The 47-year-old Dundalk man was shot dead as he returned home from a pub in May 1976.
The garda investigation into his murder, which was abandoned after 23 days, was severely criticised by retired Supreme Court judge Henry Barron in his report into the killing.
The RUC passed information to the gardaí in 1979 naming four loyalists it believed were involved in his killing. However, the line was never actively pursued by gardaí. There have also been persistent rumours since 1976 relating to collusion between his killers and the British security services. Speaking to the Oireachtas backbench committee on justice, which is holding hearings on the Barron Report, Mr McDowell said the key issue related to the non-pursuit by gardaí of the critical information received from the RUC naming four suspects for the murder.
Referring to the conflicting evidence of gardaí as to why this line of enquiry was not pursued, Mr McDowell said he was not in a position to adjudicate. “I simply don’t know how the decision not to interview the suspects was reached, or what precisely informed garda thinking in this case.”
He said this was because there was nothing in his department’s files relating to the identification of the four suspects in 1979. He believed speculatively that no communication was made to the department about this development at the time, partly because it was not a practice of An Garda Síochána at the time to inform Justice about specific investigations. “The garda investigation into the murder of Seamus Ludlow undoubtedly has good and, unfortunately, bad points.
“The Ludlow family undoubtedly has a sound basis for feeling aggrieved at a number of events surrounding the murder, including events relating to the interview of suspects and the original coroner’s inquest,” said Mr McDowell.
Later, journalist Ed Moloney told the hearing it seemed to him gardaí made their minds up early that the IRA had done the killing. Outlining a number of reports he wrote for the Sunday Tribune, he described claims of collusion made to him by a source who had contacted Mr Moloney through his solicitor.
Mr Moloney said any inquiry would have to explore the question of collusion. “If an inquiry is held and this whole area is excluded, the fact that it was not included is going to fester away as a cause of resentment. It has to be answered, either it’s true or it’s not,” he said.