Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Smithwick Tribunal: Long-awaited report into Garda collusion allegations handed to Irish Parliament

RUC officer Superintendent Bob Buchanan was killed in 1989 on the south Armagh border
RUC officer Superintendent Bob Buchanan was killed in 1989 on the south Armagh border

The long-awaited report into allegations of Garda collusion in the IRA murder of two senior RUC men has been handed over to the Irish Parliament.

The results of the eight-year probe, which run to more than 500 pages, are expected to be published within weeks once the director of public prosecutions (DPP) has examined the conclusions for legal reasons.

The Smithwick Tribunal has been probing any links between gardai or civilians working in the force and the Provos' ambush of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan on March 20 1989, on the south Armagh border shortly after a meeting with a senior gardai in Dundalk.

Judge Peter Smithwick's final report comes almost two years later than expected.

A solicitor for Mr Buchanan's son William has called on the Irish Government to allow him to read the report some hours before it is published online.

Ernie Waterworth said his client has a right to read the details of his father's death and any findings of collusion ahead of the public.

Mr Buchanan, who sat through several days of the hearing in Dublin, said he hopes to know within weeks if the last eight years have been worth it.

"I'm not sure what my feeling will be," said Mr Buchanan, who was 25 when his father was killed.

"I just don't know whether I'll view it as a lost eight years or whatever it happens to be.

"I will be a lot more open with you when I see the content and have time to digest it," he added.

The inquiry has cost more than 10 million euro, with legal fees pending.

It was established in 2005, with lawyers spending six years trawling intelligence and witness statements from police forces and officials on both sides of the border.

Officials from the tribunal team hand delivered the final report to the acting clerk of the Dail, Peter Finnegan, who will forward it to the DPP to examine it in detail before its release in the coming weeks.

British undercover agents, Provo bombers, politicians and the island's most senior officers took the stand at hearings, which sat for more than 133 days in public.

Three former garda officers, Owen Corrigan, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey, have denied allegations of collusion.

On the last day of public hearings in June, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan launched a scathing attack on the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), with his lawyer accusing it of handing over impenetrable, anonymous and unverified intelligence to the Smithwick Tribunal.

The tribunal was established in 2005 when Canadian judge Peter Cory recommended a public inquiry be held into allegations of collusion by garda officers, or a civilian in the force.

It opened nearly a year later and was adjourned almost immediately to allow for private investigations. Public hearings started in June 2011.

High profile witnesses included Jeffrey Donaldson MP, who named retired detective Mr Corrigan as a rogue officer passing information to the IRA, in the House of Commons in April 2000 under parliamentary privilege, sparking the probe.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was forced to issue a denial when a former British intelligence officer claimed he had been involved in the IRA sanctioning an operation to abduct, torture and murder the senior RUC men.

High profile witnesses from the Garda, RUC and PSNI included former commissioner Noel Conroy, current Commissioner Martin Callinan and PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris who stood over "explosive" new intelligence which claimed several gardai were tipping off Provos.

Others who took the stand included British agents Ian Hurst, also known as Martin Ingram, and Peter Keeley, also known as Kevin Fulton.

Elsewhere ex-IRA members have alleged there was no garda involvement in the murders, adding the officers were creatures of habit using the same car and routes on known days, while gardai maintained the men refused escorts to and from the border.

The final report was initially due in November 2011, but Justice Minister Alan Shatter agreed to several extensions after earlier pressure for the inquiry to be wound up sparked a public row with Judge Smithwick.

The judge has spent five months compiling his conclusions and editing and printing his findings.

Mr Finnegan confirmed receipt of the report.

A spokesman said that Under the Tribunal of Inquiries (Evidence) (Amendment) Act 2002, the Clerk of the Dail is obliged to ensure that publication of the report would not prejudice any criminal proceedings.

Following completion of his obligations in that regard, the report will be laid in the Houses of the Oireachtas library.

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