Gerry Adams has come in for massive criticism from politicians on all sides in Belfast and Dublin for suggesting two top RUC men were murdered due to their own lax approach to safety.
In the wake of the Smithwick report, which found Garda-IRA collusion in the shooting of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, the Sinn Fein president went on the airwaves yesterday morning to declare the pair died because of a “disregard for their own security”.
They had, he said, been “sailing in and out of Dundalk Garda station” in what he called “quite an open way” – thus presenting themselves as targets to be killed by the IRA.
The comments, made to an Irish radio station, were viewed by some as an attempt to portray the officers as being responsible for their own murders.
Speaking in the Irish parliament yesterday, the leader of Fianna Fail – which was founded by Eamon de Valera and styles itself simply “The Republican Party” – called Mr Adams’s remarks “incredible”.
“Essentially, it almost blames by implication the officers themselves,” said Micheal Martin.
“We should be very clear that this was premeditated murder carried out by so-called republicans and people supported by the Sinn Fein leaders and others, who continue to refuse to accept the reality that this was a premeditated murder.”
TDs from different parties also reacted strongly when Mr Adams came to address the chamber, jumping in with comments such as “Sinn Fein has learned nothing”, and “Was Deputy Adams ever in the IRA?”
In Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers issued a statement saying: “Mr Adams’s comments are deeply insulting and offensive.
“This was a case of brutal premeditated murder by the Provisional IRA and nothing Mr Adams says will ever change that fact.
“At a time when Dr Haass is looking at ways of dealing with legacy issues it is difficult to see how Mr Adams’s comments square with his oft-repeated calls for reconciliation and truth.”
The UUP issued a statement from party leader Mike Nesbitt saying: “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”.
SDLP veteran Alban Maginness followed suit, saying: “To blame victims for being murdered and try to apportion responsibility to them for being killed is just vile...
“It is clear 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.”
A strongly-worded statement also came from Arlene Foster of the DUP.
It read: “The latest outburst from Gerry Adams is beneath contempt.
“This is not the first time where republicans have effectively blamed victims for their own murder, but rarely has it ever been as explicit as these comments.”
She added there had been a recent pattern of republican attempts to “re-traumatise” victims.
“We have witnessed that insensitivity in particular over recent months,” she said.
“But this seems to represent a stepping-up of republican determination to cause offence.”
TUV leader Jim Allister essentially restated the findings of the Smithwick report when he rejected Mr Adams’s words, saying: “The officers were murdered because blood-thirsty terrorists went out to gun them down.
“They were murdered because the Garda in Dundalk who they had been meeting tipped those terrorists off.”
The whole controversy came less than 24 hours after the Smithwick report was made public.
It had investigated the murders of the two officers, who were shot dead on March 20, 1989, near the south Armagh border following a meeting with gardai in Dundalk.
The report’s findings reflected what many had always believed – that the IRA had been tipped off ahead of the attack by a “mole”, probably acting inside Dundalk Garda Station.
Mr Adams’s remarks which sparked yesterday’s furore were made to the Newstalk show in the Republic.
On it, he said the officers had been observed freely coming and going at the police station, and went on to add: “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.”
Mr Adams also spoke publicly elsewhere yesterday – such as when he told BBC Radio Ulster that, based on his own cursory reading, findings of the Smithwick report were based on “tittle-tattle”, and when he spoke in the Dail in Dublin to elaborate his views on the report, telling TDs: “What I said on Newstalk, for the record, reflects the Smithwick report.”