Dáil Debates 9 July 2013

Dáil Debates Tuesday, 9 July 2013
Ceisteanna – Questions
Official Engagements

Excerpts relating to Boston College archives:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the issue of the Boston College Belfast oral history project papers when he was at the college recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 10, inclusive, together.

I visited Boston from 18 to 20 May following an invitation from Fr. William Leahy, president of Boston College, to receive an honorary degree in law and deliver the commencement address at the 2013 graduation ceremony. This was a very prestigious honour, particularly as Boston College is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Much of its history and development as an institution of higher education have been shaped by ties to Ireland. I was pleased to accept the honorary degree and deliver the commencement address on behalf of all the people of Ireland on Monday, 20 May. I also addressed the annual commencement eve dinner at the college on Sunday, 19 May, with a number of other guests who were also receiving honorary degrees.

In addition, I was invited as guest of honour to a dinner on Saturday, 18 May at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library to mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963. The JFK Presidential Library and Museum is the national official memorial to the late President. The dinner was hosted by the library foundation and also attended by Senator and Mrs. Paul Kirk.

During my visit to Boston I also visited the memorial site of the Boston marathon bombings at Copley Square, with Commissioner of Police Edward Davis, where I placed a floral tribute as a gesture of respect to the dead and injured. I took the opportunity during my various speaking engagements in Boston to praise the courage, dignity and strength shown by Bostonians following the bombings.

On the Monday morning I addressed a business breakfast organised by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland and attended by senior executives from a range of companies with business interests in Ireland and the United States. I highlighted the strengths of Ireland as a location in which to do business and for companies looking to internationalise or expand their existing geographical footprint. My tight schedule did not allow for bilateral meetings with any of the companies present at the business breakfast.

This was a relatively short visit and there were no bilateral political meetings scheduled in my programme. I did not have any meeting regarding Ireland’s corporation tax rate, nor did my programme include specific meetings with representatives of the undocumented Irish groups. However, as I previously reported to the House, I had a number of meetings on the issue of immigration reform during my March visit to Washington. [...]

I did not have any detailed discussion regarding the Boston College history papers during the visit. As the House is aware, this matter may be the subject of further legal proceedings and, as such, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment.

Deputy Micheál Martin: I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. He indicated that he had very little time for bilateral meetings during his recent visit to Boston. [...]

The Belfast oral history project papers relate to a very sensitive and important issue. For the researchers and designers of the project – Anthony McIntyre, a former member of the IRA, and the journalist Ed Moloney – it was an endeavour to get to the truth of the various operations and the murder and mayhem which took place over a long period. Arising from that Belfast project is a very fine publication by Mr. Moloney, Voices From the Grave, a book which every Member of this House should read. It sets out in great detail the appalling atrocities committed by the IRA and loyalist gangs and exposes many truths about the situation in Northern Ireland during that period.

There have been moves by the PSNI and the British authorities to seek the recovery of some of these recordings to help them in pursuing their investigation into the abduction and murder of Jean McConville. It is a great pity that we are nowhere near a resolution of that crime such a long time after the event. Mrs. McConville was a widow struggling to bring up ten children when she was abducted and murdered, a crime to which the IRA admitted in a statement. As Mr. Moloney’s book outlines, Brendan Hughes who was a key member of the Belfast brigade of the IRA at the time pulls no punches in his claims of who ordered that killing. There have been various calls for people to assist in the discovery of the truth in this matter. Mr. Hughes has gone to his reward, but he made clear his views on the claims by the leader of Sinn Féin of having had no involvement in the IRA and so on. Mr. Moloney’s book is quite explicit in terms of the quotations by Mr. Hughes taken from the tapes. Some of the recordings have been secured by the PSNI, but others have not.

