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Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights
Sub-Committee on the Barron Report

Dé Déardaoin, 3 Feabhra 2005 - Thursday, 3 February 2005

Public Hearing on the Barron Report

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The Sub-Committee met at 9.30 a.m.

Sub Committee Members Present:
Deputy Seán Ardagh (Fianna Fáil),
Deputy Joe Costello (Labour)
Senator Jim Walsh. (Fianna Fáil)
Deputy Máire Hoctor (Fianna Fáil)
Deputy Finian McGrath (Independent)
Deputy Seán Ó Feargháil (Fianna Fáil)
Deputy Gerard Murphy (Fine Gael)


Chairman: Cuirim fáilte roimh gach éinne anseo inniú. Seo an cuigiú lá de na héisteachtaí poiblí maidir leis an Tuarascáil ón gCoimisiún Fiosrúcháin Neamhspleách faoi Bhúmáil Bhaile Átha Cliath i 1972 agus 1973. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh lucht féachanna TG4 freisin.

On Tuesday the sub-committee heard contributions from the former Minister for Justice, Mr. O’Malley; the former Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, and the former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Seán Donlon. I thank all those who have contributed to our discussions to date.

Today we will be meeting the Garda Commissioner and his staff, the Chief-of-Staff of the Defence Forces, a number of retired gardaí, Tomás MacGiolla and representatives of Justice for the Forgotten. Before we begin, I remind all concerned that while Members of the Oireachtas enjoy privilege, those invited to appear before the Houses do not.

I welcome the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, Mr. Noel Conroy, to the hearings. With him is the deputy commissioner, Mr. Fachtna Murphy, and Detective Chief Superintendent Callinan. At the end of the Commissioner’s statement, there will be dialogue between him and Senator Jim Walsh and Deputy Murphy.

Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy: As Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, I express my deepest sympathy to the families of those who tragically lost their lives in the bombings and the other atrocities in 1971, 1972 and 1973 and the many others who suffered injuries and pain and who continue to do so arising from those incidents. The primary focus of the Garda investigation is to establish the truth and assemble the evidence available to allow a decision to be made to bring prosecutions for breaches of the criminal law.

All relevant files and material in Garda hands were assembled and made available to the commission headed by Mr. Justice Barron. During the course of the commission’s work further material, as requested, was made available. The liaison established facilitated the commission with all relevant details regarding members of the Garda Síochána who were available for interview, etc. Unfortunately, the main investigators at the time, Detective Chief Superintendent John Joy and Detective Chief Superintendent Tony McMahon, were deceased prior to the establishment of the commission.

At this stage I do not propose to go into the details of the atrocities as they have been clearly outlined in Mr. Justice Barron’s report. I will deal with the work that is continuing today. In 1971-72 forensic science was in its infancy, as it was in other jurisdictions. Today our forensic science laboratory is staffed by highly skilled qualified forensic scientists. Experience in Europe and further afield has contributed towards the development of best practice, enhancing methods of investigation and exploiting advances in forensic science. These factors contribute to the increased interaction with police services worldwide, enabling the Garda Síochána to progress our capacity to respond effectively to all aspects of crime.

An example of this co-operation is demonstrated by the fact that during the Irish Presidency of the European Union, when the outrage happened in Madrid on 9 March 2004, as chairman of the Counter-Terrorism Group - CTG - I convened an emergency meeting in Dublin attended by all countries’ heads of counter terrorism. On that occasion the meeting included experts from Norway, Sweden and the United States. Its purpose was to identify best practice for a co-ordinated response to that outrage.

Significant resources are invested in initial training for gardaí, as well as on the job in-service training and development courses, including promotion courses. In the event of a similar atrocity or outrage happening today, certain aspects of the investigation would differ significantly from that of 1971-73. A forensic science team, backed up by the State pathologist and expert personnel from the forensic science laboratory, would attend the scene to assist in the identification and gathering of evidence and the furnishing of advice concerning forensic evidence. The advent of DNA evidence has presented greater opportunities in solving crime.

From an international perspective there is now greater interaction between police services. There is also enhanced sharing of information between police services worldwide. The proliferation of policing seminars, European co-ordination meetings, etc., has contributed significantly in this regard. Today there is a dedicated point of contact between the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland and regular meetings are held between members of both services. The Garda Síochána is engaged in a number of joint investigations of targeted individuals in the region on both sides of the Border.

