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IRA ambush ‘unlikely to have been at short notice’

An IRA operation which led to the deaths of two senior RUC officers was already under way before the men arrived in Dundalk Garda station, two retired British officers and a former Garda have told the Smithwick Tribunal.

The tribunal was set up to look at allegations that a Garda leak led to the deaths of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan on their way back from a visit to Dundalk Garda station on March 20, 1989.

The tribunal has previously heard that the two men arrived in Dundalk just after 2pm, and left at about 3.15pm.

But IRA activity was already happening by 2.30pm on the road where the ambush took place.

The meeting was agreed in a call over an open line between the RUC and Dundalk Garda station at 10.30am that morning.

“It's a very ambitious time limit,” retired Army brigadier Mike Smith said.

The brigadier said he could not comment on reports that the British Army and RUC had noticed an increase in radio traffic along the border from midday on the day of the ambush.

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He was called to give expert evidence on the IRA tactics used in the ambush based on years of experience in Northern Ireland.

Brigadier Ian Lisles, who also served for several tours in the province, said the operation would have been impossible to carry out in less than three hours because of the time needed to assemble men and weapons.

“The time is the absolute minimum,” he said. “You'd probably want five to eight hours, ideally.”

Retired Garda Sergeant Bernard McGrath also said it was “highly implausible” the IRA could mount the operation on short notice, and estimated it would take “a matter of days”.

Earlier, the tribunal was told that statements from witnesses would only be circulated to the legal teams of people mentioned in them, and not to all legal teams at the tribunal.

This was a security precaution at the request of several retired RUC Special Branch members, barrister Justin Dillon said.

Story so far

On March 20, 1989, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen travelled to Dundalk with his colleague, Superintendent Bob Buchanan. The two officers were ambushed near Jonesborough, south Armagh, in an IRA gun attack. Buchanan died at the wheel of their unmarked car. Breen was found dead on the roadside. The IRA took security documents from the car.

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