Witness was told of Garda 'leak'

 

A NORTHERN Ireland customs officer has told the Smithwick Tribunal of a warning that a member of the Garda Síochána in Dundalk was leaking information.

The officer, who gave evidence via a video link from Belfast, sat out of range of the camera and was identified only as “Witness M”.

He told Judge Peter Smithwick he attended a pre-Christmas social in Newry Police station on December 21st, 1998, at which a number of members of the Garda were also present.

He claimed that at the social, a RUC colleague pointed out the then detective sergeant Owen Corrigan of Dundalk Garda station and said Mr Corrigan was leaking information “to others”.

He said he was not told who the “others” were.

The tribunal is investigating allegations that a member or members of the Garda colluded in the March 1989 assassination of RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan. The officers were shot dead on the Edenappa Road in south Armagh as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk Garda station.

The tribunal was told the officers had travelled South to enlist Garda help for “Operation Amazing”, an anti-smuggling operation targeting the activities of noted republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy.

Mary Laverty, for the tribunal,told Judge Smithwick a British government document entitled HMG 58 had stated Mr Murphy was a long-term, significant grain smuggler. The document noted that such was Mr Murphy’s operation that additional legislation might be needed to tackle it. The document also noted the need for co-operation from the South “to remove Murphy from the map”.

The tribunal was told that Mr Breen and Mr Buchanan were working on this operation at the behest of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Tom King, in the hours before they were killed.

However, Witness M’s evidence led to a heated clash between Jim O’Callaghan SC for Mr Corrigan and the solicitor for the family of Mr Breen, John McBurney.

Mr O’Callaghan said Mr McBurney had encouraged the witness to come and give evidence and accused Mr McBurney of “coaching” Witness M. Mr O’Callaghan said Mr McBurney was “travelling the highways and byways” seeking evidence with which to “frame” Mr Corrigan.

Mr McBurney said he resented the accusation, which Mr O’Callaghan said he stood over.

Judge Smithwick told Mr O’Callaghan he felt the accusation that Mr McBurney was attempting to frame Mr Corrigan was “rather harsh” and “going too far”.

The judge said Mr McBurney had assisted the tribunal and had acted “perfectly legitimately”, in his view. “I don’t think he was coaching. We will leave it at that,” he added.

The tribunal resumes public hearings on Tuesday.