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12 January 2014 Edition

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Smithwick Tribunal investigator rejects findings

IRA didn’t need Garda mole to ambush top RUC officers

• ‘On the balance of probabilities’ becomes a matter of fact for The Irish Times

‘The conclusion would appear to be built upon a structure of deduction rather than any hard evidence . . . Judge Smithwick acknowledges the lack of any direct evidence’

‘I am convinced that the IRA did not require any Garda assistance or collusion to carry out the assassination of these two RUC officers’

The IRA ambushed RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan on March 20 1989 near the Border in south Armagh shortly after a meeting with senior gardaí in Dundalk, County Louth.

They were two of the RUC’s most experienced and senior commanders in south Armagh.

Chief Superintendant Breen was the highest-ranking member of the RUC to be killed by the IRA. He had 1,200 British Army and RUC personnel under his command and had a leading role in all major operations, including SAS actions such as the ambush at Loughgall in 1987 that wiped out an eight-strong IRA unit and killed a civilian.

It was alleged that a ‘mole’ in the Garda in Dundalk had passed on to the IRA details of the men’s movements that enabled the IRA operation.

The IRA denied this. Three former senior IRA activists involved in the planning and execution of the operation gave direct testimony to lawyers for the tribunal.

The tribunal was told the former IRA members gave detailed accounts and replied to questions from the inquiry team.

Tribunal lawyer Maura Laverty SC acknowledged the meeting was “a very significant development” and described it as “an unprecedented development”.

Their evidence was that the operation was the culmination of many months of surveillance of the RUC officers at many levels and locations.

WHATEVER the headline in The Irish Times says, the Irish Government’s Smithwick Tribunal DID NOT find evidence of collusion by a ‘Garda mole’ in the IRA ambush and execution of two high-ranking RUC police chiefs in 1989.

What Judge Peter Smithwick did find in the publication of his 500-page report on 3 December was that, because of suspicions about three Garda officers – none of whom was linked by Smithwick to the RUC killings — that “on the balance of probabilities” there was collusion.

No one is identified as a source of information in the Garda or anywhere else. The three gardaí are actually ruled out.

What is remarkable to any dispassionate or outside observer is that in a case involving two police forces and a tribunal headed by a respected judge, the fact that no evidence has been found is disregarded in favour of conjecture.

“On the balance of probabilities” becomes a matter of fact for The Irish Times (the self-proclaimed ‘Paper of Record’).

Even the Smithwick Tribunal’s own investigator discounted its report’s findings that gardaí colluded with the IRA.

Former Garda Detective Inspector Gerry O’Carroll was appointed by Judge Peter Smithwick as an investigator in October 2006 and spent 10 months looking into all aspects of the collusion allegations and the IRA attack.

O’Carroll said he did not agree with the conclusions of Judge Smithwick, the man who had hired him. He publicly declared that the IRA did not need Garda collusion to carry out operations such as the one he spent almost a year looking into all aspects of.

“I must confess to being shocked and astonished at the content and tone of some of the report,” O’Carroll said immediately after its publication.

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Judge Peter Smithwick

“The Garda and RUC investigations found no evidence of collusion between gardaí and Provos. Judge Smithwick found no conclusive or irrefutable evidence of collusion in his own inquiry, despite an eight-year investigation.

“Judge Smithwick states that, on the balance of probabilities, collusion had taken place but he has not produced irrefutable or compelling evidence to back up this.”

O’Carroll reiterated that he personally was “not convinced or persuaded” that there was any collusion between members of the Garda and the IRA.

A former columnist for the Evening Herald who wrote under the banner title of ‘The Sheriff’, O’Carroll hates republicans and would be loathe to give the IRA credit for anything but he added:

“From my own knowledge and investigations into this affair, I am convinced that the IRA did not require any Garda assistance or collusion to carry out the assassination of these two RUC officers.”

The former Ulster Unionist MP and now Independent MP for North Down, Lady Sylvia Hermon, is the widow of the RUC Chief Constable at the time of the killings.  Sir John Hermon was an implacable and bitter enemy of the IRA. His wife said that had there been “a shred of real evidence of collusion he would have said so and acted on it immediately”.