EU protocols and legislation are in place to facilitate the exchange of intelligence and the transfer of evidence between European nations. The European arrest warrant is in place, as is the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Act 2004 which facilitates the investigation on an international stage of crimes of this nature. Modern information technology facilitates improved and speedy analysis of intelligence. A number of Garda specialist units have been formed to concentrate on specific aspects of criminal investigations from a multidisciplinary and multi-agency perspective.

The advent of CCTV presents further operational opportunities, particularly in visual identification. The tracking of landline or mobile phone data, as regulated by statue, is now available and a considerable aid in the investigation of crime. The computerisation of fingerprint processing and the installation of a new automatic fingerprint identification system have accelerated the process of identifying finger marks found at scenes.

That is my brief statement. I will take questions if that is what the sub-committee requires.

Chairman: Senator Jim Walsh will commence the questions and dialogue.

Senator J. Walsh: I welcome the Garda Commissioner and his staff to the hearings. I will start by referring the Garda Commissioner to page 103 of the report in connection with the murder of Ms Bríd Carr on 19 November 1971 on the Lifford Road. Her brother, Fr. James Carr, painted the background at the time. One of the comments that stuck with us was that he felt the Garda was soft on the IRA in County Donegal. Would the Commissioner like to comment? Second, three suspects were identified by a number of witnesses. The report states: “The three suspects who had been identified by witnesses were not interviewed by the Garda Síochána because it was considered that it would be a futile exercise.” Mr. Justice Barron believes that is something that should have been done. I wonder if Mr. Conroy would like to comment on that.

Commissioner Conroy: The Deputy’s first question relates to the allegation that we were soft on the IRA. I do not subscribe to that. I would say that if somebody breaks the law there is a duty on every member of the Garda Síochána to investigate that crime, to bring the person to justice or to find the best evidence to ensure the person is brought to justice. Going back to the period from 1969 to 1973 one will find that many of those we describe as IRA people were arrested and dealt with before the courts. Of course there are occasions when there is in existence intelligence in relation to the activities of subversive groups in general. However, converting that into evidence has always been a major difficulty.

The Deputy also asked about the three suspects identified. Some of them are known to me personally. They have been arrested in the Donegal area on a number of occasions. It was clear to me, having read the files, that the problem for the investigating gardaí at the time was that the witnesses who nominated the three individuals - I think they nominated the right people - did not, unfortunately, for reasons best know to them, make statements to back-up the information given to the Garda. As far as I can determine, several efforts were made to get the witnesses to make statements based on the intelligence given. If that had happened, I am sure a prosecution would have taken place. Members should realise that had a prosecution taken place it would have been taken in Northern Ireland and the function of the Garda Síochána would have been to assist in every way the RUC investigation into the woman’s death.

Senator J. Walsh: The three suspects were in the Lifford area. Is Commissioner Conroy saying they were interviewed subsequent to that incident or is he saying they would have been interviewed prior to the incident?

Commissioner Conroy: They would have been interviewed prior to and, on many occasions, subsequent to it.

Senator J. Walsh: I refer Commissioner Conroy to page 76 relating to the bombing at Sackville Place on 20 January in which Tommy Douglas lost his life. The Garda received an anonymous telephone call giving the names of the five people who, it was alleged, were responsible for that particular bombing. The report states: “There is nothing in the documents seen by the Inquiry to indicate what steps, if any, were taken to follow up this information.” What is Commissioner Conroy’s comment on that matter?

Commissioner Conroy: I am speaking in hindsight on the matter. I am sure other people coming before the sub-committee might wish to comment further on what happened then. When reading the files I paid particular attention to what happened, the type of investigations conducted and so on. There were many suspects, including on the republican side, from within the UDA, UVF, etc. I have found nothing that would support the suggestion that the anonymous call in relation to the individuals nominated was sufficient to bring the matter before the Director of Public Prosecutions to enable him to make a decision on what should or should not happen in terms of prosecution.

Senator J. Walsh: Is that because the information was not followed up? There is nothing in the file to indicate whether or not the matter was followed up. If it was followed up, there is nothing to indicate what information was ascertained.