It is a difficult and sensitive situation in that the individuals who recorded the interviews with former combatants were allowed to do so on the understanding the recordings would be protected until after the deaths of the individuals concerned. However, the fate of the disappeared is one of the unresolved issues of the peace process, particularly the murder of Jean McConville. Those who have any information on these matters should make a statement to the police. Moreover, I would invite the leader of Sinn Féin to make a statement to the House on this matter, given the gravity of what occurred and the gravity and scale of the allegations set out in a publication which has been in circulation for some time. If the same allegations were made against any other Member of this House, there would be clarion calls for him or her to confirm to the House and the public the veracity or otherwise of those rather blunt allegations.

It is a very sordid tale and I am surprised that the Taoiseach did not have any discussion on the matter during his trip to the United States. I have met one of the authors of the project and, without casting aspersions on anybody in this House, it is fair to say he has genuine fears for his life as a consequence of the release of the tapes. At the same time, it is my view that nobody should stand in the way of the PSNI in endeavouring to pursue its investigation into these matters to the fullest extent possible. The former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Mrs. Nuala O’Loan, made it very clear, having carried out her own investigation into the matter, that there was no evidence to sustain the allegation that Jean McConville had been an informant.

Deputy Adams owes it to the House to make a comment on it.

An Ceann Comhairle: We are talking about Boston.

Deputy Micheál Martin: I wrote to Senator Hillary Clinton about this and I am asking the Taoiseach whether he sees the need to discuss the pursuit of this by the PSNI and the British authorities with the American authorities. The Tánaiste met with the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, recently. Perhaps the Taoiseach can outline whether the Government, through the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Tánaiste, has had any dealings with the American authorities.

An Ceann Comhairle: We are talking about Boston at the moment.

Deputy Micheál Martin: I am asking about Question No. 3, which is to do with the oral history project.

The Taoiseach: There is no disagreement between Deputy Martin and myself in respect of these issues. It was a very short visit and the tightness of the schedule meant we could not have formal bilateral meetings. [...]

I read Voices from the Grave. I have had words with Deputy Adams before about the late Jean McConville. After Question Time and the Order of Business, I will meet with representatives of the disappeared. We both know the feeling of an end not having been brought about when someone has died or disappeared. It is very important for the families, irrespective of where they come from, that a sense of closure be obtained. I have learned this, particularly from the families of people who were lost at sea. There is a feeling that something is missing, literally, when the remains are never recovered.

The section in the book concerning Jean McConville is stark and strong. I do not know the answer. When Deputy Gerry Adams comments, he may well make the statement that he has made to me before. This is about information contained in a number of tapes that have been sent on to the PSNI. I do not know what they contain but they arise from the oral history project at Boston College. When we talk about bringing closure and healing to the communities in Northern Ireland, this element of the disappeared is a central feature. I read the evidence from Nuala O’Loan on the fact that there was nothing to prove the late Jean McConville was an informant. I also read the Hughes allegations about the decision to have her killed and about what was to be done with the body. I do not know the truth of it; nor does Deputy Martin. Mr. Hughes makes comments about Deputy Gerry Adams, whom I cannot speak for in that regard.

I did not have any opportunity on that short occasion to have detailed discussions about the oral history project with the people in Boston College. It was the subject of court cases and I understand some of the tapes have been handed over to the PSNI.

[...]

Deputy Gerry Adams: [...] I am uncertain as to whether I should ignore the leader of Fianna Fáil in his charges. Sometimes, it is impossible to know what the right thing to do is when someone comes in with a book, parades it in the Chamber, makes accusations and engages in weasel words. Should I sit on my dignity and let this pass or get up and speak to the issue? I was very taken last week talking about other tapes – the Anglo Irish Bank tapes – to note mentally that the leader of Fianna Fáil spoke to the Taoiseach and said “You choose to exploit the past, not to learn from it”. I said “Micheál, I hope you remember that”. The Boston tapes is a matter that is in the hands of the PSNI and it will do with that what it wants. I have been very restrained in my comments about all of that and will continue to be. I have consistently rejected claims, however, by those who accuse me of having any knowledge of or part in the disappearance and killing of Jean McConville.

