Smithwick tribunal awaiting British intelligence

Smithwick tribunal

The Smithwick tribunal had adjourned while it awaits information from British authorities which it needs in order to complete its investigation into charges of Garda collusion with the IRA.

“We are totally dependant upon information for which we are waiting,” chairman Peter Smithwick said, announcing the adjournment. “That will govern the next date on which the tribunal will sit.”

In an interim report on 8 March, the chairman said he had received a verbal briefing on intelligence information from British authorities which was “highly relevant and potentially significant .”

“This information relates to the question of whether members of An Garda Síochána colluded with the IRA,” the retired judge wrote in his report to the Dáil.

The tribunal also heard last week that a report prepared by a retired RUC officer on allegations of Garda collusion was with officials in the Northern Ireland Office, where it was being redacted to protect sensitive information.

The tribunal was set up to look at allegations of garda collusion in the 1989 IRA killings of two senior RUC officers, chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan, as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk Garda station.

Earlier, the tribunal heard from a former British Army major identified as Witness 78, who served three tours of duty in Northern Ireland.

“My opinion is that the ambush was set up deliberately,” the witness said. “By that I mean it was planned, it was not a spontaneous decision. The ambushers were aware of their target and were waiting for it to arrive.”

The witness also said the Army watchtowers along the border were as much a deterrent as a surveillance tool.

“I’d always been of the view that the local population had the view that the watchtowers could actually see far more than was being recorded,” he said.

“It is very difficult to measure their deterrent effect, but I have no doubt that there was a deterrent effect.”

However, he added that the men under his command were not responsible for electronic surveillance from the watchtowers.

“There was equipment on the watchtowers that operated but for which we were not responsible,” he said.

The officer said he and his men did not know who was operating this equipment.

The tribunal has previously heard of “technical information” which was showed IRA units were planning the ambush from as early at 11.30am on the morning they died, some hours before the two officers left Newry RUC to travel south.

The chairman also noted that today (20 March) marks the anniversary of the deaths of the two men, an occasion that must bring to mind again the “horrors of the day in question” for their families. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them,” he said.

Extract from Second Interim Report:

The Tribunal has received from the British authorities in Northern Ireland intelligence information which is highly relevant and potentially significant to its terms of reference. This information relates to the question of whether members of An Garda Síochána colluded with the IRA. This information was provided to me orally in the presence of a number of the members of the tribunal’s legal team. Since the receipt of this information, the tribunal has been exploring with the relevant officials the possibility of the provision of this intelligence information or some precis or summary thereof on a formal basis so that it can be put into evidence before the tribunal. To date, and to my regret, no agreement has been reached in this regard.
Whilst I fully appreciate that this is very sensitive material and I am fully cognisant of the need to take all appropriate measures to ensure respect for the rights of any individual who might be put at risk by its disclosure, I am most concerned to ensure that this material be put in evidence before me in some form. However, as matters stand today, this will not be the case. If agreement cannot be secured with the relevant authorities, there is nothing further that the tribunal can do in relation to the matter, and I will simply have to proceed to make my findings and recommendations based on the evidence that has been put before me, without reference to or influence from the aforementioned intelligence information. This would be a regrettable lacuna.