I beg to move:
That this Assembly reiterates its opposition to Her Majesty’s Government’s plans for legislation to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland, as outlined in the Command Paper published on 14 July 2021; regards any statute of limitations for Troubles-related offences to be in violation of the principle that everyone must be equal under the law and equally subject to the law; stresses that all allegations of wrongdoing should be investigated in a fair and proportionate way, regardless of the nature of the offence or the jurisdiction in which it was committed; highlights the need to preserve legal routes to justice for innocent victims; condemns the long-standing failure by government and police oversight bodies in the Republic of Ireland to address substantive allegations of collusion in atrocities committed by the IRA; notes with deep concern the refusal by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to commission an investigation in the case of Ian Sproule, who was murdered in 1991; opposes the preconditions set by the Irish Government for exchanging information integral to legacy investigations; and calls on the Irish Government to fulfil their obligations under international human rights law to provide an effective investigation into claims of state collusion in acts of terrorism and to facilitate timely access to justice and truth for affected victims and their families.
The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. As one amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List, the Business Committee has agreed that 15 minutes will be added to the total time for the debate.
Ian Sproule was killed on 13 April 1991. He was 23 years of age. Ian lived near Killen, which is not far from Castlederg. He was a joiner by trade and a young lad who enjoyed music and playing in bands. In the early hours of 13 April, he returned home, and an IRA gang who had been lying in wait shot him at close range. Forty-four bullets were fired. Ian died instantly. In a cruel twist, shortly after he was murdered, the IRA called the family home and told his father Robert to go out and see what they had left him in the street.
For many years, I have advocated on behalf of the Sproule family as they seek answers about their brother, who was murdered by the Provisional IRA as a result of collusion with gardai in Donegal. Officialdom in Dublin has talked about the truth but failed to deliver answers. Dublin has manufactured reasons not to help the Sproule family. It has behaved like a spectator and lectured us all about dealing with the Troubles, yet failed to see its own shortcomings.
Let me make it clear before I advance that the House owes a debt of gratitude to the RUC, the PSNI and our armed forces for the way in which they protected us. We remember the sacrifices of those who died and those who live with the scars and the families who continue to grieve. We also record our gratitude to the officers of an Garda Síochána who stood with us and worked to protect lives in the most difficult circumstances. In dealing with the motion, let us never forget that terrorists, not police officers, were responsible for 90% of the deaths and bloodshed on both sides of the border. No one in the House should allow the victim-makers to deflect attention from their own bloody past. They and they alone planted the bombs and pulled the triggers.
The motion is about bringing the Irish Government to book for their failure to address the minority of cases where there is alleged collusion by members of the Garda. It is not about taking the focus off where it belongs: on those who pulled the trigger and planted the bomb. The House has already recorded its emphatic rejection of the proposals by Her Majesty's Government to close down legal routes to justice for innocent victims of violence. I hope that all those who support the basic principle of justice will do so again today.
I reject the amendment. Every criticism of the Irish authorities in relation to legacy should not have to be qualified by a mention of the United Kingdom Government. The concerns raised by the Sproule family and many others like them are serious. They deserve to be debated in their own right. It is not a zero-sum game. Equally, there is no reason why action by the Irish Government should depend on wider agreement with the United Kingdom. Either that Administration believe in upholding the rule of law, or they do not. With that in mind, the main focus of the motion is on the role of successive Dublin Governments who have failed to investigate the extent of the Irish state's involvement in the terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland, tried to sweep that element of their actions out of public view and continuously lectured others on their responsibilities while delaying truth and justice for innocent victims. Justice delayed is indeed justice denied.
Let us look at another area: extradition. Between 1973 and 1997, 113 extradition requests were made to the Republic of Ireland on terrorist-related offences. Only eight people were ever extradited. The offences included charges of murdering RUC officers, planting incendiary devices and attempted murder. In effect, it was a safe haven for terror.
I will focus my remarks specifically on the sustained failure by successive Governments to address the substantive allegations of collusion by Garda officers in atrocities committed by the Provisional IRA, and, in particular, on the case of Ian Sproule. In the aftermath of Ian's murder, the IRA passed files to the 'Derry Journal' that included copies of confidential Garda security files that had been leaked as justification for the brutal murder. I have been involved in that case for many years, starting in my role as an MEP. I have written to every Taoiseach since Enda Kenny, and I accompanied John Sproule to meet Simon Coveney in 2019. As John says:
"We were given tea and sympathy but nothing that would help to uncover the truth behind Ian's murder."
I am aware that others in the House have met the family and taken an interest in the case, but it seems that the desire to sweep it away trumps the search for truth and justice.
In August of this year, after a four-year wait, the Garda Ombudsman responded to the Sproule family, essentially indicating that the passage of time meant that it would not investigate the crime, citing limited resources and the challenge involved in locating witnesses and documents. In reality, it was a list of reasons or excuses, four years in the making, denying the Sproule family an investigation. Although the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act, ratified by the Irish Parliament in 2019, allows the Garda Ombudsman and other bodies to exchange information on cross-border investigations, the Government in Dublin have retained their veto over such arrangements. That means that families such as the Sproules, and, indeed, those whose loved ones were killed in the Kingsmills massacre, have been abandoned.