The issue of those who were detained, abducted, shot and buried by the IRA is a terrible legacy of the conflict. We know it is not unique to this phase of the conflict. It has happened at other times. There are still issues going back to the Civil War and the Tan war, which have to be resolved. At least, this generation of republicans, among whom I count myself, is trying to undo the wrong that was done. Clearly, those who were killed cannot be brought back to life, but I do think that a grievous wrong was done. For its part, the IRA, which is now on ceasefire, has left the stage and is not around, apologised for what it did. I have been very much part of the effort to retrieve these remains since I was approached by some of the families. Some of the families are republican families. Some of them are friends of mine. Some of them are neighbours of mine. Fr. Alec Reid, others and I have worked very hard, which the leader of Fianna Fáil must know. The commission was established under a Government of which he was a part. The different suggestions that were put and the co-operation the IRA, including what were referred to as “primary sources”, gave to the commission are matters of public record. The man who is in charge of the special forensic investigating team, which was put in place on suggestion from us, has acknowledged all of this. He said in 2009 that those who were working with him were working in a spirit of co-operation and reconciliation to help in every way they could. He said he was absolutely convinced that they were doing everything they could to assist.

Now, we come to how this is used to score political points. I am also meeting the families this evening. I made the point earlier that some of them are friends of mine and many are my neighbours. Those who make the accusation against me, apart from those in the Dáil, are implacable opponents of the peace process.

They say there should not be a peace process and the war should have continued, and they attack me as a means of undermining that. Some of them are past, some of them are still active and some of them are still out there. At least, they have their convictions. They are not doing it for electoral gain. They are not doing it for political point scoring. They are not doing it as a Fianna Fáil leader trying to reclaim the republican mantle which was so despoiled by successive Fianna Fáil leaderships which let the people down in a most deplorable and anti-republican way.

It is also my view that those who brought together this Belfast project have a similar view. These two individuals who misled are not supporters of the peace process. They have since acknowledged that they could not and should not have given the commitments which they gave that these would not be revealed until these individuals were dead.

I am trying not to fall into the trap here of trading points on other people’s wounds with the leader of Fianna Fáil. I have a deep investment in what is happening in the North. I will continue to have a deep investment. I do not shy away, I do not hide, I do not disassociate myself but I like to think that I am also defined, as are those who work with me, by what we have still to do.

I would appeal, once again, because I believe – I cited the person in charge of the forensic team’s statement that republicans are co-operating actively – the remains of nine of these persons have been recovered and are in graves that their families can visit. Seven have still to be found. Not all of those seven were killed by the IRA, but seven have still to be found and we all need to do our best to play a positive role in this. I appeal, once again, to anyone with any information whatsoever, no matter how small, tiny or insignificant he or she thinks it might be, to bring that forward to the commission, to the families, to the Garda or to the PSNI, or to me or anyone else he or she thinks can usefully bring this forward to help these families.

The Taoiseach: [...] Of all of those who were shot, murdered or killed during the troubled period in Northern Ireland, the name of the late Mrs. Jean McConville stands out because of the notoriety of the case and because of her family circumstances. I accept Deputy Adams’s view that if there are persons out there with information of assistance in finding the remains of persons who were shot and taken away – and God knows what happened to them or was done to them that their bodies have not been recovered and been allowed to be repatriated to family graves – and there are such persons, they should come and give that to members of the authority or whoever.

As I stated, quite a long time ago I also read that book, but I saw a short piece of a television programme that Deputy Adams did on this some time ago where he was asked a direct question as to whether there was an involvement from him in this case or not, and he answered that question. Leaving the Boston tapes aside, this is a fairly serious book. I do not know the individuals, Mr. Brendan Hughes or Mr. Ed Moloney, who wrote it, but people would like to hear Deputy Adams confirm in the Dáil that what is written in that book is simply not true.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Did the Taoiseach not hear me a moment ago?

The Taoiseach: Yes, of course.

Deputy Gerry Adams: The Taoiseach should not play the same games as Deputy Martin plays.

