Tribunal hears evidence on phone-tap of IRA man

Smithwick tribunal

The Smithwick Tribunal is hearing testimony in a private session about the tapping of the phone of an IRA member who may have been tipped off in advance about a planned garda search of his home.

This morning the tribunal heard arguments on why evidence from key witnesses should be heard in camera with members of the press and public excluded.

Tribunal barrister Mary Laverty SC said this morning that the tribunal was due to hear evidence today from a number of gardai relating to the search of the home of a member of the IRA in January 1990 looking for a forged passport. Nothing was found during the search.

Michael Durack SC on behalf of the garda commissioner said there were matters arising in this evidence over which the commissioner was claiming privilege.

He said the matters were extremely sensitive and he was asking the judge to sit in private so he could make the application in camera.

Only Judge Smithwick, the Tribunal’s legal team and counsel for the garda commissioner were present for that application. Afterwards the tribunal resumed for a short time in publice, and judge Smithwick announced that evidence would be heard in private.

Three former gardai, detective sergeant Owen Corrigan, sergeant Leo Colton and sergeant Finbarr Hickey are being investigated by the tribunal. All three deny any allegations of wrongdoing.

The Tribunals of Inquiry Act was amended in 2004 to allow evidence in private where it might prejudice pending criminal proceedings or where national security is an issue.

The Smithwick tribunal was established in 2005 to look at the circumstances surrounding the murders of two senior RUC officers, chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan, as they returned from a visit to Garda colleagues in Dundalk on 21 March 1989.

The chairman said the evidence related to a search of the home of a well known republican in January 1990, some time after the murders had been committed and after Mr Corrigan had gone on sick leave. It seemed that the man’s phone was tapped and he had been alerted to to the fact a search was to take place, he said.

The chairman said the evidence should be heard in private as it related to the security of the State. He said he could refer to the evidence in his final report as it could be very significant.

Lawyers at the tribunal are allowed hear the evidence, but would have to sign a declaration not to reveal anything they hear.