At the outset I would like to pay tribute to those in An Garda Siochana who stood bravely – and who still stand – against terrorism and I accept without question that the majority of Irish police officers were loyal to their force and state.
However, we cannot ignore the fact that the Smithwick Inquiry found that collusion took place between IRA terrorists and some members of the Garda in the 1989 murders of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
I had the honour to serve with Superintendent Bob Buchanan and a more fair-minded Christian man would be difficult to find. Tragically, he and Chief Superintendent Breen were brutally murdered in south Armagh by a well-armed terrorist militia who had been passed details of their movements by rogue members of An Garda Siochana.
In his response, Judge Smithwick said that although there was “no smoking gun” he was satisfied that there was “collusion in the murders” and there was evidence that there was “someone in the Garda station who assisted the IRA”.
The Smithwick Report was a reminder, to anyone who needed it, of the IRA’s bloody past which cannot be whitewashed or wished away.
It also exposed three major weaknesses – regarding the IRA at any rate – which impact upon calls for any proposed truth commission.
Firstly, the IRA chose to engage with Smithwick only on their terms and they specifically refused to be cross-examined, which is the very process at the heart of verifying statements in our legal system.
Secondly, the IRA chose to engage at their own timing and Justice Smithwick expressed his frustration at the length of time it took the IRA to respond.
Thirdly, the Smithwick Report was further proof that the IRA tell lies. Their evidence was not found to be credible and provided further proof – if any were necessary – that a truth commission will not work.
It is reasonable to assume that the collusion discovered by Smithwick was not a one-off.
Those of us who lived through the 1970s, and 1980s in particular, can remember the Arms Trial involving Dublin government ministers and the virtually open border which enabled IRA murder gangs to escape to the Republic after carrying out attacks in Northern Ireland.
This includes 29 murders in the Castlederg area of my own constituency and many murders and acts of ethnic cleansing along the Tyrone, Fermanagh and south Armagh borders.
We must also remember numerous failed extradition attempts in the 1980s in particular.
When Sinn Fein talk about collusion they must now acknowledge their collusion with elements of the Garda and come clean on the extent to which IRA murder gangs were able to operate due to the assistance they received.
Smithwick has the potential to open up a Pandora’s Box and to lay bare the full story of the support and assistance the IRA received from authorities in the Republic to carry out their cowardly attacks. It is not before time.