Smithwick Inquiry: Former IRA members refuse to testify

Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were murdered in 1989

No former member of the IRA is willing to give evidence in person at the Smithwick Inquiry into the murders of two RUC officers, the judge has said.

Judge Peter Smithwick wrote to the Irish parliament on Thursday, outlining the inquiry's latest dealings with former IRA members.

He revealed that ex-IRA members provided a new written statement to the inquiry about the murders last week.

RUC Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were killed on 20 March 1989.

Collusion claims

Start Quote

While I am grateful to the former members for providing the tribunal with their own version of events, and in particular for meeting with the tribunals's legal team in April 2011, I am very disappointed that oral evidence will not be given”

End Quote Judge Peter Smithwick Inquiry chairman

They were shot dead by the Provisional IRA (PIRA) in an ambush in south Armagh, shortly after they left a meeting in Dundalk garda station.

The Smithwick Inquiry is investigating claims of garda collusion in their deaths.

In his latest written report to the Irish parliament, Judge Peter Smithwick also confirmed that the inquiry team is to have no further contact with ex-IRA members.

The ex-paramilitaries' written account of events leading up to the murder is to be read out when the inquiry hearings resume later on Friday.

On Thursday, the judge wrote: "I can report that the tribunal's procedure of engagement with the former members reached a definitive conclusion last week.

Cancelled meeting

"Unfortunately, no former member of PIRA is prepared to give oral evidence to the tribunal, notwithstanding extensive safeguards which the tribunal proposed to protect his or her identity and security. There will be no further meeting between the tribunal's legal team and the former personnel," he added.

To date, the inquiry team has held one meeting with ex-IRA members.

It took place in April 2011, and the judge said it was attended by three former IRA members, one of whom "had direct knowledge of the PIRA operation of 20 March 1989".

In his report, Judge Smithwick said that a second meeting between the two sides had been due to take place late last year, but had been cancelled at the request of the ex-IRA members.

He said that on Friday, 25 January, the former paramilitaries submitted a "supplemental statement by way of brief responses" on a list of topics that the tribunal had sent to them in advance of the cancelled meeting.

Analysis - Inquiry delays

In many ways it is surprising that there has not been more public criticism of this particular inquiry, given the criticism of legal fees during other tribunals.

Alan Shatter, as the incoming Irish justice minister in 2012, wondered why this investigation could possibly take so long.

As for the reason for the length of the inquiry?

It is the IRA who know what happened. They have not and will not be giving evidence in open session, despite republican calls for a truth and reconciliation process.

The British authorities only presented their intelligence document to the inquiry as it was about to wrap up last July. That intelligence document has given rise to other, further avenues of inquiry for Judge Peter Smithwick.

He is defining collusion not just as commission or involvement in the murders, but also as a failure to act on information, or turning a blind eye.

That could have implications in his findings for the police forces and intelligence services on both sides of the Irish border.

Judge Smithwick has now directed that details of the legal team's dealings with the former IRA members are to be read into the record of the tribunal when hearings resume in Dublin later on Friday.

He said the details will include the former IRA members' "written account of the events leading up to and on 20th March 1989 and their responses to written and oral questions posed by the tribunal's legal team".

'Very disappointed'

The judge stated: "While I am grateful to the former members for providing the tribunal with their own version of events, and in particular for meeting with the tribunals's legal team in April 2011, I am very disappointed that oral evidence will not be given."

The Dublin-based tribunal was established in 2005 and has been hearing evidence in public since June 2011.

When it resumes, the former Ulster Unionist, Lord Maginnis, is due to give evidence and the tribunal will also hear about the health of key witness Owen Corrigan.

Last September, the tribunal was told that Mr Corrigan would not be medically fit to give evidence for up to five months.

Extensions

Mr Corrigan, a retired detective garda sergeant, is one of three former Dundalk-based sergeants who have been granted legal representation at the tribunal.

All three deny allegations of collusion.

The Smithwick Tribunal had been due to issue its final report in November 2011 but was given an extension to early 2012.

The latest extension is to 31 July this year.

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