9 Mar 2012

Crucial information regarding garda collusion with the IRA is being withheld by the British authorities and will not be put before the Smithwick Tribunal because agreement can’t be reached on if or how it should be done, according to the Tribunal Judge.

In his second interim report published this afternoon, Judge Peter Smithwick said that as it stands he will have to reach his conclusions on the issue of collusion without considering this intelligence information.

“This,” said the Judge, “would be a regrettable lacuna.”
The Judge said the information was given to him orally and informally but he needs it to be put formally before the Tribunal to be able to consider it.

The Smithwick Tribunal is investigating allegations that gardai colluded with the IRA in the murder of two senior RUC officers in March 1989.

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

Former garda sergeants Owen Corrigan, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey all deny allegations of collusion.

Judge Smithwick said he had heard from 172 witnesses, most of whom from the Republic. Most of the 35 witnesses from outside the jurisdiction were former RUC officers.

However, the Judge revealed that a “small number of potentially very important witnesses” who live outside the Republic, including some RUC officers, have told him they will not give evidence.

The families of the deceased RUC officers share his sense of disappointment said the Judge but there is nothing he can do to compel them.

Judge Smithwick also strongly criticised journalist Toby Harnden, the author of the book ‘Bandit Country’ which highlighted the allegations of collusion. The Tribunal made considerable efforts to get him to attend and having agreed to give evidence, Mr. Harnden later changed his mind and said he would not.

As regards a date for finishing public hearings, Judge Smithwick said the Tribunal is now “very much in the final phase of public hearings” and he expected evidence will be completed “within a matter of sitting weeks.”

Fifteen more witnesses are due to give evidence and three others will be called back to finish their testimony although the Judge warned this may yet change.

The Judge also said that negotiations are underway to try and get evidence from Ian Hurst. Also known as Martin Ingram, he worked in the British military’s covert Force Research Unit which ran agents in the IRA and loyalist groups.

The Tribunal wanted to hear his evidence in private and then publish a summary but Mr. Hurst is refusing because he wants to give his evidence in public.

Judge Smithwick said he is anxious to hear from Mr Hurst and efforts are continuing to get him to attend.