Named: IRA boss behind ambush on two officers
A retired RUC Special Branch detective inspector named the man who headed the IRA unit which organised the murders of two senior RUC officers as they returned from a cross-border meeting as Sean Gerard Hughes at the Smithwick tribunal.
The witness said the operation on 20 March 1989 involved the “North Louth/Dromintee” Provisional IRA, with extra personnel provided by the IRA in south Armagh. Between them, the two units were responsible for almost 300 murders, the witness said.
Hughes, who was known as an IRA hardliner, has been linked to dozens of IRA operations.
In Parliament in December 2002 the DUP’s Peter Robinson linked Hughes to the 1996 Canary Wharf bombing, which ended an IRA ceasefire and killed two people.
He also said Hughes was responsible for the murder of 18 soldiers at Warrenpoint, the mortar bomb at Newry RUC station that killed nine, and the killing of Lord Justice Gibson and his wife.
The former Special Branch detective, identified only as Witness 62, also said prominent republican Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy would not have been involved, but had been chief of staff of the IRA army council. The witness said the IRA was “ultra-cautious”, and would call off an operation if there was any hint of trouble.
“Their philosophy was ‘we'll live to fight another day’,” he said.
The tribunal was set up to examine claims of Garda collusion in the murder of superintendent Bob Buchanan and chief super-intendent Harry Breen as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk Garda station.
He said he had never met, but knew of, Owen Corrigan, a former Garda detective sergeant based in Dundalk, and had heard after the murders that Mr Corrigan “was close to certain members of the Provisional IRA and was a severe problem for the guards”.
Mr Corrigan had denied any allegations that he leaked information to the IRA.
Witness 62 also said he spoke to gardai who “accepted they had a problem there but it was very difficult to deal with”. He said: “There was tacit approval, almost an embarrassed nod.”
The former RUC officer dismissed as “headline grabbing” a claim in a British newspaper that the two senior RUC officers were killed by a British agent inside the IRA to prevent their capture and interrogation.
According to the ex-RUC officer giving evidence yesterday, Sean Gerard Hughes — known as ‘The Surgeon’ — was once on the IRA’s army council. In 2005 The Sunday Times reported Hughes had resigned “after losing interest in the peacetime IRA.” Two years ago, Belfast’s High Court froze assets belonging to Hughes. Lord Laird in Parliament two years ago said Hughes was one of a number who authorised the murder of south Armagh man Paul Quinn in 2007.