In describing the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal report as “absolutely shocking”, Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke for the vast majority of the Irish people, north and south.
The same can’t be said of the views expressed by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Aimed, presumably, at a small minority of fellow travellers frozen in a time warp, most right-thinking people will find them reprehensible in the extreme.
Mr Adams aside, there is a shared feeling of relief both in the Republic and in the North at the realisation that in no way can this report be described as a “whitewash”. By stating bluntly that there was collusion between gardaí and the IRA in the assassination of two senior RUC officers in south Armagh in Mar 1989, Mr Justice Smithwick has delivered a damning indictment of the Garda force.
His scathing criticism of the failure to attempt to hunt down the garda mole rumoured to be operating at the time reflects badly on its officers. Given the circumstances of the killings and Dundalk’s proximity to an area widely known as bandit country, the failure to investigate their deaths adequately is inexcusable.
Seldom has a report of this kind met with such accord. The findings have been accepted by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, who said he was horrified and found it beyond comprehension that any member of An Garda Síochána would betray the force and collude with the IRA. Few will quibble with his reaction.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter has apologised on behalf of the State, a sentiment endorsed by the Taoiseach who said he would, if it were deemed appropriate, meet the families of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan who were shot dead by the IRA shortly after leaving a meeting at Dundalk Garda Station. Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed the Government’s apology and said that now was a time for reflection.
However, most people will regard the remarks made by Mr Adams as utterly unacceptable and abhorrent. Not alone has he not apologised, he insinuates that somehow they were responsible for their own deaths.
For the record, it is worth quoting what Mr Adams said. Besides claiming the officers had a “laissez faire” attitude to their own security, he went on to say they “seemed to think that they were immune from attack by the IRA and tragically as it turned out for them that wasn’t the case. When you have that type of failure to protect the RUC operatives in the middle of a war, then what happened happens”.
And in a lame bid to defend the indefensible, he added: “I’m sure the same thing has happened with IRA volunteers who were killed that it wasn’t necessarily intelligence or inside information, it was simply that they made a mistake.”
What planet is Mr Adams on? His spurious remarks fly in the face of the Smithwick findings. They are, as Mr Shatter put it, “nauseating”. This is not, as Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said, a time for muddying the waters or rewriting history.
It is a time for gardaí to heed the tribunal’s criticism of gardaí at pains to frustrate investigations by the ombudsman and hell-bent on retrieving from a Dáil committee evidence that penalty points were erased in certain cases. Like it or not, the force is now perceived as more concerned with protecting its image than with the pursuit of honesty, justice and the public interest.
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