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In his own words: Extracts from the report by Judge Peter Smithwick


Judge Peter Smithwich has found that there was garda collusion in the murder of two senior RUC officers.

Judge Peter Smithwich has found that there was garda collusion in the murder of two senior RUC officers.

Judge Peter Smithwich has found that there was garda collusion in the murder of two senior RUC officers.

Defining collusion

"Collusive acts are, by their very nature, surreptitious. Absent a phone call or incriminating bank transfer, if collusion has occurred, the evidence of it will almost certainly be difficult to find. In the instant case, leaving to one side the question of intelligence, the Tribunal has not uncovered direct evidence of collusion. There is no record of a phone call, no traceable payment, no smoking gun. This is not surprising."

Previous probes

"I have concluded that the two earlier investigations into the question of Garda collusion in the murders of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan, the O'Dea Investigation and the Camon Investigation, were inadequate."

"I also have found as a fact that Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan arrived at Dundalk Garda Station no earlier than 2.20pm. Their arrival and entry into the station was quite widely witnessed. I have found that at 2.30pm, the Provisional IRA placed an Active Service Unit on the Edenappa Road. This was as a direct result of confirmation having been received that the officers had arrived at Dundalk."

Who was the main target?

"Of the video footage that I have viewed in this Tribunal, two images stick in my mind. The first is the scene on the Edenappa Road; the second is the image of Chief Superintendent Breen, standing erect in his uniform before the media, pointing out the weapons that had been retrieved in the Loughgall ambush. The evidence continually draws me back to the conclusion that Harry Breen was the target of this operation. Despite their denials in this regard, much of what the Tribunal was told by the former personnel of the Provisional IRA also tends to support this fact. Great significance was attached by them to the alleged sighting of Harry Breen in Bob Buchanan's car after the summer of 1988, and there was, in the wake of the murder, triumphalism in relation to the fact that the Provisional IRA had killed the officer who had appeared in that photograph 'etched in every Republican's mind'."

"Either the IRA did have an extraordinary piece of good fortune, or Harry Breen was the target of this operation. I believe that the evidence points to the latter conclusion. I also think that this makes it significantly more likely that the Provisional IRA knew that Chief Superintendent Breen was coming, and were not simply waiting on the off chance that he might turn up."

Who passed information?

"I have considered the possibility that information was leaked by the RUC but, as already stated in this report, I have found no evidence to support this. Moreover, if the information had been leaked by the RUC over the course of the weekend to the Provisional IRA, the IRA would likely have made its preparations earlier on the morning of Monday, 20th March 1989 and the fact that the preparations commenced so late in the morning tends, in my view, to make it more likely that the information came from Dundalk Garda Station."

"I conclude that the passing of information by a member of An Garda Síochána was the trigger for the commencement of the first phase of the operation. However, having regard to the intelligence, I think it is quite possible that there was also an act of collusion to trigger the commencement of the second phase of the operation upon the arrival of the two officers at the garda station in Dundalk."

Sgt Finbarr Hickey

"In respect of former Sergeant Finbarr Hickey, I have concluded that he was not on duty on 20th March 1989 and was, in all probability, not in the station before the murders occurred. In these circumstances, I am satisfied that he was not in a position to pass information to the IRA which facilitated the ambush on the Edenappa Road."

Sgt Leo Colton

"In relation to retired Sergeant Leo Colton, I have found as a fact, on a strong balance of probabilities, that he was someone who in the course of 1995 and 1996 assisted the Provisional IRA by having his former colleague, Sergeant Hickey, sign false passport applications. This is a relatively significant form of assistance and suggests to me that members of the Provisional IRA reposed considerable trust in Mr Colton at that point. The evidence before me does not establish when this relationship began. Mr Colton would have been in the position to provide information to facilitate the commencement of the second phrase of the operation, but the evidence does not establish that he colluded with the Provisional IRA in the murders of the two officers."

Det Sgt Owen Corrigan

"In relation to retired Detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan, I have found that Detective Sergeant Corrigan had a series of inappropriate dealings with the Provisional IRA going back until at least mid 1991 (after he went on sick leave but before his retirement from An Garda Síochána). It is not possible for me to say when this inappropriate relationship first developed. It may well have been as a result of disaffection following the reorganisation of the Detective Branch in Dundalk in the mid 1980s. Detective Sergeant Corrigan has consciously withheld evidence in relation to a personal bank account and, in these circumstances, my conclusion is not being made on the basis of all relevant considerations."

"I have had regard to the intelligence received by the RUC in June 1985 indicating that Owen Corrigan was passing information to the IRA, but equally I have had regard to the intelligence received by An Garda Síochána to the effect that: "intelligence indicating that information regarding the movements of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan was not given to the IRA by retired Detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan". The latter is more directly relevant to my terms of reference. I have also had regard to the strand of "live and of the moment" PSNI intelligence to the effect that the Provisional IRA received information regarding Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan from a detective garda officer "who had not been publicly associated to the Smithwick Tribunal."

"Taking all of the above matters into account, while there is some evidence that Mr Corrigan passed information to the Provisional IRA, I am not satisfied that that evidence is of sufficient substance and weight to establish that Mr Corrigan did in fact collude in the fatal shootings of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan."

The Tribunal and the State

"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. 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. This Tribunal has sought to establish the truth and, in so doing, I hope that it has contributed one small part to changing that culture."

Belfast Telegraph