IRA monitored RUC officers movements

Smithwick tribunal

A Special Branch meeting in July 1988 warned that the movements of RUC officers travelling to Dundalk were being monitored by the Provisional IRA., eight months before an ambush in which two senior RUC men were killed, the Smithwick tribunal heard.

The “Message Form” was sent to RUC headquarters by an RUC special branch officer in Newry on 27 July 1988, the same day as a major cross-border security conference involving senior RUC and Garda officers.

The meeting took place three days after a fatal attack at the border crossing in Kileen, near Newry, in which three members of the Hanna family were killed. The tribunal has heard that the intended target of the attack was Ian Higgins.

The message from Newry special branch read “PIRA are monitoring the movements of plain clothes RUC officers who since the fatal explosion at Killeen border crossing on 24-7-88 are travelling on a regular basis to Dundalk garda station.”

A further note indicated that “all involved have been informed for info.”

It is not clear from the message whether the monitoring activities were ongoing, or in response to the particular circumstances following the deaths of the Hanna family.

The tribunal heard from retired detective superintendent David McConville, who said the document had been uncovered during the past few weeks by a “legacy support unit” in the PSNI which was “researching the needs of this tribunal.”

Mr McConville said he had not seen the an unredacted version of the document, and did not know who the author was.

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

Retired detective sergeant Owen Corrigan objected to being questioned about his “private affairs” as the tribunal asked questions about his finances, and said the questions were “an outrageous abuse of the tribunal.” Mr Corrigan said he had paid for various properties he owned “through savings”.

Mr Corrigan is one of three former garda sergeants represented before the tribunal, along with Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey. All three deny allegations of collusion, which Corrigan has called a “monstrous lie”.

In evidence he described how he had rescued Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, his wife Iris, and their driver when their car got into difficulty in snow on their way back from Dublin. Fearing for their safety, Mr Corrigan told them to remain in the car while he pushed it off sheets of ice near the Bullring in Dundalk.

Mr Corrigan said he had been detailed to oversee security for Mr Robinson. Tribunal barrister Justin Dillon SC said another witness would offer contradictory evidence.

Mr Corrigan also said that a secret C77 report would show that he was working on dangerous duties to gather intelligence on the night South Armagh businessman John McNulty was kidnapped by the IRA. Other witnesses have told the tribunal that the detective sergeant could not be located that night.

“I don’t want to go into details but there’s highly explosive informer material to show why I was missing,” Mr Corrigan said.

He said he took “grave exception” to being asked to account for his movements as a Garda by a member of the RUC, and he was “attempting to save a man’s life.”