1 Mar 2012

**Video onsite

Former garda commissioner Pat Byrne has faced tough questioning at the Smithwick Tribunal over a garda report on collusion.

A former garda commissioner has told the Smithwick Tribunal that it was acceptable an internal garda investigation into allegations of collusion with the IRA did not question politicians who claimed to have knowledge of the issue.

Pat Byrne asked a senior officer to examine collusion claims in 2000

Pat Byrne said it was acceptable because the senior garda who carried out the investigation knew what the politicians were referring to.

Mr Byrne is being questioned by Justin Dillon SC about his time as commissioner and internal garda investigations into allegations of collusion.

There have been lengthy and heated exchanges between the two men.

“Don’t dismiss me with your hand,” Mr Byrne said from the witness box at one stage.

“You’re not answering the question,” replied Mr Dillon.

In 2000, following claims in the Dáil and the House of Commons about collusion, then commissioner Byrne asked a senior officer to examine them.

That was done by then chief supt Sean Camon, who produced the Camon Report, which has been at the centre of most of this morning’s exchanges.

The Smithwick Tribunal is investigating claims that there was collusion between a garda or gardaí and the IRA, which led to the killing of two senior RUC officers in March 1989.

Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan died in an ambush just minutes after leaving a meeting in Dundalk Garda Station.

At the start of his evidence, Mr Byrne was asked about an earlier investigation by then assistant commissioner Ned O’Dea into Dundalk Garda Station, which was carried out in the days after the ambush.

Mr Byrne denied under repeated questioning that Mr O’Dea had examined the issue of possible collusion. It was, he insisted, a “fact finding mission” to establish who knew about the visit of the RUC officers and when.

Mr Byrne also rejected the idea that the question of collusion involving the gardaí was widespread.

“We dealt with intelligence, we dealt with facts. Politicians often say things to other politicians for different reasons,” he said.

The issue was raised in the Dáil in 2000 by Jim Higgins and Charlie Flanagan, who both said they had information about garda collusion.

It came after the publication of a book, Bandit Country, which made allegations of collusion, as well as an article by columnist Kevin Myers.

On the same day in the House of Commons, Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson named retired det garda sergeant Owen Corrigan as an IRA mole. Mr Corrigan denies the claims.

A short time later, then commissioner Byrne ordered an internal inquiry headed up by det chief supt Camon.

Mr Dillon put it to the witness that this investigation was “your opportunity to deal with the issue (of collusion). It was the last opportunity to deal with it before the tribunal was established”.

Mr Byrne replied he would not have known that nor would he have considered the issue an opportunity, it was instead a task to be dealt with.

Counsel for the Tribunal then put it to Mr Byrne that several people who claimed to have information about collusion, such as Mr Higgins and Mr Donaldson, were not questioned by Chief Supt Camon.

“Is that acceptable?” he asked.

Former Commissioner Byrne replied that Chief Supt Camon had the names of people the politicians were referring to and so did not need to interview the politicians and in the end he was proven correct.

Mr Dillon asked how could gardaí know what people knew without asking them and he repeated, several times, whether it was acceptable not to question people.

Mr Byrne said it was acceptable and he had accepted the report as Commissioner.