The Taoiseach: I will give Deputy Adams the opportunity to reply. The people want to hear a voice of reconciliation looking forward to a future here where that closure can be brought in so far as that can happen. It is difficult after 30 years to go and pinpoint exact spots and that is why the commission, in conducting its investigations, has had to have carried out excavations in a range of areas as to where bodies are supposed to be dumped or laid to rest. The people would like Deputy Adams to say here that what Mr. Hughes and Mr. Moloney state in that book is simply not true and that from the Deputy’s personal responsibility in a different time and place, we can be clear on that. I accept Deputy Adams’s word on his interest in seeing closure brought to the matter of these bodies that have not been recovered. In the case of the late Mrs. McConville, he has an opportunity in the Dáil, our Parliament, to address an issue that has affected many people because of the extent of the coverage of this over the years. For one reason or another, those people have always associated Deputy Adams with elements of that and he has a chance here to put it on the record.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Did the Taoiseach not hear me a moment ago, and the last time he raised it as well?

The Taoiseach: I know that.

Deputy Gerry Adams: He will get the same answer all the time.

The Taoiseach: The leader of Fianna Fáil is raising it here with the book on his desk.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Both of them will play little games.

The Taoiseach: Deputy Adams can repeat it again.

Deputy Willie O’Dea: It is in the book.

Deputy Gerry Adams: I do not intend repeating it again. I have said it once. I do not have to repeat myself all the time.

The Taoiseach: We are discussing this matter here.

Deputy Gerry Adams: I said it a moment ago.

The Taoiseach: Let me now issue the challenge to Deputy Adams to say again on the record for all and sundry that he confirms that he had nothing at all to do with this and we will move on with the commission to see can we bring closure for remains of the disappeared that are not yet recovered.

[...]

Deputy Micheál Martin: [...] I refer to the Boston College Belfast oral history project. I ask the Taoiseach to consider meeting with the authors of that project, Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney. I reject what Deputy Adams said. The Taoiseach can see for himself that their objective in recording these interviews was not to undermine the peace process in any way. I am not endeavouring to exploit the past; I am dealing with the present. The investigation into Jean McConville’s death is happening now; it is a live investigation, not an historical investigation. Hence the PSNI’s desire to secure these tapes which has caused difficulties for those involved in recording them in the first instance. When I showed this book to the House, the words I used when I said that this book is a “must read”, were exactly the words that Deputy Adams used some months ago here when he also paraded a book in the House and said it was a “must read” for every Deputy in the House. The book dealt with British undercover activities in Northern Ireland. He said it outlined in great detail the approaches of the British Government authorities and army and so on, to undercover activity. He felt it was quite appropriate to bring to our attention the importance—–

Deputy Gerry Adams: What is the name of the book?

Deputy Micheál Martin: It was written by a former British Army general—

Deputy Gerry Adams: I did not bring it in here.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Did Deputy Adams say it was a “must read”? I would say that this is also a “must read”. It is wrong to try to undermine the people who were responsible for writing this. They are not anti-peace process. In fact, Anthony McIntyre will say that if the IRA and all those who supported their war were honest, they would have said they should have packed up in 1974. From his perspective, everything since 1974 was a futile killing of life on all sides, that it was not worth the loss of one single life.

An Ceann Comhairle: We are not going back to the book, Deputy.

Deputy Micheál Martin: I do not accept the view that anyone who says anything against the leader of Sinn Féin or against the Sinn Féin Party is somehow to be demonised and just dismissed as being anti-peace process. We are asked please not to take any heed whatsoever of anything that has been said or written and take no heed of what is in the Belfast oral history project. We are to ignore all of that because it is just too negative for Sinn Féin.

What emanates from the project and the interview is really disbelief over the constant denial over leader of Sinn Féin that he had any involvement whatsoever in the IRA at the time.

An Ceann Comhairle: Perhaps the Deputy could table an appropriate parliamentary question.

Deputy Micheál Martin: That is what people find difficult to fathom.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am in a very awkward position here.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Deputy Adams is in a far better position than anybody in this House to make a comprehensive statement, not only on the McConville case but also generally. As Brendan Hughes asks in the book, who met Willie Whitelaw, and why?

