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8 April 2004 Edition

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Mixed signals and flawed findings

BY JOANNE CORCORAN

Margaret Urwin of Justice for the Forgotten

Margaret Urwin of Justice for the Forgotten

Relief, cautious welcome, and in many cases, disappointment — these were some of the reactions to the report from the Oireachtas sub-committee investigating the Barron Report into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, published last week.

Most people had presumed the committee would either advise a public inquiry into the bombings, or conclude that there was no need for further action. Nobody was prepared for last Wednesday's report, which, while sympathising with victims' relatives and survivors of the bomb, and acknowledging the arguments made by family campaign group Justice for the Forgotten, at the same time managed to pass the buck on bringing closure to the tragedy.

After pages of testimony extracts, sometimes harrowing (in the case of the victims' contributions), sometimes laughable (in the case of former members of the 1974 coalition government) and often mind-blowing (when credible experts from both Ireland and Britain put forward firm evidence which suggested collusion), the recommendations at the end of the Committee's report were very much an anti-climax.

An investigation into some of the specific points made about the Garda inquiry — such as the missing files from the Department of Justice and Garda Headquarters — is recommended in the 26 Counties. Other than that, the Committee believes that an international investigation based on the Weston Park proposals (in simple terms a Cory-style investigation) should precede any public inquiries, which should then take place in the Six Counties or Britain. Its reasons for this lie in its presumption that most or all of the relevant information and witnesses to the bombing, can be found in these jurisdictions.

Not so, according to Committee member and Independent TD Finian McGrath.

"I firmly believe the families have been shafted by this report," McGrath told An Phoblacht this week. "There are more than enough reasons to hold a public inquiry here and to demand full co-operation from the British. The bombings were an attack on a sovereign state, and the government of this state did not deal with them. The Garda role, the state role, the action, or inaction in the years that followed, they are all reasons why this has to be investigated through a public inquiry in this state."

The Independent TD has publicly distanced himself from the recommendations of the Committee and is pushing for a fully independent public tribunal. His tone when speaking about the findings, and his feelings for the families, reveals how deeply upset he is by the whole debacle.

"I always suspected that collusion played a part in these bombings, but when I saw some of the submissions, it was actually worse than I thought it would be," he said. "When I saw the facts of where the bombs were made, the links that were there with the RUC, the evidence from the British officials, I mean, their own people were saying that they were up to their eyes in it.

"I didn't go along with the consensus that there were just a few mavericks involved. Mavericks are not allowed go on like that, not in a colonial conflict."

McGrath is incredibly angry with his fellow committee members.

"Some members of the committee seemed very solid at the beginning and I thought they would support a public inquiry, but they rolled back on that position. I think their final response was half-baked," he says. "Perhaps they were told by their party leaders not to push for an inquiry. There really were times when I wanted to walk away from the whole thing, because I thought that it wasn't worth it if there were other forces, outside the committee, working against a tribunal."

Finian believes that the report is an abdication of the state from its responsibilities and is also designed to cause further delays,

"I don't want to see the families dragged through any more of this," he said. "Already they are looking at delays. The legislation that will allow the Gardaí to be investigated (Commission of Investigations Bill) hasn't even come before the Dáil yet."

Forgotten not forgiving

Margaret Urwin from the Justice for the Forgotten Group, representing most of the survivors and relatives of the victims, says the group is not planning on letting the matter rest. The group has welcomed many aspects of the committee's findings, particularly those centring on collusion, but is angry that even now the government doesn't see the need for a public inquiry.

"We want to see a full inquiry into the Garda role, but we also want to see an inquiry into the role of this state in general," Margaret says. "There is no point in just looking at certain aspects of the bombings; the whole thing has to be opened up."

The group feels that the committee's findings completely exonerate the '74 coalition and successive governments. Both Urwin and McGrath point out one of the first paragraphs, which says: "We acknowledge the sense of isolation that the victims and families have experienced due to the perceived inactivity on the part of successive governments."

"There was nothing 'perceived' about it," Margeret says angrily. "Some of the people involved with us are in their eighties now, and nothing, absolutely nothing, has been done for them since '74."

There is also a shared feeling that members of the committee were not allowed to ask any of the 1974 coalition government members 'hard' questions. According to Finian, he was pulled off former Minister for Justice Paddy Cooney, when he tried to get to the bottom of his anti-republicanism.

"We weren't allowed to be 'hostile'," he says. "Much of that was to do with not ending up in the High Court, but I felt we were prevented from challenging ex-members of the government on anything."

Justice for the Forgotten says that it is now planning to lobby on the legislation that will permit an investigation into the Garda role, and is hoping to make the inquiry more extensive.

"The good thing about the legislation is that it allows witnesses to be subpoenaed. Under section 10, evidence can be taken from witnesses in public. It's not a public inquiry, but there's room for manoeuvre," Margaret adds.

"We are not going to let this rest. If we have to, we'll take this Europe, to America, wherever we can, to get Britain to admit its role in those bombings and this state to admit that it neglected the people affected by them."

No more delays

Others have taken a harder line than the victims' group to the report. Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was scathing in his response to the committee's findings.

"The Dublin and Monaghan bombings were an attack on the people of this state by agents of a foreign government," he said last week. "The Barron Report itself exposes how the Fine Gael/Labour Government of the time showed little interest in investigating the bombings. They preferred to turn a blind eye to British involvement lest they damage their relationship with London. They failed to protect their own citizens and to stand by the survivors and the bereaved of Dublin and Monaghan.

Ó Caoláin added: "The Taoiseach should proceed to establish a full international public inquiry without further delay. That was the outcome the survivors and the bereaved of Dublin and Monaghan had a right to expect. They must not be disappointed again."

For now, however, many of the survivors' and relatives' hopes are pinned onto any independent inquiry that may take place, even if it is another Barron/Cory investigation.

"It's not what we wanted," Margeret concludes, "but it could be worthwhile. That's if it is allowed to take place. And if it is, I hope this time that any documentation that's needed will be forthcoming from the British."

McGrath is less hopeful. "I don't want to be cynical, but I feel that the only process that will bring these families justice is an inquiry with full statutory powers. It will be less time-consuming and legal fees can be capped. Until that's put in place, I can't see these people getting the justice they deserve."

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