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Smithwick December 11, 2013

Posted 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.

Whether the findings hold up particularly well is a different matter given that as admitted the Tribunal did not find ‘direct evidence’ of collusion.

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.

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1. Gearóid Ó Faoleán - December 12, 2013

‘Isn’t this very strange?’

The findings are, indeed, very strange. I have the report downloaded as pdf. but, so far, have only been able to dip into it. Some unfestive reading awaits me over Christmas. Brady does make a fair point in stating that it is a fair leap from corruption to connivance in the killing of these two RUC officers.

The first thing that struck me about the reporting of the tribunal’s findings was how little reference was made to past instances of Garda collusion with the Provisional IRA; whether this was due to the ignorance of journalists or not, I don’t know. Around the time of the killing of Breen and Buchanan, it was suspected that there was a mole or moles within the Gardaí or Irish Defence Forces in the Munster region, particularly given the relative failure of the security forces to locate any significant quantity of the Libyan arms in the years since the discovery of the Eksund.

In early 1992, a serving Garda based at Henry St. in Limerick City was arrested at a payphone in the city making a phonecall to his IRA contact warning him off upcoming raids. The Garda was sentenced to five years imprisonment but released early (along with a number of other IRA prisoners) as a gesture of goodwill during the peace negotiations in 1995. Following his arrest, the security forces were much more successful in their arms discoveries. Brendan O’Brien gives considerable detail of the arms seizures in his ‘The Long War’ book.

During the 1970s, there were isolated instances of Gardaí aiding the Provisional IRA – usually through the provision of information – in the south of the country i.e. not in areas where the Gardaí were in a position to provide information on targets, as with officers Breen and Buchanan. A number of serving Irish Defence Force members provided the IRA with commercial explosives from storage facilities that they had been tasked to guard, were arrested and imprisoned (usually with ‘hard labour’).

There is also one alleged instance in which two Gardaí actively colluded with a Tyrone IRA unit in or around late 1971/early 1972. The allegation was made by P. Michael O’Sullivan in his (now very rare) photo-documentary book of the republican movement in the north during that period. O’Sullivan was an American combat photographer who had previously been with the US Army in Vietnam. While in Ireland, he was ‘embedded’ with the Tyrone IRA. According to him, the unit was pulled over near the border by Gardaí who informed them of an RUC patrol ahead. One Garda asked ‘are you going to have a go at them?’ to which the unit leader replied ‘we might, and where would you be?’ The Garda answered ‘well if you do, I’ll be off having my tea’ and waved them on. The conversation remains an allegation, but the photographs of the encounter seem very real. An important note to make is that the book was banned in both Irish states following its release.

A point I made in an earlier article on Cedar Lounge (https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/the-past-and-the-present-2/) was that, while of course there are documented cases of Garda/Army collusion, there seems to be an agenda at play – both politically and academically – to draw false equivalences in terms of scope and scale. I imagine that I am far from the only person who contributes to this site who has examined collusion as it occurred between members of the British security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. There is simply no parallel here based on my own research.

Last Friday, Jeffrey Donaldson was given space for an opinion piece on the tribunal’s findings in the Irish Times. This is the same newspaper that published an article in which it was claimed that Toby Harnden had been vindicated by the tribunal (in fact, Smithwick concluded the very opposite of this). Campbell’s article can be read here: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/we-need-to-know-if-there-were-any-further-cases-of-collusion-with-ira-1.1618283

I sent off a letter to the paper following publication of this piece, which was not published. For what it is worth, here is what I had written:

‘A chara,

In 2011, in response to a HET (Historical Enquiries Team) report on the Miami Showband killings – a case of proven collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and members of the British security forces – Jeffrey Donaldson remarked that a piecemeal approach to the legacy of the past was doing nobody a service. Yet, where an opportunity for politicking or perhaps instituting a hierarchy of victims presents itself, Donaldson is to the fore in highlighting the importance of such a strategy.

In this paper yesterday (6 December), the DUP MP ignored basic facts in his rush to draw false equivalencies between the widespread collusion that existed in Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles’ and the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal. Thus, ‘on the balance of probabilities’ becomes fact in the case of Garda-Provisional IRA collusion. Further, in seeking to add gravitas to an already horrific killing, Donaldson reminds us that ‘soldiers in an army don’t shoot people trying to surrender’; something that clearly did not apply to the British Army in Ballymurphy in 1971, Derry city in 1972 or, indeed, Gibraltar in 1988.

