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Disappointment at McDowell's refusal to clarify serious issues regarding Fullerton case

14 April, 2005

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equaltiy and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has expressed his disappointment at the failure of Justice Minister, Michael McDowell to provide necessary clarifications to his response yesterday to a series of questions posed by Sinn Féin deputies regarding the assassination of Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton in his Buncrana home in 1991.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "I welcomed the Minister's original reply to the questions posed by my colleagues and myself in regard to the Fullerton case. But I was disappointed that he did not see fit to address all of the issues that we raised. Clarification was, and still is, needed on a number of issues including the reason why the reinvestigation was delayed by some fourteen months, whether the Minister will commit to publish the final report on the reinvestigation, and most importantly if the Minister has in fact raised this case directly with the British Government. If he has, we need to know how long they have been holding back the necessary information and cooperation. If he hasn't then we need to know why, and we also need a commitment from him to do so immediately.

"Last night I asked the Minister for some clarity on these issues but unfortunately the only reply I got was a rehash of his original statement in response to the questions posed by my colleagues and myself. I am disappointed that the Minister has not taken the opportunity to clarify these issues but I will continue to seek answers to these very important questions over the coming days and weeks.

"The Fullerton family deserve every support in their search for truth and justice." ENDS

Note to editor:

The following is the transcript of from last nights exchange in the Dáil,

Aengus Ó Snodaigh: In 1991, Donegal Sinn Féin County Councillor, Eddie Fullerton, was assassinated by a British pseudo-gang, a loyalist death squad, at his home in Buncrana. His killing was later claimed by the UDA, using their other name, the UFF. No one has ever been convicted or charged with his killing. There is evidence of British armed forces collusion in his death. Eddie's photograph was among crown forces photomontages seized from loyalists by the Stephens Inquiry team six months after Eddie's killing, which probably came from their masters, the force research unit. Many believe that Eddie, who was shot just one month before local elections that year, was targeted as part of a wider campaign against Sinn Féin members, eight of whom were assassinated between 1989 and 1992.

There are also serious questions about irregularities in the Garda investigation. A number of the Donegal gardaí who are the subject of the Morris tribunal were involved in the Fullerton investigation, including disgraced Garda Noel McMahon. Despite this, the Fullerton family's requests to have the conduct of the gardaí in the case investigated by the Morris tribunal were refused. A reinvestigation into the case finally commenced 14 years later, not as a result of diligence on the part of the gardaí or the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, but because of the efforts of the Fullerton family who presented a dossier to the Minister demanding his assistance in the search for the truth. The Minister subsequently directed not a full public inquiry, but an internal re-examination of the case by the Garda Commissioner. This has resulted in an interim report to the Minister, which has never been published.

Yesterday, the Minister answered a series of questions I and my party colleagues put to him in the case. I welcome the Minister's reply, particularly in that it makes very clear that the British Government and the PSNI are holding up the process of finding out the truth about collusion in this case, and that it also leaves open the possibility of a public inquiry. However, I still need clarification on a number of issues. In his answer yesterday, the Minister said the family's dossier amounted to no more than what was raised directly with the Garda Síochána 14 months previously. Will the Minister clarify why the matter was delayed until June 2003 rather than being addressed in April 2002 when this information came to light. In his answer yesterday, the Minister said that he will not publish the interim report he has received on the case because it is incomplete due to the outstanding information needed from the British authorities and the PSNI. However, he avoids committing to publishing the final report. We need this commitment now. The Fullerton family, the people of Buncrana and the Irish people as a whole deserve to know the truth about the assassination of this elected representative. Question marks also remain over the serious deficiencies in the original Garda investigation, including its failure to interview key suspects and a witness. The public deserves to know the truth about this.

Disturbingly, despite a direct question on the matter, it is unclear from the Minister's reply whether he has raised this case with the British Government. If he has not done so, I want a clear commitment as to when he will do so, as the assassination of an Irish public representative as a result of British intelligence collusion with a loyalist death squad is a matter of the utmost seriousness and of public importance. If he has done so, I would appreciate clarification as to exactly when the British Government was made aware of the outstanding matters necessary to complete the investigation. I need to know at what level the matter was raised. Was it with the British Prime Minister or at ministerial level? When were the police-to-police inquiries made and has the PSNI or British authorities given a timeframe as to when the outstanding information and co-operation will be provided?

