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5 February 2004 Edition

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Ahern defends British refusal to assist Barron

BY JOANNE CORCORAN

"I do not think the British Prime Minister is knowingly withholding information or files which he believes we need."

These were the words from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the Dáil on Tuesday, when asked by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin whether there would be any further information from the British Government on the Dublin/Monaghan bombings.

Replying to the question, Ahern astounded everybody in the chamber when he insisted that the British Government could provide no further documentation than that it already had in response to Justice Henry Barron's inquiries.

Ironically, Ahern's comments were made on the same day that Justice Barron made a statement to the Oireachtas Sub-Committee - currently investigating whether a public inquiry should be held into the bombings. He told the committee that the 1974 Dublin Government had shown no interest in bringing the bombers to justice and that the current British Government had failed to provide sufficient information to his inquiry.

The Taoiseach's appalling remarks, however, were in line with a letter from Six Counties Security Minister Jane Kennedy, sent just days beforehand to Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, completely contrasting with Barron's statements by claiming that all relevant information had been forwarded to the judge. This is despite the fact that Barron has stated quite categorically, and repeatedly, that he did not get the level of cooperation he required in his investigation into the 1974 bombings, which left 34 civilians dead. The judge said that he had only received a ten-page document from the British government, followed by a letter, and no original documentation whatsoever.

Addressing the Taoiseach, a puzzled Ó Caoláin said it was an extraordinary statement to say that all relevant documentation was passed on to Barron, particularly given that the judge advised that 68,000 files of possible relevance remained in the hands of the NIO.

Ahern persisted with his claim however, saying that the British government, from Tony Blair down, had been committed to reaching closure in the inquiry.

"Those involved have genuinely tried to be cooperative," he said, but added that, "records from MI5 and MI6 do not seem to be available."

Ó Caoláin responded: "Does the Taoiseach not recognise that the negative view he expressed in regard to his expectation of further information or documentation being made available from the British side is, itself, something that will add to their resolve not to cooperate and not to provide further information and documentation?" To this the Taoiseach had no reply, other than to say that although 100% cooperation couldn't be expected, the levels had been quite high.

Ó Caoláin also pressed Ahern over what action he was planning to take regarding the boxes of files on the bombings which have mysteriously disappeared from both Garda Headquarters and the Department of Justice.

The files, which contained some of the most sensitive information collected by the Gardaí throughout their investigation, were requested by Barron during his investigation. However, both the originals and duplicates were said to be missing.

Ó Caoláin said that this was disgraceful, and asked did the government know if they had been stole, burnt, or simply withheld from Justice Barron.

"If files relevant to any of the other tribunals or major investigative processes taking place in this State or to any former Member of the House or any other area of interest were missing, would it not be a national scandal?" he added.

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