Retired gardaí’s critique of Smithwick Tribunal report is highly selective

Opinion: Remarks on conclusions miss the nuance in judge’s words

Sat, Feb 1, 2014, 06:16

In their critique of Judge Smithwick’s report, the three retired gardaí state that they have “followed the same journey as the tribunal” and “walked in the footsteps of Smithwick”.

As one of a very small number of persons who attended more than 130 days of public hearings, I know this to be the first of many inaccuracies in their 33-page document.

With the exception of the days on which two of them gave evidence as witnesses before the tribunal, these three men, unlike Judge Smithwick, were not present. Unlike Judge Smithwick, they did not hear the evidence of 198 witnesses and observe their demeanour; nor were they present as large volumes of documentation from both security agencies in both jurisdictions were put into the record of the tribunal.

They have no doubt walked in the footsteps of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan in the corridors of Dundalk Garda station on many occasions but they have certainly not walked in the footsteps of Judge Smithwick through the course of his painstaking and exhaustive inquiry into this most serious matter.

Their lack of familiarity with the evidence of the tribunal is manifest. To take but a few examples, contrary to what is suggested in the “critique”, the tribunal did in fact hear extensive evidence in relation to the operating procedures, both standard and personal, of RUC officers crossing the Border; days of evidence were devoted to constructing a minute by minute picture of events in Dundalk station on the morning of March 20th, 1989, and detailed evidence was given, both by eye witnesses and by reference to RUC documentation and the coroner’s file, as to the dreadful events on the Edenappa Road itself.

A further error is made on page 21, when the authors state that a reference, in the anonymous “Final Approved Note” provided by former personnel of the Provisional IRA, to a sighting of the late Chief Supt Breen as a passenger in the late Supt Buchanan’s car in Meigh in 1988 was a “corroborated event”. It was not.

As noted at paragraph 22.5.7 of his report, despite extensive trawling by Judge Smithwick through the diaries of both officers, this could not be corroborated.

The error is just not significant in itself but also because it is illustrative of the authors’ keenness to accept the version of events provided by the former personnel of the IRA.

The central premise of their critique is that Judge Smithwick did not pay enough deference to that account. The authors note in their conclusion, “in our professional experience and judgment and having regard to all the information, particularly the input from the PIRA, we are of the view that it is more probable that the South Armagh PIRA carried out the attack with their own resources”.

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