Garda role in ambush disturbing
The Smithwick Tribunal has confirmed what many people suspected was the case – that Irish police officers had colluded in the IRA killing of two RUC officers, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, who were shot dead in an ambush in south Armagh shortly after leaving Dundalk garda station.
But while there were suspicions of collusion, to have them confirmed is quite shocking. Two police officers were set up by police officers from a neighbouring jurisdiction. Both forces were supposed to be fighting a common enemy, republican terrorists. Judge Peter Smithwick was unable to point the finger of blame at any particular Garda officers, but his findings are an indelible stain on the force.
The tribunal's conclusions will bring some sense of justice to the Breen and Buchanan families, although they, undoubtedly, would have preferred if the evidence trail had led to identifiable officers and possible prosecutions. It may also be some consolation to them that two Irish government ministers have apologised for this act of infamy.
Having established a precedent of collusion, the suspicion now is that other instances also occurred. Just as the examples of British state collusion with loyalists have been uncovered, it would be remarkable if this Dundalk case was the only one on the other side of the border.
It is equally remarkable that relationships between the two police forces have not only remained intact, but become closer in the intervening years. As the tribunal revealed, there were concerns within the RUC over the loyalties of some Garda officers, but police on both sides of the border now co-operate closely on matters such as smuggling and dissident republicans.
The Irish government must now take on board the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal and learn what lessons it can from them. What is clear is that there should be no place within the Garda for any police officer prepared to compromise his or her duty to uphold the law. The behaviour of those unidentified officers who sacrificed fellow policemen because of their divided loyalties were shaming to every decent member of the Garda.