Irish factory ‘may have made IRA bomb parts’

BOMB components may have been manufactured in an Irish government-funded factory in Dundalk, it was claimed at the Smithwick Tribunal yesterday.

Retired security journalist Chris Ryder also alleged that Irish security forces repeatedly refused to have joint army border checkpoints to deter IRA activity.

The evidence was presented to the Smithwick Tribunal sitting in Dublin yesterday, which is probing claims of collusion between the garda and IRA. Specifically it is investigating allegations that an IRA mole in the garda passed information which led to the murders of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan on March 20, 1989 minutes after they left a meeting at Dundalk garda station.

Mr Ryder worked for the Sunday Times and later the Daily Telegraph covering Northern Ireland. He has also penned 10 books, including The RUC: A Force Under Fire.

He told the tribunal yesterday about a factory in Dundalk which manufactured parts of gaming machines, and said he had received a tip-off from Scotland Yard that there were “possible links with IRA bomb-making”. The factory was funded by the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) until a newspaper exposed the alleged links, and the funding was then stopped.

Mr Ryder also talked about a sense of frustration among RUC and Army personnel over what they felt was a lack of enthusiasm among garda to co-operate with them.

He recalled Irish authorities being described as “prawn cocktail Provos who acquiesced because it was going to get back the north”.

Extradition was a particular sore point with the security forces in Northern Ireland, he said.

The only co-operation between the security forces north and south was between the RUC and garda, Mr Ryder said – the two armies did not work together and the Irish refused to have joint border checkpoints with the British Army. The only exception to this was the two bomb squads who did work together.

He said this was a reason for the building of watchtowers in the south Armagh area.

Mr Ryder said he had visited several watchtowers but the one that made the biggest impression on him was Romeo 14, which overlooked the main Newry-Dublin road and railway line.

He said the British authorities are still sensitive to this day about what was inside those towers.

Prefacing his remarks by saying he was not a technical expert, Mr Ryder said Romeo 14 had high-power binoculars, night vision, tripods, closed circuit television, various antenna, CB radios and walkie talkies.

Mr Ryder said a big part of the work of the watchtowers was what he termed “electronic counter measures”.

He said he understood the watchtowers were able to use waves of sound to block remote-controlled bombs from going off.

But Mr Ryder also said the IRA was technically adept and at one point even had a tap on the phoneline of the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland at Lisburn leading back to a house in Andersonstown in west Belfast. He said that no-one had ever denied to him that this tap had been in place “for some time”.

He said the Army had nicknamed the stretch of main road across the border passing Killeen as “death alley” because so many murders had been carried out there, including the bombs which killed Lord Justice Maurice Gibson and his wife.

Three retired garda officers – Owen Corrigan, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey – are being probed by the tribunal over mole allegations. All three strongly deny the claims.

Mr Ryder said he met Mr Corrigan once at the La Mon Hotel on the outskirts of Belfast. He had been having lunch with a now deceased RUC chief superintendent. The pair bumped into RUC Special Branch senior officer Brian Fitzsimmons, who was with former garda detective Owen Corrigan.

Mr Ryder said the meeting stuck in his mind because while in the toilets Mr Corrigan had given him a business card and offered him stories in return for money. Mr Ryder said it was the only time a police officer had ever made such a proposition to him.

Barrister Jim O’Callaghan, acting for Mr Corrigan, said his client was at La Mon meeting Mr Fitzsimmons but denied ever being introduced to Mr Ryder or giving him his business card.

Mr Corrigan has alleged he was “warned to be careful” about Mr Ryder because he had links with MI5.

Mr Ryder rejected this allegation, saying it was a rumour republicans had passed around about him.

He said a person approached him once and asked if he would help M15. Mr Ryder said he refused and was never approached again.

The hearings will continue from noon today.