troubles-related deaths to hear testimony from Garda Síochána witnesses under existing Irish law. The Bill will also extend the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to allow the Garda Commissioner to enter into co-operation agreements with non-police law enforcement bodies outside the State. That will be an important element in our co-operation with the legacy institutions to be established under the Stormont House Agreement, namely, the historical investigations unit and the independent commission on information retrieval.
I must emphasise that this legislation is seeking to enhance further co-operation in addition to the considerable assistance which has already been facilitated by the Government and the Garda authorities. In respect of the ongoing inquest into the horrific Kingsmill murders, the Government, in June 2015, approved specific legal arrangements to enable the transfer of material to the Northern Ireland coroner. These specific legal measures were made in response to the absence of an existing formal, legal mechanism that would have allowed the Garda authorities to transfer relevant material outside the jurisdiction.
In accordance with those legal arrangements, the Garda authorities have provided the Northern Ireland coroner with all relevant documents in their possession and have responded to his follow up queries.
I strongly agree with Senator Marshall when he speaks about their being no hierarchy of victims. He is right, and I agree with that fully. The Bill is now at an advanced stage of drafting. A considerable amount of legal work has been undertaken to ensure that, once enacted, this legislation will deliver on the Irish Government’s commitment to fully co-operate with legacy inquests in Northern Ireland. I expect to publish the Bill before the summer recess. On the basis of previous experience with North-South related legislation I would expect broad support from all Members of the House. I am confident that the Bill will progress swiftly through the legislative process and I will be seeking the co-operation of Senators at that point before we embark on the summer vacation."
Senator Ian Marshall:
"I thank the Minister for coming into the House and for his response, which I fully accept. I understand there is movement on this issue. As I said, there is no hierarchy of victims but for any parent in Northern Ireland who buried a child or any child who buried a parent as a consequence of the Troubles, it is an unthinkable situation. No one can bring back the victims or rewind the clock but if we are serious about reconciliation and an agreed future we must get answers to questions and some degree of closure for the families, irrespective of their background or political persuasion."
Deputy Charles Flanagan:
"Dealing with the legacy of the Troubles on this island is a difficult task. There are no easy solutions. I want to emphasise, however, that the Government is and always has been fully committed to the provisions of the Stormont House Agreement on addressing the history of the violent conflict in Northern Ireland. It is a matter of regret that the political impasse in Northern Ireland has somewhat delayed the establishment of the framework of measures as set out in the Stormont House Agreement. However, the Government remains fully committed to their implementation. We are continuing to work with the British Government and the parties in Northern Ireland to give effect to these measures.
I agree with what Senator Marshall said about families and the need to address these issues. At the outset of his contribution, he indicated that families were losing hope. I want to say here in the Seanad this afternoon that families should not lose hope. Families need answers. Families need our help. I am very hopeful that once the measures provided for in the Stormont House Agreement have been put in place they will provide an opportunity for the families of the many persons killed during the Troubles to access further information about those deaths where they wish to do so. The Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill will be an important element of the Irish Government's commitment to this process. I look forward to bringing this legislation into this House before the summer and continuing to work with Senator Marshall and colleagues across the aisle in the Seanad."
Sourced from & full discussion variable here: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad/2019-04-16/3/#spk_19