Belfast Telegraph

Betrayed, murdered and brushed under the carpet: Irish government apologises after Smithwick tribunal finds Garda mole colluded with killers of RUC officers

By Rebecca Black

The Irish government has made an unprecedented apology after members of the Garda were found to have betrayed two RUC officers leading to their brutal murders 25 years ago.

Judge Peter Smithwick has concluded after an eight-year public inquiry in Dublin that a member or members of An Garda Siochana passed information to the IRA which led to the shooting of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan by the IRA in 1989.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore issued an apology to the Breen and Buchanan families last night within an hour of the report being released.

The two officers – who were the most senior to have been killed in the Troubles – had been returning across the border following a high-level meeting at Dundalk garda station.

Their movements had been leaked to the IRA by someone at that garda station.

However, Judge Smithwick has not been able to name who the garda officer or officers who betrayed their northern colleagues were.

In an explosive report, he has criticised the Irish State for refusing to face up to wrongdoing.

"The culture of failing adequately to address suggestions of wrongdoing, either for reasons of political expediency or by virtue of misguided loyalty, has been a feature of life in this State," he declares in a 1,652-page report.

"Too often that culture has resulted, some years later, after doubts, grievances and injustices have festered, in the setting up of investigations, commissions or Tribunals of Inquiry."

Judge Smithwick said he hopes that his report has "contributed one small part to changing that culture".

Supt Buchanan's son William described the findings as "incredible" and "shocking".

"And they confirm the existence of a mole in Dundalk station – this led to my father's death," he said.

Speaking of behalf of the Breen family, Banbridge solicitor John McBurney described the Smithwick Report as a "truly remarkable expose and indictment of wrongdoing and collusion with terrorists by some within An Garda Siochana".

"It details in the most stark and dramatic fashion the failure by State systems to address these matters year on year," he said.

"The family of Chief Supt Breen and many others held deep fears and concerns about the circumstances surrounding the tragic murder of Harry and his esteemed colleague Bob Buchanan.

"Those abiding fears and concerns have now been fully realised with collusion firmly established after eight years of painstaking investigation, 132 days of public hearings and evidence from 198 witnesses."

Mr Gilmore said the Irish government must "acknowledge and confront the central grave finding of the Smithwick Tribunal Report that there was collusion with the IRA from within An Garda Siochana".

"I am appalled and saddened by this finding; it is a matter of grave public concern," he said.

"On behalf of the government and the people of Ireland, I apologise without reservation to the Breen and Buchanan families for any failings identified in the report on the part of the State or any of its agencies."

Mr Gilmore said members of the Garda will be shocked by the findings, describing the actions documented in this report as "a betrayal of the values and the very ethos of an Garda Siochana, as the guardians of peace".

Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter also issued a public apology to the two families.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the report raises serious concerns that she plans to discuss with the Irish government.

DUP MLA Arlene Foster said the findings of Judge Smithwick have been "damning".

She said the report "must act as a catalyst for further movement towards an acknowledgement by the Irish government of the role played by Dublin during the Troubles".

Last night the PSNI confirmed that the murder inquiries into the deaths of the two officers are still ongoing. "The PSNI will take time to study the content of the report in detail," a spokesman added.

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen (51)

Harry Breen was a well-known face from dealing with tricky parading disputes in the Tunnel area of Portadown to presenting weapons seized from the IRA at Loughgall.

Originally from the sleepy Fermanagh village of Kinawley, Harry attended the prestigious Portora School in Enniskillen.

A plaque dedicated to him still hangs on the walls there.

He joined the RUC on May 5, 1957 when he was just 19 years old and rose to become Chief Superintendent, the rank just below Assistant Chief Constable.

Harry was the divisional commander of H division which covered an area taking in large parts of south Down and Co Armagh.

On the day he was murdered, his wife, who he was devoted to, had been feeling unwell and told him she wished he could stay at home with her instead of going into work. He phoned her at midday to see how she was and that was the last time she ever heard his voice.

The couple had two children, David and Gillian.

Harry also inspired deep affection in his fellow officers. His staff officer Alan Mains was tearful as he gave testimony about his former boss to the Smithwick Tribunal.

"He was a gentleman, he came from behind his desk and sat beside you. It was very important for a senior officer but he never lost the seniority he had," he said.

Superintendent Bob Buchanan (55)

Bob Buchanan was passionate about local history and his church as well as his family and work.

Originally from the small historic village of Bready in Co Tyrone, Bob married his childhood sweetheart Rhina.

Mrs Buchanan, who has since passed away, told the Belfast Telegraph in a 1989 interview that the couple had grown up together, were baptised by the same minister and married by him also.

Bob joined the RUC on August 13, 1956 when he was 22. He rose quickly through the ranks and was commended on six separate occasions, before being appointed to the delicate job of Border Superintendent in south Armagh maintaining relations between the RUC and the Garda Siochana.

His former minister Professor Robert McCollum said despite his rank, he had never lost the common touch.

"No-one meeting Bob for the first time would have guessed he was a high-ranking policeman," he said.

The newlyweds moved to Moira and started attending Kellswater, the oldest Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

They had two children, William and Heather.

Supt Buchanan also put his heart and soul into his faith, becoming an elder and a lay preacher. He also wrote a book about the historic Kellswater Church which was published after his death.

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