A MAJOR rift has erupted between the gardai and the PSNI over claims of collusion in the Provisional IRA murder of two senior RUC officers as they were making their way back across the Border after visiting Dundalk garda station.
Evidence given to the Smithwick Tribunal by PSNI and British security sources alleged that a member of the gardai gave a tip-off to the IRA about the visit, leading to a fatal ambush on the officers.
Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were murdered on March 20, 1989 and the incident has been at the centre of a tribunal investigation for the past eight years.
However, the claims of collusion have been strongly challenged by lawyers for three named garda sergeants and for the garda authorities.
The difference of opinion between the two forces has now turned into open warfare. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan forcibly dismissed any suggestion of collusion and accused the PSNI of failing to co-operate fully with the tribunal.
The garda authorities were incensed at the late introduction of "fresh" intelligence in the closing stages of the tribunal when the blame was shifted from the three retired garda sergeants – Owen Corrigan, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey – to two other possible sources.
At the final day of the tribunal hearings yesterday, the Garda Commissioner's counsel, Diarmaid McGuinness, insisted that these allegations were "nonsense upon stilts".
He said PSNI assistant chief constable Drew Harris had told the tribunal there was no RUC intelligence at the time of the murders that suggested collusion by any member of An Garda Siochana in the ambush.
But 24 years later, the tribunal was faced with a "Niagara of intelligence", with Mr Drew swearing it was all accurate.
He told Judge Peter Smithwick: "The authority with which he (Mr Drew) has given his evidence, his rank, his experience, his asserted bona fides, his description of the process involved, are all paraded before you in order to compel you in some way to give weight and credence to these matters.
"This intelligence has been withheld from you. It beggars belief as to how you are expected to come to adjudication, not merely in relation to this intelligence but to the issue of collusion as a whole, having regard to the actions of the PSNI in this regard."
The withholding of intelligence, he said, "cast the gravest shadow over the bona fides, the willingness and ability of the PSNI to co-operate with the tribunal."
Mr McGuinness accused the PSNI of failing the families of the late Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan; failing An Garda Siochana by not sharing this intelligence; and ultimately failing the tribunal itself.
Based on the totality of the evidence before the tribunal, there was no evidence of any garda collusion and that was the submission of the Garda Commissioner, he added.
Counsel for the PSNI, Mark Robinson had earlier argued that the force had given every help it could to the tribunal.
The judge's final report is expected in the late autumn.