Dáil Éireann - Volume 349 - 10 April, 1984

Alleged Activities of RUC: Statement by Taoiseach.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have been notified that under Standing Order No. 38 the Taoiseach proposes to make a statement relating to the incursion into our jurisdiction by members of the RUC.

Mr. Haughey: I received very short notice of this.

The Taoiseach: I wish to put on the record of the House developments arising out of the allegations made in court in Belfast last week that an incursion into our jurisdiction took place by members of the RUC in December 1982.

On learning of this statement on 30 March, the British Ambassador was called to the Department of Foreign Affairs and formally reminded that any action in our jurisdiction by security [1581] forces from any other state would be unacceptable to the Irish Government.

Following the announcement of the verdict in the trial of Constable Robinson, the allegation of a “cover-up” was raised at a further meeting with the Ambassador in the Department of Foreign Affairs at which other aspects of the affair were also raised.

Following consideration of the information then available and in the absence abroad of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was on an official visit to the Holy See, I asked the British Ambassador to come to see me on 5 April. I told him that the Government viewed the statement made by Constable Robinson in court that the RUC had operated in this State with deep concern and as a very serious departure from normal rules of inter-State conduct, harmful to the spirit and the practice of security co-operation and damaging to Anglo-Irish relations.

The Ambassador expressed his Government's concern and formally conveyed their apologies. He said that it is, and will continue to be, RUC policy, enshrined in explicit instructions, that members of the RUC should not cross the Border while on duty. He said that the British Government are very concerned and regret that these instructions should have apparently been violated.

The Ambassador added further that the question of possible criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings arises, and that that issue cannot be prejudged until the necessary inquiries have been carried out. I expressed concern that the inquiries should be expeditiously carried out and that the Irish Government should be kept fully informed in relation to them. It had been my intention to make no further comment on this matter before the results of the investigation by the British authorities had been given to us.

I regret, however, that a statement made by the Chief Constable of the RUC, Sir John Hermon, on Saturday, 7 April, made it necessary to make further approaches to the British authorities. These approaches were made on three separate occasions since the Chief Constable issued his statement, the first being on the same Saturday afternoon.

[1582] In the course of his statement about matters arising from the trial and acquittal of Constable Robinson, the Chief Constable expressed his belief that there had been no criminal conspiracy to cover up. We have told the British authorities that we can only regard this assertion as an extraordinary prejudgment of the investigation itself.

We have further told the British authorities that, while we can understand the Chief Constable's statement that there is a critical and proper need to protect operational methods and sources, we could not accept that it would be proper to misrepresent the circumstances in which people have been killed. We have said that we believe the Chief Constable's statement in this respect to have reinforced existing concern. We have, moreover, put it to the British authorities that this statement is not helpful to the atmosphere in which security co-operation takes place.

We have also said to the British authorities that we find unsatisfactory the Chief Constable's reference to the incursion which took place. As I have already indicated publicly, the British Ambassador has said that there are explicit instructions within the RUC against such incursions and that these instructions were apparently breached on this occasion to the regret of the British authorities. The failure of the Chief Constable to advert to these instructions and to the fact that they had been breached was unhelpful.

I have sought an explanation as to what efforts were made by the RUC to contact the Garda Síochána on 12 December 1982 before, during or after the incursion. The British authorities have said that they are unable, at present, to offer any explanation but that the matter is now subject to further inquiry. They have also indicated that it is a matter of regret to them that no contact was made by the RUC.

In response to further inquiries, we have been informed by the British authorities that neither they nor the RUC are aware of any other occasions on which members of the RUC or other Northern Ireland security forces have made unauthorised operational crossings. [1583] I have also sought and been given an assurance that no members of the Northern Ireland security forces will cross the Border in an unauthorised operational role.

The Chief Constable's statement of Saturday last was, in my opinion, a departure from the normal standard which should apply when an investigation is under way and a departure, moreover, from the spirit of security co-operation. So far as the Irish Government are concerned, we now await from the British authorities the results of their investigations.

In the meantime, last Sunday's atrocious murder of Mary Travers, and the attack on her father as they returned from Mass, emphasise the continuing need for close co-operation between the security forces, North and South, to combat violence.

Mr. Haughey: I feel that I should remind the Dáil that it was only in response to pressure from this side of the House, initiated by my colleague, Deputy Collins, and myself, and an upsurge of outraged public opinion, that the Government reacted very belatedly to the far-reaching revelations of the Robinson trial.