Commissioner Conroy: The Senator will note from Mr. Justice Barron’s report that quite a number of gardaí travelled to Northern Ireland at the time. Co-operation at that time was very good. Those matters would have been discussed with the police service of Northern Ireland at the time. We would have taken the cue from them in relation to those nominated. The Senator can take it that were those nominated good suspects, interviews would have been conducted, though not perhaps by the Garda but by the RUC.

Senator J. Walsh: I do not wish to press the matter but I would have assumed that where a crime is committed and the Garda Síochána receive information which identifies the perpetrators the matter would be followed up, either to eliminate the suspects or to ascertain what basis existed for their being suspects. The indication is that no follow up took place. That is a matter of concern to the Garda Síochána and to us.

Commissioner Conroy: First, the telephone call was anonymous. The information supplied by the anonymous caller would have been analysed. In nearly every investigation of a serious nature we receive a great deal of information from anonymous telephone calls and from named sources. We spend 50% of our time following trails that have nothing whatsoever to do with a crime. That is a regular feature. I am not suggesting people should not ring with such information. We are delighted, when information relating to a crime is put into the public arena, to receive any type of information from genuine people. Such information, received either by telephone or in written form, when analysed by those charged with responsibility for analysing it is often found not to be correct.

Senator J. Walsh: On the Douglas murder, the family had communications with the Garda Síochána wherein some information was supplied and reference was made to a Garda report dated 10 August 1974. When a search was made for that report, the family was told it did not exist even though it was referred to on two occasions by an inspector. Does Commissioner Conroy have any information on that matter?

Commissioner Conroy: Unfortunately I do not.

Senator J. Walsh: My next question is a general one. The families felt abandoned by the State and State apparatus, including by the Garda Síochána. The fact that nobody was brought to justice accentuated that feeling. The Minister acknowledged the families’ situation and stated that were the families to appoint a researcher he would co-operate in allowing him or her to go through the Department’s files, obviously subject to ensuring sensitive information on security issues was not made available. He said he would co-operate in assisting the families to get answers to questions they have had for 30 years. Would Mr. Conroy, as Garda Commissioner, and the Garda authorities co-operate in the same way with such a researcher if appointed?

Commissioner Conroy: Much of the information is sensitive. Given the situation which pertained at the time, the Garda Síochána had to depend a great deal on the information supplied to it by the RUC. We would have paid a lot of attention to that information. Just as the sub-committee is asking questions of me today, we would have asked many questions of our colleagues in the RUC in terms of the information it pursued on our behalf to ascertain if there was any substance to it and so on.

Currently, when a serious crime is committed we appoint a liaison officer to liaise with the family. That is done as soon as we receive information on the crime. That officer remains the liaison officer throughout the investigation and thereafter. In other words, the family has somebody with whom to liaise by telephone or in person. I am all in favour of the Garda Síochána helping the relatives in any way it can. I suggest, if this meets with approval, that a member of the force be made available at Garda headquarters to talk to individuals and answer questions about the information held on file. Naturally, intelligence is a different matter but the garda would be able to give an indication of what was contained in it.

Senator J. Walsh: That is welcome. I think the Commissioner is saying the Garda Síochána will co-operate with individuals, subject to certain caveats on security.

Commissioner Conroy: Yes.

Senator J. Walsh: In the course of the investigation of the bombing on 1 December 1972, Chief Superintendent Wren asked the Army to circulate photofits to Irish officers attending training courses at a British army establishment. Does this indicate that the Garda had some reason to suspect collusion in these matters? Would it be useful if the former chief superintendent were to attend to discuss this matter with the committee?

Commissioner Conroy: I am not sure that what he would have to say on the matter would be of value to the sub-committee. The Garda Síochána, in manning checkpoints in Border areas, had Army back up. I image the reason photofits were circulated to Army personnel was to identify such persons crossing the Border and have the matter investigated further.

Senator J. Walsh: In the same vein, Mr. Justice Barron refers to the extraordinary events between Mr. Patrick Crinnion and Mr. John Wyman. He also refers to the Littlejohns. Does the Commissioner have information on when Detective Garda Crinnion was recruited by MI6 and whether he passed on Garda files to it, or on other crimes in which the Littlejohns were involved? Did the Garda - the Commissioner would have been a garda at the time - have concerns about this type of covert activity? The Littlejohns, in particular, stated they were under instructions from the Ministry of Defence to be involved in crime and other nefarious activities, apart from gathering information.

