Belfast Telegraph

Smithwick Tribunal: Gerry Adams row diverts attention from difficult questions

Gerard Cunningham assesses the reaction in the Republic to the report

By Gerard Cunningham

There is a familiar pattern of political reaction when a tribunal reports on an investigation into Garda behaviour.

Politicians and senior officers will line up to express their dismay, speeches will refer to the betrayal of the many decent officers in the force by the few, the words "bad apples" will get thrown about.

Reforms are promised, and occasionally delivered. And throughout it all, while some will point to the retired judge's comments on the police culture of closing ranks, most coverage will concentrate on the minutiae of the report.

Peter Smithwick's report, and his observations about the "misguided sense of loyalty" in the police force, will sound familiar to anyone who read the Morris Reports (a public inquiry into the gardai of the late 90s/early 2000s).

But Dublin's politicians would rather talk about anything else than institutional reform.

How fortunate then that Gerry Adams went on radio station Newstalk and declare that Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan died because of their "laissez-faire disregard for their own security".

His comments quickly diverted attention away from the larger question of how Garda HQ dealt with reports of inappropriate behaviour by officers stationed at the border to a political squabble.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, who ran an earlier probe into collusion claims branded "inadequate" by Smithwick, will have been particularly relieved.

He told reporters he was "horrified" at the idea that any Garda would collude with the IRA, but had less to say about the judge's criticisms of the force as a whole.

The judge's recommendations on cross-border policing, personnel exchanges, joint investigations and cross-border inquiries with the power to compel witnesses in both jurisdictions will provide food for thought (and headaches) in Leinster House and Stormont.

And while the judge notes the improved co-operation between the two police forces in the years since the Agreement, an awkward note is struck in the submission on behalf of the Garda Commissioner to the tribunal, made at the conclusion of direct evidence last year. It argued the PSNI had "failed" the Breen and Buchanan families, An Garda Siochana and the tribunal in failing to share intelligence, which "cast the gravest shadow over the bona fides, willingness and ability of the PSNI to co-operate with the tribunal".

Relations may be cordial along the border, but there is a cold front between Garda HQ in Dublin and PSNI HQ in Belfast.

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Gerard Cunningham is a Dublin-based journalist

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