Deputies: Rubbish.

Mr. G. Collins: It is the truth.

Mr. Haughey: It is far from reassuring that the Taoiseach and the Government did not immediately understand the grave implications of this matter. Of course it brings into question the entire basis on which current cross-Border security arrangements are conducted. I found something in the Taoiseach's statement extraordinary. He quoted the British Ambassador who said that it is, and will continue to be, RUC policy, enshrined in explicit instructions, that members of the RUC should not cross the Border while on duty.

It is important to try to assess that statement by the British Ambassador calmly and objectively because while the [1584] British Ambassador was making that statement to the Taoiseach the head of the RUC, the Chief Constable, was aware of and subsequently stated something which is in complete contradiction to that assurance. In his statement the Chief Constable said that at least one particular party did cross the Border in complete contradiction to the assurance given by the British Ambassador. That is a very serious aspect of this matter. Was the British Ambassador not fully aware of all the circumstances when he gave that assurance to the Taoiseach. If he was not fully aware of the exact situation, should he not have been before, as the representative of his Government, he made that solemn statement to the head of the Irish Government?

The Taoiseach quite rightly indicated that it was inappropriate and indeed improper for the Chief Constable to make the statement he did at the time he did.

The statement of the Chief Constable, in itself, is so full of inaccuracies and contradictions as not to merit great attention from any of us. However, it is the fact that it was made in the interim, as it were, which is important. It is difficult to know exactly what is going on if, at one level, the British Ambassador is in touch with the Taoiseach and the Irish Government, saying certain things and giving certain assurances, while at another level the head of the RUC is saying completely different things and apparently acting in a separate role.

There is one aspect of the Chief Constable's statement on which I should like to comment because it is very serious. It is that he stated that police action resulted in the deaths of a number of persons but that there was no shoot-to-kill policy. That is a matter on which we must continue to seek explanation. An article in last week's Sunday Times clearly contradicts the statement that there was no shoot-to-kill policy. The thrust of that article is to the effect that there is a system of training which amounts to a shoot-to-kill policy. What is important in that context is that no police force can hope to continue to operate in any community as a police [1585] force, whatever about an army, and receive any sort of community acceptance if they operate a shoot-to-kill policy.

The Garda are very often placed in very dangerous and threatening situations, but they would never follow — and we as a House would never condone — such a policy. In fact, the spokesman of the Official Unionist Party has described Sir John Hermon's account as incredible. We are asked to believe that an RUC constable shot two unarmed men because they were dangerous terrorists but, at the same time, we are asked to accept that it was quite safe for them to go unarmed into the Republic to seek out a man who was probably regarded as the most dangerous terrorist of all, namely Dominick McGlinchey. As we are in the middle of this situation it is not possible for any of us to come to any conclusion, except to acknowledge that the facts require a great deal of investigation and of explanation. I am sure that it would be the unanimous wish of Deputies on all sides of the House that the Government would follow this matter through to the end and secure a complete account of the policy as implemented and the instances in which it has been officially or unofficially breached and that some procedure be established for the future whereby we can be assured that there will not be a recurrence.

The Taoiseach towards the end of the statement says:

I have also sought and been given an assurance that no members of the Northern Ireland security forces will cross the Border in an unauthorised operation role.

That is a key issue. Assurances of this sort have been given in the past, but it looks now as if we cannot accept these assurances on their face value.

Mr. G. Collins: Hear, hear.

Mr. Haughey: That is one of the very serious aspects of the matter. There have been quite a number of meetings at ministerial level about the situation in Northern Ireland, particularly about security. The Government gave us to [1586] understand that relations in this regard were very satisfactory and that there was understanding and co-operation. However, this incident throws that in doubt and raises very definite questions about the confidence with which we can accept these assurances.

The Taoiseach also says:

In response to further inquiries, we have been informed by the British authorities that neither they nor the RUC are aware of any other occasions on which members of the RUC or other Northern Ireland security forces have made unauthorised operational crossings.

Again, can we accept that? Some of the Taoiseach's own party would seriously question that statement.

Mr. G. Collins: Hear, hear.

Mr. Haughey: There are reputable people along the Border area, particularly on this side of the Border, who would give it as their honest opinion that this incursion is not an isolated incident and that incursions of one sort or another do take place. Up to now, an attempt has been made to fob us off with different types of explanations — that there was a mistake, that people read maps incorrectly and so on. The significance of this particular revelation is that an incursion was made as a matter of official policy. Another aspect into which the Taoiseach must inquire is whence this policy emanates and at what level it is authorised.

