Ian Sproule was killed on 13 April 1991. He was 23 years of age. Ian lived near Killen – not far from Castlederg. He was a joiner by trade and a young lad who enjoyed music and playing in bands. He returned home in the early hours of the 13 April and an IRA gang who had been lying in wait shot him at close range.
44 bullets were fired. Ian died instantly.
Shortly after the IRA called the family home and told his father Robert to “go and see what the IRA had left him in the street.”
For many years I have advocated on behalf of the Sproule family, as they seek answers about a brother who was murdered by the PIRA as a result of collusion with the garda in Donegal.
Officialdom in Dublin has talked about the truth but failed to deliver the answers.
Dublin has manufactured reasons not to help the Sproule family and has failed to lift a finger or strain a muscle to provide answers to the Sproule family.
Dublin has behaved like a spectator and lectured us all about dealing with the Troubles yet failing to see their own shortcomings.
Let me make clear, before I advance Mr Speaker, this house owes a debt of gratitude to the RUC, the PSNI and our armed forces for the way that they protected us.
We remember the sacrifices of those who died but also those who still live with the scars and indeed their families who continue to grieve the loss of loved ones.
We also record our gratitude to those officers of An Garda Siochana who stood with us and worked to protect lives in the most difficult of circumstances.
In dealing with this motion, let us never forget that terrorists - not police officers - were responsible for 90% of the deaths and bloodshed on both sides of the border.
No one in this House should allow the victim makers to deflect attention from their own bloody past.
They and they alone planted the bombs and pulled the triggers.
This motion is about bringing the Irish Government to book for its failures to address the minority of cases where there is alleged collusion by members of the Garda.
It is not about taking the focus from where it belongs – on those who pulled the trigger and planted the bomb.
This House has already recorded its emphatic rejection of the proposals by Her Majesty’s government to close down legal routes to justice for innocent victims of violence.
I hope that all of those who support the basic principle of justice will do so again today.
In terms of the amendment, I reject it.
Every criticism of the Irish authorities in relation to legacy shouldn’t have to be qualified by a mention of the UK Government.
The concerns raised by the Sproule family and many others like them are serious.
They deserve to be debated in their own right. It is not a zero-sum game.
Equally, there is no reason why action by the Irish Government should be dependent on wider agreement with the UK.
Either that administration believes in upholding the rule of law or it doesn’t.
With this in mind, the main focus of this motion is on the role of successive Dublin governments.
Governments that have failed to investigate the extent of the Irish state’s involvement in the terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland.
Governments that have tried to sweep this element of their actions out of public view.
That continuously lecture others on their responsibilities while delaying truth and justice for innocent victims.
Justice delayed is justice denied
The republic of Ireland was no spectator in the Troubles. Just look last week. EU funding for Dublin in exchange for an end to IRA terrorism in Germany.
Let’s look at another area, extradition.
Between 1973 and 1997 a total of 113 extradition requests were made to RoI on terrorist related offences. Only 8 people were ever extradited. These included charges of murdering RUC officers, planting incendiary devices and attempted murder. In effect a safe haven for terror.
I wish to focus my remarks specifically on the sustained failure by successive governments in the Republic of Ireland to address the substantive allegations of collusion by Garda officers in atrocities committed by the PIRA and in particular the case of Ian Sproule.
In the aftermath of the murder the IRA passed files to the Derry Journal which included copies of confidential Garda security files which had been leaked to them as justification for this brutal murder.
This is a case that I have been involved with for many years in my role as an MEP. I have written to every Taoiseach since Enda Kenny and accompanied John Sproule to meet with Simon Coveney in 2019. As John says we were given “tea and sympathy” but nothing that would help to uncover the truth behind Ian’s murder. I am aware that others in this house have met with the family and taken an interest in this case but it seems that the desire to sweep this away trumps the search for truth and justice.
In August this year after a 4 year wait the Garda Ombudsman responded to the Sproule family essentially indicating that the passage of time meant that they would not investigate this crime. They also cited limited resources, the challenge in locating witnesses and documents.
In reality a list of reasons – four years in the making - denying the Sproule family an investigation.
Although the Criminal Justice (International Co-Operation) Act was ratified in 2019 by the Irish Parliament which would allow the Garda Ombudsman and other bodies to exchange information on cross border investigations the Government in Dublin has retained its veto over such arrangements. This means that families like the Sproules or indeed those whose loved ones were killed in the Kingsmills massacre have been abandoned.
What has the Irish government to hide or are they – like SF – secretly pleased that the passage of time now seems a convenient excuse for inaction on these terrible crimes?
The Smithwick inquiry into the murders of RUC officers Breen and Buchanan should have been the catalyst for a full and wide-ranging inquiry into Irish State collusion with the PIRA. Not only did Smithwick conclude that there was collusion between the PIRA and the Garda officers in the death of these two officers but conclusion 7 looks at the possibility of a further tribunal where there is the power to compel witnesses and make orders for the discovery of documents in both jurisdictions.
Indeed the solicitor acting for the Breen and Buchanan families wrote to Enda Kenny the Taoiseach in 2014 to say that there should be further investigations into other murders which were probed to some degree by Smithwick and where there were allegations of collusion.
These cases are:
Constable Tracey Doak and her three colleagues murdered at Killeen in May 1985
Terrence McKeever June 1986
Lord Justice and Lady Gibson 1987
The Hanna family - 1988
John McAnulty – 1989
Ian Sproule 1991
Tom Oliver- 1991
Many of the concerns raised on this issue were contained in new intelligence precis which were given to the tribunal by the then ACC Drew Harris. They were described as “accurate and reliable”
Successive Irish governments have swept away these allegations of collusion but in doing so they not only fail those who lived in Northern Ireland and who were murdered by the PIRA but they also fail their own citizens. Those who have the right to expect protection and justice from their own government.
There has been a great deal of litigation and comment around the UK Governments obligations under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However very little attention, if any, has been given to the Irish states responsibilities under the same provision. In its failure to investigate collusion it clearly is failing in its international obligations.
In concluding Mr Speaker, I commend this motion to the House. Its focus is narrow – the role of the Irish government and its failure to investigate allegations of collusion in the case of Ian Sproule and others who were killed by the IRA.
But Mr Speaker,
Where do we go from here? We can’t just talk about the Sproule family and leave it.
I intend to continue fight with every fibre of my body to get answers for this family.
We believe the Irish Government is failing under European Convention on Human Rights.
I have this week written to both the Garda Commissioner and the Irish Taoiseach and call on them to meet with the Sproule family, to give them the answers as to how the state will investigate this atrocity.
But what a sad reflection on the Irish state that a family from Castlederg are having to take such measures.
Everyone in this House who believes in the rule of law and supports the principle of justice, should support this motion.
I commend it to the House.