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After Smithwick… redux December 16, 2013

Posted by guestposter in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

Many thanks to Gearóid Ó Faoleán for the following which appeared as a comment late last week but is more appropriate as a post in itself.

‘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.


1. Ed - December 16, 2013

The main strategy now, since collusion between British state forces and loyalist paramilitaries can no longer be denied, appears to be to dilute the meaning of ‘collusion’ so that everybody and nobody is to blame. There was a particularly risible example of this on Channel 4’s website after the Da Silva report came out:

“The word collusion is a strange one in Northern Ireland. Collusion took place on multiple levels: there was collusion between the security forces and loyalist groups; collusion between the Irish government of the early 70s and the Provisional IRA; and there was a kind of collusion between mainstream society and the sectarianism that infested it.

“Look at Northern Ireland now: the whole state is systemically based on collusion: the population, or most of it, has made a decision that colluding with one’s enemies, regardless of the heinous crimes they’ve committed, is fundamentally worth it.

“Middle class people who didn’t carry guns could collude with attitudes, jokes, institutional practices, that sustained the conflict waged by those who, for whatever reason, did carry guns – who often colluded with each other.

“And now, the Queen has met Martin McGuinness, and the husband of former Irish president Mary McAleese is reputed to play golf with Jackie McDonald, head of the UDA. These are kinds of collusion – and a very good thing too, most would say.”


Much of the response to Smithwick is in a similar vein. Even if there was a Provo mole in the Gardai who set up the two RUC officers to be killed, that doesn’t amount to ‘Garda collusion’ unless it was tolerated by the force in general; there was almost certainly a British government mole in the IRA who set up the men killed at Loughgall, that doesn’t mean the Provos were ‘colluding’ with the SAS.


2. benmadigan - December 16, 2013

interestingly “The Smithwick Report” on eurofree3.wordpress,com shows Donaldson pressed for the Smithwick Inquiry. The same article includes a video with a British Army officer on duty in South Armagh and the then UK prime Minister Harold Wilson (some years before 1989). Both insist on the good relationship with the Dublin government and excellent collaboration with the Garda Siochana via the RUC. Worth watching


3. Joe - December 17, 2013

Not referring particularly to the two comments above. But I have found much of the comments on the Smithwick reports on CLR to be whataboutery of the highest order. I suggest all comments from now on should begin as follows: Yes, Smithwick did find that the IRA were assisted by a Garda in Dundalk but what about….


Séamus - December 17, 2013

The problem though is that Smithwick didn’t find that the IRA were assisted by a Garda in Dundalk, all he could say was that it happened based on ‘the balance of probabilities’.


Ed - December 17, 2013

Much of the response to Smithwick beyond the CLR in the Irish media strikes me as ‘whataboutery’ (in the negative sense of the term – too often people are accused of ‘whataboutery’ when they’re providing necessary context and balance). I think a lot of people are very, very keen to be able to say, anytime someone mentions Brian Nelson, Robin Jackson etc., ‘but look, the Gardai colluded too!’ Not only a lot of unionists, but a lot of people in the South, too.

Smithwick is being used – and will be used for a long time to come – to imply a false symmetry between the British and Irish states in the relationship they had with the loyalist paramilitaries and the IRA. Even if the Smithwick findings are absolutely correct – and there’s reason to wonder about that, as people have said – there’s just no comparison between the levels of ‘collusion’ north and south. I think commenters on the CLR are trying to provide some of the necessary balance you won’t get elsewhere. I don’t think there’s any fear that people who read the newspapers and listen to the radio in Ireland won’t be reminded of the abuses and atrocities committed by the Provos during their war, but you won’t hear some much talk about the abuses of the British state, so it needs to be balanced somewhere.


WorldbyStorm - December 17, 2013

Joe I hope there’s no sense of whataboutery in the OP. But it is fair to say that there are serious serious problems with Smithwick. As Séamus notes no one is identified as giving information to the IRA. There’s no evidence that any such information was given. It is literally all supposition.

Moreover, and this is even more pertinent, as Ed notes the concept of collusion simply doesn’t stack up, in the sense that most of us understand that term, i.e. institutional or widespread assistance given to a paramilitary group.

This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The idea that institutionally the Gardai would assist the Provo’s is absurd, a nonsense from the very start. But by using the term collusion, rather than what is – at most – likely to have happened, one individual individually assisting the IRA,

But whataboutery comes into this because by using the term collusion (as also noted by Ed) a comparison – this being the whataboutery – is made with actual institutional or widespread collusion between elements of the British state and loyalist paramilitaries in the North. And in that respect the possibility (and when we boil Smithwick down that’s all we have really) that one Garda in one station supplied information to the IRA simply doesn’t bare comparison with the contacts linkages and supply of weapons that took place in NI. It’s just not like and like.

The British state, which had primary responsibility for maintaining democratic social order within the six counties, was deeply compromised by these processes in a way that the Republic simply wasn’t.


Ciarán - December 17, 2013

There’s definitely a political aspect to Swithwick’s finding that makes the entire thing dubious.

Probably the worst comment so far has come from the Alliance Party’s David Ford, who said:

“the suggestion of garda collusion was “no different from the suggestions in the past of one or two RUC officers behaving inappropriately”.”

This man is the justice minister in the Six Counties.


WorldbyStorm - December 18, 2013

Wow, that’s some level of delusion at work there on his part. ‘One or two’… can he be serious?


Ed - December 18, 2013

Christ almighty, shows how much the ‘liberalism’ of the Alliance Party counts for when it comes to something important.


CMK - December 19, 2013

By chance reading Anne Cadwallader’s ‘Lethal Allies’. Page 186, dealing with an attack on The Rock Bar in rural Armagh in 1976, states: ‘all those who carried out the attack on The Rock Bar were serving RUC officers.’ Ford is an idiot.


4. que - December 17, 2013

‘The British state, which had primary responsibility for maintaining democratic social order within the six counties, was deeply compromised by these processes in a way that the Republic simply wasn’t.’

The ‘republic’ was deeply compromised by turning the other way and pretending nothing was happening north of the border.

Yet now the history is they were balls deep in collusion. Sure we all partied sorry I mean colluded.


WorldbyStorm - December 18, 2013

it’s just like that. By the way, I do want to underline my belief that the British state from the foundation of NI completely abrogated that responsibility. As indeed as you point out did the Free State/Éire and the Republic in the way you outline. More on that during the week.


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

[…] Here are some posts from the CLR on the Tribunal findings. […]


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