The chair of an Oireachtas committee was called "an absolute disgrace" by one of its members on Thursday over his continued refusal to condemn the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996.
Martin Browne, TD (Sinn Féin), chair of the committee on public petitions, was called on by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members to condemn not just the capital murder but also the provisional IRA members who carried it out.
When he made a statement saying he "unreservedly" condemned the capital murder, he was accused of uttering "empty, meaningless words" by Brendan Griffin, TD (Fine Gael).
Deputy Griffin was in turn accused by Pat Buckley, TD (Sinn Féin) of "character assassination".
Towards the end of a two-hour session on direct provision, Mr Griffin raised remarks he read had been made by Mr Browne on radio last week. He was reported to have told Tipp FM he would not go as far as his party leader, Mary Lou McDonald who had condemned the IRA killers in a television interview last week.
He said: “I wouldn’t go as far as condemn because that is a hard word to put out there.”
Mr Griffin asked: "Does [Mr Browne] or does he not condemn people who kill members of An Garda Síochána in cold blood and leave a wife widowed and leave children without their father? Is this something that he agrees with or is it something he doesn't agree with? He should explain it to this committee or to Dáil Éireann…The chairman has got off the hook on a number of occasions."
Senator Buttimer said the committee was discussing human rights and in the context of the "killing of a member of An Garda Síochána" the chair "really [did] need to address the matters" raised by Mr Griffin.
Senator Eugene Murphy (Fianna Fáil) said when Mr Browne became chair of the committee, he "was one of the people who urged members to give you a chance to proceed but I have to say… I was very disappointed to read about yourself and the comments that were attributed to you in relation to the death of Jerry McCabe.
“I am just doing this because I am thinking of Ann McCabe, her five children and her family. I would ask you without any further delay to clarify your position on this so we can move on.”
‘Clarify the situation’
Cormac Devlin, TD (Fianna Fáil) said he was "shocked" by his alleged remarks. "I think that needs to be addressed by yourself." Pádraig O'Sullivan, TD (Fianna Fáil) asked the deputy to "clarify the situation whether at this meeting or a future one".
Mr Browne said: “To clarify, I appreciate that people didn’t hear the interview…The killing of Jerry McCabe was unjustified and I condemn it unreservedly. It was a reprehensible act and I condemn everything about it as my party leader made clear. The act and what they did, and I made clear in a subsequent statement to Tipp FM last Friday…We have consistently apologised to Mrs McCabe and the McCabe family…That is my position.”
When asked by deputy Griffin asked: “Do you condemn the killers?” he said: “I am not going to go into it any further.”
Mr Buckley commented: “With all due respect the man has apologised and your…character assassination.”
“That remark should be withdrawn by deputy Buckley, chairman,” said Senator Buttimer. “It’s unnecessary language by deputy Buckley in the context of what’s being discussed.”
Mr Browne moved to close the meeting saying: “I have made a statement there. I am conscious that we are over time,” when asked again by Mr Griffin, “I am asking you a simple question, black and white, do you condemn the killers, yes or no?”
“I have made a statement deputy Griffin. We’re leaving it at that.”
“Do you condemn the killers?,” Mr Griffin asked again. “It’s a disgrace, an absolute disgrace that you won’t do that. As the chairman of an Oireachtas committee, as a member of the Oireachtas, that you won’t condemn people who killed….It’s a disgrace.”
“I am not going to politicise the situation deputy Griffin like you are trying to do. I have made a statement and like I said I unreservedly condemn the actions and my sympathies go out to McCabe family.”
“They are empty, meaningless words,” said Mr Griffin.
Mr Browne adjourned the meeting until September 16th and wished his colleagues a “happy summer”.