The families of the two most senior RUC officers killed in the Troubles have been failed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), it has been claimed.
Lawyers for the Garda Commissioner launched a blistering attack on the PSNI on the final day of a long-running inquiry into alleged Garda/IRA collusion into the murder of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan in March 1989.
Diarmaid McGuinness, senior counsel, criticised the PSNI for failing to hand over intelligence documents during the eight-year inquiry.
He also criticised evidence from former RUC Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris for recently claiming there were several unnamed Garda moles.
Mr McGuinness said the PSNI had failed gardai by not sharing evidence, as well as failing the tribunal and the two men’s families.
“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.
Rejecting claims of Garda collusion, Mr McGuinness dismissed the allegations as not merely nonsense, but “nonsense on stilts”.
Mark Robinson, for the PSNI, earlier maintained the police force has done everything possible to co-operate with the tribunal.
In his closing submission, Mr McGuinness, for Commissioner Martin Callinan, told Judge Peter Smithwick he had been left with a bewildering range of theories and possibilities in relation to collusion in the murders.
What had started out as an inquiry into alleged collusion involving a single garda had spread to two named others, two unknown gardai or a civilian, he said.
He maintained that Mr Harris told the tribunal there was no RUC intelligence at the time of the murders to suggest collusion.
“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,” he said.
Mr McGuinness said intelligence had been withheld from him and not shared with the Garda to investigate.
“It is wholly exceptional and wholly inexplicable that they have not shared this intelligence,” he said.
“It is in marked and strong contrast to the actual everyday exchanges of sensitive intelligence which occurs and has been occurring over many years, the purpose of which is to protect the people of Ireland.”
The tribunal has been investigating allegations that three former garda officers – Owen Corrigan, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey – were involved with collusion.
All three, who have been granted legal representation and have been questioned, strongly deny all the allegations.
Mr McGuinness described recent pieces of intelligence, which claimed two other unknown officers were responsible for the collusion, were impenetrable, anonymous and unverified.
“It beggars belief as to how you are expected to come to adjudication, not merely in relation to this evidence, but in relation to the issue of collusion as a whole, having regard of the actions of the PSNI in this regard,” he said.
“It is not merely nonsense, but as has been said ’it is nonsense upon stilts’.
“How the PSNI are going to account for this stance in Northern Ireland or in the United Kingdom or in the court of public opinion. And more particularly to the families of the deceased officers, is a matter for them, but I invite you, chairman, to ransack the dictionary for the harshest possible words to use in relation to them in frustrating the patient and honourable work of the inquiry.
“Based upon the totality of the evidence that is in fact before the tribunal, there is no evidence of any Garda collusion in these matters.”
Jim O’Callaghan, senior counsel for Mr Corrigan, argued that any allegation against his client was a monstrous lie based on little evidence, except hearsay from a handful of people including Peter Keeley – also known as Kevin Fulton – a British agent who infiltrated the IRA.
However, Neil Rafferty, counsel for Mr Fulton, hit back, saying Mr Corrigan was “a monstrous liar” and a corrupt officer who had disgraced the uniform.
“It’s easier sometimes to shoot the messenger than hear the message,” he said.
Defending the work of the PSNI, Mr Rafferty accepted there may be criticisms about how intelligence was handed over, but maintained it was live intelligence.
He also disputed evidence that the senior RUC officers had been careless or reckless when travelling across the border and told the chairman he had to decide if there was collusion and if the men were victims of a highly meticulous ambush.
“The aim of Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan’s journey that day was to co-operate and liaise and build up the relationship cross-border,” he added.
“The aim of the attack was to destroy that.
“The public confidence should be restored. If there’s evil, root it out, and if not, you can assure the public they have no substance.”
Other legal teams handed in written submissions.
At the end of the hearing, which heard from about 200 witnesses over 133 days, Judge Smithwick 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.
John McBurney, a solicitor for the family of Chief Supt Breen, acknowledged the painstaking and tireless efforts of the tribunal staff throughout what he said was a most “complex and difficult” investigation of events and circumstances surrounding the tragic murder of Mr Breen and Superintendent Buchanan.
Outside the hearing, he said the families are relieved the hearing is over, but could not second-guess what the judge’s findings will be.
“It will undoubtedly contain within it a large number of findings which add considerably to the knowledge that they have of the circumstances about that particularly day,” he added.