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Smithwick Tribunal seeks nine-month extension deadline

The tribunal investigating Garda collusion in the murder of two RUC officers says an ill witness needs time to recover.

The Smithwick Tribunal, like many others established in recent years, has gone on for much longer than had been expected.
The Smithwick Tribunal, like many others established in recent years, has gone on for much longer than had been expected.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE SOLE MEMBER of the Tribunal investigating alleged Garda collusion in the murder of two RUC officials in 1989 has asked the Oireachtas for a nine-month extension to its deadline to issue its final report.

Justice Peter Smithwick has written to the Clerk of the Dáil asking that the current deadline – set for the end of October – be moved to the end of next July, as a vital witness has fallen ill and needs time to recover before had can be questioned again.

Retired detective Garda sergeant Owen Corrigan, who is one of the three former Gardaí with a legal representative at the Tribunal, has been providing oral testimony since last June.

However, he has been advised by doctors to only give evidence for two hours at a time, and a maximum of twice a week.

There were some occasions on which Corrigan was unable to attend the Tribunal at all, and his examination by his own Counsel has yet to be finished. On top of this, he is still to be examined by legal counsel representing the Tribunal itself and the Garda Commissioner.

Last month Corrigan was hospitalised and is now in urgent need of a heart bypass, but will need about two months of antibiotics to prepare for the surgery and three months to recover from it.

Smithwick’s letter also reveals that the British authorities have notified the Tribunal of “twelve further strands of intelligence” which relate to the Tribunal’s terms of reference, some of which involves a member of the Gardaí who is not already being investigated by the Tribunal.

This also required further investigation, but was likely to be concluded before the end of the year and was not reliant on any evidence from Corrigan.

“I must estimate that the Tribunal may require until March/April for the completion of its public hearings,” Smithwick wrote.

“On the basis of my previous estimate as regards the time required for the writing of my report, I accordingly seek an extension of the deadline for the submission of the Tribunal’s final report until 31st July 2013.”

Any previous requests to extend the Tribunal’s deadline have all been approved, though justice minister Alan Shatter has previously been criticised for bringing forward its deadline – a move Smithwick said would give those looking to withhold evidence a target before which they could frustrate the Tribunal.

The Tribunal, which was established in 2005, is investigating alleged Garda collusion in the murders of RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Robert Buchanan on March 20, 1989.

The men were killed when returning from a meeting with Gardaí when they were ambushed by the Provisional IRA – prompting speculation that Gardaí had engaged with paramilitaries in the men’s murder.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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