Three former senior gardaí challenge tribunal findings
Key Smithwick Tribunal conclusions not based on facts, says critique from ex-gardaí
Mr Justice Peter Smithwick: Three former senior gardaí believe the Smithwick Tribunal did not place enough emphasis on the evidence of former members of the Provisional IRA who met the tribunal and outlined how they had planned the killings without, they claimed, assistance from any Garda members. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Three former senior gardaí have published a comprehensive evaluation of the Smithwick Tribunal’s conclusions, challenging its key finding of collusion by unnamed gardaí in the murders of two RUC officers.
They claim this tribunal finding is not grounded in facts and should be rejected by the Government “as a matter of urgency and justice” and contend it adversely affects the relationship between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI.
The critique, carried out by retired det chief supt John O’Brien, former chief supt Michael Finnegan and former chief supt Michael Staunton runs to over 30 pages and has been sent to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, and the Clerk of the Dáil. The Government is understood to be considering their report. The retired gardaí, all of whom served in the Dundalk district at various times, say the finding of collusion “undermines the capacity of this State to actively pursue the many substantiated acts of collusion committed in the course of the conflict”, and claim the finding impugns the good name and reputation of gardaí who had no opportunity to be represented before the tribunal or to address the allegation made against them.
Mr Staunton was an inspector in Dundalk when the Provisional IRA shot dead RUC Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan in south Armagh in 1989 just after they had left a meeting at the station. Both he and Mr Finnegan, who was posted as an inspector to Dundalk after the murders, gave evidence to the tribunal. Mr O’Brien spent much of his career investigating terrorism and also served for two years as an adviser to the Garda Ombudsman.
Having now conducted a “line by line” analysis of the report, they believe the tribunal failed to conduct basic investigative work or even to hire its own investigators, as was recommended. In the absence of “direct evidence” on collusion, the tribunal accepted information given in private by the PSNI’s Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris and then “parachuted in” the theory that unidentified Garda members had colluded in the killings. This occurred “neatly” after the initial three-named Garda suspects were exonerated by the tribunal.
Assistant Chief Constable Harris’s information was presented as “live and of the moment” and suggested there was collusion by a Garda member, or members, in the murders.
Their report says no effort was made to evaluate the intelligence, given at the very end of the eight-year tribunal, and its sources. The three former Garda officers conclude : “The tribunal displays naivete in relation to the activities of foreign intelligence agencies and the production of them of unverifiable and ungraded information.”
They believe the tribunal did not place enough emphasis on the evidence of former members of the Provisional IRA who met the tribunal and outlined how they had planned the killings without, they claimed, assistance from any Garda members.
They accept the PIRA’s account of the murders is self-serving. However, they point out that the Provisional IRA had engaged fully with the Independent Monitoring Commission on Decommissioning and the search for the remains of the disappeared. “They are the only ones who know definitively what happened.”