Brigadier gives evidence behind closed doors

Smithwick tribunal

A retired British army brigadier gave evidence “in relation to some delicate intelligence matters” to the Smithwick tribunal behind closed doors.

Brigadier Ian Lisles previously gave expert evidence in September to the tribunal, which is examining allegations of garda collusion in the 1989 deaths of two senior RUC officers, chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan.

Judge Peter Smithwick said that he would examine the transcripts immediately the brigadier’s evidence was completed, and determine how much of it could be made public.

Earlier, the tribunal heard from retired journalist Chris Ryder, who told the tribunal he had been approached by detective sergeant Owen Corrigan in the 1970s, who offered him stories for money.

But Mr Corrigan’s barrister Mr Jim O’Callaghan SC said that his client’s recollection was that when Mr Ryder was pointed out to him in a Belfast hotel by senior RUC special branch officer Brian Fitzsimons, his companion told him to “be careful” of Mr Ryder, and that Mr Ryder was “very close to MI5.”

“I didn’t know a soul in MI5,” Mr Ryder said in response. “That was an allegation that was made against me regularly by people of a republican disposition.”

Mr Ryder said he was approached on one occasion by a person from MI5, but said he “made it clear I had no intention of talking to them, least of all becoming a source for them.”

In his direct evidence, Mr Ryder told the inquiry he met detective sergeant Owen Corrigan in the La Mons hotel in Belfast in the mid-1970s, while he was with an RUC officer. Mr Corrigan was with Mr Fitzsimons.

The two officers greeted each other, and Mr Ryder was introduced to the Garda officer.

He said that later, while he was in the lavatory, he saw Mr Corrigan again and the detective offered him his business card, saying Mr Ryder could provide him with stories and “There’ll be a few bob in it for me, wouldn’t there?”

Mr Ryder said the incident stuck in his mind and set off “alarm bells” as it was the only time he was ever propositioned by a police officer for stories.”

The journalist said that after that he would hear Mr Corrigan’s name mentioned “in the context of helping the IRA and not being trustworthy”.

Mr Corrigan denied that he gave Mr Ryder his card, or that they had even spoken, saying only that Mr Ryder was pointed out to him at the hotel bar.

The tribunal is looking at allegations that a garda leak led to the IRA killing of two senior RUC officers as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk garda station on 20 March 1989. Mr Corrigan denies he ever leaked information.

The journalist also said that when he read reports of evidence to the tribunal by former justice minister John O’Donoghue, he thought there was “a distinct sound of hand-washing.”

And he said the former minister sounded “dismissive” and “offhand” of allegations of collusion which “should have been taken seriously.”

Mr Ryder also said he was told by a senior Garda that “occasionally he would be very circumspect with sharing information”, and that there was a “strong perception on the Northern side that not all the garda were to be trusted.”

Mr Ryder also said lack of cross-border cooperation was a constant complaint from British security forces, including issues such as joint British/Irish army checkpoints and extradition.

And he said that the British Army watchtowers along the border were intended as “a network of very high tech patrol bases”.

Mr Ryder said the watchtowers “bristled with aerials and antennas” and that security sources were still sensitive about discussing their capabilities.

And he said a source in Scotland Yard told him it was possible that printed circuit boards used in IRA bombings in London and Northern Ireland were made in an IDA-funded factory in Co Louth. IDA funding was withdrawn after the Sunday Times published the story, he said.

Some aspects of Mr Ryder’s evidence are still being investigated by the tribunal, and he will return to give further evidence in the New Year.