By Michael Brennan and Gareth Naughton
21 May 2012

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter is to give a five-month time extension to the €8m tribunal investigating the murder of two RUC officers by the IRA.

The Smithwick Tribunal has been running for seven years — and had been told that it would have to finish its work by the end of this month.

But Judge Peter Smithwick has now written to the clerk of the Dail asking for this deadline to be extended to the end of October. He said that he would be reducing costs by slimming down the tribunal’s legal team and by “downsizing” its office space in Blackhall Place in Dublin.

Mr Shatter told the Irish Independent yesterday that he would be recommending the time extension to the Cabinet.

“The tribunal hasn’t completed its work. It needs extra time to finish hearing some witnesses — some witnesses that they did not expect to come forward did come forward,” he said.

The Smithwick Tribunal was set up in 2005 to investigate suggestions that gardai colluded in the murder of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Robert Buchanan in 1989. The pair were ambushed by the IRA minutes after leaving a meeting with gardai in Dundalk.

Mr Shatter had been involved in a row with the tribunal after he told it to finish its work by the end of last November.

But he later agreed to extend its deadline until the end of this month — and is now prepared to give it until the end of October. It has cost €8m so far.

In his letter to the clerk of the Dail, Judge Smithwick said that he had been on course to complete public hearings by the end of this month with the appearance of the “final substantive witness” — former Garda Detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan. But he said that he had agreed to give him an extra two weeks on medical grounds.

“As matters stand, I hope that Mr Corrigan can attend to give evidence in two or three weeks’ time, but this will obviously depend on his medical condition,” he wrote.

Mr Corrigan was named as a garda passing information to the IRA in an intelligence document compiled by an anonymous RUC Special Branch officer.

Judge Smithwick said this officer — known as Witness Z — had given “important evidence” by video link earlier this month. And he reported that he had managed to get “highly relevant” British intelligence information put on the tribunal record with the co-operation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The Smithwick Tribunal had been criticised for failing to hold public sittings from the time it started in 2005 until June last year. Since then, it has heard evidence from 190 witnesses over the course of almost 100 days of public sittings.