An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to put his questions to the Taoiseach.

Deputy Micheál Martin: It is to that hypocrisy that I am referring. Nobody outside Deputy Adams’s set believes he was never in the IRA; that is the bottom line and what people balk at.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: You never collaborated with the Brits either.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Sorry?

Deputy Dessie Ellis: You collaborated with the Brits.

Deputy Micheál Martin: No, I did not, actually.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach is to reply to Deputy Martin.

Deputy Micheál Martin: To be blunt about it, you need to be careful about who you are accusing. There were too many people within your own fold who collaborated.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: You well know what I am talking about.

The Taoiseach: I cannot answer the question as to who met Willie Whitelaw.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not one of the questions that was tabled to the Taoiseach today. I find myself in a very awkward position. In reply to Question No. 3, the Taoiseach said:

I did not have any detailed discussion regarding the Boston College history papers during the visit. As the House is aware, this matter may be the subject of further legal proceedings and, as such, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment.

Therefore, as Chairman of this House, I find it very awkward not to be seen to be stopping people from raising legitimate points but if somebody says that to me in his capacity as Taoiseach, I have to take note of it, and I ask people to respect that please. If there are other questions to be tabled in that regard, please do so and if they are ruled out or in we will deal with them.

The Taoiseach: I am quite sure that when the interviews took place, they took place in the context of their not being released for a very significant period. They have been the subject of court cases. Some of the tapes are now in the possession of the PSNI, having been declared eligible in this regard in the court decision. I have not heard the tapes and do not know what the direct response, evidence or information given by the persons who gave the interviews actually means in the context of some of the discussions we have had here.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Let me say in passing, on the issue of Jean McConville—–

An Ceann Comhairle: I would prefer it if the Deputy did not.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Her family has every right to ask questions about her body’s whereabouts and the circumstances of her death. The Taoiseach has the right to ask questions also. How does he square his concern over killings such as that of Jean McConville and his desire for questions to be answered on that subject with his not showing the same vigour and concern when it comes to the equally innocent victims of US foreign policy in Pakistan or Afghanistan?

An Ceann Comhairle: Could we stick to the questions on the Order Paper?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Should the Taoiseach not have been asking the same questions of the American Administration when he was in Boston?

An Ceann Comhairle: Perhaps the Deputy would table a parliamentary question.

[...]

Deputy Gerry Adams: I understand the difficult position of the Ceann Comhairle considering that the Taoiseach answered the question put to him, Question No. 3, by saying he did not discuss the Boston College Belfast oral history project when he was in the college and, therefore, had no statement to make on it.

Then we had the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, going on to make all sorts of accusations. If I were to come here and make those types of accusation about any other Teachta Dála, I imagine I would be ruled out of order.

Deputy Micheál Martin: The Deputy has.

An Ceann Comhairle: I assure the Deputy that he gets the same treatment as anybody else.

Deputy Gerry Adams: I ask the Taoiseach to resist the temptation to play party political games with this issue because I said in my remarks, as he will recall, that I was a little conflicted about whether I should ignore what Teachta Micheál Martin was saying or whether I should respond to him. I responded by saying: “I have consistently rejected claims that I had any knowledge of or any part in the abduction or killing of Jean McConville.” I do so again today. Will that be the end of the matter? Of course not because this party, under its current leader, is fighting a battle for its survival and that is its only concern in raising this issue. I repeat what Teachta Micheál Martin said last week to the Taoiseach: “You have chosen to exploit the past, not to learn from it.” He should practice what he preaches. The abduction, killing and burial of the people concerned was a grave injustice, but efforts are ongoing and when the seat on which Deputy Micheál Martin has his bum is cold, they will still be ongoing until all the remains have been returned. Jean McConville was one of those whose remains were retrieved through the diligent work of the people on the commission and others, but the remains of seven people have yet to be found. We have to continue with our efforts, no matter what is said or how this is used or exploited for party political gain. I do not know what the voters think of it all, but it is more important than what passes for politics sometimes in this House.