What have the Irish Government to hide? Are they, like Sinn Féin, secretly pleased that the passage of time seems a convenient excuse for inaction on those terrible crimes? The Smithwick tribunal into the murders of RUC officers Breen and Buchanan should have been the catalyst for a wide-ranging inquiry into Irish state collusion with the Provisional IRA. Not only did Smithwick conclude that there was collusion between the Provisional IRA and Garda officers in the death of those two officers but, in recommendation 7, he looked at the possibility of a further tribunal with the power to compel witnesses and make orders for the discovery of documents in both jurisdictions.
The solicitor acting for Breen and Buchanan wrote to Enda Kenny in 2014 to say that there should be further investigations into other murders that were probed, to some degree, by Smithwick and in which there were allegations of collusion. Those cases are: Constable Tracy Doak and her three colleagues, who were murdered at Killeen in May 1985; Terence McKeever, murdered in June 1986; Lord Justice and Lady Gibson, murdered in 1987; the Hanna family, in 1988; John McAnulty, in 1989; Ian Sproule, in 1991; and Tom Oliver, also in 1991.
Many of the concerns raised on that issue were contained in new intelligence precis presented to the Smithwick tribunal by then Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris. They were described by him at the tribunal as being "accurate and reliable." Successive Irish Governments have swept away the allegations of collusion, but, in doing so, they fail not only those who lived in Northern Ireland and were murdered by the Provisional IRA but their own citizens: those who have the right to expect protection and justice from their Government.
There has been a great deal of litigation and comment about the UK Government's obligation under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Very little attention, if any, has been paid to the Irish state's responsibilities, however.
In concluding, I commend the motion to the House. Its focus is narrow, but it is important, and investigations are needed. Where should we go from here? We cannot just talk about the Sproule family and leave it there. We need to get answers. This week, I wrote to the Garda Commissioner and the Taoiseach. Again, I called on them —
I beg to move the following amendment:
Leave out all after "oversight bodies" and insert: "in the UK and Ireland to address substantive allegations of collusion in atrocities committed by republicans and loyalists; notes with deep concern the failure to make progress on investigating the case of Ian Sproule, who was murdered in 1991; recognises the need for the UK and Irish Governments to exchange, urgently, information integral to legacy investigations; and calls on the UK and Irish Governments to fulfil their obligations under international human rights law to provide effective investigations into claims of state collusion in acts of terrorism and facilitate timely access to justice and truth for affected victims and their families."
I should emphasise that I propose the amendment primarily in an attempt to ensure that the motion satisfies its original intent and so that it enjoys unanimous consent across the House. Later, I will come back to why I think that that is essential, not just for the Sproule family but for many, many others.
First, I would like to address the motion directly, and I thank Members in the DUP for tabling it. We agree entirely that the UK Government's plans to address the legacy of the past are unacceptable. They are unacceptable because they do not enjoy the support of any of the political parties represented in the Assembly. They are unacceptable because they amount to, as the motion notes, a statute of limitations. Most of all, they are unacceptable because they take away from the friends and family of victims the opportunity to seek justice. Indeed, they do so without even assuring them of truth or accountability.
Quite correctly, the motion also raises the point that such a statute makes a mockery of the claim that we are all equal under the law and equally subject to the law. Making the potential for charging anyone with an offence and going to trial subject to a set time frame rather than to the potential for conviction places some above the law. This is a serious violation of the basics of the rule of law. Without the rule of law, collectively, we have no foundation from which to build a coherent and fair response to the legacy with which we continue to struggle. It is worth putting on record that what the motion says about seeking fair and proportionate investigation regardless of the jurisdiction in which the offence was committed is important and correct. Ultimately, it must be stressed that the UK Government's withdrawal from past agreements through their stand-alone plan for legacy makes it difficult to imagine any investigation occurring, regardless of the jurisdiction of the offence. It certainly makes it difficult to imagine that victims' families will have access to the truth, justice or accountability that they seek. That is implicit in the motion, but we wanted to make it more evident in the amendment, especially to emphasise that both Governments have an ongoing obligation around information exchange.
I turn directly to the case of Ian Sproule. First, I recognise the hard work of family members and other campaigners. Their campaign for truth has the Alliance Party's full support. There remains in this case a serious question over the claim at the Smithwick tribunal that there was a leak from the gardaí, and that question requires a clear answer.
Our amendment takes the view that it is not for the House to direct how authorities in a different jurisdiction should ensure that the case is progressed. Nevertheless, the sentiment in the House is, I think, that a request should be made to the Garda Ombudsman to reconsider it, and, no doubt, some will openly recommend this during the debate. While recognising the independence of that office and that it is, rightly, not subject to ministerial direction, it is a sad truth that investigations into atrocities during the Troubles have more often progressed when they were reopened. Surely, there is also a case, as colleagues in the SDLP noted in their proposed amendment and elsewhere, that the ombudsman should be given statutory and legal powers for relevant historical investigations. At the very least, there should be a clear and dedicated liaison point.
