Uproar in Dail over 'comedy of errors'

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The Independent Online
The Dail had to be adjourned twice yesterday amid uproar after a minister admitted an IRA extradition fiasco blamed on British errors was in fact the result of blunders by Irish police.

The unprecedented climbdown saw Ireland's justice minister admit that gardai were to blame all along for bungling the extradition of an IRA bombing suspect last month. At the time, Dublin publicly claimed British authorities were responsible.

Following protracted questioning by an Opposition TD, the minister, Nora Owen, conceded in a written reply that the original British application for the extradition of Anthony Duncan, 27, wanted for questioning in connection with Semtex bombs in Brighton and Bognor Regis in 1994, was mislaid during photocopying by gardai.

The disclosure led to angry scenes in the Dail, which had to be adjourned twice by the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker) as Opposition parties demanded an immediate emergency debate. The Taoiseach, John Bruton, was only willing to agree to a debate next week.

It was suggested yesterday that the error over the warrant was not spotted because of the quality of the photocopies. In Dublin district court on 13 April, Irish state counsel indicated that the documents had been "fundamentally flawed".

A garda spokesman last night admitted the five-page warrant's original cover sheet with official British stamps on the back had been inadvertently mislaid by gardai and accidentally shredded, and a copy mistakenly put in its place.

He said the facts only emerged after lengthy contacts with London over what had been sent. "We've acknowledged our mistake and senior management at New Scotland Yard have been made aware of our findings," he said.

The embarrassment has increased pressure on the embattled Mrs Owen, whose term of office has coincided with a series of garda failures.

These have included the failure to stop a multi-million pound security depot robbery carried out after weeks of surveillance was abandoned; the overlooking by detectives at the scene of the crime of a murder weapon used to kill a five-year-old; and the disappearance of the corpse of a murdered man in Cork City from under detectives' noses. In addition, the minister has been unable to settle a bitter feud between rival garda representative bodies.

In yesterday's disclosure, the minister told Progressive Democrat TD Liz O'Donnell that she was unable to explain what had happened to the extradition documents "owing to a failure to receive the appropriate information".

The minister's reply said the original warrant arrived with gardai on 12 April. After the document was mislaid: "An extensive search had failed to locate the original warrant," it said. "The Garda authorities had concluded ... that the only explanation was that the original had been destroyed accidentally when copies were being made."

Following yesterday's disclosure, Ms O'Donnell claimed that "highly placed [Irish] government sources misled the public and the media when they pointed the finger of blame at the UK authorities". And she asked: "Was the minister being being kept in the dark, or was the Department of Justice keeping the Dail in the dark?"

Pointing out that the earlier Irish accusations had prompted calls for the resignation of the British Attorney General, Ms O'Donnell went on to ask "whether anyone in Ireland will accept responsibility for this comedy of errors, compounded by a misleading accusation against the British".

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