Smithwick Tribunal Report - The gardaí
Profiles of three Dundalk gardaí accused of helping IRA
Owen Corrigan was a detective sergeant at Dundalk Garda station. He appeared twice and was the last of the 200 witnesses to be heard. Det Sgt Corrigan was named by Jeffrey Donaldson MP in the House of Commons as Garda X – alleged to be a mole for the IRA in Dundalk. Garda X was the unidentified figure referred to by Toby Harnden in his book Bandit Country.
The tribunal also heard that RUC special branch intelligence had a document stating Mr Corrigan was “helping out” the Provisional IRA. It further heard a staff officer with Chief Supt Harry Breen, murdered in the IRA ambush, said Chief Supt Breen had misgivings about going to Dundalk for the meeting with gardaí because of concerns harboured about Mr Corrigan.
The inquiry also heard evidence from former British agent Kevin Fulton, also known as Peter Keeley, that the IRA had been helped in setting up the ambush which led to the murders by “our friend” believed, by Keeley to be Mr Corrigan.
He denies all allegations of collusion with the IRA.
Judge Smithwick concluded that Mr Corrigan “had a series of inappropriate dealings with the Provisional IRA,” but added: “while there is some evidence that Mr Corrigan passed information to the Provisional IRA, I am not satisfied that that evidence is of sufficient substance and weight to establish that Mr Corrigan did in fact collude in the fatal shootings of Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan.” He is retired from the Garda.
Finbarr Hickey was a sergeant who signed eight blank passport applications between January 1995 and April 1996, claiming he did not know for whom they were intended.
He was subsequently convicted and served a prison
He told the tribunal he derived no benefit, financial or otherwise, from the affair, and had signed the applications at the behest of a former Dundalk Garda colleague, Sgt Leo Colton.
“I lost my job, my house, my pension, everything over it,” he told the tribunal.
Mr Hickey told Mary Laverty, senior counsel for the tribunal, that he did not know the passports were destined for IRA members and that he would not have signed the papers if he had known.
Judge Smithwick found that Mr Hickey “was not on duty on 20th March 1989 and was, in all probability, not in the station before the murders occurred.
“In these circumstances, I am satisfied that he was not in a position to pass information to the IRA which facilitated the ambush . . .”
He is the only officer of the three to be arrested and to
serve a prison sentence having been convicted in connection with the passports affair.
Sgt Leo Colton also denies involvement with the IRA and specifically that he was working with the IRA to help target Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan by signalling on the steps of Dundalk Garda station that the two senior RUC officers were inside the building for their scheduled security meeting. Regarding the charge of links with the IRA, Sgt Colton told the tribunal, “I never had any dealings with them.” He also denied making signals to IRA men outside the station.
He also denied helping IRA members to acquire passports and driving licences, and also claims by Finbarr Hickey that Hickey had signed blank passport applications because Sgt Colton had asked him to do so.
Judge Smithwick reported that Mr Colton “was someone who in the course of 1995 and 1996 assisted the Provisional IRA by having his former colleague, Sgt Hickey, sign false passport applications. 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”.
He added: “The evidence before me does not establish when this relationship began. Mr Colton would have been in the position to provide information to facilitate the commencement of the second phase of the operation, but the evidence does not establish that he colluded with the Provisional IRA in the murders of the two officers.” He is retired from the Garda.