Howlin pushes for cross-border inquiry into Project Eagle

15 September 2016

This afternoon’s meeting of party leaders to discuss the NAMA affair produced a reasonable initial level of consensus.

Everyone agreed that an investigation into Project Eagle was warranted, and that it should be a statutory investigation.

Equally, there was general agreement that the statutory investigation should, if agreement is possible with the Northern Ireland authorities, have powers in relation to witnesses and documents that would be exercisable in both jurisdictions.

I recognise and indeed to a large extent share the reservations of some of my colleagues that agreement with all parties in the North may not be forthcoming. But I do believe that we should try to secure the best possible, all-island footing for any investigation.

Indeed, I would have serious doubts about the merits of proceeding with any statutory inquiry into allegations of crimes committed in Northern Ireland in the absence of any powers of compulsion over Northern Ireland witnesses.

Deputy Micheál Martin’s comparisons with the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry are, I believe, misplaced. It is true that the Oireachtas committee held its inquiry without evidence from Sean FitzPatrick and other important witnesses. But criminality, alleged and proven, was only a small part of the story of the collapse of the Irish banks. There were plenty of other matters that the Oireachtas committee could inquire into and report upon.

In this case, allegations of behaviour against named individuals that, if true, amount to serious criminality are core to what any commission should inquire into. To hold such an inquiry without access to Mr Cushnahan and other witnesses would be nothing more than Hamlet without the Prince.

I also put forward the proposal that, in relation to the criminal investigation, again there should be a clear, statute-based cross-border approach. This is to ensure that criminal investigations are full and complete and are not hampered by any cross-border dimensions to the complaints being investigated.

I believe the best way to do this is to invoke the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Act of 2004 and to set up a special joint investigation policing team to investigate the allegations relating to Project Eagle.

The leaders agreed to put their proposals to the Taoiseach in writing and to meet again next week. In the interim I will have further discussions with my colleagues in the SDLP and other interested Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to see if there is a prospect of Stormont producing matching legislation to underpin a comprehensive cross-border and statutory approach to an investigation into these matters.

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