Gardaí ‘tipped off’ IRA ahead of RUC officer murders
Smithwick inquiry unable to determine if two key witnesses played a role in 1989 killings
It was likely that the IRA was tipped off by somebody inside Dundalk Garda station to assist in the 1989 murders of two RUC officers, the Smithwick Tribunal has found. Photograph:Julien Behal/PA Wire.
However, the tribunal has said there is not enough weight of evidence to make a determination that key tribunal witnesses, former sgt Leo Colton or former det sgt Owen Corrigan, colluded in the murder of the RUC men.
The tribunal report, which was published tonight, ruled out the possibility of a third key witness, Finbarr Hickey, having colluded in the murders.
They were were shot dead in an ambush on the Edenappa Road in south Armagh, on March 20th, 1989, minutes after leaving a meeting in Dundalk Garda station.
The RUC officers had been meeting Garda supt John Nolan to discuss details of a cross-Border, joint crackdown on smuggling activities, believed to have been controlled by the IRA.
The report of the seven-year inquiry into allegations members of the gardaí colluded with the IRA in the killings was published shortly before 6pm.
In his 1,652 page report tribunal chairman, Judge Peter Smithwick found electronic signals detected in the area on the morning of the killings, indicated considerable activity in the area. He said the first phase the activity began at about 11.30am.
He said “circumstances alone point towards a conclusion that information was leaked in order to trigger the commencement of the operation at this time”.
Crucially, Judge Smithwick also found the IRA “required positive identification that Harry Breen in particular, had arrived at Dundalk Garda Station”. He said there was likely to have been two leaks of information from the Garda station on the day.
Judge Smithwick said it is possible these leaks were done by different members of the force.
He said: “Given that I am satisfied that the evidence points to the the fact that there was someone within the Garda Station assisting the IRA, it also seems to me likely that the Provisional IRA would seek to exploit that resource, by having that individual or individuals confirm the arrival of the two officers”.
In relation to the three former members of Dundalk gardai who were granted legal representation at the tribunal Judge Smithwick said he was “satisfied” Mr Hickey was “not on duty” and “in all probabliity not in the station” , and so “not in a position to pass information to the IRA which facilitated the ambush on the Edenappa Road”.
Judge Smithwick found Mr Corrigan “had a series of inappropriate dealings with the Provisional IRA going back until at least mid-1991”. The judge said “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”.
He said it was “not possible to say” when the inappropriate relationship between Mr Corrigan and the IRA first developed. He also said Mr Corrigan “had “consciously withheld evidence in relation to a personal bank account and, in these circumstances, my conclusion is not being made on the basis of all relevant considerations”.
In relation to Mr Colton, Judge Smithwick said he found “as a fact” that Mr Colton had “assisted the provisional IRA” by having his former colleague , then sergeant Hickey, sign false passport applications in 1995 / 1996.