The Smithwick Report

The multi-million euro
smithwick enquiry
(Photocall Ireland)
has concluded that on the balance of probabilities the ambush by an Active Service Unit of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army was conducted using intelligence information supplied by members of An Garda Síochána.
garda badge
No names are definitively named, and the evidence is at best inconclusive.
Judge Smithwick
judge smithwick
did not find any specific evidence of collusion (no phone call, no traceable payment, no smoking gun)

Was collusion likely?
At the time, Sir John Hermon said: “There was no mole and we would ask that this be discounted very firmly and very quickly.”
john hermon
His counterpart in the Republic of Ireland, the then (Irish police) Garda Commissioner Eugene Crowley, said: “I absolutely and positively reject any suggestion of that kind.
An investigator whose remit until 2007 was to investigate claims of collusion stated
I am not convinced or persuaded that there was any collusion between members of An Garda Siochana and the Provisional IRA in the double murder of Breen and Buchanan”
how dare you
The then Northern Ireland Secretary of State Tom King
tom king
said in Westminster House of Commons
From all my meetings, not least with the commissioner of the Garda, and from all that I know of the relationship that has developed between the senior ranks of the Garda and the senior ranks of the RUC, nothing could have done more to reinforce the resolve to deal with the terrorists in the island of Ireland”.
The notion of the Garda Síochána helping the IRA is broadly ridiculous. It goes against the whole ethos of the southern Irish police force.
Just to set this in context, here’s a 1976 Panorama programme about South Armagh which, among other topics, discusses the type of collaboration that existed between the British Army, the RUC and the Garda Siochana, as well as between the UK and Irish governments

Why the Smithwick tribunal?
In the Weston Park Agreement
weston park agreement
Sinn Fein and the SDLP agreed to continue to support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in return for, not the long-demanded inquiries, but reports into whether inquiries were warranted
yes of course
The Smithwick Tribunal (whose sole member is Justice Peter Smithwick) was set up on the basis of a recommendation in a report compiled by retired Canadian judge, Peter Cory,
which looked into allegations of collusion between rogue police officers and the IRA during the Troubles. Pressure for this inquiry also came from Unionist MPs like Jeffery Donaldson of the DUP
jeffrey donaldson
who told the House of Commons that Garda Detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan was the IRA mole that leaked the itineraries of Judge Gibson and the two RUC officers.
Orange disinformation?

Could the IRA have acted alone in carrying out the ambush?
The IRA didn’t have weeks to lay their deadly trap. Perhaps they had only hours to prepare after learning that Buchanan’s car was back again outside Dundalk Garda station.
dundalk garda station
They didn’t know which of four possible return routes Breen and Buchanan would use, so teams had to be posted on all four, involving possibly 20 members. Another dozen would have been involved in support roles.

large ira group
Brigadier Ian Lisles, who served for several tours in Northern Ireland, said
the operation would have been impossible to carry out in less than three hours, because of the time needed to assemble men and weapons“.

what part no
The time is the absolute minimum,” he said. “You’d probably want five to eight hours ideally.”
Retired Garda sergeant Bernard McGrath also said it was “highly implausible” the IRA could mount the operation on short notice, and estimated it would take “a matter of days”.
On the other hand, Dundalk

was well known as a popular base for “on the runs” from all over the six-counties. It is mind boggling to think that two high profile RUC officers took such a risk in an area where the IRA was vigilant and alert to the movements of the enemy
ruc men
It isn’t totally impossible that, knowing RUC officers visited Dundalk regularly, the IRA had planned a general operation to assassinate them, then fine-tuned it at short notice. Virtually the whole of South Armagh/North Louth was a No-Go area for the security forces because the IRA’s writ held sway in that area.
I would describe South Armagh as a ruthless, efficient and cohesive IRA unit who basically conducted operations locally, nationally and internationally,” Witness 61 said

large ira group
Why should anyone therefore argue that it was beyond the wit of the IRA to carry out the operation on its home ground under its own steam?

Who was Supt Bob Buchanan?
Buchanan (55) was Border Superintendent, liaising with Gardai on crime and paramilitary activity. It was a very difficult job, but yet one that the RUC relied on heavily. He was a very quiet man, very religious, very well respected, just really set about doing his job, just one of those very quiet police officers who was very professional but too easygoing. He shirked basic security. He nearly always took the same route to and from the south, and he drove the same car for three years.
red cavalier car
It had no armoured plating or bullet proof glass. Bob obeyed regulations that prevented the RUC bringing firearms into the south. Between August 1988 and the time of the ambush in March the following year Supt Buchanan had travelled on business to Dundalk station 20 or 21 times and was not targeted by the IRA.
Retired Garda chief superintendent Bernard King, said he was concerned about the number and visibility of visits Bob Buchanan made to border Garda stations and spoke to him, following which the frequency declined.

