O’Donoghue and Higgins give evidence to tribunal

Smithwick tribunal

Former justice minister John O’Donoghue has said he was not surprised that gardai did not interview opposition spokesman Jim Higgins after the Mayo TD said he had the names of alleged garda moles who leaked information to the IRA leading to the deaths of two senior RUC officers.

Mr O’Donoghue said that Mr Higgins “had form” when it came to anonymous allegations, as was shown at the Morris tribunal.

He said he did not ask Mr Higgins for the names of the alleged garda moles, as the garda commissioner was investigating the case. “You can’t expect the minister of the day to become a detective, he said. That is not his role.”

And he said he told the Dáil in response to questions from Mr Higgins that there was “no tangible evidence” of garda wrongdoing because that was the form of words used in a garda briefing to the department of justice.

He said he understood this to mean there was no evidence that could be used in a courtroom to obtain a conviction, although there could be hearsay evidence.

Mr Higgins put down the Dáil questions following the publication of an article by Mr Kevin Myers in the Irishman’s Diary column in March 2000.

But Mr O’Donoghue said he “wouldn’t necessarily believe what Mr Myers wrote,” and he did all that could be expected in referring the issue to the garda commissioner.

“I don’t say that from a sanctimonious perspective, I’m not perfect. But in that situation I was the nearest I could get,” he said.

And he said it was “shameful” that DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson had named a former detective sergeant in the House of Commons under parliamentary privilege.

Earlier, Mr Higgins (now a Fine Gael MEP) said he was contacted anonymously by persons purporting to be serving gardai following the publication of the article by Mr Myers, and was supplied with the name of two alleged garda moles.

Mr Higgins, who was opposition justice spokesman at the time, then raised the issue in questions to justice minister John O’Donoghue in the Dáil, but did not name the alleged moles.

The MEP said it was a controversial brief at the time, and he was dealing with several issues including the treatment of the McBrearty family in Donegal, which led to the Morris tribunal.

He said that he received calls from two or three people purporting to be serving gardai, and was given the names of two former sergeants, Owen Corrigan and Leo Colton. He said the callers sounded credible.

Mr Corrigan and Mr Colton are both represented at the Smithwick tribunal, and deny any allegations of collusion.

Although a Garda inquiry was set up following the Dáil questions, Mr Higgins said he was not asked for the names of alleged Garda moles by the justice minister or the Garda inquiry.

Earlier, a senior civil servant said that a parliamentary answer by justice minister John O’Donoghue saying there was “no tangible evidence” of collusion was based on information supplied by a detective chief superintendent in charge of the intelligence section of an Garda Siochana.

Department of Justice assistant secretary responsible for crime and security Mr Ken O’Leary said that during the Weston Park negotiations, the SDLP and Sinn Féin were pressing for inquiries into collusion in northern Ireland, and “over time the unionist parties wanted parallel inquiries into garda collusion.”

The Smithwick tribunal was set up to look at allegations of Garda collusion in the deaths of two senior RUC officers, chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan, on 20 March 1989.