It should be emphasised that the last words of our amendment reflect those of the motion. That is another reason that the UK Government's legacy proposals are so unacceptable. We need to do the best that we can to provide, not remove, access to truth, justice and accountability for all affected families. Sadly, the families and campaigners for truth and justice in the case of Ian Sproule are among many who would suffer if the UK Government's proposals were to progress. That raises the question that all in the House must answer about what we can do to stop those proposals progressing at Westminster. If we continue to be divided on legacy, we will play into the hands of the UK Government. UK Ministers will continue to argue that, if we are divided, they are therefore justified in simply acting over our heads. In other words, it is not enough to say what we are against; we must agree what we are for. If we cannot come up with a route forward, the UK Government's proposals will become law and be progressed. We have to ask ourselves, hands on heart, whether we want to let that happen or whether we will do something about it.
Victims have been overlooked for far too long. There is no time for expediency. It is time to recognise the fact that victims need and deserve a full say. I urge Members to consider that a unanimous vote in the House on the motion and the amendment would send a clear message that we can agree, that we can come together on behalf of victims and that we can come together to support access to truth, justice and accountability. I do not think that we are far from agreement on a route forward if we are courageous enough to deliver on it. We must be courageous. After all, that is what the families of victims and the campaigners want. However, we do not have long. A show of unity here now would be one step, but it is just one of many.
I will speak in favour of the amendment. My starting point is that no victim should be asked to be silent and to forego their right to truth and justice. I am also sensitive to the deep loss, hurt and pain across our communities and, importantly, to the desire by families for their many questions to be answered. I would much prefer an approach to legacy that was about implementing what was negotiated in the Stormont House Agreement, which in no way asked victims to concede their right to truth and justice. That is their fundamental legal right. Fully engaging with the past must be on the basis of the legal rights and entitlements of all victims.
Let us be in no doubt: the British Command Paper on legacy amounts to a full-frontal assault on the Good Friday Agreement, the rule of law and the administration of justice. That is why families are understandably angry as they see their legal rights potentially being denied. These are families across the island who have fought long battles over decades in memory of their loved ones. We saw evidence of that anger and frustration over the weekend when thousands of people, on an all-island basis, joined the Time for Truth solidarity vigils rejecting the British amnesty proposals.
Experience has shown that, without access to legal rights and an independent legal process, there will be no truth, justice and accountability. Significantly, that cannot be done on a selective or à la carte basis. If we are serious about investigating the extent of collusion, its administration and practice, we need to do so in a way that meets the needs of all, not some, victims. I offer that as a challenge to some in the Chamber. There can be no space for those who selectively seek to talk about collusion, particularly when they choose to deny, dismiss or disregard the huge body of evidence and lived experiences of many families and communities in the North. There is an issue of consistency. No family should be asked to concede their right to an investigation in line with human rights law, or an inquest or public inquiry. That is their right in law.
Sinn Féin will continue to uphold the rights of all victims. Denying families their basic human rights is at the core of the British Government's approach to legacy. Those proposals would not be out of place in a military dictatorship. Today, the House needs to send a united, clear message to the British Government and, indeed, the Irish Government that we need to see the immediate delivery of the rights of all victims and no further delays or denials.
We need to see accountability.
The immediate implementation of the Stormont House Agreement in a human-rights compliant manner and in a way that is victim-centred and gives victims the answers that they are entitled to is the way to achieve that outcome. Together, we owe it to all victims to ensure that they are treated with equality, dignity and respect and that their legal rights are protected and upheld, whether they are to be exercised in Belfast, London, Dublin or Strasbourg. On that basis, I urge Members to join with me in support of the amendment.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. Before there is any suggestion that there is not consensus across the House, there are elements of the motion that I do agree with: justice, accountability and — the highest ideal — truth.
In terms of accountability, we can agree that everyone is equal under the law and should be equally subjected to the law, whether they were a member of a paramilitary organisation, a general in an army or a member of the Government.
On truth, all of us can agree that too many families, such as the family of Ian Sproule, have needlessly suffered the loss of a loved one. Lives have been lost, livelihoods have been destroyed and generations are still living with the legacy of our collective past. Their truths needs to be heard in every home, every school and every town hall.
There is consensus. Unfortunately, such consensus is not often deemed to be newsworthy, rather the divergence among the parties is what grabs the headlines. Let that serve as a reminder to all of us when we consider the tone of this debate.
After welcoming areas where there is consensus, let me come to some areas of divergence. Today's motion isolates the Irish Government for criticism and examination. However, that is counterproductive. There has been no greater enactor of collusion than the British state, so to attempt to raise one without addressing the other is imbalanced and altogether unhelpful in the entire legacy conversation.
In South Down, we know about the impact of British collusion all too well. Six victims were shot dead in The Heights Bar in Loughinisland in 1994. Horrendously, when journalists tried to, and did, shine a light on state collusion in that massacre, they found themselves being arrested. Where was the justice, accountability and truth for them?
An imperfect consensus on how we address such matters was found in the Stormont House Agreement in 2014. That was an imperfect solution, but it was a solution nonetheless. Eames/Bradley provided, and continues to provide, the best model for dealing with legacy, but one of the major difficulties with our response to legacy has been the lack of resources for the various strands to be able to deliver their work. We must see adequate resources for all the various strands.
