Coalition apologises to men’s families

Tánaiste indicates findings on 1989 killings matter of grave public concern

The Government has apologised to the families of two senior RUC men murdered by the IRA in 1989 after the tribunal found there was collusion between a garda or gardaí in Dundalk and the killers.

In a statement issued minutes after the report was published last evening, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said the findings about the murders of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Robert Buchanan were a matter of grave public concern.

"On behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland, I apologise without reservation to the Breen and Buchanan families for any failings identified in the report on the part of the State or any of its agencies," Mr Gilmore said.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter also apologised to the families, saying in a statement that the killings were stark examples of the brutality which pervaded Ireland for many dark years.


"Both left behind loving families, friends and colleagues. Even with the passage of 24 years and the positive developments which have taken place on the island since, our condemnation of their murder should be as strong today as it was then."

Mr Shatter also said the Government would give “very careful consideration” to the tribunal’s recommendations on policing and in relation to co-operation between the Garda and the PSNI.

Mr Gilmore said the actions documented in the report were a betrayal of the values and the very ethos of the Garda as the guardians of peace. "I know that members of An Garda Síochána will be shocked by these findings today," he said.

"Public scrutiny and transparency are essential to confidence in policing and in the rule of law. Whilst the findings of the report make for difficult reading, I welcome its publication and thank Judge Smithwick for the work he has done over eight years to ensure the transparency we require."

Outstanding officers
The Tánaiste cited Judge Peter Cory, who also examined the case, who previously described the RUC men as two outstanding officers. "Their murder deprived June Breen and Catherine Buchanan of their husbands, and Gillian and George Breen and Heather and William Buchanan of devoted fathers."

Mr Shatter said he was well aware that the time taken for the tribunal to publish its report must have placed great strain on the two families.

“But I hope that today’s report will help them in their quest for the truth of what happened on that evil day and that it represents an important piece in the complex and inevitably disturbing jigsaw of trying to address the past.”

Mr Shatter had no doubt that brave men and women who served in the Garda through the years “would be as appalled as anyone that any member of the force would betray them and the Irish people by offering assistance to terrorist organisations”.

While acknowledging the Garda and the RUC discounted the possibility of collusion in the immediate aftermath of the attack, he said the forces were under enormous pressure at the time.

Report recommendations
1 That frameworks and procedures be put in place to allow for the structured and regular exchange of intelligence between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána, which exchange should be governed by information-sharing protocols rather than ad hoc decision-making.

2 A programme of personnel exchanges, such as fixed-term secondments, be agreed and implemented between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána, as recommended in the Report on the Independent Commission for Policing in Northern Ireland (the Patten report). Consideration could also be given to posting liaison officers from each service to the central headquarters of the other.

3 Consideration should be given to the establishment of protocols, if necessary underpinned by appropriate legislative changes, providing the legal and procedural structures for the seamless investigation by joint police teams of crimes with a cross-border element. Such protocols would lay down and govern such matters as the collection of evidence, the circumstances in which legal status may be accorded to a police officer from the neighbouring jurisdiction, the sharing of appropriate intelligence and the jurisdiction for the prosecution of cross- Border crime.

4 An Garda Síochána should not tolerate irregular or unethical behaviour by any of its members. In this respect, the importance of proper vetting for prospective members before their appointment, and proper personnel management after appointment, cannot be underestimated. An Garda Síochána should review vetting procedures to ensure that they comply with best international practice.

5 Proper personnel management includes appropriate application of a disciplinary code. Breaches of discipline should continue to be investigated and enforced after a member of An Garda Síochána has left the force and should not be aborted by reason of his or her certified ill-health, resignation or retirement. The penalties of breaches of discipline in this regard could, if necessary, be enforced against the former member’s pension.

6 Where a member of An Garda Síochána carries on business activities in his or her own time, such activities should be subject to review by the member’s superior officers so as to ensure that they are in compliance with law and do not conflict with the member’s legal obligations and ethical duties as a member of An Garda Síochána. Superior officers should be afforded necessary and proportionate powers in order to carry out this task and take appropriate action on foot thereof, as required.

7 In the event that any future investigation, commission or tribunal of inquiry in relation to a historic crime with a cross-Border element is to be established, consideration ought to be given to establishing same on the basis that is has the power to hear evidence, compel the attendance of witnesses and make orders for the discovery of documents in both jurisdictions.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times