Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has agreed to engage in what is thought to be an historic first - an Irish minister meeting with victims of alleged Garda-IRA collusion.
He gave his commitment after the News Letter put claims to him from Castlederg man John Sproule that the Irish government had washed its hands of the murder of his brother John in 1991, despite extensive lobbying.
Ian Sproule, 24, was shot by two IRA men at home in Castlederg in 1991. Shortly afterwards, the IRA justified the murder by showing a Garda intelligence file, which claimed their victim was a UVF member, to a Londonderry newspaper.
Last month Ian’s brother, John, said he had been angered by Irish government ministers visiting NI to call for a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, while at the same time refusing to meet him. Dublin was trying to “wash its hands” of the case, he said.
However the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) rejected Mr Sproule’s comments. “The Irish Government does not ‘wash it hands’ of the concerns of any victims’ family,” the DFAT has now replied. “As we seek the establishment of the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) legacy institutions to deal with the past in a comprehensive way, the Government will continue to meet with victims’ families and listen to their views and provide any assistance possible in accordance with law.”
The News Letter pointed out to DFAT that in 2015 Taoiseach Enda Kenny promised full cooperation with the Kingsmills Massacre inquest, but that relatives say they have still seen no real information. DFAT responded that Taoiseachs regularly attend Enniskillen bomb ceremonies and that Mr Coveney has met the Birmingham bomb victims and the NI Victims Forum.
However, Mr Sproule reaffirmed that they had been trying to meet the Irish government for up to six years and that the Garda Ombudsman has failed to respond after a formal meeting. Asked if Mr Coveney would therefore agree to meet the family, a DFAT spokesman said: “The Tánaiste [Mr Coveney] received and responded to a representation made on behalf the Sproule family and he remains ready to meet to hear their views and concerns.”
Mr Sproule said that a unionist politician met Mr Coveney six months ago and they later advised him that Mr Coveney had agreed to meet. “But that was six months ago and I have heard nothing since,” he said. “But this cannot be a box ticking exercise. We must have truth and justice for Ian.”
The Garda Ombudsman declined to comment.
Three weeks ago the News Letter reported the DFAT as responding to Mr Sproule with a statement saying it was “unable to comment on individual cases”. The News Letter summarised the statement as saying that Dublin was waiting for the implementation of the SHA before cooperating on legacy cases.
However DFAT has responded that it “regularly engages” with “all sections” of NI victims and that it “cooperates with investigative processes in legacy cases in accordance with the law”. DFAT also pointed out, correctly, that the statement was given to the News Letter by the Irish Department of Justice, not DFAT.