Too much time has been wasted in trying to address the legacy of our past. That has resulted in a void that the extreme elements of republicanism and unionism have filled with their accounts of history rather than allowing all of us an agreed consensus. Further to that, Sinn Féin's insistence on the absence of this place for three years did nothing to progress the cause of victims and deal with the legacy of the past. Similarly, I ask those who tabled the motion what have they delivered for victims in the 14 years that their party has jointly headed Government? Even now, the proposers are not looking forward; they continue to look back over their shoulders to try to outmanoeuvre their opponents because of one poll. That is shameful.
Justice, accountability and truth are not mere words; they are the ideals that we must seek in building a better and more reconciled society than the troubled one that we have inherited.
If we are ever to adequately address the legacy of our past, it cannot be done by cherry-picking the elements that make us uncomfortable, which today's motion, as introduced, does. Such piecemeal reconciliation cannot and will not deliver for all victims. For that reason, the SDLP will support only the amended motion.
I thank the Member for tabling the motion for debate. We have had lots of discussions here and elsewhere about legacy, and nobody is going to close the gap between the different directions from which we view it, whether that is blaming the British military police and Government, blaming loyalist or republican terrorists, blaming the Irish Government, the Irish police and the Irish military or blaming a political party that excused and promoted murder. We will all look at it from various directions, but one thing is clear: we cannot have an amnesty. We cannot have a statute of limitations. We are all agreed on that.
Let us dissect the fine words that we are hearing, shall we? The motion text speaks of regarding:
"any statute of limitations for Troubles-related offences to be in violation of the principle that everyone must be equal under the law and equally subject to the law".
Yet, three MPs from the DUP supported a statute of limitations in 2018. If it was not for this Member's intervention, they would have still supported it, because it led to an amnesty. We have to be careful.
The motion continues:
"highlights the need to preserve legal routes to justice for innocent victims".
Everybody stands up and claps the Stormont House Agreement. The Stormont House Agreement does not give justice to victims who were injured in the Troubles if there was no fatality. The limbless, the blind, the burned, those in a wheelchair and the psychologically damaged do not get an investigation, purely because they had the audacity to live. That is an amnesty for the perpetrators.
Under the Stormont House Agreement, people who had an Historical Enquiries Team (HET) desktop review do not get an investigation. The Stormont House Agreement is geographically fixed, which means that, if a person was kidnapped in Northern Ireland, taken across the border into Ireland, tortured and murdered, they do not get an investigation. That is not dealing with legacy. That is an amnesty. Call it what you will, but you need to own up to it, because that is what you agreed to. I have been saying that since I came into the House in 2016.
We have to look at the Irish Government, because the Irish Government are not innocent players. We cannot allow them to say nothing in case the halo slips. We are all critical of the British proposals. The UK proposals are wrong, but the Irish Government have done nothing and brought nothing forward. They are doing nothing for victims. There were thousands of attacks that came from Irish soil into Northern Ireland to murder and maim our citizens, and they have done nothing to address that, apart from the Criminal Justice (International Co-Operation) Act 2019. Let me explain something. Before any investigation, the Irish Government will redact the information before we get it. We will never get all the information.
We have heard about Ian Sproule. He is not the only one. There are many out there. In 1972, Corporal James Elliott was kidnapped, taken across the border into the Irish Republic, brutally tortured and murdered after two days. His body was booby trapped, put on the border and left there. They arrested people not for his murder but for putting a bomb on his body. I wrote to the Irish Government to ask them why they had not gone any further in dealing with that issue. In the same way, I wrote and spoke directly to Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and their Justice Minister, asking what the Irish were going to do. I asked every one of them, "What are you going to do in regards to legacy, as you allow us to sit in this House and tear strips off each other? What is your part to be played?". Their answer is silence. Every single time, their answer is silence.
The motion as it stands is right, as it focuses on the Irish Government. They are there for a reason. That is not to say that the British Government do not have questions to answer, but it means that we can focus on the Irish Government at times. That is what the motion does, and that is what I will support.
I rise to speak in favour of the Alliance amendment. I reiterate the point that my colleague Liz Kimmins made when she said that the principles that underpin the Stormont House Agreement are the basis for dealing with the past in a victim-centred manner.
I approach the debate sensitive to the hurt, pain and loss that has been felt across all our communities. At the outset, let me say that all victims and their families have a right to truth, justice and acknowledgement. Not some victims, but all victims. If we are serious about dealing with the past as the basis for building for the future, there can be no dilution or erosion of the human rights of victims.
Today the Assembly can send another message to the British Government that it rejects their amnesty proposals for their state forces as outlined in their Command Paper of 14 July and rejects their proposed interference in the legal process whereby the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman would be statutorily barred from investigating conflict-related incidents. Should those proposals be enacted, it would bring an immediate end to criminal investigations and to the prospect of prosecutions. The British Government's proposals are an affront to all families. Not some families, not a few families, but all families. The proposals are about denying families their rights, yet here we are in that very scenario.
Sinn Féin made clear its position on the role of the Governments in its legacy consultation response in October 2018. It is useful to restate that position. Point 42 of the Sinn Féin response said:
"Two decades on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (1998) many families continue to ask questions about the deaths of their loved ones. Many feel that there has been no official recognition of their loss. Many are still denied legacy inquests, many are still battling in the courts for maximum disclosure from the British state. This is not a tenable situation. Equally the Irish government has a binding obligation to assist families and to facilitate full disclosure to assist information recovery."
