Garda collusion found in IRA murders of RUC officers

Government apologises to families of late officers

Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan were murdered by the IRA after a meeting with gardai in Dundalk, Co Louth.

Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan were murdered by the IRA after a meeting with gardai in Dundalk, Co Louth.


The Government has apologised to the families of two RUC men gunned down in an IRA ambush, after the Smithwick Tribunal found someone in Dundalk Garda station colluded with the IRA in the killings.

The damning report from the tribunal published yesterday, after eight years of investigations, found the IRA were tipped off by an unidentified person within the Garda station in 1989 before the killing of the two men, RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan.

The tribunal found there was no direct evidence to link the collusion to any named officer in the Co Louth Garda station.

The report, which severely criticised the culture within the Garda, accused the force of being a place where “loyalty is prized above honesty”.

Inquiry chairman Judge Peter Smithwick said it was “disheartening and depressing” that such a culture and attitude is still prevalent more than 20 years after the killings.

Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan were gunned down on March 20th, 1989 near the Border in south Armagh shortly after a meeting with gardaí in Dundalk. They were the highest ranking RUC officers to be killed during the ‘troubles’.

The tribunal found the officers might have been saved if the Garda had passed intelligence to the RUC that Supt Buchanan was on an IRA kill list.

Mr Smithwick levelled a blistering attack on the Garda, accusing the force of putting its reputation above the truth. As well as confirming long-held suspicions of the IRA mole in Dundalk, the judge accused Garda chiefs of trying to undermine a retired superintendent who testified that he passed intelligence on the Buchanan death threat to the highest ranks.

“The integrity of and confidence in An Garda Síochána can properly be maintained only if suggestions of inappropriate or illegal conduct by members are taken seriously, transparently and thoroughly investigated and, above all, not tolerated or ignored on the basis of some misguided sense of loyalty to the force or to its members,” he said.

He said a culture of failing adequately to address suggestions of wrongdoing, either for reasons of political expediency or by virtue of misguided loyalty, “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.”

The Government apologised to the Breen and Buchanan families and promised to give “very careful consideration” to the tribunal’s recommendations.

“The actions documented in this report are a betrayal of the values and the very ethos of an Garda Síochána, as the guardians of peace,” said Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Asked about compensation, a spokeswoman for Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said: “The Minister will be writing to the families offering to meet them if they felt that useful. The issue of compensation has not been raised in the report and the Minister considers in fairness to the families that it would be inappropriate to make any public comment on the matter.”

William Buchanan, son of the murdered RUC officer, said it was incredible and shocking to think his father had effectively been set up to be murdered. The Breen family said Chief Supt Breen had been betrayed by gardaí in the Republic.

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