Ambushed RUC men 'were told to avoid Dundalk trip'
Controversy surfaced on the first day of evidence at the Smithwick Tribunal yesterday when a retired Assistant Chief Constable said that he had told two officers murdered by the IRA not to travel to Dundalk.
Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan were ambushed on their way back from Dundalk Garda station in March 1989 after attending a meeting with gardai to discuss tackling a cross-border crime empire controlled by the IRA.
Referred to as 'Witness 18' and concealed behind a blue screen, the retired Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) told the tribunal that he felt there was no need for Mr Breen and Mr uchanan to travel to Dundalk.
Supt Buchanan had travelled into the Republic in his own car 10 times in the month before he was killed.
The retired ACC said: "I asked both men to give me a promise that they would not go across the border. And they did (give a promise) because there was no necessity in it."
The retired officer, whose identity is known to the Belfast Telegraph, described Dundalk at the time as a "cowboy town" where quite a number of subversives were "on the run".
The former ACC said that Mr Breen and Mr Buchanan were present when an investigation into the activities of Thomas 'Slab' Murphy was discussed at Armagh police station four days before the two senior officers travelled across the border. But Mr Breen's widow has made a statement saying that on the day of that meeting her husband was with her.
The evidence from the retired ACC is expected to be challenged by other RUC witnesses. The staff officer to Mr Breen, Alan Mains, made a written statement saying that on the morning of the ambush he expressed concern at having to travel to Dundalk.
On March 20, 1989 Chief Superintendent Harry Breen travelled to Dundalk with his colleague, Superintendent Bob Buchanan, to meet with gardai over security issues.
Chief Supt Breen and his driver, Supt Buchanan, left Newry for what they thought was a routine meeting.
Later in the day, as they drove back across the border near Jonesborough, south Armagh, the two senior RUC officers were ambushed in an IRA gun attack.
Supt Buchanan, a father-of-two, died at the wheel of the unmarked car. Chief Supt Breen, who also had two children, was found dead on the roadside.
The IRA took security documents from the car.