Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Smithwick Tribunal: Gardai and PSNI in open warfare over RUC deaths probe

Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Robert Buchanan were ambushed as they travelled back to Northern Ireland
Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Robert Buchanan were ambushed as they travelled back to Northern Ireland
Bob Buchanan
Bob Buchanan
Harry Breen
Harry Breen

A rift has erupted between the gardai and the PSNI over claims of collusion in the Provisional IRA murder of two senior RUC officers as they were making their way back across the border after visiting Dundalk garda station.

Evidence given to the Smithwick Tribunal by PSNI and British security sources alleged that a member of the gardai gave a tip-off to the IRA about the visit, leading to a fatal ambush on the officers.

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were murdered on March 20, 1989 and the incident has been at the centre of a tribunal investigation for the past eight years.

However, the claims of collusion have been strongly challenged by lawyers for three named garda sergeants and for the garda authorities.

The difference of opinion between the two forces has now turned into open warfare. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan forcibly dismissed any suggestion of collusion and accused the PSNI of failing to co-operate fully with the tribunal.

The garda authorities were incensed at the late introduction of "fresh" intelligence in the closing stages of the tribunal when the blame was shifted from the three retired garda sergeants – Owen Corrigan, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey – to two other possible sources.

At the final day of the tribunal hearings yesterday, the Garda Commissioner's counsel, Diarmaid McGuinness, insisted that these allegations were "nonsense upon stilts".

He said PSNI assistant chief constable Drew Harris had told the tribunal there was no RUC intelligence at the time of the murders that suggested collusion by any member of An Garda Siochana in the ambush.

But 24 years later, the tribunal was faced with a "Niagara of intelligence", with Mr Drew swearing it was all accurate.

He told Judge Peter Smithwick: "The authority with which he (Mr Drew) has given his evidence, his rank, his experience, his asserted bona fides, his description of the process involved, are all paraded before you in order to compel you in some way to give weight and credence to these matters.

"This intelligence has been withheld from you. It beggars belief as to how you are expected to come to adjudication, not merely in relation to this intelligence but to the issue of collusion as a whole, having regard to the actions of the PSNI in this regard."

The withholding of intelligence, he said, "cast the gravest shadow over the bona fides, the willingness and ability of the PSNI to co-operate with the tribunal."

Mr McGuinness accused the PSNI of failing the families of the late Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan; failing An Garda Siochana by not sharing this intelligence; and ultimately failing the tribunal itself.

Based on the totality of the evidence before the tribunal, there was no evidence of any garda collusion and that was the submission of the Garda Commissioner, he added.

Counsel for the PSNI, Mark Robinson had earlier argued that the force had given every help it could to the tribunal.

The judge's final report is expected in the late autumn.

Brutal IRA ambush that led to collusion probe

By Chris Kilpatrick

Throughout the Troubles, 303 RUC and RUC reserve officers were murdered – but the killing of the two most senior members sparked allegations of collusion between the Garda and the Provisional IRA.

Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Robert Buchanan were ambushed as they travelled back to Northern Ireland having taken part in a security conference with their counterparts at Dundalk Garda station on March 20, 1989.

Father-of-two Mr Breen had been in the police for nearly 32 years, having joined in 1957.

Mr Buchanan joined the RUC in 1956 and had been a police officer for almost 33 years.

Their unmarked car came under attack from members of the IRA just north of the border at Jonesborough, between Co Louth and south Armagh.

The Smithwick Tribunal was prompted by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory, who initially investigated the double murder as part of the Weston Park Agreement, an offshoot of the Good Friday Agreement, which highlighted six murders for potential public inquiry.

In his subsequent report, Mr Cory came to the conclusion that the allegation of collusion between the IRA and Garda warranted a public inquiry.

In his report, Mr Cory said: "Without public scrutiny, doubts based solely on myth and suspicion will linger long, fester and spread their malignant infection throughout the Republic and the Northern Ireland community."

He noted two intelligence reports alleging a Garda leak and a statement from a British agent – known as Kevin Fulton – who claimed he was told by a member of the IRA the gunmen were tipped off about the presence of the RUC officers in Dundalk, just hours before they were murdered. He claimed this information was passed to the killers from a garda.

The tribunal was unique in that it investigated killings which occurred in another jurisdiction, meaning cross-border co-operation could not be compelled.

Judge Peter Smithwick began his investigations in 2006 but it was another five years before public hearings began in Dublin. He said he was considering whether the murders had resulted from collusion in the "widest sense of the word".

By this, the judge said he would consider whether the shootings had taken place following a failure to act on prior knowledge of the killers' plans.

From the outset it was made clear the remit of the tribunal was not to identify the murderers, who have never been brought to justice. Rather, its purpose was to examine the allegations of collusion. The claims surfaced in the aftermath of the killings.

Claims centred on a former Garda sergeant, Owen Corrigan.

An RUC intelligence document identified him as colluding with the IRA. He denied the claims. His colleagues Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey also rebuked similar allegations against them.

The IRA denied it had received a helping hand from members of the Garda in the murder of the two policemen.

The organisation said it was aware of the movements of the RUC men as a result of detailed surveillance.

The families of both officers expressed their relief that the suspicions were finally being examined by the tribunal.

The tribunal sat for more than 130 days and heard from around 200 witnesses, including former IRA members and spies in the British security forces.

Other claims made during the tribunal included the allegation a former Taoiseach ordered gardai not to co-operate with an investigation into the Narrow Water massacre near Warrenpoint, Co Down.

A former RUC commander claimed he was told the murder of 18 soldiers in 1979 was being treated as a political crime. A suspected detonation site in the Republic had been destroyed before the RUC forensic officers examined it, he said.

The PSNI also came in for criticism, with the force accused of not passing on recent intelligence on murders to its Southern counterparts.

The inquiry is expected to cost more than £10m before it concludes this year.

Garda Commissioner rejects PSNI evidence as 'nonsense on stilts'

By Tom Brady

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has strongly rejected claims of collusion by a member of his force with the IRA that led to the murders of two senior PSNI officers twenty four years ago.

He also accused the PSNI of failing to co-operate fully with the Smithwick tribunal, which was set up to examine the collusion allegations.

At the final day of public hearings, counsel for the Garda Commissioner, Mr Diarmaid McGuinness, dismissed the allegations as not merely nonsense but "nonsense on stilts".

He said three formers of the garda force, Owen Corrigan, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey had at different stages of the tribunal been described as the source of a tip off to the IRA that led to the fatal ambush of the then RUC officers.

But towards the end of the tribunal new evidence was given by PSNI assistant chief constable, Drew Harris, that the IRA informant was neither of the three but either an unknown female at Dundalk garda station who made a phone call to an unknown member of the IRA or else an unidentified administrator somewhere in the Republic.

Mr McGuinness said the tribunal had not been give the full details of that intelligence or when it had been received.

There was no evidence to back up the statement by the assistant chief constable that this intelligence was reliable.

He accused the PSNI of failing to co-operate with the Garda Siochana after earlier stating they would share the intelligence with them as well as failing the Breen and Buchanan families and failing the tribunal.

And he said it was the submission of the garda that there was nothing to support the claims that collusion leading up to the murders ever existed.

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