A tribunal of inquiry is being set up by the 26-County government into the killing by the Provisional IRA of two leading members of the RUC police (now PSNI) in County Armagh in 1989 -- but there is still little prospect of open inquiries into British collusion with unionist paramilitaries.
Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Robert Buchanan were shot dead at an IRA checkpoint as they returned from a meeting with the 26 County garda police across the border in Dundalk, County Louth.
Canadian Judge Peter Cory, who was appointed to investigate allegations of collusion in a number of cases, recommended that an inquiry be held into the deaths of the two men as he recommended a series of inquiries into British collusion. It has been alleged that members of the Garda force may have passed information to the IRA of the RUC men’s movements.
The Broitish government’s failure to respond to Cory’s recommendations remains a major obstacle in peace efforts. However, the Dublin government is going ahead with the establish of the tribunal into the Armagh case.
The Minister for Justice Michael McDowell has ‘challenged’ the IRA to co-operate with the tribunal. He said republicans could not clamour for justice and truth in other cases and not co-operate with this one.
Sinn Féin parliamentary leader Caoimhghin O’Caolain said his party favoured a full process to recover the truth behind killings in the conflict.
“Anyone with relevant information should come forward to assist this inquiry,” he said.
But he declared that it was “outrageous” there there had still been no public inquiry into the death of Belfast defence lawyer Pat Finucane or the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
“There should be no hierarchy of victims,” he said.
“Here we have the Oireachtas today establishing a full-blown public inquiry into the alleged collusion of a member of the Garda Siochana in the killing of senior RUC officers Harry Breen and Robert Buchanan in 1989.
“Yet we have no public inquiry established on the murder of Pat Finucane. And, even more outrageously, we have had no public inquiry in either jurisdiction into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of nearly 31 years ago, or into any of the incidents in which at least 47 people died in the 26 Counties, killed as a result of collusion or directly by British forces.”
A former negotiator for the Dublin government, Martin Mansergh, this week revealed British officials had blatantly told him the Finucane case was a “can of worms” which they didn’t want opened.
Meanwhile, ten human rights organisations have publicly criticised the British government’s plans for secrecy powers over public inquiries, including the long-delayed Finucane inquiry.
In a hard-hitting joint statement, the groups said the Inquiries Bill - which will give Ministers greater powers to withhold information - will be “highly detrimental” to the proper investigation of controversial cases if it is passed by Parliament.
The controversial bill has already been criticised by the family of Mr Finucane, the Irish government, US envoy Mitchell Reiss and key judicial figures.
“An inquiry held under the Bill as currently drafted would not be effective, independent, impartial or thorough, nor would the evidence presented to it be subject to sufficient public scrutiny,” the statement said.
The groups said the “fundamental problem” with the proposed law is “its shift in emphasis towards inquiries established and largely controlled by Government Ministers”.
Yesterday’s statement was issued by Amnesty International, British-Irish Rights Watch, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Human Rights First, the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, INQUEST JUSTICE, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, the Law Society of England and Wales, the Pat Finucane Centre and the Scottish Human Rights Centre.
There have also been fears that the terms of reference set by the British Government may expose the truth about the murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson in 1999.
Speaking at a commemoration held at Belfast’s Linen Hall Library, solicitor Padraigin Drinan said that the inquiries current terms of reference would result in key information about the murder being withheld from the public. “This inquiry will come under the 1998 Police Act and that gives the Secretary of State the final say-so as to what information is released to the public,” said Drinan.
“What we have is not a public inquiry but a private one that can conclude that everything is alright and the public will not have the chance to scrutinise that judgement. It makes a mockery of the term public inquiry.”
* British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy this week granted a request from the Rosemary Nelson inquiry team to allow an investigation into whether the British army and/or British intelligence agencies, as well as the RUC police, were involved in the murder.
Jane Winter of British Irish Rights Watch said she had given Mr Murphy evidence suggesting that British soldiers may have assisted in the booby-trap car bomb which killed Mrs Nelson.