Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has claimed two RUC officers murdered in an IRA ambush following a tip-off from a terrorist mole in the Irish police disregarded their own safety.
Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan were gunned down on March 20 1989 near the border in south Armagh shortly after a meeting with gardai in Dundalk, Co Louth.
An eight-year tribunal into the murders found collusion between the IRA and someone in the Garda force which led to the attack.
Mr Adams said the officers - two of the most high-ranking killed in the Troubles and frequent visitors to the Irish Republic - had a laissez-faire disregard for their own security.
He also accused them of thinking they were immune to an IRA attack.
“If you read the evidence (to tribunal lawyers) by the former IRA volunteers and I say this with as much sensitivity as I can muster - these two very prominent RUC ocfficers were sailing in and out of Dundalk Garda station, (and) were doing so in quite an open way,” Mr Adams said.
“The former IRA volunteers said that one of the officers was spotted coming from the station, that they then used a house overlooking the station to monitor comings and goings, that they were able to trace - I think there was also a pattern in terms of meetings.”
The Sinn Fein leader said: “When you have that type of laissez-faire disregard for their own security, by both An Garda Siochana in relation to these two officers, and more importantly these officers themselves - here they were in the heart of south Armagh in the middle of a very, very severe conflict at that time, and seemed to think that they were immune from attack by the IRA, and tragically as it turned out for them that was not the case.
“When you have that type of failure to protect the RUC operatives in the middle of a war then what happened happens.
“I’m sure the same thing has happened with IRA volunteers who were killed, that it was not necessarily intelligence or inside information but simply that they made a mistake. This has happened tragically in all conflicts.”
In the interview on Ireland’s Newstalk radio Mr Adams said he is not aware of collusion involving the Garda force in IRA killings.
The Smithwick tribunal report, published last night, is a damning expose of collusion, bad policing and misguided loyalty in the Garda.
As well as confirming long-held suspicions of the IRA mole in Dundalk station, Judge Peter Smithwick said there was collusion in the killings but was unable to point the finger at an individual and said he suspects there could have been another person passing information to the IRA.
He also accused current Garda chiefs of trying to protect the reputation of the force by undermining a retired superintendent who testified that he passed intelligence on a death threat against Mr Buchanan to the highest ranks in the force the year before the attack.
The IRA are thought to have been tipped off about the RUC officers’ meeting in Dundalk at about 11.30 on the morning of the ambush.
The information came from inside Dundalk Garda station, the judge found.
Within about three hours the ambush had been set up and carried out, with Mr Breen shot as he tried to surrender and Mr Buchanan killed at the driver’s seat.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is expected to address the damning findings later today.
Jeffrey Donaldson, Democratic Unionist MP, said he believed collusion with the IRA was not restricted to one incident.
He raised the killings of judge and his wife Sir Maurice and Lady Cecily Gibson in a roadside bomb as they drove home from holiday in 1987. They were 800m from the border in an area security forces regarded as no man’s land and had just personally thanked a Garda patrol which had escorted them from Dublin when the bomb was detonated.
Mr Donaldson also raised the case of Co Louth farmer Tom Oliver who was murdered by the IRA in 1991. The terror group claimed he was an informer.
“I do not think collusion was restricted to one instance,” Mr Donaldson told RTE Radio.
The DUP MP also said the Garda force did not co-operate with the Smithwick tribunal in the way a modern police force should.
Foyle SDLP MP Mark Durkan said the Smithwick findings are deeply perturbing.
“Those of us who have rightly protested about the evidence of collusion by security forces in the North, much of it structural, should be no less aggrieved by this grave finding,” he said.
“Equally, those who are coming on loud about this telling report need to address themselves to the compelling evidence of collusion in so many murders in the North which they pointedly ignore, dismiss or excuse.”
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said Mr Adams’ assessment of the IRA murders is grossly insensitive.
“This is one of the more disturbing cases of Sinn Fein double-speak. I don’t see how he cannot have realised how grossly insensitive and offensive this use of language will have been to the Breen and Buchanan families,” he said.
“Sinn Fein are the self-proclaimed party of respect. They may need to re-evaluate that.”
SDLP justice spokesman Alban Maginness said Mr Adams’ comments showed callous disregard for the families.
“To blame victims for being murdered and try to apportion responsibility to them for being killed is just vile,” Mr Maginness said.
“Victims and their families deserve our support and our sympathy.
“It is clear that Sinn Fein will do all they can to rubbish the Smithwick Report which was completed after a painstaking process but to blame victims for being killed is a new low.”
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, on an official visit to Japan, said he would meet the families to discuss the report if they felt that was appropriate.
“I found it absolutely shocking I have to say,” he said.
“It is a revelation of another dark patch in Ireland’s recent history.”
On the tribunal’s damning criticisms of the current Garda force where the judge found “loyalty is prized above honesty”, Mr Kenny said: “The judge makes comment about a culture.
“It is true that in the past we have different reflections of culture in Ireland... we are in a different space now.”
Mr Kenny said he fully endorsed an apology on behalf of the Government from Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore.
“This is not the only case where this kind of situation arose,” he said.
“I have met victims of other IRA atrocities north of the border and a sense of closure is very important,” he said.
“I do hope that the Smithwick tribunal, while it has been awaited quite a long time, will bring a measure of closure in the families’ quest for finding out the truth of what happened here.”