Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One Island, One Court

The town of Omagh lies within the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Crown Courts. Ten years ago, a bomb went off on a busy street and twenty-nine people died. Today, a judge from the north will sit in a Dublin courtroom and gather evidence from Republic of Ireland citizens. In this case, the border has been effectively erased.

Seven years ago, the European Union issued a directive related to evidence being taken for a civil trial. For the first time in Ireland, the directive has been put into play. Mr. Justice Declan Morgan of the Northern Ireland High Court will join district judge Conal Gibbons in Dublin, to hear evidence in a civil case against four men thought to have been involved in the Omagh bombing.

An Garda Siochana has long been monitoring and observing all sorts of shady characters along the border. A line on a map does not translate into a less than porous barrier, after all, and IRA operatives had been shuttling from one side to the other since the partition. It was a matter of public interest to mind those who splintered off from the old Irish Republican Army. Knowing that the gardai had relevant information, the Crown could call on them to testify in the court case that has been brought by relatives of the victims, but the Irish government was hesitant to let the gardai speak.

In an Irish court, a garda could claim immunity to avoid answering a question that might harm some ongoing investigation. In the Northern Ireland courtroom, that immunity would not apply. Without the gardai testifying, the plaintiffs in the civil trial would be at a disadvantage. To avoid that problem, the High Court in the north asked Dublin for help. Last month, the proper legislation was put into place.

A judge from the north is sitting next to a judge from the south. The border makes no difference. It's as if Ireland is one island, under one set of rules, and isn't that what the Real IRA was after when they set off that bomb ten years ago?

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