Judge Smithwick ultimately rejected some crucial aspects of the IRA account of the killings.
One of the lawyers for the victims’ families, Ernie Waterworth, said the unreliability of that evidence “does not bode well” for any truth and reconciliation process.
Although the judge did not hear directly from the IRA, there was written communication from the group, and three ex-members also agreed to meet with lawyers to offer oral answers.
This meant they never actually appeared as “live witnesses”.
But when it comes to the report’s findings, a central claim in their written statement – “At no time was there any input from the gardai or any other outside source or agency regarding the planning and execution of this operation” – does not square with the conclusions.
The judge concluded there was no “direct evidence” of collusion; no key phone record, no traceable payment, no “smoking gun”.
But it adds this is “not surprising”. The judge goes on to add that, having viewed all of the evidence, it is likely information was indeed leaked to the IRA from the Garda and that he “is satisfied that there was collusion in the murders”.
Other key findings also undermined the IRA’s version of events.
The judge found “a clear contradiction” between the oral statements and the actual, hard evidence about how Harry Breen was killed.
The autopsy showed he had been shot in the back of the head, and this “is simply inconsistent with the former members’ account that he was shot while still sitting in the car”.
One eyewitness had suggested Harry Breen got out of the car and gestured that he wanted to surrender before he was gunned down.
The judge said the IRA’s account of the event “does not account for the presence of a white handkerchief on the road near his body”.
During the meeting with the IRA, one of the ex-members had said that the operation was simply targeting anyone in the RUC car, and that the fact it ended up being Chief Superintendant Breen – the most senior of the two officers, and the highest-ranking ever to be killed by the IRA – had merely been a “bonus”.
But the judge found that “either the IRA did have an extraordinary piece of good fortune, or Harry Breen was the target of this operation. I believe that the evidence points to the latter conclusion.”
Sinn Fein has publicly supported an independent international truth commission.
Asked about the unreliability of the IRA evidence, lawyer Mr Waterworth, who had represented the Buchanan family, said: “I do feel that this is a very good example of how the IRA cannot be compelled and relied upon to tell the truth.”
He noted that they do not keep files and evidence like a state would, and that memory also tends to fade over time.
In short, he said: “It doesn’t bode well for what Sinn Fein are calling for.”