Attempts by the PSNI in the north of Ireland to derail a collusion inquiry in Dublin have been condemned in the strongest terms by lawyers for the chief of the Gardai police in the south.
Lawyers for the Garda commissioner said the evidence offered by the PSNI to the Smithwick tribunal amounted to “nonsense on stilts”.
The inquiry in question is looking into the deaths of two chiefs of the Six-County RUC police (now the PSNI), Superintendents Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan.
Unionists have alleged that members of the Gardai colluded with the Provisional IRA by providing notice of their movements ahead of the 1989 ambush in Jonesborough, in which Breen and Buchanan were killed.
An inquiry into the allegations was recommended in 2002 by Canadian judge Peter Cory. His recommendation was made at the same time as he proposed three other inquiries into well-known acts of British state collusion with loyalists in a possible attempt to create a sense of ‘balance’.
Instead of co-operating with the inquiry, the PSNI has found itself accused of concealing the truth by introducing misleading allegations and contradictory claims -- possibly to hide the involvement of a high-level IRA informer.
This Friday, on the last day of the tribunal’s public hearings, Diarmaid McGuinness SC, for the Garda Commissioner, said the PSNI had let down the families of their two colleagues, let down the Gardai and the tribunal and let down members of its own force.
Mr McGuinness said the PSNI’s approach “cast the gravest shadow” over its willingness to assist the tribunal in uncovering the truth. He said the force had made claims at a late stage which suggested a member of a Garda not yet before the tribunal may be implicated. But he said the PSNI had produced no evidence of any kind to back up a statement by Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Drew Harris that this intelligence was reliable.
“The claims made by Mr Harris were worthless and cast the gravest shadow over the ability of the PSNI to co-operate with this inquiry,” he said, describing the collusion claims as “nonsense on stilts”.
Earlier Mark Robinson, for the PSNI, insisted the force had done everything possible to co-operate with the tribunal, despite his failure to provide any evidence beyond Harris’s say-so.
In a sweeping closing statement which bordered on farce, he told Judge Smithwick: “You, chairman, are now faced, 24 years after the murder, with the Niagara of intelligence which is said to exist with the ACC swearing that this is all accurate.”
Around 200 witnesses have given evidence before Judge Smithwick over 133 days, and at the end of the hearing he thanked his tribunal staff and legal teams for their work on the inquiry, as well as the public for attending.
His final report is due to be published in the autumn.