Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Tribunal of Inquiry Bill will jeopardise future tribunals – Ó Snodaigh

6 November, 2008 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD


Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said his party cannot support the Tribunal of Inquiry Bill 2005 as it is currently drafted. He said the Bill is very similar to the British Inquiries Act which is widely viewed to have been constructed to act as a barrier to a full public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

He went on to accuse Governments past and present, both here and in Britain, of colluding in deep cover ups which have masked the truth and compounded the suffering of victims and their relatives.

Speaking in the Dáil this morning Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "It must be clear to everyone that spiralling legal costs and the refusal of witnesses to co-operate with tribunals needs to be addressed. Unfortunately however, as the Bill is currently drafted Sinn Féin must oppose it. We are concerned that the proposed legislation could be used by future governments to stop public inquiries from delivering the truth to the public and to the families of victims of collusion in particular.

"The Bill as currently drafted is very similar to the British Inquiries Act. That Act is widely viewed as having been constructed to act as a barrier to a full public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. This Bill if passed would not only jeopardise the ability of any future tribunal to uncover the truth surrounding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the murders of Seamus Ludlow, Cllr. Eddie Fullerton and Martin Doherty amongst others. It would also undermine the cases of all those in the Six Counties who are seeking inquiries into state collusion because the British government could point to this legislation in order to justify their own. This government signed an all-party demand for a full inquiry by the British authorities into the collusion surrounding the murder of Pat Finucane - this Bill would gravely undermine that demand.

"Governments here and in Britain, past and present, have colluded in deep cover-ups masking the truth and compounding the suffering of victims and their relatives. Recovering the truth is essential if that suffering is to be lessened.

"The Bill before us would effectively give the government power over whether to establish a Tribunal of Inquiry at all, its members and crucially its terms of reference. It would also effectively give the government the power to suspend or dissolve a Tribunal for unlimited reasons and to prevent the publication of a Tribunal's report. In our view this is completely unacceptable and will not instil any confidence amongst either the general public or more crucially those who have been specifically affected and are seeking the full truth about events.

"It will not be lost on the general public that a Fianna Fáil led government, the political party most associated with being on the wrong side of tribunal investigations, is seeking the power to stifle such processes with the support of the Green Party. In the interests of justice and truth I am again calling on the Taoiseach to withdraw the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill." ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Snodaigh's contribution follows:

Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005

6th November 2008

We are in need of new legislation to govern the work of tribunals. The existing legislation dates back as far as 1921. And it must be clear to everyone that spiralling legal costs and the refusal of witnesses to co-operate with tribunals needs to be addressed. Unfortunately however, as the Bill is currently drafted Sinn Féin must oppose it. We are concerned that the proposed legislation could be used by future governments to stop public inquiries from delivering the truth to the public and to the families of victims of collusion in particular.

The Bill as currently drafted is very similar to the British Inquiries Act. That Act is widely viewed as having been constructed to act as a barrier to a full public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. This Bill if passed would not only jeopardise the ability of any future tribunal to uncover the truth surrounding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the murders of Seamus Ludlow, Cllr. Eddie Fullerton and Martin Doherty amongst others. It would also undermine the cases of all those in the 6 counties who are seeking inquiries into state collusion because the British government could point to this legislation in order to justify their own. This government signed an all-party demand for a full inquiry by the British authorities into the collusion surrounding the murder of Pat Finucane - this Bill would gravely undermine that demand.

To quote British Irish Rights Watch:

"Our fear is that, if the [Tribunal of] Inquiries Bill 2005 is passed, it will seriously undermine the Irish government's support for the Finucane family, and other families who equally deserve a proper public inquiry".

Governments here and in Britain, past and present, have colluded in deep cover-ups masking the truth and compounding the suffering of victims and their relatives. Recovering the truth is essential if that suffering is to be lessened.

Last year Sinn Féin held a conference on Collusion in the 26 Counties. Speakers representing the families of collusion victims participated in this very well attended event including speakers from Justice for the Forgotten, the Pat Finucane Centre and Relatives for Justice and from the families of Eddie Fullerton, Séamus Ludlow, Martin Doherty and Pat Finucane. I want to pay tribute to them again for their courageous and enduring efforts to uncover the truth and achieve justice for their loved ones.

The Bill before us would effectively give the government power over whether to establish a Tribunal of Inquiry at all, its members and crucially its terms of reference. It would also effectively give the government the power to suspend or dissolve a Tribunal for unlimited reasons and to prevent the publication of a Tribunal's report. In our view this is completely unacceptable and will not instil any confidence amongst either the general public or more crucially those who have been specifically affected and are seeking the full truth about events.

I want to put some of our concerns on the record more specifically now.

"Section 34(7) allows the government, acting on the opinion of the responsible Minister, to direct that the report or a specified part of it not be published for a specified period or until the government otherwise directs, 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." (Explanatory Memorandum).

Arguably certain collusion findings, which should be made public in the interests of truth and justice etc., may damage the States relationship with Britain and the EU of which both states are members - the government should not have the broad discretion to suppress findings on these grounds. Further, it is likely that with regard to Inquiries into collusion the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would be the 'responsible Minister'. Since the establishment of the free state Justice Ministers have established a track record of mis-using and abusing their powers on purported grounds of State security.

Part 4 includes provisions for appointments to Tribunals. Appointments do not require Oireachtas approval. The Minister has too much discretion in the making of appointments. The Bill lacks and would benefit from the inclusion of explicit progressive criteria for suitable appointees and a transparent merit-based mechanism for identifying and approving the appointment of members of the tribunal.

The government can dissolve a Tribunal with the approval of the Oireachtas. While the government must state its reasons for dissolving the Tribunal the Bill as drafted does not limit what these reasons may be. The Bill should explicitly provide that a Tribunal of Inquiry may only be dissolved prior to the submission of its final report for extraordinary and compelling reasons that clearly outweigh the public interest in the Tribunal completing its work.

The Bill would also benefit greatly from the inclusion of provisions allowing for an international dimension to the Inquiries in particular where there is a possibility of state collusion in serious human rights abuses.

Back when the Bill was first published I wrote to the then Minister for Justice Michael McDowell outlining our concerns and I know that the government have discussed the matter with Sinn Féin's leadership team. Despite our best efforts to have the Bill withdrawn the government seem determined to press ahead. It is an astonishing affront to democracy that Fianna Fáil with the support of the Greens are continuing with this Bill.

It will not be lost on the general public that a Fianna Fáil led government, the political party most associated with being on the wrong side of tribunal investigations, is seeking the power to stifle such processes.

In the interests of justice and truth I am again calling on the Taoiseach to withdraw the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill.

Connect with Sinn Féin