Northern Ireland

Smithwick Tribunal deadline: Judge asks for extension

Ch Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan
Image caption Ch Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were murdered in 1989

The chairman of the Smithwick Tribunal has asked the the Irish government to extend the deadline for his final report to the end of July 2013.

Judge Peter Smithwick said he was seeking an extension due to the medical condition of a key witness.

Also, he wants to examine "highly relevant intelligence material from security agencies in Northern Ireland".

The tribunal is investigating allegations of garda collusion in the IRA murders of two senior RUC officers.

Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were killed in an IRA ambush in South Armagh only minutes after leaving a meeting in Dundalk garda station on 20 March 1989.

The Dublin-based tribunal was established in 2005 and has been hearing evidence in public since June of last year.

It had been due to issue its final report last November but was given an extension to early 2012.

A second extension was approved earlier this summer by the Republic's Justice Minister Alan Shatter with a deadline of 31 October.

The tribunal was last week told that a key witness, Owen Corrigan, will not be medically fit to give evidence for up to five months.

Mr Corrigan, a retired detective garda sergeant, is one of three former Dundalk-based sergeants who have been granted legal representation at the tribunal.

The others are Finbarr Hickey and Leo Colton. All three deny allegations of collusion.

In his letter to the Irish government, the tribunal chairman also cited new PSNI intelligence material as grounds for an extension of the deadline for his final report to 31 July, 2013.

The intelligence, which was given to the tribunal in July and August of this year, claimed that an Irish police officer did pass information about the meeting involving the RUC officers to the IRA but that officer was not one of the three being examined by the tribunal.

It also claimed that the ''fourth garda'' received a substantial amount of money from the IRA and passed intelligence to them for years.

"This intelligence therefore necessitates a further phase of private investigation, and, depending on the outcome of that investigation, the possibility of a number of new witnesses giving evidence" writes Judge Peter Smithwick.

However, the tribunal chairman says he anticipates that any hearings arising from the new intelligence will be concluded by the end of this year.