Witness denies tailoring his evidence

Smithwick tribunal

A retired assistant garda commissioner has denied his evidence to the Smithwick tribunal was “tailored” to fit into an “official garda version” of investigations into collusion in the 1989 deaths of two RUC officers as they returned from a security meeting in Dundalk.

Pat O’Toole was the assistant commissioner in charge of Crime & Security branch between 1996-2003, and a chief superintendent in the same section in 1989.

Mr O’Toole said in an initial statement to the tribunal that the purpose of an internal inquiry following the deadly ambush was “to investigate a leak”.

But he later said the inquiry was to establish only who within Dundalk garda station knew about the planned RUC visit.

The tribunal is looking at allegations that a garda leak led to the IRA ambush in which the two RUC officers, chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan, were killed as they returned from a meeting in Dundalk garda station.

Mr O’Toole said he decided to check the terms of reference of the internal inquiry, headed by assistant commissioner Edward O’Dea, after reading press reports of evidence given by former justice minster Gerry Collins.

He said he visited Garda HQ, and also spoke to Mr O’Dea about his terms of reference.

But he said he had not discussed his evidence with Mr O’Dea, only the terms of reference.

Asked by tribunal barrister Mr Justin Dillon SC if he had spoken to any other garda officers, Mr O’Toole also said he had spoke retired assistant commissioners Dermot Jennings and Jim McHugh.

Asked if he was anxious to ensure his evidence “tailored with official garda evidence”, Mr O’Toole replied: “Not at all, I’m anxious to tell the truth.”

Mr O’Toole also said he had no recollection of reading a report on the abduction of former detective sergeant Owen Corrigan, prepared in October 1996 in anticipation of a claim for compensation by Mr Corrigan.

And he said the failure of garda chief superintendent Sean Camon to approach Mt Jim Higgins after the Fine Gael TD told the Dáil he had two names “depends on the total information you have at the time.”

Questioned about his statement to the tribunal where he said “impeccable evidence” established there was no collusion in 1989, he said “impeccable” meant there was “a reasonable certainly as to what happened.”

Mr Dillon said the tribunal had “no idea” what evidence Mr O’Toole was referring to.

Mr O’Toole said gardai received “numerous” reports in the days following the ambush, and “not one of them mentioned the word collusion.”

At the tribunal chairman’s suggestion, the tribunal adjourned early for lunch, to allow Mr O’Toole to review intelligence reports which had been supplied to the tribunal, so that he could explain which of them he was referring to in his evidence.

After the break, Mr O’Toole said the conclusion that there was no collusion was based on Document 514, an intelligence report which said the ambush was prepared after a named IRA member spotted Mr Breen and Mr Buchanan as they travelled south.

He said that other documents, taken along with this document, confirmed the conclusion.

“I can’t see how they [the IRA] were depending on anyone other than themselves,” Mr O’Toole said.

He said he “had not seen any intelligence from any place at home or abroad” that would suggest a problem in Dundalk garda station.

The tribunal has adjourned until Monday morning, when submissions will be heard about a request from lawyers for the garda commissioner and Mr Owen Corrigan for access to tribunal records of an interview between Mr O’Toole and the tribunal.

The witness will return on Tuesday morning to give evidence in closed session regarding intelligence reports, and for cross-examination in open session.