Garda investigation failings could spark new probe into Tom Oliver murder

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris during the recent service in Belfast to mark National Police Memorial Day for officers killed in the line of duty
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris during the recent service in Belfast to mark National Police Memorial Day for officers killed in the line of duty

Irish police have not yet said if a number of failings in a 1991 IRA murder investigation will lead to a fresh probe.

An internal Garda review into the torture and murder of Co Louth farmer Tom Oliver is reported to have identified lines of inquiry that were not pursued or were missed.

Father-of-seven Mr Oliver was abducted, tortured and shot dead by the Provisional IRA in July 1991 after he had allegedly reported the chance discovery of guns hidden on his land to police. His family has consistently denied PIRA claims that he was a garda informer.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, the case was reviewed by the force’s cold case unit – the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Former PSNI assistant chief constable (ACC) Alan McQuillan said the discovery of failings will not necessarily lead to a full reinvestigation or arrests, although that is one possible option.

“The Human Rights Act requires that there be a competent investigation, so it depends upon the failings you have found and the nature of those,” he said.

“The review process is designed to be a learning process. It will look at things and say ‘what could we have done better?’ Another level is if you find serious issues that haven’t been followed up. For example, an exhibit hasn’t been sent for forensic analysis, or some intelligence was never closed off or something like that.”

Mr McQuillan said that, if concerns are raised, a range of options are available, including taking a fresh look at just one or two aspects of the original investigation.

In 2012, the then PSNI ACC Drew Harris provided intelligence reports to the Smithwick Tribunal linking a senior republican to the Tom Oliver murder.

The tribunal had been established to examine claims that police officers based in Dundalk had ‘colluded’ with the Provos planning the murder of two senior RUC officers in 1989.

Mr Harris, who was appointed Garda commissioner last month, gave evidence which included handing over snippets of RUC intelligence reports from the time of the double killing. He also passed a note to the judge which identified the unnamed senior republican referred to in the reports.

One intelligence report indicated “that a senior PIRA Army Council member was directly involved in ordering the murder of Tom Oliver,” and added: “The senior PIRA Army Council [“PAC”] member had been approached by several PIRA members and others requesting that Tom Oliver not be killed. Despite these requests, the senior PAC member directed that Oliver be executed.”

Last September, former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams told a Co Louth radio programme that prosecuting the IRA killers responsible for Mr Oliver’s murder would “not help the peace process,” and “would be totally and absolutely counterproductive”.

Garda Siochana has not yet responded to a request for comment.