By Patricia McKenna (for Daily Ireland)
Today is a day many people recall with feelings of sadness and anger as well as a strong desire for the truth. Incredible, though it may seem, even after 32 years, we still know so little about the biggest mass murder in the history of this state - the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
Probably one of the most pertinent questions for the relatives of the victims is why the Garda investigation into this, the worst atrocity of the Troubles, was wound down so soon after it happened. Why was there no debate in Dail Eireann at the time about the progress of Garda investigations and the need for them to continue?
When one looks back to media reports and Dail records of the time there is no evidence to indicate that any of our elected politicians felt strongly enough about this massacre to ensure that those responsible were brought to justice.
While it is clear the government of the day has many questions to answer about their failure prioritise the protection of human life and the bringing to justice those responsible for such mindless killings, the inaction by the opposition politicians cannot go uncriticised.
They too had a responsibility to ensure this massacre was properly investigated and that, in the words of the then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave: “No stone would be left unturned.” Not only was no attempt made to pursue those responsible but also efforts to suppress this slaughter were extremely successful and it has only been in recent years that the issue has been brought to the fore by organisations such as Justice for the Forgotten.
We must not forget that the perpetrators of these bombing did not even attempt to issue any warnings. Clearly their objective was to achieve the greatest number of casualties.
Many of us have believed for years that the bombings were carried out, not by loyalist paramilitaries alone, but with the help and assistance of members of the security forces and British Intelligence.
In fact many leading military specialists have stated it was such an extremely well-planned and executed operation it had to be planned and controlled by experts who knew exactly what they were doing. It was not something loyalist paramilitaries had either the experience or the technology to carry out without assistance.
The recent discovery by Justice for the Forgotten and the Pat Finucane Centre of documents confirming not only large-scale collusion between security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, but also the fact that the British government was aware of the collusion from as early as 1973, should motivate our politicians into action.
Now that Justice Minister Michael McDowell has been made aware of evidence backing up his own suspicions, he and the government should insist on full co-operation from the British on ongoing enquires into the events of 1974.
However, the enquires don’t just stop at the door of the British authorities. We too have questions to answer, not least the question as to why all the files relating to these events have gone missing from state departments.
This alone is a national scandal and a serious breach of security that should be fully investigated. Not everyone seems to agree that these missing files merit such concern. During a Dail committee hearing on the bombings, former justice minister Paddy Cooney, said: “Of course, with missing files in the Department of Justice, every conspiracy theorist in the world kicks into action.”
When Minister McDowell issued a statement on this point after the report had been published, he said: “Do not make too much out of these missing files. There was nothing significant in them. They would have largely consisted - I can confirm this - of reports that would have come over from the Garda security section for the information of the Department and myself.” The cavalier attitude by both Mr Cooney and Mr McDowell regarding these files is staggering.
While at least Mr Cooney took part in the Dail hearing and participated in the Barron inquiry, the same cannot be said of the then Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, who has refused to co-operate with any inquiry. This is not only astonishing but totally unacceptable and an impediment to the effectiveness of any inquiry since he may have received information others were not party to. Even Garret FitzGerald admitted: “The Taoiseach was present and I knew that he had received intelligence reports. He would have known what was happening.” Or in the words of Senator J Walsh at the hearing: “The Taoiseach would have been privy to information that you (Mr FitzGerald) would not have seen.” Surely it’s time to force this former Taoiseach, who remember is in receipt of a handsome state pension, to co-operate in these investigations into the slaughter of people he was elected to serve.
How long more will relatives and friends have to wait for answers? Surely, regardless of how shocking the findings might be, the time is long overdue for a full public inquiry into these events. The families of the victims have a right to closure. It’s not fair making them wait so long, indeed many have already died not knowing why their loved ones were murdered and who was responsible.
However, if the proposed Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005 goes ahead in its present form, there is no guarantee that the findings of a full public inquiry will be made public. Michael McDowell has announced a major reform of tribunal legislation and it would appear that provisions to censor certain findings are enshrined in the legislation.
The bill allows the government, “acting on the opinion of the responsible Minister”, to direct that a report or a specified part of it not be published “where such publication would not be in the interest of state security, or the interest of the state’s relations with other states or international organisations.”
Giving government excessive power to suppress findings on these grounds is scandalous.
In other words the government can censor the report if it believes that in will affect relations with other states. This means that even if collusion and the involvement of British intelligence is proven during a public inquiry the public, who are footing the bill for the inquiry, will be denied the right to know this because it may not be in the interests of our relations with Britain. What is the point of an inquiry?
This legislation does not just have implications for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings or other inquiries relating to the Troubles. It also has serious implications for many other possible inquiries. For example, if it transpires that Shannon airport has been used for the purpose of ‘rendition flights’ and there is a public inquiry into that or other events relating to the so called “war on terror” and our government’s facilitation of this war, then again the finding will be suppressed because it would be considered that publication of the findings would not be in the interest Ireland’s relations with the US.
This is an extremely reactionary piece of legislation giving government a blank cheque to do as it wishes. Ironically the legislation was supposed to be about excessive legal costs and the burden on the taxpayer. Instead it is going to result in a situation where the taxpayer foots the bill for a lengthy and costly inquiry where the findings will be kept from that very same public.