Belfast Telegraph

Smithwick Tribunal: Fury over Gerry Adams' 'vile' efforts to justify RUC murders

By Rebecca Black

A claim from Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams that two senior RUC officers murdered by the IRA were "laissez-faire" about their security has been branded nauseating.

There was outrage yesterday as Mr Adams' comments started with morning interviews when he dismissed the Smithwick Report as relying on "tittle-tattle".

Then on Irish radio Mr Adams claimed Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan had shown a "laissez-faire" attitude to security.

Mr Adams told Newstalk the men "seemed to think that they were immune from attack by the IRA and, tragically as it turned out for them, that wasn't the case".

He added: "When you have that type of failure to protect the RUC operatives in the middle of a war, then what happened happens.

"I'm sure the same thing has happened with IRA volunteers who were killed, that it wasn't necessarily intelligence or inside information, it was simply that they made a mistake," he added.

In the Dail later Mr Adams stood over his remarks, and went further to defend the killers, saying that both the RUC officers and IRA terrorists were equally "doing their duty as they saw it".

Chief Supt Breen was the most senior RUC officer to be killed during the Troubles. This week Judge Peter Smithwick found he and Superintendent Buchanan were betrayed by members of An Garda Siochana.

The RUC pair had been attending a meeting at Dundalk Garda station on March 20, 1989. They returned to Northern Ireland via the Edenappa Road and were killed in an IRA ambush just a few hundred yards over the border.

Judge Smithwick found a leak from Dundalk station tipped the IRA off as to the officers' movements regarding a meeting only organised that morning.

Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore both issued public apologies to the families of the murdered men.

But Mr Adams accused the officers of thinking they were immune from IRA attack.

Mr Shatter called the comments "nauseating". "The truth is you had two respected, senior members of the RUC barbarically murdered in cold blood," he said.

"As far as Gerry Adams having referred to there being a war at the time, it was a war substantially created by the Provisional IRA."

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the comments are "deeply insulting and offensive".

"This was a case of brutal premeditated murder by the Provisional IRA and nothing Mr Adams says will ever change that fact."

DUP MLA Arlene Foster called the comments "beneath contempt". "This is not the first time where republicans have effectively blamed victims for their own murder," she said.

"Gerry Adams has stepped forward to defend the actions of a terrorist gang which he still claims never to have been a member of. It is Gerry Adams' laissez-faire attitude to the truth that has been exposed as he shuns reality in favour of a world where republicans are never guilty of any crime."

SDLP justice spokesman Alban Maginness said: "To blame victims for being murdered and try to apportion responsibility to them for being killed is just vile."

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan apologised unreservedly for any wrongdoing by members of An Garda Siochana.

He said he accepted the conclusions of Judge Smithwick.

"It is intensely disappointing as Commissioner of An Garda Siochana to learn that, on balance of probability, the tribunal has found that people in my organisation betrayed us," Mr Callinan said. "I am horrified that any member of An Garda Siochana would be involved in colluding with the IRA."

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said that he will study the report in detail, but it won't distract from the working relationship the PSNI has with the Garda.

In a statement, Mr Baggott also said it was important to acknowledge the suffering the murders brought upon the Breen and Buchanan families.

He is to discuss the findings with the Garda Commissioner, Stormont Justice Minister David Ford and Mr Shatter.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal report were "absolutely shocking".

The inquiry's key findings

The 500-page Smithwick report is a damning exposé of collusion, bad policing and misguided loyalty in the Garda.

It said a Provo mole leaked information that two senior RUC officers were in Dundalk Garda station for a meeting on the day of their murder – although the source of the collusion has not been identified.

The tribunal found that former Garda detective Owen Corrigan passed information to the IRA, but it cannot be proved he colluded in the murders of Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan.

Smithwick also found that retired Garda sergeant Leo Colton was trusted by Provos and helped members get their hands on false passports. The judge said Mr Colton assisted the Provisional IRA in 1995 and 1996 by having his former colleague, Finbarr Hickey, sign false passport applications.

Hickey spent a year behind bars when convicted of signing counterfeit passports that helped IRA figures go on the run.

Judge Smithwick (left) concluded his long-awaited report with a devastating indictment of the abuse of power in some aspects of Irish life. "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 said.

Six questions that remain unanswered

1 Why is nobody being prosecuted?

In his report Justice Smithwick says he has made his findings on "the balance of probabilities" and not "beyond reasonable doubt", as would be required in a criminal prosecution.

His findings were also sent to the Irish Director of Public Prosecutions prior to publication to ensure that they would not interfere with any pending prosecutions.

The fact that they were published indicates that the DPP had no plans to act against anyone named in the report. However, the matter will not necessarily end there.

Late in the proceedings the PSNI produced 20 strands of "live and of the moment intelligence" which implicated a Garda officer not named in the tribunal.

