Judge Peter Smithwick deserves enormous credit for the performance of a difficult and important service for the State. Firstly, and most importantly, he has provided some answers to the families of murdered RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, and perhaps some comfort and closure to doubts that have tormented them about collusion of police officers of this jurisdiction in their 1989 killings. Yes, there was collusion, but individual bad apples, not systemic corruption in the Garda, says Smithwick.
One family member has spoken of the “diligence and integrity” of the judge’s team, and indeed the authority of this report and persuasiveness of its importantly nuanced findings rest precisely on those qualities. The care taken to listen to an extraordinary range of witnesses, and to weigh their individual testimonies with such openmindedness and balance, has made his report, however shocking its findings, largely uncontestable, and uncontested.
It is also to be hoped that the report, and the families’ responses, will help answer some of the concerns many Unionists have had over decades about what they believe is wide sympathy for the Provisional IRA in this State’s security apparatus. In that regard it should help strengthen ongoing close North-South political and security dialogue and co-operation.
But the judge also raises enormously important questions for this State, particularly about the culture within the Garda, where, as he puts it, “loyalty is prized above honesty”. Hardly news to the Garda Ombudsman’s office which has all too often struggled to break through a code of omerta among the ranks.
Swithwick warns of a culture of failing adequately to address suggestions of wrongdoing, either for reasons of political expediency or through misguided loyalty, which “has been a feature of life in this State. Too often that culture has resulted, some years later, after doubts, grievances and injustices have festered, in the setting up of investigations, commissions or tribunals of inquiry. This tribunal has sought to establish the truth and, in so doing, I hope that it has contributed one small part to changing that culture.” We hope Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is listening and that the message permeates the ranks.
It’s also crucial not to forget, after all, that it was the Provisional IRA which murdered Breen and Buchanan. In that context the response of Sinn Féin’s President Gerry Adams was instructive. Mr Adams appeared to minimise the role of the IRA by suggesting that the two men had a “laissez faire” attitude to their own security. It would seem they as good as killed themselves. It was a clever, if contemptible, spin which also serves to draw attention away from the still unidentified IRA source in Dundalk Garda Station. Mr Adams has always been good at running block for his own.