The IRA operation which led to the deaths of two senior RUC officers as they returned from a security meeting in Dundalk garda station began almost immediately after the appointment was arranged through a series of telephone calls that morning, a senior British army intelligence analyst told the Smithwick tribunal.
And the operation was well under way two hours before the men chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan left Newry RUC station on their fateful journey to Dundalk.
Brigadier Ian Lisles was transferred to the border region months after the deadly March 1989 ambush, and was stationed there for the following two years. His evidence, given in closed session before Christmas to the tribunal, was read into the record by tribunal barrister Dara Hayes.
Mr Hayes said the British ministry of defence had expressed security concerns about some aspects of Mr Lisle;s evidence, and as a result of submissions from the ministry, three minor changes were made to the transcript, while four other suggested amendments were not acted on.
Mr Hayes said that the chairman could still take into account the evidence on which the ministry had made submissions, as it was sworn evidence before the tribunal.
The brigadier acted as an intelligence liaison officer, and was involved in the analysis of intelligence after the ambush to identify what had gone wrong.
Mr Lisles said there were “signals” along the border from between 11.30am and midday on the day of the attacks, as the operation was put into place. And up to 70 IRA personnel would have been involved in the attack, from lookouts and “dickers” to quartermasters and the gunmen at the scene, although not all of them would have known what the operation was.
“That was when the intelligence traffic started,” the brigadier said. He said in his opinion this meant IRA activity would have begun around 10am.
The joint Garda-RUC meeting was arranged in a series of telephone calls between 9am and 10am, the tribunal has already heard.
The two men did not leave Northern Ireland on their journey until 1.30pm, two hours after IRA preparations began.
Brigadier Lisles said the intelligence signals could not be processed in “real time” in 1989, and it was not until afterwards that their full significance would be realised. At the time, all the Army would know was that something was happening, but not where or when.
“The analysis of what happened, did not happen on the day,” he said.
The tribunal is looking at allegations that a garda leak led to the IRA ambush in which the two RUC men died.
Brigadier Lisles said the Army did not know the two men were in Dundalk that day. Need-to-know precautions would mean as few people as possible would know about the planned journey.
Earlier at the tribunal, there were heated exchanges between lawyers for the garda commissioner and tribunal barristers over whether confidential intelligence reports prepared by retired detective sergeant Owen Corrigan should be read into the record.
The intelligence reports were originally prepared by Mr Corrigan as part of his detective duties, and his barrister requested them to demonstrate to the tribunal that he played an active role in combatting the IRA during his years in the force.
Mr Corrigan has described allegations that he leaked information from the station as a “monstrous lie.”
Earlier this week tribunal barrister Ms Mary Laverty said the information would be put on the record. But today nother tribunal barrister, Mr Justin Dillon, said there was no dispute that Mr Corrigan had been diligent in passing on intelligence gathered in the course of his duties and there was no value in reading it into the record.
Mr Dillon also complained that the documents had been passed on to Mr Corrigan by the garda commissioner’s legal team.
But Mr Corrigan’s barrister Mr Jim O’Callaghan said there was great value in the documents, which would show his client had saved RUC men’s lives, which was relevant to the tribunal’s inquiry.
For the commissioner, Mr Michael Durack said it was common practice that officers would be given information they themselves had written and there was no issue in providing Mr Corrigan with copies of the reports he had authored.
He said it was the commissioner’s position that there was “no evidence of collusion that we can find anywhere.”
Chairman Peter Smithwick said he would make a decision on the documents next week.
It also emerged during the arguments that there was a former IRA member who shared the same name as Mr Corrigian. This man had been a member from the 1970s until the 1990s, the tribunal heard. Tribunal barrister Mr Justin Dillon said this issue would also be addressed.