Gardaí were ordered by a former Taoiseach not to cooperate with an investigation into the IRA killing of 18 British soldiers because of paratroopers’ involvement in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry, it was claimed tonight.
Papers lodged with a tribunal into claims of collusion between the Garda and republican terrorists detailed a heated row between officers from the two forces after the atrocity at Narrow Water near Warrenpoint, Co Down, in August 1979.
Detectives from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) met with senior gardaí in Dublin Castle where it was claimed the then assistant Garda commissioner, Patrick McLaughlin, told the North police there could be no co-operation because of what happened on the streets of Derry eight years earlier when paratroopers opened fire and killed 14 unarmed civilians at a civil rights march.
In a statement to the Smithwick Tribunal – which was not read in full – an unnamed senior RUC officer claimed: “He (McLaughlin) declared that the Taoiseach from the outset of the inquiry had decreed that the killings were a political crime and, in view of the fact that the Parachute Regiment had been involved in Bloody Sunday, no assistance would be given to RUC investigators.”
At the time of the roadside bomb attack the Taoiseach was Jack Lynch.
But when officers from the two forces met at Dublin Castle in April 1980 the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, had been in office five months.
At no stage in his statement did the RUC detective identify which Taoiseach allegedly had made the order. Both have since died.
The Narrow Water bombing, on August 27 1979, was the highest death toll suffered by the British Army in a single incident during the Troubles, and came just hours after the Queen’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed in a bomb on his boat off Co Sligo. The majority of the dead were paratroopers.
The senior RUC officer, identified only as Witness 68, has given evidence via a video link from Belfast on two occasions.
He revealed on Tuesday the former Taoiseach believed Narrow Water was a political crime, but did not refer to Bloody Sunday.
He also claimed Mr McLaughlin terminated that meeting and told RUC investigators not to come back.
The former detective, who was chief investigating officer at Narrow Water, revealed Garda co-operation from the day of the bomb attack was beyond non-existent and that ferns at the suspected detonation site, in the Republic, had been cut down before RUC forensic officers examined it - destroying forensic evidence.
The witness said he was also dismayed two suspects – named as Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan – had been arrested and released from Dundalk Garda Station. They were later charged with motoring offences.
He told the tribunal that after the Dublin meeting orders later came from the RUC’s chief constable that they were embarrassing the Garda and not to go back for any further meetings as they had agreed with the Garda commissioner to deal with it by other means.
An Garda Síochána has denied the allegations of non-co-operation.
Gerry Collins – justice minister when Mr Lynch was Taoiseach – has also stated he would be prepared to return as a tribunal witness to lift any suspicions the gardaí were acting on the orders of Mr Lynch.
In a letter to the Smithwick Tribunal, Mr Collins said he was fully aware of Mr Lynch’s view of the IRA’s campaign of violence and, more particularly, his response to the bombings at Warrenpoint.
“Jack Lynch was vehemently opposed to the IRA’s campaign of violence and he sought to ensure that there was co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the RUC in order to combat the threat to both parts of the island,” he said.
“I think the memory and honour of Jack Lynch deserve that someone who knew him and worked with him intimately during these troubled times should be asked to give evidence before the Tribunal.”
The Smithwick Tribunal is investigating allegations of Garda collusion over the IRA murders of senior RUC officers Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan on the border, minutes after a Garda meeting in March 1989.