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Smithwick Tribunal finds gardaí colluded with IRA in murder of RUC officers

The Smithwick Tribunal investigated claims of garda collusion in the murder of two senior RUC officers in 1989.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Updated 11:14pm

THE LONG-AWAITED PUBLICATION of the Smithwick Tribunal report has found that collusion between members of An Garda Síochána and the Provisional IRA took place in the killing of two senior RUC officers.

Judge Peter Smithwick’s report, which was published this evening, was unable to find direct evidence of collusion in the killings but said ‘on balance of probability’ that gardaí at Dundalk Garda Station were most likely involved.

Two senior RUC superintendents were ambushed and killed shortly after they left a meeting at Dundalk Garda Station on 20 March 1989.

“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,” the report’s conclusion states.

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.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan welcomed the publication by the Tribunal but says he will have to read the entire  report before making any comment about the findings.

In his report, the judge says he believes that Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, who died in the attack, was the intended target of the ambush.

“I am satisfied that the IRA required positive identification that Harry Breen, in particular, had arrived at Dundalk Garda Station,” the report says.

Whilst his image was well known, and therefore he may well have been recognised by a member of the Provisional IRA observing the station, the optimum confirmation of his identity from the point of view of the Provisional IRA would likely be by a member of An Garda Síochána

The judge notes that he considered the possibility that information was leaked by the RUC but found no evidence to support that.

Named gardaí

The report says that now-retired Detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan at Dundalk station had a “series of inappropriate dealings” with the IRA going back until the early 90s, and notes that the RUC received intelligence in 1985 suggesting that he was passing information to the IRA.

image

Owen Corrigan leaves the Smithwick Tribunal in May of this year. Corrigan blamed British security services for linking him to collusion in the murder of the RUC officers. (Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Judge Smithwick also noted that one witness to the tribunal said that he understood the mole within the gardaí to have been Corrigan. “However, this is hearsay evidence, premised on an assumption,” the report says.

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 the 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 report also names a retired garda, Sergeant Leo Colton, and says there is evidence “on a strong balance of probabilities, that he was someone who in the course of 1995 and 1996 assisted the Provisional IRA” by having a colleague sign fake passport applications for them. “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 report says.

However it notes that while Colton would have been in a position to provide information to the IRA to begin the ambush, there is no direct evidence to establish that he colluded in the murders.

“Collusive acts are, by their very nature, surreptitious,” the report notes, saying that direct evidence is all but impossible to find.

There is no record of a phone call, no traceable payment, no smoking gun. That is not surprising.

Findings

The report notes that the best opportunity of finding out what actually happened was in the days immediately after the ambush.

“In these circumstance, it is particularly regrettable that both police services acted swiftly to dismiss speculation of the possibility of collusion rather than to deal with that by means of a through [sic] and credible investigation,” it says.

“This was an example of the prioritisation of political expediency in the short term, without due regard to the rights of victims and the importance of placing justice at the centre of any policing system”.

In the final paragraphs of the report, Judge Smithwick sharply criticises An Garda Síochána for “some misguided sense of loyalty” which meant the allegations of collusion were not taken seriously.

“The integrity of and confidence in An Garda Síochána can properly be maintained only if suggestions of inappropriate or illegal conduct by members are taken seriously, transparently and thoroughly investigated, and, above all, not tolerated or ignored on the basis of some misguided sense of loyalty to the force or to its members,” the report says.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter apologised  on behalf of the Government for any failings identified in the report on the part of the State or any of its agencies.

He said he hoped today’s report would help the families of the two officers to find out what really happened to them.

The tribunal investigated claims of garda collusion in the murder of  RUC officers Harry Breen and Robert Buchanan in 1989.

On 20 March 1989, the two RUC superintendents travelled to Dundalk Garda Station for a scheduled meeting with a senior Garda officer. Shortly after leaving the station they were ambushed and killed in Armagh.

The Provisional IRA claimed responsibility for their murders.

The Tribunal was set up in 2005 following an initial investigation by a senior judge which concluded that there should be a public inquiry into the allegations of collusion.

Judge Peter Smithwick met with the families of the two officers on Monday and outlined the findings to them before the report was published this evening.

The report will be presented to the Cabinet and is expected to be debated in the Oireachtas.

Originally published at 5.56pm

Read: Shatter to request July 2013 as new deadline for Smithwick Tribunal >

Read: Smithwick accuses Minister Shatter of interfering with tribunal >

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