12 January 2012

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, TD has responded to a series of disingenuous, inaccurate and misleading comments made by the leader of Fianna Fail Micheál Martin TD about certain papers of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, deposited at Boston College.

Minister Shatter said:

"Mr. Martin posed the question 'Why has sensitive national archive on peace process been sent to the USA?'.  The simple answer is that he should consult with his former colleagues in Government, including former Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, and his current front bench colleague who is spokesperson on Education and Skills, Brendan Smith TD,  who briefly took over from Dermot Ahern as Minister for Justice in early 2011.  He perhaps should also consult his own memory."

The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning was a body jointly established following an agreement of August 1997 between the Irish and British Governments  to supervise the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons and explosive materials.  It did very valuable work and submitted its final report to Government on 28 March, 2011.

In that report the Commission detail the different arrangements made by them for storage of their  documentation.  Papers from political parties setting out their views on decommissioning and other private correspondence received from individuals was deposited by them for safe keeping in Boston College, subject to an embargo on their disclosure for thirty years.  Details of the quantity of arms decommissioned by the various paramilitary groups were placed with the US State Department to preserve their security and confidentiality on the basis of the Commission's assessment that the time was not right for them to be made public. 

It was the Commission which made these arrangements to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of their archive in the public interests and in the interests of the peace process.  However, they did so after lengthy consultations with the then Irish and British Governments, in the former case, being the Government of which Deputy Martin was Minister for Foreign Affairs.  That Government finally left office on 9th March 2011.

Minister Shatter said:

"It is unfortunate that Micheál Martin should seek to make a political football out of issues relating to the Commission whose work had the full support of all major parties then represented in Dail Eireann.  It is doubly unfortunate that, motivated by blatant political opportunism, he then proceeds to score a bizarre own goal, the plain fact being that the issues in question were ones that were dealt with by the Fianna Fáil led Government of which he was a member and by his ministerial colleagues.  The consultations about the disposal of the archive were complete before I assumed office and the first I learned of the archiving arrangements was when the Commission detailed them in their Report of 28th March 2011."

Minister Shatter has no issue with the approach which the Commission took to dealing with their archive, having consulted the then Governments.  He is aware of proceedings which have been taken in the United States about entirely separate documentation held in Boston College.  While the nature of the records maintained by the Commission were a matter for them, the Minister understands that the material in question is of a general nature and does not contain sensitive information in relation to individuals.  It is therefore in an entirely different category to material which is the subject of current proceedings and it is difficult to conceive how it would be subject to legitimate requests for disclosure on the basis that the information it contains would be of assistance in criminal investigations.

As a matter of prudence, the Minister's Department and the Northern Ireland Office have been monitoring the situation in relation to the current proceedings and will remain in contact about the matter.  However, there is no reason to believe that there are particular grounds for concern about the arrangements made by the Commission, after consultation with the then Governments.

The Minister concluded:

"If any issues arise in relation to the Commission's documentation they will be dealt with appropriately.  Of course, that process will not be helped by off-the-wall statements made by Deputy Martin which are rooted in the pattern of wilful amnesia he continues to display in relation to his own time in Government"