That would mean developing human-rights compliant processes that are capable of answering the uncomfortable questions of many families and of wider society. It would mean seeking to provide maximum information to families who want answers. It would mean investigating and understanding the policy context and the state abuse of a legal process that facilitated, perpetuated and sustained the conflict.
Maybe in a minute.
It would mean investigating human rights abuses, upholding the rights of victims to remedy and combat impunity.
Today we must send a clear message that any political attempts to interfere in live, impending legal proceedings or to deny victims their human rights and access to legal investigations, whether the focus of those investigations is in London or Dublin, will be resisted across the House. In reality, that means that the Irish Government have a binding duty to assist families in the same human-rights compliant manner, with the same information and to the same standard as the British Government.
Today we have an opportunity to speak with a clear and consistent voice and to call on both Governments to fulfil their international human rights obligations and provide effective investigations without further delay. As parties, despite our different standpoints, we must make a common cause and oppose, object to and challenge those proposals and stand up for the basic rights of all victims. Upholding, protecting and guaranteeing the legal rights of all victims is critical. I urge Members to support the amendment.
I want to make it clear that we will not support the Alliance amendment, which seeks to move the focus of the motion away from the Dublin Government's failure to investigate Irish state collusion between the Garda and IRA terrorists.
We must never forget, and let the House and others who are listening be in no doubt about, who was responsible for the years of bloodshed and the murder of the innocent people of Northern Ireland. Let us remember who pulled the triggers, planted the bombs and robbed many of our families of their loved ones in a premeditated and murderous campaign. It was none other than the Provisional IRA, which received the full endorsement and support of the party opposite, which, to this day, still glorifies those who carried out such dastardly acts of murder. In 2013, Gerry Kelly, attending the unveiling of an illegal republican memorial in Castlederg, referred to those murderers as:
"leaders, people who led from the front".
That gives us some indication of the party opposite's thinking towards those people.
Between 1971 and 2001, my home town of Castlederg and the surrounding district witnessed the premeditated murder of 32 innocent people, one of whom was Ian Sproule. Where did the people who carried out those dastardly deeds find a safe haven and protection from the law? A few miles away, over the border in the South of Ireland, which was a spawning ground for that terrorist organisation. We cannot ignore the role played by the Irish state in facilitating and endorsing the creation and growth of the Provisional IRA, nor can we ignore the collusion between the gardaí and the IRA, which resulted in many innocent people in Northern Ireland losing their lives.
Saturday 13 April 1991 is a date that is etched on the hearts and minds of many people in Castlederg and the surrounding area. On that date, the news filtered through that Ian Sproule, a 23-year-old joiner, had been brutally murdered by the IRA as he returned home, simply because he was a Protestant. Ian was the ninth member of Maghenageerah Presbyterian Church's congregation to be murdered by the IRA. I stand here with fond memories of Ian, having worked alongside him and his father for a short time. Despite all the false allegations that the IRA peddled following Ian's murder in an effort to distract media attention away from the sectarian assassination of a young, innocent, Protestant man, to his murderers, the only crime of which he was guilty was that he was a Protestant, a unionist and a loyalist. The sentence for that was death.
In 2012, the now Garda Commissioner Drew Harris's revelations to the Smithwick Tribunal, when he was Deputy Chief Constable, left no one in any doubt that there was collusion between the gardaí and the IRA in the sectarian murder of Ian Sproule. Yet, to this day, the Dublin Government, in a blatant violation of their international human rights obligation, have refused the Sproule family an investigation into Ian's murder, while seeking to brush the Smithwick inquiry under the carpet. It is absolutely outrageous that the Garda Ombudsman Commission seeks to hide behind the passage of time in an effort to justify its failure to investigate that collusion case, all the time adding further pain and hurt to the Sproule family, who deserve a full investigation without further delay.
The ratification of the Criminal Justice (International Co-Operation) Act 2019 allows for the Garda Ombudsman and other bodies to exchange information on cross-border investigations, but, disgracefully, the Dublin Government have retained a veto over such arrangements. If the Dublin authorities are genuine in their claim to respect the rule of law and victims' human rights, it is high time that they buried their gross hypocrisy and took action, without any further delay or precondition, to bring forward a public inquiry into the state's role in the IRA campaign.
I heard one Member opposite talk about justice, accountability and truth. Of course we want that. We want the Dublin Government to come forward with justice, accountability and truth for all those who were murdered by the IRA, with the state's collusion.
At the outset, I acknowledge, on behalf of the SDLP, the family of Ian Sproule and the suffering that they have endured for many years. Indeed, their grief has been compounded by the callous call that their father received on the evening of Ian's murder. Brutal beyond belief. Cruel beyond belief.
I also want to acknowledge that today is the twentieth anniversary of the death one of my constituents, the investigative journalist Martin O'Hagan, who was brutally murdered by the LVF when he and his wife were walking home from a pub in Lurgan one evening. His family, friends and colleagues continue to grieve his loss and have unanswered questions about his murder and the subsequent investigation. Both of the killers remain free. Allegations of collusion prevail.