Who was Chief Superintendent Harry Breen?
With 32 years’ service, Chief Supt Harry Breen (51) was most senior RUC officer to die in the Troubles. He ran H Division, which covered counties Armagh and Down. Like Mr Buchanan Mr Breen was a highly respected police officer but Mr Breen was the boss, an officer with a certain calibre, personality and knowledge of policing. He was “the sort of person who had a presence about him”, “a true gentleman,”
what you would have aspired to”. He was very softly spoken but very direct. Chief Supt Breen went on television after the SAS ambush at Loughgall that killed eight IRA members and an innocent civilian

loughgall victims
displaying the IRA weapons recovered from the scene.
The IRA said he was so “very well known that this image was etched on every republican’s mind”. Former RUC sergeant Jack Weir later accused him of collaborating with loyalist paramilitaries and supplying weapons to the UVF.

uvf gunmen
Harry Breen was alleged to be a leading officer in a mobile paramilitary force called the Special Patrol Group (SPG). This group worked closely with the UVF and counted UVF members within its ranks. Notorious murders carried out by these murder gangs include the Dublin and Monaghan Bombs (1974)
dublin and monaghan bombings
and the Miami Showband Massacre (1975).
miami showband massacre
The British army liaison officer working with this group was Captain Robert Nairac.
Mr Breen said he had difficulties with certain members of the Garda Síochána. He had just been promoted and he had instructed his wife “on several occasions” that if anything happened to him then RUC Chief Constable John Hermon
john hermon
was not to attend his funeral because he was not wanted there.

What actually happened?
Briefly, Mr Breen and Mr Buchanan were returning from a meeting with Irish police in Dundalk Garda station, which was under surveillance by the IRA from another house. They were travelling in Mr Buchanan’s red Cavalier
red cavalier car
Buchanan was totally unaware it had been identified by the IRA as an ‘RUC vehicle’.
The IRA had tailed the Cavalier on a previous journey to Dundalk
An Army surveillance unit had actually observed and noted IRA ‘dickers’ following Buchanan’s red Cavalier

south armagh watchtower map
The car was tracked en route to the Edenappa Road which was probably the most secure road in western Europe, with many watch towers
south armagh watchtower
and security checks.
smithwick map
The IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) in the Jonesboro area had already been alerted and had moved into place, setting up a checkpoint at a pre – picked spot along the Edenappa Road.
ira checkpoint
The ASU were instructed to intercept the car, and arrest the occupants, but if that was not possible then they were to ensure that neither occupant escaped.
take no prisoners
The ASU intercepted the car and the two male occupants were challenged to step out of the car with their hands up.The car was put into reverse and attempted to escape. At that point both RUC Detectives were executed. Before the gunmen fled back across the border they pulled out the pockets of the dead men, taking wallets and diaries, and removed their briefcases from the boot which they unlocked with the ignition key

The Provisional IRA’s contemporary claim of responsibility.
The two officers were shot dead after their car came to one of a number of checkpoints which the IRA claims they were operating on Monday. They also say that the policemen acted suspiciously and attempted to drive off. Then the IRA volunteers feared their own lives could be in danger and took what they call preventative action to prevent the RUC men’s escape.”

The independent eye-witness
eye witness
when they [the people in the red car] came in and they obviously realised they were in a trap, they went to reverse, they tried to reverse the car, and there is a wall of moss on it just there, and they must have realised they couldn’t, they wouldn’t make it, and the passenger, he got out and he came around the front of the car and he put his hands up and they shot him and he fell to the ground”.

The autopsy conclusion
The fatal shot was fired in the back of Harry Breen’s head, is simply inconsistent with the former members’ account that he was shot while still sitting in the car. Their version also does not account for the presence of a white handkerchief on the road near his body.

Motivation for assassinations?

1)In 1989 the RUC were entrenched in the troubles and in the republican context and thought processes, they were regarded as viable targets.
It’s just how it was. The RUC were seen as brutally enforcing Britain’s rule and occupation. I don’t need to spell this out.

2) Mr Breen and Mr Buchanan met with Irish police that very day to discuss the possibility of launching a joint operation on lands owned by Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy,
slab murphy
regarded as the most senior republican at that time in south Armagh. Chief Superintendent Breen’s staff officer Alan Mains, said “Mr Breen expressed concern that a member of the Irish police was in the pay of Murphy“. South Armagh was Mr Murphy’s territory

3) The IRA wanted Breen.
Based on Supt Buchanan’s “pattern of travel” IRA members could have tried to kill him several times Buchanan frequently travelled unarmed in his private car. The judge could only identify one of those occasions – in February 1989 – in which Chief Supt Breen was with him.
They probably believed Breen was involved in shoot to kill operations and god know what else on the collusion side.
Collusion between Loyalist paramilitaries such as Robin Jackson and my RUC colleagues and me was taking place with the full knowledge of my superiors. I recall that after I had told Chief Inspector Breen about my involvement in the Strathearn murder, that he told me to forget about it.” John Weir. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out he was going to be clipped if the opportunity arose which it did.

4) Maybe Breen and Buchanan weren’t playing ball with the peace process that was just getting under way. Maybe they objected to secret talks. It is accepted that certain hardline provisionals were taken out to smooth the way. Why not the same for certain RUC officers? Just a few hours before the BA had ‘swamped’ the place, then they pull out and not long after the two RUC officers were dead. Why did the Army fail to communicate the IRA’s clear knowledge of Buchanan’s car to the RUC’s Special Branch, or did why MI5 – if it received the intelligence information direct from the Army – fail to alert the RUC?
I’m not saying I’m right. All I’m saying it’s possible.
And now, something to watch
and listen to (from about 8 mins to 18)

Background reading
Toby Harnden, Bandit Country Page 219,Hodder and Stoughton, London 2000