Gardai ‘told not to aid bombings case’

View of ambush in Warrenpoint, Co. Down in which eighteen soldiers were killed.  Pacemaker Press Intl. @0th August '79.''343/79/C
View of ambush in Warrenpoint, Co. Down in which eighteen soldiers were killed. Pacemaker Press Intl. @0th August '79.''343/79/C

A FORMER Taoiseach told gardai that the murder of 18 soldiers at Narrow Water in 1979 by the IRA was political and that no help should be given to the RUC in the matter, it has been claimed.

A former RUC Deputy Assistant Chief Constable made the claim yesterday while giving evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal.

‘Witness 68’ has been granted anonymity and gave his evidence via video-link from Belfast to the Dublin-based probe.

He had been a Detective Inspector at the time and was the senior investigating officer into the Narrow Water bombings in August 1979.

Earlier in evidence he said that Garda officers had not been co-operative in terms of sharing information from the investigation.

Witness 68 described a series of four meetings between senior RUC and Garda officers during which he said they requested to be allowed to interview Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan who had been in Garda custody.

When this was refused they asked if they could be present in the room when the gardai interviewed them, if they could be present in the station or even if the Garda were to interview the two men again.

All these requests were refused.

The final of the four meetings took place in April 1980 at Dublin Castle and was described by Witness 68 as “quite acrimonious”.

Witness 68 said it was at that point that a Garda Assistant Commissioner named McLaughlin told the RUC at that meeting that the Taoiseach “from the outset of the inquiry decreed that the killings were a political crime and no assistance be given to the RUC”.

Jack Lynch was Taoiseach when Narrow Water took place until December 1979, when he was succeeded by Charles Haughey.

“Mr McLaughlin decreed the killings were a political crime and no assistance would be given to the RUC,” the witness said.

Witness 68 said the then head of RUC CID was “very cross” at this but said that Mr McLaughlin was “very firm”. “He said that there would be no further information in relation to Warrenpoint and we were not to come back,” he said.

Witness 68 said the head of RUC CID responded, saying: “I can assure you that while this crime remains unsolved we will be coming back.”

However Witness 68 said subsequently the head of RUC CID was told by the Chief Constable that he was “embarrassing” the Garda.

Witness 68 said he was himself approached by an Assistant Chief Constable who told him he was not to go back, that “they were dealing with it by another means”.

Another report written by Witness 68 about Garda collusion in another area is now unlikely to be given in evidence due to the health of the retired officer who is due to go into hospital for treatment today.

It is currently being redacted by the Northern Ireland Office.

The tribunal is probing claims of collusion between the Garda and IRA in the murders of the two most senior RUC officers to be killed during the Troubles.

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan were driving back from a meeting at Dundalk Garda station on March 20, 1989, when they were killed in an IRA ambush.

The tribunal has heard that up to 70 IRA men were involved in the operation, but no one has ever been convicted for the murders.