Ex-commissioner says tape recording never existed

Smithwick tribunal

A tape recording which a Dundalk detective said he listened to in Garda HQ of a prominent republican being told to get rid of incriminating evidence before a planned Garda search never existed, the Smithwick tribunal has been told.

Former garda commissioner Pat Byrne said not such recording ever existed, and so the officer could not have heard it.

Former Dundalk detective Dan Prenty previously told the tribunal he was brought to garda HQ to listen to the tape, but was unable to confirm the identity of the caller who gave the warning.

Tribunal barrister Justin Dillon SC said there was a gap in garda records between 22 January and 30 January 1990, covering the period when the telephone call and search took place.

“I’m saying there was no tape that he listened to because no tape existed,” Mr Byrne said.

The chairman asked the witness if Mr Prenty had “imagined” that he was called to Garda HQ to listen to the tape.

“I’m not saying he imagined it. I’m saying he is mistaken. To suggest this particular suspect was tipped off would have serious, serious repercussions for the whole security.”

Mr Dillon said there were no intercepts at all in Garda records at the time of the planned Garda search in 1990.

“All the intercepts are gone. It’s not there. We’ve seen the file,” he said.

“It’s a complete blank.”

Garda counsel Mr Michael Durack later said their records showed there were seven telephone intercepts on record during the period in question.

Mr Byrne said it was possible the suspect had been away from home during the period in question.

“I do not accept that there was a tape tipping off that subject that particular night, or at any time. It would be extraordinary that he allowed anyone to ring him up on the phone, he was no fool.”

Mr Dillon said that former detective inspector Dan Prenty was “quite clear in his evidence that this did happen.”

Mr Byrne said such a telephone call tipping of a suspect to a planned Garda operation “would have instigated an immediate major investigation.”

The suspect was of interest to British intelligence, the RUC, and British Army intelligence, Mr Byrne said.

“An Garda Siocháná is not only a police force, it is a security service,” Mr Byrne added.

The tribunal is examining allegations of Garda collusion, and that a leak from Dundalk garda station in 1989 led to the deaths of two RUC men in an IRA ambush as they returned to Northern Ireland from a cross-border security meeting.

PSNI barrister Mr Mark Robinson said garda investigators should have been “proactive and relentless” in investigating allegations of collusion.