I submit to the Minister Sinn Féin's position that, just as in the Pat Finucane case and all other cases where there is evidence that British crown forces colluded with loyalist death squads to target Irish citizens, there is an urgent need for a full public inquiry into the assassination of Eddie Fullerton.

Mr. McDowell: As I have already put on the record of this House, the murder in 1991 of Mr. Eddie Fullerton, who was then a Sinn Féin councillo on Donegal County Council, was a most dreadful and heinous crime. I use the words "murder" and "crime" in respect of it. Regardless of who did it or why they did it, it is a murder and a crime, and the Deputy might note that. Unfortunately, to date, nobody has been made amenable for this appalling crime.

The so-called Ulster Freedom Fighters subsequently claimed responsibility for the murder, claiming that Councillor Fullerton was killed because he passed information to the Provisional IRA. It should be stated unequivocally that the subsequent Garda investigation indicated that there was no evidence to substantiate that claim, not that this is in any way relevant to what was cold-blooded, calculated and callous murder.

I am aware that since 2002 the Fullerton family has raised concerns about the murder and the ensuing investigations. In particular, the family has been calling for some form of inquiry into the matter. In April 2002, these concerns were raised directly with the Garda authorities in Buncrana. Subsequently, in June 2003, solicitors acting on behalf of the Fullerton family submitted to me a memorandum setting out these concerns, as well as outlining what is described as new evidence and new concerns. Included in these additional matters are references to a person characterised as a new "witness". This person made a statement to the Fullerton family's solicitors about events he allegedly witnessed shortly after the murder of Councillor Fullerton. According to the solicitors, these purported events pose radical questions for the integrity of the official Garda and RUC investigations into the murder.

"In response to the submission of this memorandum and out of a genuine desire to seek to address the concerns of the Fullerton family, I referred the memorandum to the Garda Commissioner, who established a review team led by a chief superintendent to conduct a thorough and concise investigation into all matters of concern raised. The Garda review has been extremel extensive. I say that because I have seen the interim report, the scope of which has been enormous. It has involved interviews with more than 120 people and the taking of more than 150 witness statements. Recently, I have been in receipt of that interim report from the Garda authorities on the current, incomplete state of the review.

"Although I do not plan to go into detail on the matter, I can confirm to the Deputy that members of the Garda review team interviewed the person characterised as a new witness to clarify his recollection of events on the day of the murder. I am informed that this person has stated that he could no longer stand over the statement he made to the Fullerton family's solicitor and, instead, made a new statement to the Garda review team.

"I am pleased to report that the Garda review is drawing to a conclusion. The only outstanding matters relate to the awaited results of a mutual assistance request to the British authorities and certain police-to-police inquiries with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

"I have heard suggestions that the British and Northern Ireland authorities are failing to co-operate with these requests. I have no reason whatsoever to believe, nor have I received any indication, that either the British or Northern Ireland authorities have failed or will fail to co-operate. In this regard, it is a simple reality that such cross-jurisdictional inquiries often take an extended period to complete. This is particularly the case in regard to mutual assistance requests, which are quasi-judicial in nature.

"No final conclusions can be drawn from the review until such replies from the British and Northern Ireland authorities are received, evaluated and acted upon, as appropriate, by the Garda Síochána. Although I do not intend to publish the Garda report which I recently received, I have undertaken to contact the Fullerton family's solicitors with a full response to their concerns, as soon as all the outstanding matters are clarified by the Garda Síochána.

"It should be noted that the Fullerton family and their solicitors have been kept informed of developments by the Garda chief superintendent in charge of the review, who met them in December 2004. The investigation file in this case remains open and I will be in contact with the family directly in due course when the current review of all matters raised with me is brought to a definitive conclusion.

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