Garda-IRA collusion judge was ‘left in dark’ about secret tapes

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter having words with  Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter having words with Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan

A solicitor at the heart of an inquiry into Irish state-IRA collusion is demanding Garda disclose whether it withheld secret phone recordings from a probe into the murder of two senior RUC officers.

The revelations come in the wake of the shock resignation of the Irish police Chief Commissioner Martin Callinan.

He stood down on Tuesday after the uncovering of the widescale taping of phone calls in Garda stations dating back to the 1980s.

In December Judge Peter Smithwick concluded his inquiry into the IRA murders of RUC Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan in south Armagh in 1989.

He said he was “satisfied” that an officer, or officers, in Dundalk Garda station had colluded with the IRA.

However solicitor John McBurney, who represented the Breen family at the tribunal, is now demanding to know whether conversations were recorded in Dundalk station.

“Judge Smithwick wrote to the Garda Commissioner and asked for all materials relevant to the issues he was probing,” Mr McBurney told the News Letter last night.

“If Dundalk Garda Station had its phone calls taped in the 1980s onwards then they would have to be relevant and if so then they must have been withheld from the inquiry.

“It looks to me as though Judge Smithwick has been left in the dark on the existence of any tapes that were available, because he was asking for all materials and he does not seem to have been aware of the existence of anything like this.”

Mr McBurney noted the tape revelations followed a series of other recent Garda scandals; the exposure by junior Gardai of thousands of penalty points being wiped by senior officers, and recent claims of secret surveillance of phone calls in the Garda Ombudsman’s offices.

He noted that Mr Callinan had rejected Smithwick’s conclusion that “loyalty is prized over honesty” in the force.

But the judge’s report increasingly looked like “a beacon shining light into dark corners”, he added.

“I would call on the Garda to say publicly whether conversations were taped in Dundalk station,” he said.

He asked whether such tapes might shed further light on a spate of other IRA border murders in the same period.

The existence of the tapes was disclosed through a civil case currently going through the Dublin courts.

Asked yesterday if phone calls in Dundalk station were recorded, the Garda declined to comment.

A spokesman said it is compiling a report on the matters for the Minister for Justice and that it “wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further” while this is being completed.