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Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
Smithwick Tribunal

Fianna Fáil tables motion of censure in Minister for Justice

The judge of the Smithwick Tribunal told Alan Shatter a deadline would hamper his work – but Shatter never told the Dáil.

FIANNA FÁIL HAS tabled a motion of censure in the minister for justice, Alan Shatter, complaining that he withheld vital information from the Dáil when proposing a guillotine on a tribunal of inquiry.

The party says that when the Dáil imposed a deadline on the Smithwick Tribunal on June 1 – based on a motion tabled by Shatter, as minister – he failed to inform the house that Justice Peter Smithwick opposed the introduction of such a deadline.

Smithwick – who was overseeing a tribunal investigating potential Garda collusion in the IRA murder of two RUC officers in 1989 – wrote to Shatter expressing his reservations about a deadline being put in place for his work, just days before Shatter asked the Dáil to impose one.

Smithwick said the early deadline on his work threatened the cooperation of a vital witness from outside the jurisdiction, with whom the Tribunal had been in lengthy correspondence hoping to secure their assistance.

This morning Calleary told he expected the motion to be discussed as soon as possible, and lashed out at the government for refusing to provide time to discuss it.

A motion of censure in a minister was not something he would “do lightly”, he said, adding that it was “quite extraordinary” that Shatter would not disclose his correspondence with Smithwick before proposing the deadline.

During the debate in the Dáil, Shatter said:

If I thought for one moment that the motion before this House today would interfere adversely with that process I would not have moved it nor would the House support it.

But just four days previously, Smithwick had written to say he was “deeply concerned that the negative publicity” caused by the government’s moves to impose a deadline on the tribunal, and the “spin” that accompanied that statement.

“The public imposition of such a deadline would compromise the work of the tribunal in two key respects,” Smithwick wrote, arguing that it threatened the involvement of a key witness, and made it clear that people trying to frustrate the tribunal only had to hold out for a few more months.

Calleary said Shatter had offered only “very scant background information” during the debates on the deadline, and complained that the minister said it was “inappropriate” for him to discuss the deadline with Smithwick – even though he had replied to a letter from Smithwick discussing it.

The correspondence between Shatter and Smithwick was only confirmed last week when the minister laid copies of the letters in the Dáil library.

Calleary said Fianna Fáil would now discuss whether the motion of censure should be discussed during the party’s allotted Private Members’ Time in the Dáil next Tuesday and Wednesday.

With the deadline of November 30 approved by the Dáil last month, Smithwick completed his report and submitted it to the Dáil last week. It will be published following the conclusion of criminal proceedings involving certain named parties.

In full: Fianna Fáil’s motion of censure

That Dáil Éireann censure the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, following the revelation that the Chairperson of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Fatal Shootings of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan (‘The Smithwick Tribunal’) established by the Oireachtas to investigate possible collusion in two murders, wrote to the Minister clearly objecting to the impact of a new deadline on the Tribunal’s work, including the potential withdrawal of a vital witness, and that the Minister for Justice and Equality withheld this information from the Dáil and Seanad while guillotining the relevant motion on 1st June, 2011.
— Dara Calleary

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