Tribunal hears of “unease” in border Garda station

Smithwick tribunal

A senior garda who worked in Dundalk garda station at the time when two RUC men were killed on a way back to Northern Ireland from the border town said he was aware of unease about a “certain individual” in the border station.Photo of Smithwick tribunal

Tom Connolly, now retired, was the border superintendent in Dundalk at the time. He was asked by tribunal barrister Mr Justin Dillon if he had heard reports of an IRA mole in the station.

“I did,” Mr Connolly said.

“I’d say I was aware of it possibly before I went to Dundalk,” Mr Connolly said. “Certainly when I arrived in Dundalk. I was told by some sources there was unease about a certain individual.”

“There was unease about a certain individual,” he said.

Tribunal barrister Justin Dillon said the inquiry would return to the topic on “another day”.

At the end of his testimony, tribunal chairman Mr Peter Smithwick thanked the witness and said the tribunal might need to ask for Mr Connolly’s help again at a later stage in its deliberations.

RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan were killed in an IRA ambush a few hundred yards inside the Northern Ireland as they returned from a meeting in the station on 20 May 1989.

Mr Connolly said he did not know his RUC counterpart Mr Buchanan very well, as he had only been transferred to Dundalk at the end of 1988, and had spent much of his time since then at two training courses in Templemore.

He said he had met Mr Buchanan informally on two occasions in January 1989, once at Hackballscroos, and later in Newry.

Detective Garda Tom Molloy said he did not believe press reports of an IRA mole when he saw them, and that he believed the ambush took weeks of planning and waiting.

Garda John Daly said the IRA “had their own intelligence officer” and would monitor RUC and Garda officers, and the years 1986-90 when he was stationed in the are were very difficult ones.

He said it was “upsetting” to later hear “the same suggestion by politicians in the North that there may have been a garda mole,” he added.

“It was upsetting to hear the same suggestion by politicians in the North that there may have been a garda mole,” he added. “But we continued on with garda duties.”

Garda Matthew O’Reilly said the atmosphere in Dundalk was “very bitter” following the extradition of Maze escapee Robert Russell in August 1988, and Special Branch detectives were regarded by subversives as “British collaborators”.

The tribunal now enters an “investigative phase”, as new witnesses are interviewed by its inquiry team, and resumes on Wednesday 13 July.