Probe Dublin’s ‘secret IRA amnesty’: solicitor

Former tanaiste Michael McDowell
Former tanaiste Michael McDowell

A solicitor who has represented victims of cross-border Troubles murders has called on Dublin to investigate a former tanaiste’s claim that there has been a secret amnesty for key IRA figures.

John McBurney, who most recently represented the family of murdered RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen, said that the claim by Michael McDowell, a former attorney general and justice minister, had to be rigorously examined.

Last year the Smithwick Tribunal in Dublin found that there had been Garda collusion in the 1989 murder of Mr Breen and his colleague, superintendent Bob Buchanan.

Last week Mr McDowell told the Press Association that after the Belfast Agreement “generally speaking there was a consensus in the Republic that the police would no longer be prosecuting historical cases”.

Mr McDowell – who has been a fierce critic of Sinn Fein – also said that around the year 2000 he had suggested that the UK use Royal pardons for a handful of “household names” suspected of IRA activities who were deemed critical to peace efforts.

Mr McBurney, who is also First Minister Peter Robinson’s solicitor, told the News Letter that there was deep concern among victims of terrorism at the comments.

Mr McBurney said that the Republic now needed to follow the example of the UK – which set up several inquiries earlier this year once the ‘comfort letters’ to IRA fugitives were made public – by instigating an inquiry into Mr McDowell’s claims.

“I have a concern to see fully probed the remarks made by Mr McDowell ... indicating that there was a decision which was clearly kept secret,” he said.

“It wasn’t just under the radar – this seems to have been a secret decision to not pursue historical crimes, particularly in relation to certain named individuals and that discussions were even engaged with in respect of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy for some or all of those named individuals.

“Is there going to be a review – judge-led or otherwise – into what has now been exposed in that regard? In other words, was there a secret Republic of Ireland list?”

Mr McBurney questioned whether such a “secret arrangement at such a high level” had an impact on extradition requests, terrorist investigations and whether any ‘comfort letters’ had been issued by Dublin.

The solicitor also questioned whether any of the 2,500 Garda tapes – which secretly recorded calls to and from Garda stations from the 1980s until last year – contain references to individuals who could not be prosecuted.