Wednesday 29 March 2017

Smithwick Tribunal already facing legal delays

Alan Murray

The Smithwick Tribunal could be delayed by High Court legal challenges after just three days of hearing evidence.

Lawyers representing clients at the tribunal have expressed concerns that witness statements and transcripts are not being made available to lawyers greatly in advance of evidence being given.

Only counsel for the tribunal have full detail of the exact area of evidence covered by witnesses ahead of daily proceedings -- and some lawyers representing clients who have yet to give evidence have expressed concern privately that they are not being given adequate notice of the type of evidence to be given.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has already demanded an interim report from Judge Peter Smithwick at the end of this month and has suggested that the tribunal should be concluded by the end of November.

However, additional material evidence which is being sought from the Ministry of Defence in London will greatly add to the volume of material to be examined by counsel for the tribunal.

It is now estimated that the tribunal will hear from up to 250 witnesses rather than the 214 originally scheduled because of the extra material expected to be made available.

The Northern Ireland Office is now acting as an intermediary with the Treasury Solicitor in London to obtain British army intelligence documents relating to the actions of its officers along the Border and the control of agents working there at the time that two RUC officers were murdered.

The high-level IRA army agent Freddie Scappaticci has been granted legal representation at the tribunal, which is investigating the deaths of the two most senior RUC officers to be murdered by the IRA during the Troubles.

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan were killed in March 1989 as they returned from a hurriedly arranged meeting with their garda counterparts in Dundalk.

Last week the tribunal heard contradictory evidence from former RUC officers about arrangements for the Dundalk meeting.

A former assistant chief constable whose anonymity was preserved claimed the two officers had disobeyed a direct order not to go to Dundalk.

But his evidence was contradicted by a former police collator who said that Chief Sup Breen did not attend a Friday afternoon meeting at which the order was allegedly given.

Retired senior assistant chief constable David Cushley also contradicted some of the former assistant chief constable's evidence.

Correspondence between Judge Smithwick and the Justice Minister over the duration of the tribunal is expected to be placed in the Dail library later this week.

The material will be closely scrutinised by lawyers representing parties to the tribunal.

One lawyer said: "This tribunal will face some legal difficulties like all the other formal inquiries conducted into major events that occurred in the past like Bloody Sunday.

"I have no doubt that there will be legal challenges to its procedures because of the very sensitive issues involved."

Sunday Independent

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