In the aftermath of the attack and the flurry of speculation at how the IRA had struck such a devastating blow to the British security set-up along the Border, the RUC Chief Constable agreed with senior Garda assertions that there had been no leak.

“There was no mole and we would ask that this be discounted very firmly and very quickly,” John Hermon said.

Conor Brady was editor of The Irish Times between 1986 and 2002 and recently one of the three Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commissioners. Prior to that he had been Editor of the Garda Review and had written a history of An Garda Síochána. He said of the Smithwick findings “it is a far step from [Garda corruption] to participation in the murders of fellow police officers, albeit in a different jurisdiction”.

Brady notes that the report concludes that “the passing of information by a member of an Garda Síochána was the trigger” for the ambush operation in which Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan were killed. “This conclusion would appear to be built upon a structure of deduction rather than any hard evidence . . . Judge Smithwick acknowledges the lack of any direct evidence.”

Brady quotes from the report itself (23.1.2):

“There is no record of a phone call, no traceable payment, no smoking gun.”

The former Garda watchdog then points out:

“And when [Judge Smithwick] considers the possible involvement of the gardaí who were examined by the tribunal, he rules each of them out . . .

“We are left with the possibility that some unknown garda notified the IRA of the RUC officers’ visit. This requires one to conclude (as the judge does) that the IRA’s claim to have mounted the ambush on the basis of its own surveillance and intelligence is false. But notwithstanding Gerry Adams’s maladroit comments about the murdered officers’ approach to their security, it should be borne in mind that, in recent years, IRA statements about past operational matters have been generally accurate.”

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Gerry Adams’s comments reflect report’s findings

The critical comment about Gerry Adams refers to the Sinn Féin President’s description during a radio interview of the RUC officers’ attitude to their personal security as “laissez faire”.

It is particularly noteworthy that while the media seized on this to excoriate Gerry Adams, he was actually reflecting testimony in the Smithwick Tribunal Report, evidence that is in the public domain and which the Establishment media and political opportunists chose to ignore.

In his Léargas blog on 5 December, Gerry Adams wrote in response to a furore fuelled by cheap point scoring by political opponents and headline writers:

“I am very conscious that at the heart of this issue are two bereaved families. I did not need to be reminded of this by any of my political opponents and I am concerned, as I was during the Newstalk interview, not to say anything which detracts from that or which causes any further hurt. That was never my intention.

“What I said reflects what is recorded by Justice Smithwick.

“So those who attack me are at odds with what is contained in the Smithwick Report.

“It is nonsense to suggest that I was blaming the two RUC officers for their own deaths. Everyone knows the IRA was responsible. That was never in question.

“There is also no question but that the Smithwick Report records serious concerns about the security arrangements for RUC officers travelling to Dundalk through south Armagh.

“It is a fact that RUC Officer Bob Buchanan was crossing the Border on average 10 times each month and on most occasions he travelled in his own car which was ‘readily identifiable’.

“In his report, Justice Smithwick records (and I quote) ‘there was a general view that the RUC crossing the Border were targets’ and ‘they [referring to RUC members] were all warned in relation to that’.

“Clearly, the decision to continue to travel as frequently as they did across the Border, without escort, left the RUC officers open to the real possibility of attack.

“None of this distracts from the tragedy and loss of life.

“Sinn Féin supported the establishment of the Smithwick Inquiry. I co-operated with the inquiry and met Justice Smithwick and his team a number of times.

“I have concerns about the tribunal’s conclusions given that it accepts that it found no direct evidence of collusion and then went on to claim without supporting evidence that ‘on the balance of probabilities’ there was collusion.

“Sinn Féin supports the recommendations the tribunal makes with regard to changes in policing and developing full all-Ireland co-operation on policing and justice.

“There is also a need to deal with the outstanding issues of Weston Park. The Finucane family are entitled to the same support and levels of disclosure as the Breen and Buchanan families.”

Gerry Adams pointed out that he asked the Taoiseach only a few weeks ago to facilitate a reasoned and rationale debate on the past.

“I made the point that the past must not be allowed to become an obstacle to building the peace and a harmonious and fair future for all our citizens.”

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