Call for clarity on McDowell IRA amnesty claim

The Government has denied there was an amnesty for IRA killers operating in the Republic for more than a decade.

But families and survivors of the worst single atrocity of the Troubles, the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which killed 34 people and which was later claimed by the UVF, are demanding a public statement about claims by former justice minister Michael McDowell that a blind eye was turned to Provo fugitives. A government official has told Margaret Urwin, of Justice for the Forgotten, which is campaigning for the truth about the 1974 bombings, that various attempts were made to deal with the on-the-runs issue during the peace process.

Ms Urwin said the revelation raised concerns about whether all available evidence was handed over to the Barron Inquiry, a government-ordered investigation into the atrocity.

In a letter, the Department of Justice civil servant said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was aware of Mr McDowell’s remarks but said the Garda would pursue any evidence in relation to Troubles-related offences. The official says many attempts were made to strike a deal about fugitives but insists there was no question of an amnesty being in place in the Irish Republic.

But Ms Urwin is demanding a public statement from the Dublin government about the high-level claims.

“The person who made these remarks is not just some ordinary member of the public.” Asked about the on-the-runs controversy in Northern Ireland and Britain, Mr McDowell said there was “a consensus” here dating back at least 14 years ago that the force would no longer be prosecuting historical cases.

He said: “In fact, what happened in the Republic was that there was just a decision by the guards to use their resources to prevent current crime.”

Ms Urwin said: “We also note the absence of any public rebuttal of his remarks by the current Government or indeed by his former colleagues who served alongside him in government.”

Separately, Austin Stack, an assistant governor at Wheatfield Prison, is meeting with Garda Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne about the investigation into the killing of his father Brian Stack, who died after being shot by the IRA in Dublin in 1983.

“If (Mr) McDowell has said this, there was obviously some sort of an agreement with Sinn Féin not to pursue historical cases.”

Mr Stack said gardaí were annoyed when a long-standing arrest warrant for Gerard ‘Dickie’ O’Neill, the alleged former head of the Provisional IRA in the South, was cancelled in court in 2006.

The eight-year-old Garda warrant, which was regularly renewed, was cancelled after an application by the DPP to the Special Criminal Court. O’Neill was suspected of being in charge of the IRA’s southern command in the 1990s when Garda Jerry McCabe was murdered

DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson has written to the Taoiseach seeking a meeting along with victims’ families about the claims. The letter has been acknowledged and he is awaiting a further response, he said.

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