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The Smithwick Tribunal was an Irish Tribunal of Inquiry into the events surrounding the killing of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The men were killed in a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) ambush near the Irish border at Jonesborough on 20 March 1989 as they returned in an unmarked car from a cross-border security conference in Dundalk with senior Garda officers.[1] The tribunal issued its report on 3 December 2013, finding there had been collusion between members of the Gardaí and the IRA, which resulted in the deaths of Breen and Buchanan. The tribunal took its name from the chairman of the Tribunal, Judge Peter Smithwick.


The setting up of the Smithwick tribunal was prompted by Peter Cory, a Canadian judge who was commissioned by the Irish government to investigate the killing of the two RUC officers and determine if there were grounds for a public inquiry into the case. In his report, published in October 2003, Judge Cory stated it could be said that the IRA did not need information from the Gardaí to carry out the ambush and that intelligence reports received in the aftermath had also pointed to this conclusion. However, Cory referred to two other intelligence reports mentioning a Garda leak and a statement from a British intelligence agent known as Kevin Fulton who claimed an IRA man told him that the IRA was told about the presence of the RUC officers in Dundalk police station by a Garda.[2]

In July 2006, Judge Smithwick stated that he would complete his investigations before public hearings began.[3] On 7 June 2011, public hearings began in Dublin.[4]

Tribunal remitEdit

The tribunal considered whether there was a failure to act to prevent the two officers being killed. Smithwick stated that the inquiry would investigate whether there was collusion in the "widest sense of the word". He defined this further: "While it generally means the commission of an act, I am of the view that it should also be considered in terms of an omission or failure to act... I intend to examine whether anybody turned a blind eye to it, or pretended ignorance or unawareness of something one ought morally, legally or officially oppose.[5]"

Collusion allegationsEdit

There have been allegations that the IRA were tipped off about the route the men had planned to take by a member of the Garda Síochána, informally known as "Garda X".[6] British Member of Parliament Jeffrey Donaldson used his parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons in 2000 to suggest that Garda Detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan passed on information to the IRA about the meeting. Corrigan's barrister denied the allegation at the tribunal: "That statement by Jeffrey Donaldson was a monstrous lie. It was false and my client wishes to establish the falsehood of it."[7]

The TribunalEdit

Before the public sessions opened, the tribunal's legal team met with three former senior IRA volunteers, one of whom had a command role in the ambush.[8] Among the witnesses who gave testimony were former and serving Gardaí, informants, British agents, and former colleagues of the dead officers, including Breen's staff officer, Sergeant Alan Mains. The Breen and Buchanan families were represented by solicitors John McBurney and Ernie Waterworth, respectively.

Findings of Garda collusion with the IRAEdit

The tribunal's report was published on 3 December 2013.[9][10]

In the report Judge Smithwick said that although there was no "smoking gun", he was "satisfied there was collusion in the murders" and that he was "satisfied that the evidence points to the fact that there was someone within the Garda station assisting the IRA". The report was also critical of two earlier garda investigations into the murders, which it described as "inadequate". Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter apologised "without reservation" for the failings identified in the report.[11][12] Martin Callinan, Garda Commissioner, stated that the notion of Garda/IRA collusion was "horrifying", and Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared the report to be "shocking".[13]


  1. ^ Tribunal into 1989 murders begins BBCNews, 3 March 2006
  2. ^ Cory Collusion Inquiry Report (PDF), 7 October 2003
  3. ^ Judge to receive evidence of garda collusion with IRA by Enda Leahy, The Sunday Times, 20 July 2006.
  4. ^ "Smithwick Tribunal into murder of Breen and Buchanan". BBC. 7 June 2011. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  5. ^ Tribunal vows to find truth of RUC men's murders Eircom: New Breaking News, 3 March 2006.
  6. ^ Toby Harnden, Bandit Country: The IRA and South Armagh (Coronet, 2004, ISBN 0-340-71737-8) pp. 216-21
  7. ^ CorkFm News report,, 3 March 2006 (NOTE: Registration required to access this link)
  8. ^ Members of tribunal probing 1989 murders of two RUC men 'met IRA', The Guardian. Henry McDonald. 7 June 2011; retrieved 16 October 2011
  9. ^ Acting Clerk of Dáil confirms publication of report from Judge Peter Smithwick
  10. ^ Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into suggestions that members of An Garda Siochana or other employees of the State colluded in the fatal shooting of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and RUC Superintendent Robert Buchanan on 20 March 1989
  11. ^ Smithwick: Collusion in Bob Buchanan and Harry Breen murders
  12. ^ Irish police colluded in murders of RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan, report finds
  13. ^ BBC report on Smithwick Tribunal report, 4 December 2013; accessed 4 December 2013.

External linksEdit