Commissioner Conroy: As a result of a Garda investigation, it was discovered that Detective Garda Crinnion was siphoning off certain intelligence documents. Naturally, those in charge of crime and security put in train a process to investigate the intelligence they were receiving on meetings between the British intelligence service and our people. Sensitive documents were found on how intelligence was analysed at the Irish crime and security branch. A prosecution followed and the person was dealt with by the courts. As the intelligence was sensitive, the matter was not made public.

Senator J. Walsh: The chief superintendent, Mr. J. P. McMahon’s report of 1 January 1973 identified the alleged involvement of Mr. Robert Bridges. Why was no formal request made to the RUC to interview him or to follow up his movements?

Although Garda files were made available to Mr. Justice Barron, he notes in his report that the files contain inconclusive data. For example, leads are identified but there is no record as to whether they were followed up and, if so, the results. I presume safeguards are now in place and the system nowadays is much better. However, will the Commissioner comment on the historical way of carrying out such investigations and contrast it with current methods?

Commissioner Conroy: The individual to whom the Senator referred was arrested and charged and went to prison for a long time. The number of atrocities that had occurred prior to his arrest diminished after he was detained and sentenced to imprisonment.

With the advent of technology, computerisation and so on, which was not available to investigators in the 1970s, all matters are followed up. Let me say I cannot get into the mindset of the investigators who were involved but from knowing the individuals, under whom I worked, I can say they were highly competent and effective investigators of the time. Without a shadow of a doubt, if they saw there was any way of identifying suspects or getting the evidence, I can assure the committee that evidence would have been gathered and presented to the Attorney General, as was the case in the early 1970s. That was the calibre of the people charged with investigating serious crime. Unfortunately, they are no longer with us.

Deputy Murphy: We are probably looking at the most serious crimes ever committed in this country. From listening to the submissions from Justice for the Forgotten, the relatives of victims and some of the victims, there is a general impression that the Garda investigations were conducted in a very short space of time. Considering the significance of the crimes involved, that is difficult to understand. Will the Commissioner comment on this?

Commissioner Conroy: The Deputy is correct that these were very serious crimes. I looked at the files and felt in most cases that the investigations had been carried out in a competent and capable manner. I saw where they had run into difficulties which they could not overcome. Naturally, the families of the victims would like closure. So would I, as would the members of the force who dealt with the investigations at the time. Our goal is always to bring the perpetrators to justice. I have never been involved in any investigation during my service where that has not been the focus of the investigators. That remains the case to this day.

Deputy Murphy: One of the disadvantages the Garda Síochána faced at the time was the state of the relationship with the RUC and the British authorities. What the Commissioner has said this morning seems to be a slight contradiction of what the former Minister for Justice, Mr. Des O’Malley, said the other day, when he indicated quite clearly the total lack of co-operation between all levels, from Government level down to Garda and Army ranks, except for a number of sergeants who communicated with their counterparts across the Border. He felt it had been very difficult for the Garda Síochána to make progress in these investigations. The Commissioner seems to have a slightly different interpretation of events.

Commissioner Conroy: I am just speaking as a policeman. Those were difficult times in Northern Ireland. I have spoken and dealt with RUC officers down through the years. We have spoken about the problems they were having with investigations and the number of investigations, involving bombs, murders and what not, rolling out to them every day. They were under awful pressure during those years. Having looked at the files and again reviewed certain areas in what went on at the time with our own people, I am happy that, in the case of crimes in this jurisdiction or in Northern Ireland involving somebody crossing the Border, there were good communications between local police officers. There was excellent co-operation between people involved in the investigation of the unfortunate murder of Ms Carr. There was nothing, from the Garda point of view, that was unavailable to the RUC who were investigating that murder.

Deputy Murphy: That leaves us with a problem in a sense. I genuinely felt if there were a reopening of investigations in certain areas, there was a possibility, with new techniques and new information, that more progress could be made and that one of the key elements missing was total co-operation. Commissioner Conroy is still not saying we were getting total co-operation from the RUC or the British authorities. For instance, Mr. Seán Donlon, when he was before the committee, identified two valuable sets of files he felt would be of value to the investigations, that is, the Laneside papers and the papers from the joint intelligence committee working out of Downing Street. If all that information was available, can Commissioner Conroy see some value in reopening, revisiting or re-examining some of the issues?

