Dispute over Robinson escort claims

Smithwick tribunal

A retired garda inspector has contested the claim by former detective sergeant Owen Corrigan that he took part in an escort for Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson when he travelled to Dublin in early 1987.

Dan Prenty, who was a detective Inspector in Dundalk garda station, was responsible for arranging garda escorts for the trips by Mr Robinson when he made several trips to Dublin for appearances in the Special Criminal Court in January 1987.

The tribunal also produced documents showing that sergeant Corrigan had failed a firearms course in October 1986, and had not passed a test until after Mr Robinson’s visits.

Mr Prenty said members of the security detail would have been armed with Uzi sub machine guns and revolvers, and that Mr Corrigan could not therefore have been assigned to it, “but apart from that I would not detail him.”

Mr Corrigan told the tribunal earlier this week he had to push Mr Robinson’s car when it became stuck in heavy snows in Drogheda, but Mr Prenty said that one the first day of the Special Criminal Court trial, when he was personally part of the escort, the car was fitted with heavy snow tyres.

Cross examined by Mr Jim O’Callaghan SC on behalf of Mr Corrigan, the witness said that Mr Corrigan could have inserted himself into an escort, and had done so on another occasion when a Northern Iris judge was being escorted to a rugby match.

Mr Prenty rejected the proposition from Mr O’Callaghan that his evidence displayed “astonishing levels of malice and I would go so far as to say, hatred towards my client,” or that he had abused his position to block a transfer to detective branch by another garda.

“I’m absolutely shocked to hear you make such an allegation, Mr Prenty said. “It’s not true.”

The tribunal is investigating allegations of garda collusion in the deaths of two RUC officers, chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan, as they returned from a security meeting in Dundalk Garda station on 20 March 1989.

Mr Corrigan denies allegations of collusion, and has described them as a “monstrous lie.”

The tribunal also heard that a “barely legible” copy of an intelligence report prepared by Mr Corrigan had been discovered in Dundalk garda station, although no copy of the report could be found in Garda HQ. This document made it clear that an earlier undated report had been prepared on 17 July 1989, the date of the kidnapping of businessman John McAnulty.

Mr Prenty said he considered much of the the contents of the secret C77 report on Mr McAnulty were “common knowledge”, and other parts of it were “a work of fiction.”

Customs official Mr Michael McGill said “there were whispers along the border area about people being loose, about members of An Garda Síochána being loose” with information, but none of the reports referred to Mr Corrigan or the other two former garda sergeants represented before the tribunal.

He said he had not been contacted by RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen in the weeks before his death about a planned operation against republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy.

“Most people in the border area knew what was going on other than the authorities,” Mr McGill said.

He said that Mr Prenty was a “straightforward, honourable man.”

Extracts from “Holding the Line”, the autobiography of former RUC chief constable Sir Jack Hermon, were also read into the record, detailing instances in late 1982 and in 1989 when he travelled to Dublin airport with a garda escort.

Mr Jimmy Spratt MLA, who was in charge of Mr Hermon’s security in the early 1980s, had previously told the tribunal that Mr Hermon had never been escorted to Dublin airport.

An email from Mr Spratt was also read into the record, in which he said he was on leave during the 1982 visit and had been unaware of it as a result, and was no longer involved in the chief constable’s security in 1989, was also read into the record. Tribunal chairman Mr Peter Smithwick said it was not planned to recall Mr Spratt.