IRA 'had no help from anyone in Garda' in murder of RUC officers

Lord Maginnis leaving the Smithwick Tribunal which is investigating possible Garda collusion with the deaths of two RUC officers shot dead by the IRA in south Armagh in 1989. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Lord Maginnis leaving the Smithwick Tribunal which is investigating possible Garda collusion with the deaths of two RUC officers shot dead by the IRA in south Armagh in 1989. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

The Provisional IRA has denied that the Garda colluded in the deaths of two senior RUC officers.

In an unsigned statement given to the Smithwick Tribunal and dated April 2011, three former IRA men, known only as A, B and C, said the deaths of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan was a “classic IRA operation”.

They told tribunal solicitors that the operation “had no help from anyone in the Garda” and it was instead down to “classic surveillance, hard dogged work, there was no help from anyone at all”.

They said Det Sgt Owen Corrigan, who was named as a possible source of collusion with the Provisional IRA, was actually “hostile to the IRA”.

Garda collusion

The tribunal is investigating possible Garda collusion with the deaths of the policemen who were shot dead by the IRA in south Armagh after leaving Dundalk Garda station on March 20th, 1989.

Before the evidence was read into the record, Mr Justice Peter Smithwick said the tribunal had been told last week that the IRA would definitely not provide a witness for cross-examination. “It is most regrettable that there is nobody from the IRA here. Unfortunately, that is a fact of life and we have to accept it,” he said.

However, he said it was important “for what it is worth” to hear the evidence. “It is the best that I can obtain, but is not sworn testimony that can be subject to cross-examination.”

The IRA said both men were “creatures of habits” and it made the exercise much easier.

Supt Buchanan’s car was first spotted arriving at Dundalk Garda station in the late spring/early summer of 1988.

One of the officers was identified as an RUC detective named Nigel Day and it was decided to put the car under surveillance. An IRA volunteer used a derelict house at the Crescent, overlooking Dundalk Garda station, to observe the car coming and going, entering and exiting under the cover of darkness. It was noticed there was a pattern with the car arriving mostly on Mondays and Tuesdays after major incidents in south Armagh.

Loughgall ambush

Several months afterwards it was noticed that Chief Supt Breen was a passenger in the car. He had been known from his work after the Loughgall ambush. “Harry Breen was very well known, that this image was etched on every republicans’ mind”.

Four attempts were made to kill the occupants of the car and on the fourth occasion the active service units operating in south Armagh used a stolen van to block off the car. The men tried to escape by reversing, but “died instantly in gunfire”.

“The instructions to the ASU were to intercept the car and arrest the occupants, but if that was not possible then they were to ensure that neither occupant escaped,” the IRA statement said.

The IRA insisted the murder was carried out by a unit from south Armagh and rejected suggestions that either the south Down IRA or Peter Keeley, a British agent who infiltrated the group and used the pseudonym Kevin Fulton, would have known about the operation.