Smithwick Tribunal: Enda Kenny calls findings 'shocking'

Ch Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan Ch Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were murdered by an IRA gang in 1989

The findings of the Smithwick inquiry are "absolutely shocking", Irish prime minister Enda Kenny has said.

Speaking from Japan, Mr Kenny said it was a revelation of another dark patch in Ireland's recent history.

He endorsed his justice minister's apology to the victims' families and said he hoped to meet them.

Judge Peter Smithwick found that there was Irish police collusion in the murders of two senior Northern Ireland policemen in 1989.

Meanwhile, the justice ministers and chief constables from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are to meet in the wake of the publication of the Smithwick Tribunal.

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford called the report "damning".

But he said that he and the Irish Justice Minister would continue their "exceptionally good cooperation".

Ch Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were shot dead in an IRA ambush in March 1989 in south Armagh. The attack happened as they crossed the border into Northern Ireland after a meeting in Dundalk Garda station.

The Smithwick Tribunal was set up by the Irish government in 2005 to investigate claims that officers based in Dundalk Garda (police) station had assisted the IRA gang who ambushed the two officers on 20 March 1989.

In the report of his inquiry published on Tuesday, Judge Peter Smithwick said he was "satisfied there was collusion in the murders".

During the inquiry, suspicions fell on three gardaí. They denied leaking information to the IRA.

Mr Ford and Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter are expected to meet on the fringes of the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels on Friday, 6 December.

A meeting between the justice ministers, the PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott and the head of the Irish police force, Martin Callinan will take place in the coming weeks.

"We are determined we will continue the exceptionally good cooperation which currently exists between our departments, between an Garda Siochána and the PSNI and we will ensure that there is a joint approach as we fight organised crime and terrorism together," Mr Ford said.

"We will certainly be looking at the issues of maximising cooperation and ensuring that the work that is being done together is done together in the fight that we jointly face.

"The important thing is that we don't leave unaddressed the issues of today and that we actively address any similar issues that may arise."

The DUP's Arlene Foster said the Irish government must do more to acknowledge its failures in preventing terrorism.

'Wrongdoing'

"Judge Smithwick poses a serious challenge to the Irish government that it must tackle the culture of failing adequately to address suggestions of wrongdoing from within that state," she said.

"All too often, we have seen the Irish government call for investigations into events in Northern Ireland, but take grave offence at suggestions of wrongdoing from within their state."

Key findings

  • Collusion: Peter Smithwick said that while there had been no "smoking gun" he was "satisfied" that there had been collusion by one or more Garda officers in the murders
  • Former garda sergeant Owen Corrigan: "I also find that what may have started out as a professional relationship with subversives for the legitimate purpose of intelligence-gathering ultimately developed into a relationship of an inappropriate nature"
  • Earlier investigations: O'Dea and Camon investigations were "inadequate"
  • Missed opportunity: "The best opportunity of establishing the truth of the matter arose in the days and weeks following the ambush. In these circumstances, it is particularly regrettable that both police services acted swiftly to dismiss speculation of the possibility of collusion rather than to deal with that by means of a thorough and credible investigation"
  • Culture: "The culture of failing adequately to address suggestions of wrongdoing, either for reasons of expediency or by virtue of misguided loyalty, has been a feature of life in this state"

Following the publication of the report on Tuesday, two Irish cabinet minsters apologised on behalf of the state for the failings outlined in the tribunal's report.

Irish deputy prime minister Eamon Gilmore said he was "appalled and saddened" by the finding. Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter apologised unreservedly to the Breen and Buchanan families for the state's failings.

Ms Foster said: "I welcome the fact that there have been swift apologies from within the Irish government following the publication of the report.

"This must act however as a catalyst for further movement towards acknowledgement by the Irish government of the role played by Dublin in the formation of the IRA and how republican terrorists were able to operate across the border with relative ease."

The PSNI said its investigation was still open and it would take time to study the Smithwick report in detail. The head of the Irish police, Commissioner Martin Callinan, said his senior officers would also examine the findings carefully.

However, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said some of Judge Smithwick's findings appeared to be contradictory. He said people would make up their own minds when they read it.

"On the one hand, the judge says he has not uncovered direct evidence of collusion and then goes on to say, on the balance of probability, some form may have occurred. So we have to read all of this and study it," he said.

'Political expediency'

In his final report, Judge Smithwick said there was "no smoking gun" but the circumstances suggested that information was leaked to trigger the IRA operation.

He concluded that the timing suggested it was "more likely that the information came from Dundalk Garda station", but there was insufficient evidence to say who that was.

The judge also criticised two earlier garda investigations into the RUC murders, which he described as "inadequate".

He said the culture of failing to adequately address suggestions of wrongdoing, either for reasons of political expediency or by virtue of misguided loyalty, had been "a feature of life in this state".

He described senior police officers' denial of a mole at that time as "political expediency" at the expense of the men who had been murdered.

The Smithwick Report said the IRA wanted to interrogate Ch Supt Breen to find out how the security forces in Northern Ireland got advance knowledge of a planned IRA attack at Loughgall in May 1987, when the SAS shot dead eight IRA members and a civilian.

Ch Supt Breen had been pictured with IRA weapons captured after that operation.

The report reveals that there were three aborted attempts to carry out the gun attack on the two senior police officers before the day of the actual shooting.

It says an Army unit was dug in near the site of the ambush for a week before the shooting which happened hours after soldiers had withdrawn.

It says up to 70 IRA members were involved in several teams covering four potential routes that could have been taken by the two senior police officers.

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