The DUP motion quite rightly reiterates the Assembly's unanimous opposition to the Command Paper on legacy proposals, including the closing down of all avenues of justice. The SDLP is clear that every family that has been bereaved in the conflict should have access to an effective investigation and justice process, regardless of who the perpetrator was.
I have some difficulty with the motion's suggestion that legal processes should be reserved for innocent victims, given that the state has a duty, under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to investigate loss of life. Indeed, as we have seen over the past year, many families had to fight to clear the names of their loved ones and had to fight for their reputations to be reinstated. For many of them, including the Ballymurphy families, their loved ones were deemed to be innocent by the coroner.
The Stormont House Agreement, as my colleague Colin said, was imperfect — indeed, Doug Beattie referred to it as being imperfect, for different reasons — and Eames/Bradley remains the premier answer to dealing with legacy, but the Stormont House Agreement is widely regarded by many across the victims sector as the last chance saloon in trying to find truth, justice and accountability. Imperfect though it is, it is an international agreement that the British Government have unilaterally reneged upon. If anybody from the NIO or the British Government is listening to this debate, they will again hear the message that the proposals contained in the Command Paper are universally objected to.
I want to deal with the Stormont House Agreement. The Member has been careful so far not to condemn Republic of Ireland collusion. What does she think the Republic's response has been to the commitment that it made in Stormont House towards:
"full co-operation of all relevant Irish authorities, including disclosure of information and documentation"?
Does she think that the Republic has done that?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is my understanding that the Irish Government are already in the process of drafting a legal framework to allow for the sharing of such information, but the Irish Government can answer for themselves. My concern is about victims and the reconciliation that we need so that the past is not rewritten in the way that some are doing.
We charge the Irish Government with the same principles that we put to the British Government in ensuring that the fullest account, the fullest truth and the fullest access to justice has to be the right of any bereaved family and victim in terms of how the past is dealt with. Those principles apply regardless of whether it is the Irish Government or the British Government, but, let us face it, in terms of collusion, the British Government would win the gold star, because it was state sponsored. With the murder of Pat Finucane, many people believe that it probably goes the whole way to Downing Street and that that is why there has been continued dismissal of any public inquiry into that murder.
In the brief time that I have left, I will turn my attention to the Members to my right, who have talked today about truth, justice and accountability.
I have not heard much about remorse or about truth, justice and accountability from members of the republican movement. It grieves me to see that, as Mr Buchanan said, senior members of Sinn Féin continue, in a very public way, to glorify terrorists, many of whom were responsible for many murders right across both communities, if you like, in the North. Woe betide some of the Members from Sinn Féin lecturing everybody else in the House on human rights until they get their own house in order by acknowledging their role and what they are going to do about former members of the republican movement stepping up to the plate on truth, justice and accountability.
I commend those who tabled the motion. I particularly commend John Sproule for the relentless campaign that he has pursued and the Derg Valley Victims' Voice, which has been by his side. Despite all of that, however, we are no further forward in obtaining the truth about the brutal murder of Ian Sproule.
It is abundantly clear that there was rife Garda/IRA collusion throughout the Troubles. Mrs Dodds listed several of the cases: the Sproule case, of course; Breen and Buchanan, in whose murders Smithwick found clear collusion; Lord and Lady Gibson; the Hanna family; Terence McKeever; and Tracy Doak. It is all there.
It is also abundantly clear that Dundalk station and Donegal stations were rife with enablers of IRA murder, no more so than in this case, where, in their warped justification of the gunning down of that young man, the IRA produced a document straight out of a Garda file identifying him, containing his photograph and naming him. Of course, their plan that night was to kill a second young man, because they had a second photograph. Fortunately, he was not at home.
We still debate this today, however. I have listened very carefully to the contributions. We have had two Sinn Féin contributors but not one word of condemnation of the brutal murder of Ian Sproule. A motion that centres on that brutal murder, and, yet again, Sinn Féin comes to the House and cannot even find the decency to condemn it. Yes, there was lots of doublespeak and equivocation but no facing up to the reality that their IRA brutally murdered that young man.
When we came to the SDLP, sadly, there was no facing up to the reality of Republic of Ireland collusion. In Mr McGrath's speech and Mrs Kelly's speech, there was no acknowledgement of that collusion. Why not? Why be the protectors of collusion? You are loud enough in your demands when you think that you can point that finger at the British.
If there has been collusion from the Republic of Ireland, and Smithwick tells us that there was — you do not have to take my word for it, as Smithwick tells us that there was — why is it beyond some in the House to condemn that collusion? That is the question that I ask.
Of course, that collusion comes in the context of the concerted, deliberate campaign to cover up for and provide cover for the IRA.
Mrs Dodds gave us the figures: of 113 applications for extradition — for murder and other crimes — eight were successful. That was because the Irish Republic was deliberate in the business of providing safe haven for murderers in this part of the United Kingdom. That is the hard truth. Therefore, it falls ill that people cannot even face up to that. That is what the motion calls on people to do — face up to that. Today, they have run away from that.
