Gerry Adams’ claim that two senior RUC officers murdered by the IRA had a careless attitude to personal security has been slammed as “ridiculous” by a former colleague of the slain men.
Alan Mains, who was a staff officer to Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, said both his boss and Superintendent Bob Buchanan were far from lax.
The two men were ambushed by the IRA in March 1989 as they travelled back into Northern Ireland from a meeting with police chiefs in Dundalk.
Following an inquiry into their deaths, Judge Peter Smithwick reported this week that, on the balance of probabilities, a member of the Garda Siochana in Dundalk had passed information to the IRA.
Commenting on the Sinn Fein president’s response to the Smithwick findings, Mr Mains said: “What came out yesterday in the political spew afterwards was ridiculous. For Gerry Adams to even comment on the actual incident was needless, to be honest.
“What did he know about it? He seems to have knowledge when he wants to and then he doesn’t.”
He added: “The two officers were not lax in their security. They were prevented from taking weapons across [the border] and even if they had bazookas that day it wouldn’t have worked. The outcome would have been the same regardless.
“Harry Breen was in that division, H Division as we called it, for over 30 years, and he knew south Armagh, Armagh, Newry, Bessbrook, Newtownhamilton.
“I couldn’t drive around there because I spent three years going around in a helicopter, whereas when Harry started off policing he would have cycled and would have walked. Harry Breen knew south Armagh, and he would have known more than anybody about the risks.”
The day after the murders Mr Mains met with the then chief constable of the RUC, Sir John Hermon.
He told Mr Hermon that Harry Breen had confided in him that he had difficulties with certain members of the Garda in Dundalk.
Despite these concerns being passed on the chief constable held a press conference soon afterwards when he emphatically rejected the notion of a mole in Dundalk passing information to the IRA.
Looking back on those fateful days, Mr Mains recalled: “The conversation I had with Harry that morning before his death was very clear, and it’s still very clear with me.”
Commenting on the subsequent meeting with the chief constable, Mr Mains said: “If he had taken on board what had been relayed to me by Mr Breen the previous day he wouldn’t have made that statement.”
He added: “In theory then how could someone, the very next day, turn round and dismiss those [concerns]? That annoyed me.
“This was Mr Breen saying this, not me.”
As criticism of Gerry Adams mounted over his comments, the Sinn Fein president said it is nonsense to suggest he blamed two of the most senior RUC officers killed by the IRA for their own deaths.
The republican leader said those who attack him are at odds with the Smithwick report, which raised concerns about the security arrangements in place for Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan.
Politicians on all sides in Dublin and Belfast reacted in disbelief after Mr Adams on Wednesday said the men effectively drove themselves to their own death.
Mr Adams claimed his comments reflect what was recorded by Judge Peter Smithwick at the end of an eight-year investigation.
“So those who attack me are at odds with what is contained in the Smithwick report,” he said.
“It is nonsense to suggest that I was blaming the two RUC officers for their own deaths.
“Everyone knows the IRA was responsible. That was never in question.”Mr Adams said the Smithwick report also recorded concerns about the security arrangements for RUC officers travelling to Dundalk through south Armagh.
“These include the fact that information about possible IRA attacks on RUC officers crossing the border was passed to Garda Headquarters and passed by it to the RUC,” he said.
“It is a fact that RUC officer Bob Buchanan was crossing the border on average 10 times each month and on most occasions he travelled in his own car which was ‘readily identifiable’.”
Mr Adams said he is conscious that at the heart of this issue are two bereaved families.
“I did not need reminded of this by any of my political opponents and I am concerned, as I was during the Newstalk interview, not to say anything which detracts from that or which causes any further hurt,” he said.
“That was never my intention.”