Donaldson continues by stating that the attempt by southern Irish politicians to source armaments for northern nationalists in the autumn of 1969 ‘point to a sometimes sympathetic environment for the IRA’. He refuses to contextualise the events of August 1969 when over one thousand families were forced to flee their homes due to sectarian attacks, with numerous eyewitness reports attesting to the involvement of members of the B Specials (the forerunner to the Ulster Defence Regiment) in these attacks. I understand I could stand accused of the sin of ‘whataboutery’ with this letter. However, disingenuity and hypocrisy must be challenged.

Is mise le meas, (…)’

As we now know from the discovery of a British Army report from 1973, it had long been acknowledged internally that the UDR was an utterly compromised force in terms of cross-membership with loyalist paramilitaries. Further, that the regiment was never going to be given the opportunity of being an inclusive force as envisaged by Lord Hunt. His major recommendations, from the politically-sensitive name of the force to the desired prohibition on the recruitment of B Special officers, were ignored.

The tribunal’s findings have been described elsewhere as a ‘sop to unionists’ (in deliberate reference, I imagine…). As I have said, there are documented cases of collusion from the conflict – mostly passed over by the press – and the report is still mostly unread by me. So far, however, it does indeed seem ‘very strange’. No evidence, ‘balance of probabilities’ and the inevitable platforms for those who finally have official ‘proof’ that ‘while we might have been bad, so were ye!’

And now we wait for Britain to uphold its end of the Weston Park Agreement although, as Alan Shatter stated last week, now is not the time to discuss such matters.

WorldbyStorm - December 12, 2013

I was wondering would you like this reposted as a post in and of itself, it’s a great overview of the area.

2. Jim Monaghan - December 12, 2013

Peadar Tobin the ex SFer in Meath “”I don’t believe it’s ever correct to say that two police officers were murdered because of their own actions. These men’s deaths were not determined by their own actions but the actions of the IRA. The IRA is responsible for the murder of these two men, not the officers themselves,” he told the Irish Independent.”
He seems to have been unaware that Sinn Fein was a Republican party. Reminds me of Prendergast who was also unaware that Seamus Healy was a Republican.

Joe - December 12, 2013

The use of the word “murdered” there startled me when I read it first, Jim. It’s a word I’d often use in that context but I was surprised to see and SFer use it.
But be careful, it’s the Indo and they may not have gotten it right. The Indo latest is he’s still an SFer and will probably be back in their parliamentary party in the New Year.
Would they let someone into their parliamentary party who described these killings as murder?

CL - December 12, 2013

Sinn Fein is circling the wagons in the face of a fierce assualt from Slugger and Fintan O’Toole, and Eilis O’Hanlon and the Indo, plus Kenny etc.
Padraig MacLochlainn stated in the Dail yesterday that attempts to criminalize the armed struggle will not succeed.

“I’ll wear no convicts uniform,
nor meekly serve my time,
that Britain might make Ireland’s cause
800 years of crime”

This would seem to exclude O Toibin from the S.F ranks.

Jim Monaghan - December 12, 2013

One of the red tops had Tobin and Matthews in Dublin South as FF targets for recruitment.

Bob Smiles - December 13, 2013

No SF member would refer to kIlling of crown forces personnel as murder.

Ramzi Nohra - December 13, 2013

Absolutely. I would doubt FF members would refer to the killing of RIC members as murder now let alone 15 years after the war of independence.

Jack Jameson - December 13, 2013

From The Journal on Tuesday — Peadar Tóibín: Fianna Fáil approached me, but I want to rejoin Sinn Féin (via @thejournal_ie) http://jrnl.ie/1214473

Tóibín claimed yesterday that “two senior representatives” in Fianna Fáil – which recruited Colm Keaveney to its ranks last week – approached him in the “recent past” about joining the party but he refused. Fianna Fáil did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I told them I wouldn’t join them because of major policy differences,” Tóibín told TheJournal.ie this morning, dismissing a report in today’s Irish Independent that he has told supporters he will quit Sinn Féin altogether amid a dispute over Gerry Adams’s response to the Smithwick Tribunal report.

