Gardai refused to salute IRA unit’s coffins

Smithwick tribunal

Dundalk Gardai defied a senior officer’s order and refused to salute the coffins of three IRA members killed in Gibraltar by the SAS, the Smithwick tribunal heard.

Former inspector Dan Prenty said the order was given to assembled officers in Dundalk garda station by chief superintendent Owen Giblin.

“The alarm was raised to think we would be obliged to salute the coffins of IRA people,” Mr Prenty said.

As a result of the dissent among gardai, none of them saluted the coffins, except for chief superintendent Owen Giblin.

“He appeared in the papers and appeared a rather sad sight as a consequence, I must say,” Mr Prenty said.

The ex-inspector said that on another occasion, he and superintendent Pat Culhane decided to ignore an instruction from Mr Giblin that all intelligence reports were to be passed to detective sergeant Owen Corrigan for his comments.

“We had a discussion and we decided we would ignore the instruction,” Mr Prenty said. He said it was an unusual order that sensitive information would be sent down rather than up the chain of command.

He said he would make no apology for ignoring the order, as it would have destroyed morale in the detective unit.

The tribunal is looking at claims that a garda tip-off allowed the IRA to set up the ambush in which chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan died on 20 May 1989.

Mr Corrigan is one of three former sergeants — along with Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey — who deny any role in leaking information to the IRA.

Mr Prenty said reports that the IRA had tapped the phones of the senior military commander in Northern Ireland were something he had read in newspaper articles.

Mr Prenty said attention was not paid to press reports about collusion in 1989, but “something strange was going on, I can’t say there was positive collusion”.

He agreed the IRA had very good intelligence gathering ability, and said he had no evidence about alleged Garda collusion and “the mole could have been on the other side of the border too.”

Mr Prenty said that Mr Hickey has hung around with “youngsters who were not all that desirable” as a teenager, and had left Templemore college during his garda training, but was persuaded to return and complete his studies by his father and uncle. He rejected a suggestion that he was confusing an incident involving another Garda trainee from Dundalk who had gone to England.

And he was critical of former sergeant Owen Corrigan, who he said had taken information gleaned by other gardai and submitted it as his own to Garda HQ on confidential intelligence forms.

He said that on one occasion Mr Corrigan had sent in a confidential report of intimidation by a suspected INLA member, after a businessman had made a report to Dundalk garda station which was recorded in the general incident book.

And he said that Mr Corrigan had driven without a valid licence for ten years.

Mr Prenty also recounted an incident where Mr Corrigan threatened to deport “a Chinaman who wasn’t paid for meals” if he ever called to the Garda station again. Mr Prenty said when he reported this to his superintendent, the senior officer said Mr Corrigan was right.

Mr Prenty also he was told “there was supposed to be a file in RUC headquarters” on Mr Corrigan, and when he asked an RUC contact to verify this, his contact got back to him to say “You’re right Dan, there’s a file here but its tied with a red ribbon and I don’t have authorisation to read it.”

The Smithwick tribunal also heard evidence behind closed doors this morning.

Tribunal barrister Mary Laverty SC said an issue had arisen about how best to put the garda intelligence into the public domain.

Tribunal chairman Peter Smithwick said he was aware that intelligence information put in the public domain could put lives in danger, but he was reluctant to “avert the public gaze” too often.