As for the Alliance Party, of course, last week, it was Sinn Féin's little helper; this week, it is to be Dublin's little helper.
I thank the Member for giving way. Quite rightly, he highlighted Sinn Féin's inability even to condemn the tragic and brutal murder of Ian Sproule. Does he agree that its inability to condemn such murders is much more widespread? To this day, the continual glorification of murder is what is sad about the reality that Sinn Féin cannot come to terms with its past by recognising that murder was wrong in all instances.
It is not just a failure to condemn; it is a glorification of murder, and thereby a justification. You cannot glorify that which you say is not justified. It is as stark as that.
The Irish Government have lamentably failed. I quoted a few minutes ago their supposed commitment in the Stormont House Agreement. Their actions do not match those words; far from it. Rather, we have had a total duplicity in the Dublin Government's response. It is a duplicity that is as shocking as the cover-ups that they continue to provide for IRA murders through the collusion that is exemplified in just one case — Ian Sproule — but is multiplied in many cases in our Troubles.
I thank all Members who took part in the debate. Like my colleague earlier, I will speak in support of the amendment. First, however, I want to address the motion. The motion makes clear, as mentioned many times today, that the UK Government's latest proposed policy on legacy is deplorable and that the plan to prevent the prosecution of crimes committed during the Troubles is an unacceptable course of action. There is cross-party agreement on that position. Therefore, it is my hope that the amendment, in reflecting the intent of the original motion, can let us speak with one voice on these crucial issues. I will refer to the amendment more fully in a moment.
It is difficult to see how these UK Government proposals, which have been mentioned repeatedly today, can be consistent with international human rights law. We need a comprehensive system for legacy, including investigations, with everyone equal under the law. Otherwise, victims will never receive the justice, truth and closure that they deserve. There is, understandably, an expectation that all democratic Governments and their justice structures will act within the terms of international human rights law. If that expectation of associated standards is not met, it is a matter of utmost concern to all of us and, of course, mostly and especially, to the bereaved. Turning directly to the case of Ian Sproule, I commend the family for their resilient campaign for truth and justice. Their case is symptomatic of the cases of so many families who need that closure and justice.
I will now refer to comments that were made in the debate. I will limit my comments to the remarks that related to our amendment. Some Members spoke but did not refer to the amendment. Proposing the motion, Diane Dodds mentioned that we had included references to the UK Government. I hope that she will accept that references to the UK Government were in the original motion. Yes, they are in the amendment, and are mentioned again towards the end of the amendment alongside clear mention of the Irish Government and the need for collaboration between the two.
Liz Kimmins spoke in support of the amendment and referred to the recent UK Government proposals. That was a common theme. She also mentioned the Stormont House Agreement. Colin McGrath spoke in opposition to the UK Government proposals and supported the amendment. Doug Beattie did not support the amendment, but he referred to the key focus on the Irish Government and indicated that there is more to be done there. Sinéad Ennis spoke of pain and loss across communities. Tom Buchanan talked about his personal experience of the incident cited in the motion, and we respect his feelings and thoughts about that. Dolores Kelly spoke in support of the amendment.
The amendment addresses the need for acts of terrorism to be investigated fully and for the Governments on these islands to cooperate to the fullest extent, so that truth, justice and closure can be brought to the victims and families who need them. I remind Members that the Northern Ireland Office, in its recent proposals, failed to engage in meaningful dialogue or consultation with the parties of the Assembly prior to making public announcements. More reprehensibly, it failed to engage with victims' groups.
It is my hope that we can reach agreement through the amendment, which honours the intentions of the motion while highlighting the duty on Governments to collaborate closely to bring that closure. I commend the amendment to the House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I commend my colleagues Diane Dodds and Tom Buchanan for tabling the motion. I also commend them for their work over many years to ensure that the memory of Ian Sproule and his family is not forgotten.
Sadly, there are those in the House who want to airbrush the past. They want to change the past. Let us nail it for what it was. It was murder. It was the vilest of the vile. It was not, as the deputy First Minister described it when glorifying another IRA terrorist, that "He died for Irish freedom". When she said that, she was referring to an individual who was responsible for the murder of a constituent of mine. Of course, the deputy First Minister did not think it fit to think of that family. There was no thought of the Dunlop family when she was prepared to glorify the actions that led to murder on the streets of Ballymena.
Today, we heard the catalogue of our sad past. The focus of the motion is to put the spotlight on the Irish Government. My colleague Diane Dodds referred to the 113 requests for extradition, of which only eight were granted. If anyone takes the time to look at that list, the reasons given by the Irish Government for most of the refusals were that extradition had been refused on grounds that the offence was political. Those offences included escape from custody; murder of members of the RUC; possession of firearms and ammunition; arson; attempted murder; and armed robbery. The Irish Government were complicit, saying, "Oh, what happened there was for political purposes". They did not say that when it sadly happened on their own streets. It was murder in Monaghan. It was also murder in Northern Ireland.
We heard from a number of Members today. The Alliance Party attempted to somehow say that it wants to gain consensus. Well, it did not gain consensus in the House last week when it was not prepared to stand up for victims by supporting a Bill that would have ensured that those with a criminal record were punished for their deeds. A few days after that, the Justice Minister came out with a victims of crime commissioner, which is a toothless organisation that will not be able to do anything, and yet the Alliance Party tells us that it will support victims and that it is to ensure that victims are at the centre of what we do. That was a failed attempt from the Alliance Party to gain consensus, and, on that basis, we will not accept the amendment.
