IRA unit planned to interrogate top RUC officer over Loughall

Smithwick tribunal

An IRA unit which killed two senior RUC men in a 1989 ambush had planned to kidnap the senior officer who died and interrogate him about internal security leaks which resulted in the deaths of an eight-man active service unit at the hands of the SAS during a planned attack on Loughall RUC station, the Smithwick tribunal was told.

Retired garda detective sergeant Sean Gethins said the intended target of the IRA ambush on 20 March 1989 was RUC chief superintendent Harry Breen, who was killed along with his colleague superintendent Bob Buchanan yards north of the border as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk Garda station.

The tribunal was set up to look at claims that a Garda “mole” leaked details of the RUC men’s visit to the Provisional IRA.

Gethins said that Breen was targeted after he gave television interviews in the days after the May 1987 Loughall ambush, which saw the largest single loss of life by the IRA in a single operation. Eight IRA men and an innocent civilian were killed during the operation.

Gethins also said his belief was that every road between Dundalk and Newry was covered by IRA units on the day Breen and Buchanan were murdered.

Terrorists could have spent days or weeks waiting for an opportunity to lift Mr Breen, he added.

Gethins also said he was unaware of a 1985 RUC memo saying that intelligence should not be given to Dundalk Garda station, but should be sent directly to Gartda HQ instead.

And he said there was no way his colleague, ex-detective sergeant Owen Corrigan, was involved in passing information to the IRA. Corrigan has described rumours that he was a Garda “mole” as a “monstrous lie”.

Gethins interviewed Mr Corrigan after he was abducted and beaten by the IRA in December 1995, and said that during his ordeal Corrigan had been put in a blue boiler suit, which usually meant “you’ve had it”, he said.

Corrigan and another man, Francis Tiernan, were released after two or three days, he said

Earlier, retired superintendent Fergus Doggett, who investigated Mr Corrigan’s abduction, said the two men were dragged into a van, and signs of struggle and blood were later found in the hotel carpark.

Corrigan told the senior officer he was questioned by several teams of interrogators, who wnted to know who was providing information to the gardai.

Although badly beaten and requiring hospital treatment, neither man would make a formal complaint. Mr Corrigan earlier told the tribunal he was more concerned about the safety of his young family.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the Breen and Buchanan families again expressed their frustration that they were not allowed access to garda records shown to other legal teams at the tribunal.

Tribunal barrister Ms Mary Laverty said that the legal teams for the families had only limited representation and were not entitled to see all records.

Chairman Peter Smithwick said the garda record in question was only two sentences long and was not of major significance.

Solicitor Mr Ernie Waterworth on behalf of the Buchanan family said he appreciated the Judge’s comments and he would like to reserve the right to make comments at a further stage. He said that the record in question was a summary of intelligence and had been approved for release by the gardai.

And solicitor for the Breen family, John McBurney said that the limits placed on those representing the family were “difficult to accommodate” as more and more controversial evidence emerged.