Alleged IRA hit squad leader named

 

The leader of an IRA hit squad which killed two RUC officers in 1989 was this morning named as Sean Gerard Hughes of south Armagh.

Giving evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal, a retired RUC Special Branch detective inspector alleged the murder was carried out by the north Louth south Dromintee branch of the Provisional IRA. He said this group was responsible for up to 80 different murders during the Troubles.

The tribunal is inquiring into suggestions that members of the Garda or other employees of the State colluded with the IRA in the murder of RUC officers Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, who were shot in an ambush on the Border minutes after leaving a meeting in Dundalk Garda station in March 1989.

The witness - who gave evidence from behind a screen and was referred to only as Witness 62 - said those killed by the group lead by Hughes included of Lord Justice Gibson in April 1987, and the Hanna family who were allegedly killed in a case of mistaken identity in 1998.

He said operations were carried out with the occasional assistance of members of the IRA from Crossmaglen and many would have had to have been sanctioned by the army council of the IRA.

The witness said he was “certain” the IRA group had carried out the murders of four RUC officers at Killeen on the main road between Newry and Dundalk and another four RUC officers at Forkhill just inside Northern Ireland. “At one time I could have named almost 80 deaths” he told the tribunal.

He said British security services had classified IRA volunteers into three groups, A, B, and C. He said members of the C group would have thought they were fully fledged activists but would only have played minor roles such as serving as a driver or lookout. He said the most senior volunteers would have been in group A, which he alleged was headed up by Sean Gerard Hughes. He said Hughes was later appointed to the army council of the Provisional IRA.

Asked about the possible involvement of Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, Witness 62 said he believed Mr Murphy was “patriarch” or "chief of staff of the army council of the IRA" at the time.

Referring to the killing of Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan in March 1989, he said he had been told the IRA had a ‘spotter’ on the road from Dundalk to identify the direction the RUC men would take. “Without a shadow of a doubt it was pre-planned,” he said.

He said he was aware that more then 20 IRA volunteers were involved. He said he was never aware of so many activists being involved in any other ambush in daylight in the area.

Witness 62 said he had heard the name of Det Sgt Owen Corrigan being mentioned as an officer whose connections with the IRA were “a problem” for the gardaí.

While a number of RUC officers had said Det Sgt Corrigan was an IRA mole, a senior RUC officer had said to him “don’t be so hasty there is another boy”. He said he took this to imply that there was more than one IRA mole in Dundalk Garda station.