I will turn to Sinn Féin. In 1983, the previous leader of Sinn Féin said:
"I would like to elaborate on Sinn Féin's attitude to armed struggle. Armed struggle is a necessary and morally correct form of resistance".
Do the Members opposite still believe that that is the case? We have heard a lot today about truth, justice, openness and transparency. Let us remind ourselves of what the former deputy First Minister told the Saville inquiry — the most expensive inquiry to shine a spotlight on the past — in the city of Londonderry. When he was asked about the arms dump, he said:
"I cannot answer that question because there is a republican code of honour".
Here is a party that tells us that it wants openness and truthfulness, but when it had the opportunity to tell the truth, what did it do? It hid behind the coat-tails of a terrorist organisation's code of ethics and conduct.
Liz Kimmins said that there is an issue of consistency and that we need to see accountability. You are absolutely right. What happened to Jean McConville? For 40 years, the IRA told us that it had nothing to do with her murder. It was then dragged in to the public arena and reminded of its dirty, dastardly deed: it murdered an innocent woman on the streets of Belfast.
Given all that the republican community are saying about the statute of limitation and drawing a line under the past, I wonder whether some of them are beginning to get worried about a knock on their door and being held accountable for their deeds. What about Operation Kenova? What about the investigation into Freddie Scappaticci? What about the investigations into the hundreds of murders that that squad was responsible for? We want truth. Truth cannot be hidden. Truth will come to the fore.
I am glad to see that the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has rejoined us. He, as is his right, raised concerns about Stormont House. He made reference to the fact that elements of it were a de facto amnesty. What was the opening of the prison gates when his party — not us — signed the Belfast Agreement?
The Member needs to take a history lesson: the prison gates were opened as a result of a political agreement that his party signed up to.
You then see what that has led to. This is a sad reality: it has led to a corruption of the justice process in Northern Ireland. Subsequent to that, we had decommissioning. All the parties in the House talk about openness, transparency and truth. Let us remember that legislation was passed in the Houses of Parliament of the Irish Republic and Westminster that allowed for no ballistics to be garnered as a result of the weapons that were decommissioned. What is that? That is an amnesty. It is letting terrorists off the hook. Let us take, for example, the murder of Ian Sproule. It was a dirty, dastardly deed. Mrs Dodds told us about the number of bullets that were used by those who came in the dead of night and shot him through the back of the head. Say, for example, that the weapon that was used had been discovered and that the ballistics that had been taken from that were brought into the public domain. As a result of what was passed in the Dáil and in Parliament, it could not be used to bring those people to justice. That is an amnesty. It never should have happened.
I welcome the fact that Members have talked about ensuring that all victims are entitled to the truth. I have no fear of the truth. I have no fear of looking at the past and asking questions as to who was responsible for pulling the trigger, planting the bomb and creating the widows and orphans. However, I will not tolerate or give succour to the idea that, by some political means, we will try to sanitise that past, to change it and to have it rewritten.
In my constituency, a week before Ian Sproule was murdered, the IRA planted a bomb in the town of Ballycastle, which resulted in the death of Spence McGarry, a 46-year-old father of three. What was his crime? He was a Protestant, who came from the town of Ballycastle and wore the uniform of the RUC. My colleague Tom Buchanan made a very telling point —
Before the Assembly divides, I remind Members that, as per Standing Order 112, the Assembly has proxy voting arrangements in place. Members who have authorised another Member to vote on their behalf are not entitled to vote in person and should not enter the Lobbies. I also remind Members to adhere to all the social-distancing requirements while the Division takes place, and I ask that you maintain a gap of at least 2 metres between you and other people when moving around in the Chamber or the Rotunda and especially in the Lobbies.
Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCann, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Ms Sugden, Miss Woods
Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Blair, Ms Bradshaw
Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Chambers, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stalford, Mr Stewart, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells
Tellers for the Noes: Mr Clarke, Mr Storey
Question accordingly agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to. Resolved:
That this Assembly reiterates its opposition to Her Majesty’s Government’s plans for legislation to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland, as outlined in the Command Paper published on 14 July 2021; regards any statute of limitations for Troubles-related offences to be in violation of the principle that everyone must be equal under the law and equally subject to the law; stresses that all allegations of wrongdoing should be investigated in a fair and proportionate way, regardless of the nature of the offence or the jurisdiction in which it was committed; highlights the need to preserve legal routes to justice for innocent victims; condemns the long-standing failure by government and police oversight bodies in the UK and Ireland to address substantive allegations of collusion in atrocities committed by republicans and loyalists; notes with deep concern the failure to make progress on investigating the case of Ian Sproule, who was murdered in 1991; recognises the need for the UK and Irish Governments to exchange, urgently, information integral to legacy investigations; and calls on the UK and Irish Governments to fulfil their obligations under international human rights law to provide effective investigations into claims of state collusion in acts of terrorism and facilitate timely access to justice and truth for affected victims and their families.