Tóibín insisted this morning that his analysis of the Smithwick Tribunal report is “at one” with that of Sinn Féin.

3. Ramzi Nohra - December 13, 2013

Good post. There is an attempt by a number of actors to draw a parallel between this and the systematic collusion in the North, which does not stand up to any scrutiny.

The use of a mole or informer does not, surely, automatically equate to “collusion”. If it did then the presence of, for example, an RUC special branch mole at Loughgall would indicate the IRA colluded in the killing of its own members. Which is ridiculous

And of course when it comes to moles in the Garda, the Provos had nothing like Patrick Crinion, a Garda Special Branch sergeant who, IIRC was assistant to head of special branch. I wonder what happened to him?

4. Ramzi Nohra - December 13, 2013

sorry – one more comment! Fred Holroyd’s “The Dirty War” makes numerous references to Garda working for British Intelligence. Including one dude called “The Badger”, I believe. (His parents must have been hippies)

Gearóid Ó Faoleán - December 13, 2013

George Clarke’s book, Border Crossing: True Stories of the RUC Special Branch, the Garda Special Branch and the IRA moles, is book which discusses related issues. Clarke is a former RUC Special Branchman and writes of unofficial liaisons between his department and the Gardaí during the early 1970s. Indeed, Clarke claims he had a Branchman friend aiding him who worked out of… Dundalk Garda station.

A word of warning, although the book does contain some interesting revelations, it also contains apologias/denials of what went on in Ballykelly, a defence of internment – ‘I know of no innocent man being interned’ – and an ode to Captain Nairac.

5. Dr. X - December 13, 2013

If memory serves, the person who was Garda commissioner at the time of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings was summarily replaced when FF were returned to power in 1977. The implication being that the PIRA may not have been the only group of shadowy men who penetrated An Garda Siochana.

EamonnCork - December 13, 2013

Edmund Garvey, a man who became so paranoid about enemies of the state that he tried to have the editorial board of Garda Review prosecuted and bugged for publishing critical articles about him. He also ordered surveillance of the DPP and the Department of the Taoiseach. His dismissal followed representations from the AGSI who cited 12 reasons for the decision to then Minister for Justice Gerry Collins. The dismissal was found to be unconstitutional so Garvey got his job back and then resigned. His successor Patrick McLaughlin and McLaughlin’s deputy Joe Ainsworth had to resign five years later for helping Charlie Haughey bug journalists and political opponents. It was a fun time for the Guards.
Patrick Crinion had been passing secret state information on the IRA to an MI6 agent named John Wyman. Wyman was a contact of the Littlejohn brothers who claimed to be working as agents provocateurs for the British Ministry of Defence while carrying out a series of robberies in the Republic. Jack Lynch almost ended up resigning as Taoiseach in 1973 when he was discovered to have lied about not having been aware about the activities of the Littlejohns, Keith and Kenneth. The Littlejohns claimed to have been involved in incidents in the border counties, including a riot in Dundalk, which created a political climate in which Des O’Malley’s Offences Against The State Act (1972) was passed.
Crinion, as far as I know, disappeared after being released from Garda custody. The Littlejohns were jailed, escaped and were then recaptured before being released in1981. Sadly their scheme to manufacture hot pants in a factory in Kerry under the trade name of Whizz Kids never came to pass.

Dr. X - December 13, 2013

“Crinion, as far as I know, disappeared after being released from Garda custody. ”

Do you mean he disappeared, or that he “disappeared”?

Eamonncork - December 13, 2013

They were bringing him to Dublin Airport and he hopped out of the car and scarpered. Don’t know what happened to him then.

6. Ramzi Nohra - December 13, 2013

This is the somewhat nonchalent response of Garrett to the idea that a foreign intelligence service had penetrated Special Branch:

“Dr Fitzgerald: However, in this case an individual garda, off his own bat, talked to a British agent and gave information outside the framework of the official structure of contacts. That was the problem.

Senator J. Walsh: I assume Dr. FitzGerald would regard this as totally inappropriate.

Dr. FitzGerald: Yes, people cannot go off on their own and do things like that. There is a proper channel for such contacts.”

7. After Smithwick… | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - January 28, 2014

[…] are some posts from the CLR on the Tribunal […]

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