Mr. G. Collins: Hear, hear.

Mr. Haughey: Many of us would not be surprised to learn that such a policy is pursued at operational level. I think that there is evidence that somewhere along the line authority is given for this type of incursion at operational level. However, is that all? At what level does it stop? That is something that the Taoiseach and the Government will have to ascertain for us and fully disclose to us. Is it Northern Ireland Office policy? Is it something which is, if not decided, at [1587] least approved of at a higher level than simply the police level? We will have to be assured about that. If that is so, then, as has been mentioned, the whole basis of Anglo-Irish relations is called into question. If this is either overtly or covertly approved of at a level higher than police level, it is certainly something about which this House must know, as well as the Government.

The whole episode has led to very serious public disquiet and, indeed, there is a feeling of outrage about the matter. Certainly it throws a doubtful shadow over the whole legal position in which, on the one hand, our courts are applying themselves with great assiduity to the legal and constitutional issues involved in every case where extradition is sought but on the other hand does it not make a mockery of the whole legal and constitutional situation in regard to extradition if the security forces in the North feel they are entitled to and do come across the Border and extradite people at will? That is another aspect of it.

We are all at this stage at a disadvantage because a great deal of the facts are not known to us and can only be made known to us after a full investigation. I want to emphasise, from a number of points of view, the importance of the Government insisting on a complete, thorough, comprehensive investigation followed by a full disclosure of the whole situation so that whatever about what has happened in the past things can be put on a proper basis henceforth.

The Taoiseach in the last paragraph of his remarks said something to which we would all subscribe — the fact that the dreadful, particularly reprehensible circumstances in which the murder of Mary Travers and the wounding of her father took place necessitates close co-operation between the security forces North and South to combat violence and murder of that kind. It is for that very reason that this matter is so important. Cross-Border security co-operation can only be on a certain basis and, in so far as this particular incident undermines, or at least brings into question that whole [1588] basis, then it requires the fullest possible investigation and explanation.

I urge the Taoiseach and the Government to insist on being given complete information and cast iron, watertight assurances for the future, not just assurances but the establishment of some procedures whereby those assurances can be seen to be effective. That is what is important because we have had too many placatory assurances in the past which, with hind-sight, were seen to be valueless. The whole question of the security arrangements, of our territorial integrity, the safety of innocent citizens who live in Border counties and the future of Anglo-Irish relations, all these things, are involved in this particular matter. It is something of fundamental importance. We on this side of the House will await further clarification and statements by the Government when we will then pursue the matter further.

Mr. Mac Giolla: I agree with Deputy Haughey that we are operating at a disadvantage because of lack of knowledge and information about what occurred here. For that reason we hope the Taoiseach will pursue the matter with the British authorities to ensure that the fullest possible inquiries and investigations are carried out and conveyed to the Taoiseach and the House here.

I am glad to note also that the Taoiseach has accepted that the statement of the Chief Constable has exacerbated the situation and that he has proceeded on that basis. The statement of the Chief Constable seems to indicate that he regards what occurred as simply a matter of routine. This is precisely the point I was making last week, the fact that this incident is so different from previous ones, in that it seems to have been pre-authorised, planned in advance and formed part of a general routine-type operation. It seems to me, and I think there is a general feeling abroad, that the British Government do not really take very seriously the sovereignty and independence of this State and the integrity of its borders. The statement of the Chief Constable seems to indicate that it is not really taken very seriously.

[1589] I wish to indicate that my party fully back any action the Government may take to emphasise that action such as this cannot be tolerated. Assurances and guarantees have been given before but there is little likelihood that they will be honoured because there has been a procedure in operation for many years now which it is unlikely will be altered. The problem is what occurs if such guarantees and assurances are not honoured and this is where the whole question of co-operation between the respective police forces is rendered extremely difficult. If something happens behind people's backs, the Garda will find it extremely difficult to co-operate fully in such circumstances. The horrific death of Mary Travers, the shooting of her father and the many other incidents that have occurred indicate the need for such co-operation. The Taoiseach would need to make it very clear to the British authorities that that is what would be put in jeopardy if incidents such as these occur. As has been pointed out, we really do not know the full details; we know only what has been stated publicly. Obviously there is much more behind the whole incident, indeed behind the whole of the routine procedures being operated than we have yet seen. We hope the Taoiseach will give the House the results of the investigation when he receives them.