Commissioner Conroy: Having looked at the file and how the investigation was conducted, I would not want to build up the hopes of relatives of the victims of those atrocities. I cannot see how at this stage, having looked at the files, we could advance the investigations that were conducted then. It would be wrong of me to come in here and give false hope to those people, and linger on with another look at the investigation and try to do this and that. At this moment, from my professional viewpoint as a police officer, I do not see us being in a position to develop the investigation any further. I am sorry to say that.

Deputy Murphy: I welcome the Garda Commissioner’s earlier offer to appoint a liaison officer to work with Justice for the Forgotten. That was one of the issues raised and it may help to advance some of their concerns.

Turning to what he stated earlier about the documentation given to Mr. Justice Barron, the following raised slight confusion in my mind. Commissioner Conroy stated that all the files were given to the Barron inquiry. Then he stated that as the inquiry progressed, more information was made available as requested. I also had this conflict with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Department told us that all files sought were made available. If all the files were made available initially, how was there more stuff becoming available as the report progressed?

Commissioner Conroy: My colleague, Detective Superintendent Callinan, was the liaison officer with Mr. Justice Barron. Naturally, one finds that names appear in investigation files. There might be a reference number in that which quite clearly deals with the individual, who is in this investigation file but who has no relationship really to the second crime. It is personal information on the individual. Those files, some of which are intelligence files, were made available to Mr. Justice Barron. What I am trying to say that they would not be part of an investigation file. The investigation file generally deals with the evidence collected in support of the investigation, whereas we would have separately bits and pieces of information on individuals which one would not put into an investigation file.

Deputy Murphy: Mr. Justice Barron did not see the investigation file on the Clones bombing on 28 December 1972. Is this file missing?

Commissioner Conroy: Yes, it is missing.

Deputy Murphy: Is there any explanation for this?

Commissioner Conroy: There are thousands upon thousands of files in crime security branch. I cannot answer it at this stage. The detective chief superintendent searched diligently for it and did not get it.

Deputy Murphy: Although Commissioner Conroy was not involved at the time, generally the view expressed was that due urgency was not given to the entire investigation and questions were asked about the relationship between the Executive and the Garda at the time. The politicians who came before the sub-committee stated clearly that it was their job to deal with the political side of it and it was the Garda’s job to deal with the investigation side of it. Is that what actually happened at the time, that the Garda dealt with the investigation side of it?

Commissioner Conroy: The Garda dealt with the investigative side of it and the Deputy can take it that, from my point of view, they dealt with it in a competent way. The other point is that I have been 40 years in the organisation and I have never suffered interference from any of our political masters on how we should conduct a particular investigation. It is the function of the Garda Síochána to investigate crime and that is the way we see our service. The legislators enact legislation. It is for us, in investigation, to act within that legislation and that is exactly how we do our business.

Chairman: Former Minister for Justice, Mr. O’Malley, told us that when he was trying to put through some legislation he found it difficult because he could not be hard on the provisionals and on the subversives at the time because the ethos in the area was “be soft”, and yet two years later the position turned around entirely, that one could not be hard enough on the subversives in the legislation. Could there have been a parallel thinking within the Garda on the attitude adopted towards subversives? I am looking particularly at the way it comes out in the first matter Senator Walsh raised, the Bríd Carr murder in Donegal, where it was a futile exercise and where the three people were not questioned.

Commissioner Conroy: On that front, as I stated earlier, we look at the legislation. Our training is such that we examine how we can deal, in an investigative sense, with the legislation passed by Parliament. Naturally, the legislators are looking at what is happening on the ground and legislation is continuing to emanate. We at all times take cognisance of that legislation. That is part of our training, to make sure that we always focus on that legislation. There would be no question of us being soft here or there, or anything like that. It is our job. Our primary job is to go out and investigate the various offences in accordance with the legislation in place to deal with the situation.

Senator J. Walsh: On the question to which Commissioner Conroy did not have an answer readily available, I refer to a report issued and signed by Inspector T. Meehan to Ms Katherine Douglas dated 9 January 1975, which in response to a number of questions, states “see report dated 10th August 1974.”

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