IRA members meet tribunal team
IRA members meet tribunal team

A meeting between former Provisional IRA Volunteers and the Smithwick Tribunal into the deaths of two senior RUC policemen in 1989 was facilitated by Sinn Fein, party President Gerry Adams has confirmed.

The meeting, the first time the Provisional IRA has co-operated with a 26-County state inquiry, was disclosed by Maura Laverty SC, a member of the tribunal legal team, when reading its opening statement on Tuesday.

The two men who died, RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Robert Buchanan, secretly crossed the border on 20th March, 1989 to meet senior Gardai in Dundalk, County Louth. The IRA launched their attack near the border village of Jonesborough as both men returned north.

The ambush of two senior members of the British Crown forces is considered to be one of the IRA’s most successful strikes of the period, and fuelled suggestions that members of the Garda police or other employees of the 26-County State must have colluded in the attack.

Judge Peter Cory, the Canadian judge who conducted the first investigation into wider allegations of police and State collusion on both sides of the border, first recommended a public inquiry in the case in 2004, along with three other cases involving allegations of Crown force collusion.

The Tribunal, which opened this week, held a meeting with Sinn Fein representatives in 2006 in order to gain access to IRA members, Mr Adams said this week.

“Subsequently, the Sinn Fein leadership established that there could be no engagement with the IRA because, as a consequence of the outworking of the IRA leadership statement of July 2005, the IRA had left the stage,” he revealed.

“But we were advised that there was the possibility of former Volunteers engaging on a voluntary basis with the Tribunal.

“The Sinn Fein leadership worked to facilitate this.

“Having established the process between the Tribunal and these former volunteers, Sinn Fein played no further role in the process, though our understanding is that the people involved were in a position to answer all questions about the IRA action in which the two RUC officers were killed.

“Sinn Fein facilitated this process because of our commitment to assisting bereaved families if and when we can. This may not be possible in all cases.”

Mr Adams said his party believed that there needed to be an effective process for dealing with all legacy issues, and suggested an independent international truth Commission as part of the process.

“The closure which victims, victim’s families and survivors deserve, demands that those who contributed to the conflict have to pledge ourselves to tell and to listen to the truth about the past. Over time this will contribute to genuine national reconciliation and an inclusive healing process.

“For my part I would actively encourage republicans to co-operate with such a process.

“The Irish government should proactively engage with the British government on this issue and seek to ensure that such a process is established.”

Delivering the Tribunal’s opening statement, Ms Laverty described the meeting with the former IRA members as a “very significant development” in its private investigation, which has been ongoing for six years.

“Those former members included former leadership at both national and local [south Armagh] level.

“One of the three former personnel had first-hand knowledge of the [Provisional] IRA operation of March 20th, 1989, and had a command role in that operation. The former personnel gave a detailed account of the events leading to the deaths of Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan and replied to questions posed [by the legal team],” she said.

The meeting was one of several significant recent developments referred to by Ms Laverty in the 72-page opening statement on the first day of public hearings.

She said intelligence material had been uncovered by the tribunal that was not before Judge Cory.

The tribunal also disclosed that former British agent Kevin Fulton would give evidence as would Ian Hurst, also known as Martin Ingram, who handled IRA informers on behalf of the British army’s controversial Force Research Unit.

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