This was passed on recently from current members of dissident republican organisations who had been active in the IRA in 1989 and are presumably now police agents.

A barrister acting for the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan attempted to have this evidence struck out; he called it "nonsense on stilts", but Justice Smithwick accepted it. This and other material and all the other intelligence will now be trawled by a Garda force determined to cleanse itself of the stain of collusion and complacency.

2 Why did the Garda and RUC both rule out collusion at the time?

The day after the ambush, both the Garda Commissioner Eugene Crowley and RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon firmly denied any possibility of a Garda mole.

Supt Patrick McCullagh, president of the RUC Superintendents' Association, which represented both of the dead officers, described such speculation as "uninformed and at best mischievous".

It's never been explained why they were so quick to strenuously deny any collusion.

The two forces were struggling to maintain a common front in face of the terrorist threat and Judge Smithwick put their closed minds down to misplaced loyalty and political expediency. Security co-operation at the time was still in its infancy.

Even so Raymond White, then a senior RUC officer, cannot understand why Sir John Hermon was so definite. He wonders why the Chief Constable didn't say that no avenue would be left unexplored as both forces co-operated to solve these murders.

Sir John died in 2008 and it's unlikely his motives will ever be known.

3 What was the aim of the IRA operation that day?

The IRA's precise level of knowledge about the identities of their two victims remains unclear, and it was not established whether the intention was to kill, or to capture and interrogate them to gain intelligence about security force activities.

Superintendent Buchanan had travelled to Dundalk 20 or 21 times in a seven-month period, setting a clear and ultimately fatal pattern of activity. He was followed at least once by IRA members.

The tribunal, however, reached the surprising conclusion that Chief Superintendent Breen was the target, hypothesising that his media appearances in the aftermath of the Loughgall ambush of IRA members by the SAS in May 1987 made him a marked man.

It is also possible the IRA simply struck lucky in claiming its most senior RUC victim of the Troubles. Supt Buchanan, like all RUC officers, was viewed as a legitimate and desired target, along with anyone travelling with him.

Even more puzzling is the tribunal's conclusion that the IRA intended to capture and interrogate Chief Superintendent Breen. This is largely based on a theory from a Garda sergeant that the four IRA gunmen "panicked" when the RUC men's car reversed in a bid to escape.

This seems dubious, however. The number of rounds used suggests controlled fire.

4 Were there other instances of Garda collusion with the IRA?

The Smithwick Tribunal was established solely to investigate the Breen and Buchanan killings, but the number of successful IRA operations in the north Louth/south Armagh area around 1989 strongly suggests that inside information was being passed.

RUC and Garda sources believed that "Garda X" and "Garda Y" were responsible for the deaths of at least 12 people, including four RUC officers blown up during a cross-border transfer of a Brinks Mat security vehicle in May 1985.

Other incidents where collusion was very strongly suspected were the killings of Lord Justice and Lady Gibson in April 1987, the three members of the Hanna family in July 1998, and Tom Oliver, an alleged informer, in July 1991.

Now that the Smithwick Tribunal has confirmed that Garda collusion, by at least one and possibly two officers, took place in the Breen and Buchanan incident, it stretches credulity that those responsible would not have assisted the IRA on many other occasions.

As with the events of March 1989, however, establishing proof that would stand up in court will be a difficult task. The best chance of the complete truth emerging would be if the IRA itself revealed the full extent of assistance from Garda officers, but this seems a futile hope.

5 Will compelling evidence of interference in the Garda's investigation of Narrow Water be probed?

The killing of 18 soldiers in a double bomb attack on August 27, 1979, shocked people on both sides of the border. The tribunal unearthed startling new evidence that the scene of the firing point in Co Louth was tampered with, forensic evidence – cigarette butts and food – were removed, and two people arrested travelling away from the scene were charged simply with motoring offences.

No one was ever convicted of the bombings.

Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter has said it is unlikely that prosecutions will ever arise in relation to collusion in the RUC men's murders, but perhaps a re-investigation of Narrow Water taking into account evidence from the Smithwick Tribunal might yield results.

6 Is any action being taken on the new intelligence made public by the PSNI last year?

In the last year of the inquiry, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris revealed 20 pieces of startling new "accurate and reliable" intelligence.

He said the Smithwick Tribunal had become a "significant issue among leading republicans", the IRA feared Garda collusion being found, members of the IRA wanted the inquiry over as soon as possible and false information was being deliberately supplied to the probe. The precis also said that a number of Garda and Customs officers had helped the IRA, a large sum of money had been paid for the murder tip-off, the IRA often received good intelligence from Dundalk Garda station, and that a fourth unnamed Garda had colluded with the IRA.

Compiled by Liam Clarke and Rebecca Black

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