Collusion tribunal judge concerned about “spin”

Smithwick tribunal

Retired district court president and tribunal chairman Mr Peter Smithwick expressed concern about “spin” in a letter written to justice minister Alan Shatter on 27 May, correspondence placed in the Dáil library Thursday 30 June reveals.Photo of Smithwick tribunal

The Smithwick tribunal, set up in 2005, began hearing evidence in June this year after several years collecting statements from witnesses and examining documents held by police and securtity forces on both sides of the border.

The judge’s letter followed a press statement from the government department setting an apparent deadline of 30 November 2011 for the work of the tribunal.

“I see this as a wholly inappropriate attempt by the Executive to interfere with the independence of the tribunal, set up by agreement between the British and Irish governments in the context of the implementation of the peace process,” the judge wrote.

The judge said in a later letter on 1 June that press reports of a deadline had led to an “important witness” outside the Republic of Ireland “reconsidering his cooperation in light of the publicity given to the government’s decision.

In the same letter the judge said he had no objection to the letters being put in the public domain.

On the same day, Mr Shatter placed a motion before the Dáil calling for an interim report by 30 June and an indication that it would finish its work by the end of November.

The justice minister said during the exchange that there was “no question of any attempt at what might be regarded as ‘political interference’ with the work of the tribunal.

He later asked the judge to clarify that the letters being placed in the “public domain” included the letter in which he said a witness was “reconsidering.” The judge confirmed that this was the case.

The judge said he has assured the witness of the “firm intent of the tribunal to fulfil its remit in a comprehensive and independent fashion.”

Meanwhile, the Dáil clerk has confirmed that an interim report has been delivered by the judge, and will be placed in the library once it has been examined to make sure it does not prejudice any potential legal actions.

*****A civilian witness who worked in Dundalk garda station the day two senior RUC officers were killed in an ambush after visiting the station told the Smithwick tribunal she did not write sentences at the end of a statement she made about what she saw that day.

Following the IRA murder of RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan, the statement was taken by garda assistant commissioner Kevin Carty, who was an inspector at the time.

Ms Nora Burns, a civil servant with the department of justice told the tribunal she worked in the garda sergeants’ office at the station as a civilian administrator.

Ms Burns told the tribunal that she wrote a statement for Mr Carty, but that a line at the end of the statement was not in her handwriting. The line read “I did not see any member enter or leave Dundalk garda station on that day.”

“I didn’t write that,” Ms Burns told the inquiry.

She could not say if the word “members” in the sentence referred to members of an Garda Síochána or the two RUC men.

She agreed that her signature appeared at the end of the statement.

Ms Burns said she did not see the two men during their visit, or recall anything usual that day.

Earlier, former Garda Ann McMorrow told the inquiry she had seen the two men arrive at the station, and recognised Mr Buchanan. The garda, who worked in the station room, said she had not taken any messages about the visit that day, and did not know it was planned.

Garda sergeant Vincent Jackson and detective sergeant Gerry Connor both told the tribunal they had been on patrol on the fateful day, and had not known that the two RUC men were coming to a meeting in Dundalk.

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