The rejection of key Smithwick Tribunal findings by the Garda Commissioner has angered unionist politicians north of the border.
Whenever Judge Peter Smithwick’s report was published last week, Martin Callinan said he was “horrified” that any member of the police in Dundalk would have colluded with the IRA in the murder of two senior RUC officers in March 1989.
He said then: “I accept the conclusions arrived at by the chairman of the tribunal. To think that any member of my force would engage with the IRA at any level is beyond comprehension.”
However, one week on, Mr Callinan has said he will never accept the judge’s assertion that loyalty to the force came above loyalty to the truth.
Judge Smithwick found that an IRA mole in Dundalk garda station had tipped off a terrorist gang about the movements of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan – resulting in a fatal gun attack as the two men crossed the border into Co Armagh.
In a blistering attack on the culture of the Garda, Judge Smithwick said he was depressed and disheartened that reputation still takes priority over everything else.
Mr Callinan said: “I did say I have accepted the conclusions arrived at by the Smithwick Tribunal, but in the context, in the narrow confined context of loyalty to the organisation above loyalty to the truth, I cannot and do not and will never accept that.”
Mr Callinan said he would not rule out a third internal probe until his senior officers examined the report line-by-line. The tribunal was highly critical of two previous Garda inquiries carried out in 1989 and 2000.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said Judge Smithwick’s findings “pointed to clear collusion between the Garda and PIRA terrorists,” while TUV leader Jim Allister said he believed the report was “the tip of the iceberg when it comes to collision between the Garda and militant republicanism”.
Tom Elliott of the UUP described the commissioner’s comments as “ill-judged” and “reactionary”.
Speaking at the Templemore Garda Training College yesterday, Commissioner Callinan said: “It’s on the balance of probabilities that the Smithwick Tribunal found a person or persons unknown to have colluded with the IRA and I have already expressed my horror that such a finding could be found, however I do not for the moment see anything there on studying it.
“It’s a week old. We will continue to look at all of the aspects line-by-line that have been highlighted.
“This report was eight years in gestation so we have to be very careful in terms of how we look at these things, and if there’s anything that needs to be addressed I and my senior team will address them.”
Last night Mr Donaldson said: “Regardless of the commissioner’s comments, the culture of loyalty to colleagues rather than honesty led Breen and Buchanan to a defenceless death.
“The commissioner should dedicate himself to putting right the wrongs of collusion along the border.
“He should vigorously pursue justice on behalf of those innocent victims, many of whom served in our security forces. Those Garda officers who colluded with terrorists let down their honourable colleagues.
“They betrayed the values under which any democratic peace force should operate.”
Mr Allister questioned how the commissioner could accept the tribunal’s findings and still say it was “beyond comprehension” there was collusion.
“Frankly, it should be beyond anyone’s comprehension how the commissioner can claim to accept the report and yet cast doubt on its key finding,” he said.
“It is beyond dispute that the Republic acted as a safe haven for terrorists throughout the Troubles. Why else did they flee south after attacks?
“The commissioner needs to face up to the reality that the Republic’s forces of law and order were a major factor in sustaining the IRA campaign in Northern Ireland,” Mr Allister added.
Mr Elliott said he was “very disappointed that someone in as senior a position of authority as Commissioner Callinan should question some of the findings of the Smithwick report”, and that the comments “cast doubt on the whole viability of these processes”.