PSNI evidence to Smithwick ‘nonsense on stilts’

Lawyers for Garda commissioner say families of murdered RUC let down by PSNI

The scene of the RUC men’s murder by the IRA in 1989. Photograph: Pacemaker

The scene of the RUC men’s murder by the IRA in 1989. Photograph: Pacemaker


The PSNI has been sharply criticised by lawyers for the Garda commissioner for offering the Smithwick tribunal evidence of Garda / IRA collusion which amounted to “nonsense on stilts”.

On the last day of the Smithwick tribunal’s public hearings Diarmaid McGuinness SC said the PSNI had let down the families of two murdered RUC officers, let down the Gardai and the tribunal and let down members of its own force.

The Smithwick tribunal is investigating allegations that a mdember or members of the Garda in Dundalk colluded with the IRA in the March 1989 murders of RUC Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan. The men were killed in an IRA ambush just inside the Border with Northern Ireland within minutes of leaving a meeting in Dundalk Garda Station.

It is specificially looking into the conduct of three former sergeants in Dundalk at the time, Finbarr Hickey; Leo Colton and Owen Corrigan.

As parties to the Tribunal made their final submissions this morning Mr McGuinness said as the PSNI’s approach “cast the gravest shadow” over its willingness to assost the tribunal in uncovering the truth.

He said the PSNI had introduced intelligence at a late stage which suggested a member of an Garda not yet before the tribunal may be implicated. But he said the PSNI had produced no evidence to back up the statement by assistant chief constable Drew Harris that this intelligence was reliable.

Mr McGuinnes said the job of tribunal chairman Judge Peter Smithwick had been made more difficult because of the PSNI’s actions and he invited the judge to “ransack the dictionary” for the words to criticise the force.

Earlier Jim O’Callaghan SC for former detective sergeant Owen Corrigan said his client had been accused of collusion and being “part of an IRA gang” which had tipped off the IRA to the presence of the two RUC officers on the day they were killed.

Mr O’Callaghan said his client, more than his fellow Dundalk officers was identified as being involved in IRA / Garda collusion. This was because Mr Corrigan had been named under house of Commons privilege, in April 2000, as the officer who had tipped of the IRA.

Mr O’Callaghan said there was significant evidence of an alternative explanation for the murders of the officers.

He said Mr Buchanan had a strong habit of making cross- Border visits, to such an extent that concern had been raised for his safety and the safety of those he visited. Mr O’Callaghan said between August 1988 and March 1989 Supt Buchanan had on 39 separate occasions crossed the Border to visit the Garda. On these occasions he always drove his red Vauxhall Cavalier and never changed the registration plates, although this would have been possible.

Mr O’Callaghan recalled that Mr Buchanan’s visit to Dundalk generally happened on a Monday. He said the level of concern for Mr Buchanan’s safety was such that it had been discussed between the Garda and RUC before the two officers were murdered.

Mr O’Callaghan said the tribunal had also heard that an IRA member had seen RUC officer inspector Charles Day in a Garda Station and the IRA had subsequently decided to murder him and Mr Buchanan with home he normally travelled.

While he said Mr Buchanan was regarded as “a lovely man” who was “extremely popular” in terms of the frequency of his visits across the Border he was careless and excessive”.

Mr O’Callaghan said it was his client’s thesis that he had been implicated by British security services in a bid to deflect calls from the Southern Government for an inquiry into allegations of collusion between loyalists and the RUC. He said the calls for an inquiry into Garda collusion with the IRA had been made to “deflect attention” from calls fro an inquiry into the murders of Northern solicitors Rosemary Nelson and Patrick Finucane.