Smithwick December 11, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.
There’s no doubt that the human aspect of the murder of RUC Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchananby the IRA in March 1989 comes home in the testimony given at the Smithwick Tribunal. June Breen’s account of having the chops on when news of the murder was relayed to her by her husband’s colleagues is a striking insight into the manner in which the banal nature of ordinary enough lives was obliterated, and tragically so, by the conflict.
As well as confirming long-held suspicions of the IRA mole in Dundalk Garda station, Judge Peter Smithwick said there was collusion in the killings but was unable to point the finger at an individual and said he suspects there could have been another person passing information to the IRA.
Conor Brady had a particularly good take on that in the Irish Times over the weekend noting that:
…it is a far step from [Garda corruption] to participation in the murders of fellow police officers, albeit in a different jurisdiction.
That last part of the sentence brought me up short, and no doubt others as well. But the general point is clear.
And he continues:
The report concludes that “the passing of information by a member of an Garda Sнochбna was the trigger” (23.2.5) for the ambush operation in which Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan were murdered. This conclusion would appear to be built upon a structure of deduction rather than any hard evidence.
Judge Smithwick acknowledges the lack of any direct evidence. “There is no record of a phone call, no traceable payment, no smoking gun.” (23.1.2). And when he considers the possible involvement of the gardaн who were examined by the tribunal, he rules each of them out.
Isn’t this very strange? The finding is there but as Brady notes it is not based on hard evidence.
Of former Det Sgt Owen Corrigan, he says: “While there is some evidence that Mr Corrigan passed information to the Provisional IRA, I am not satisfied that the evidence is of sufficient substance and weight to establish that Mr Corrigan did in fact collude in the fatal shootings of Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan.” (23.2.11).
We are left with the possibility that some unknown garda notified the IRA of the RUC officers’ visit. This requires one to conclude (as the judge does) that the IRA’s claim to have mounted the ambush on the basis of its own surveillance and intelligence is false. But notwithstanding Gerry Adams’s maladroit comments about the murdered officers’ approach to their security, it should be borne in mind that in recent years IRA statements about past operational matters have been generally accurate.
If that conclusion is curious, albeit persuasive, there’s an simply astounding take on all this by Stephen Collins in the Times too. He argues that:
The Garda and the Army generally did their best to block the porous Border but the resistance by the courts and a broad swathe of political opinion to the introduction of normal extradition procedures between Ireland and the United Kingdom for almost two decades facilitated the continuation of murder.
Even when extradition was introduced in the late 1980s, in the aftermath of the Anglo Irish Agreement, it took an inordinately long time for the system to become effective.
The IRA clearly had sympathisers at all levels of society in the Republic, otherwise it could not have continued to wreak havoc for so long. The full story about that has yet to be told.
Many of us here reading this would have been – and many will still be – by any definition far from sympathisers to the IRA and yet will have found that reading remarkably partial. For some of us – despite profound criticism of the armed struggle – there were very genuine concerns about the nature of policing, the administration of justice and the state itself as it functioned North of the border. And it’s not as if Collins is unaware of such matters, in the very same piece he notes:
Many aspects of the Troubles, including the involvement of the British state in atrocities such as Bloody Sunday and collusion with loyalist paramilitaries have been explored in official inquiries. The Smithwick report has now put the spotlight on the State’s response south of the Border.
But it is as if there is a gap between that knowledge and an understanding of why the concept of ‘normal’ policing was near enough impossible in the 1980s.
That’s not to say that there was no collusion at various levels, but it appears more generally to have been as Gerry Moriarty writes in the Irish Times ‘localised… and at a low-ranking level’. It seems in that respect strikingly different in character to some of the events that occurred north of the border.
That said Moriarty’s assessment is telling.
In terms of fallout it seems unlikely that there will be a major negative political dimension to the Smithwick report.
The judge found there was Garda collusion but that it was localised and, it seems, at a low-ranking level. Such corruption is hard to come to terms with, but will hardly damage British-Irish or North-South relations.
Given the renewed focus on the MRF – and the levels of collusion noted earlier in relation to the North – it would seem that that’s extremely unlikely, but as has been noted elsewhere that renewed focus has been given remarkably little attention in this state in the past week or so.
Finally there’s a telling aspect to Collins piece, or a couple of telling aspects, not least that he is sharply against a Truth and Reconciliation process, but also the following:
Senator Paul Coghlan of Fine Gael has suggested that the best response to the Smithwick report would be for the Garda and the PSNI to set up joint offices along the Border to combat crime such as diesel laundering.
In his report Judge Peter Smithwick called for procedures to be put in place to allow for the structured and regular exchange of information and intelligence between the two forces. Such an initiative would be a small sign that we have learned something from the past.
Good idea re joint Garda/PSNI offices, though perhaps I’m being overly-cynical, but I wonder though what the response of Unionism would be to such an initiative? Would they see it as a sign of the recognition of partition or… as seems more likely, more than an hint of an increasingly shared future. It reminds me in a way of the idea that Conor Cruise O’Brien had, which saw him precipitously depart from the UK Unionist Party, of a united Ireland within which Ulster (six county, not nine-county, variant) would have an home rule set up with the retention of the RUC, Stormont re-instated and ironically a spin on the old Éire Nua line (not quite, but close enough), all in order to ‘thwart SF’ and PIRA. There’s a point during some political travels where you wind up meeting yourself coming the other way.