Lawyer defends IRA-Garda collusion report

The scene in south Armagh where senior RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan were killed in an IRA ambush in 1989.
The scene in south Armagh where senior RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan were killed in an IRA ambush in 1989.

A solicitor who represented an RUC family at the Smithwick Tribunal has defended its findings of IRA collusion from criticism by three former Garda officers.

John McBurney represented the family of Chief Supt Harry Breen at the tribunal, which in December found that Irish police colluded with the IRA in the murders of RUC officers Mr Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan in south Armagh in 1989.

Mr McBurney said that a 33-page critique of the Smithwick report from retired garda officers John O’Brien, Michael Finnegan and Michael Staunton “is highly selective not only in terms of the evidence the former gardai choose to rely upon, but also in its interpretation of the tribunal’s conclusions”.

Out of 130 days the tribunal sat, the three officers were only present on the days when two of them gave evidence, he said, in Saturday’s Irish Times.

“Their lack of familiarity with the evidence of the tribunal is manifest,” he said.

Contrary to their critique, the tribunal did in fact hear extensive evidence in relation to RUC operating procedures, and a statement submitted by the IRA regarding a sighting of Mr Breen had not in fact been corroborated.

“The central premise of their critique is that Judge Smithwick did not pay enough deference to that [IRA] account,” he said.

“The authors note in their conclusion, ‘in our professional experience and judgment and having regard to all the information, particularly the input from the PIRA, we are of the view that it is more probable that the south Armagh PIRA carried out the attack with their own resources’.”

Mr McBurney said it was “surprising” that three former police officers would argue that such weight be attached to information which was “not evidence – not provided in oral testimony under oath and tested by cross-examination – and summarily dismiss other compelling testimony tested in cross-examination”.

One of the most telling aspects of their critique, he said, is the “scant regard” they gave to evidence from a British Army brigadier who said that significantly increased radio signal traffic between 11.30am and noon on the day of the murders made it “quite clear that this was an IRA operation”.

Mr McBurney says 70 IRA men mobilised almost two hours before the RUC officers left Newry station, proving the IRA had advance notice of their meeting in Dundalk and their return journey would see them ambushed.

The radio evidence was unchallenged during the tribunal, he added.