Smithwick solicitor concerned after Garda 'sent texts' to dissident suspect

Solicitor John McBurney Solicitor John McBurney said it needs to be ascertained how many other similar incidents may have occurred in recent months and years

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A solicitor who represented one of the RUC families at the Smithwick Tribunal is concerned other potential cases of collusion may have occurred recently.

John McBurney made the comments after reports that a member of the Garda Siochana texted sensitive information to a paramilitary in Northern Ireland.

Mr Burney said it needs to be ascertained if other similar incidents had occurred.

The Evening Herald newspaper reported the alleged incident on Friday.

The paper claimed the communication happened sometime in the last year.

Mr McBurney represented the Breen family at the Smithwick Tribunal.

Ch Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were shot dead in March 1989.

They were killed in an IRA ambush in south Armagh, as they crossed the border into Northern Ireland after a meeting in Dundalk police station.

The Smithwick Inquiry was set up by the Irish government in 2005 to investigate claims that officers based in Dundalk station had assisted the IRA gang who ambushed the two officers on 20 March 1989.

It found there was Irish police collusion in the murders.

The Evening Herald reported the communication contained details about two dissident suspects who were questioned at a Garda (Irish police) station in Leinster where the member of staff was believed to have worked.

It is understood the police officer passed the information about the two dissidents on to the IRA - all of which was spotted by MI5.

'Shocking'

"It seems to be an event that has occurred in recent months, which is very shocking indeed to see that such activity is still possible within the force of Garda Siochana," Mr McBurney said.

"I think the concern is wider as to what is being done to ascertain how many other similar incidents may have occurred, not just in recent months, but in the recent past and in the distance past."

The Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she was "disturbed" by the newspaper's claims.

She said she wanted the facts to be established as a matter of urgency.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said: "It would be completely unacceptable if information of any kind were to be passed by a member of An Garda Siochana to members of unlawful organisations.

"It is understood that An Garda Siochana is aware from its own intelligence and enquiries of suggestions that a member of the force passed on the names of persons who had been arrested on a particular occasion.

'Criminal investigation'

"The member in question has since resigned and is currently under criminal investigation in relation to this and an unrelated matter.

"The minister has asked the interim Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan for a full report on this matter."

Mr McBurney said he was encouraged to see the Republic of Ireland's justice minister had indicated she wanted a full and detailed report urgently about the matter.

"Hopefully when that is provided to her she will be able indicate much more of the detail of this and what is being done about it at this time to see whether there has been other similar activity in these recent months," he said.

"Of course it makes you carry your mind back to the matters which were under investigation at the Smithwick Tribunal, some of which still remain to be fully probed.

'Border atrocities'

"There were a series of atrocities along the border in those years in the eighties and into the nineties which could have a thread of collusive activity running right through them.

"This particular garda officer appears to have resigned or retired. That means under the present regulations, as I understand it, the disciplinary proceedings wouldn't follow the event."

Mr McBurney said it was enormously positive to discover the co-operation between security services which he said was not evident on all occasions in the past.

'Sharing intelligence'

"Lots of intelligence wasn't shared, lots of detail was left withering on the vine which could have been actioned and should have been actioned," he said.

"It's encouraging to see how this matter has emerged by the sharing of intelligence quickly and the processing of it quickly.

"That is an encouraging aspect of this."

A garda spokesperson said; "An Garda Siochana is currently investigating the matter.

"As requested, An Garda Siochana will provide a full report on the matter to the minister for justice.

"As the investigation is ongoing it wouldn't be appropriate to comment further at this stage."

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