| 18.6°C Dublin

Ex-IRA men reveal how police were murdered in ambush

THREE former members of the Provisional IRA have given a blow-by-blow account of events leading up to the murders of two senior RUC officers to lawyers investigating allegations of garda collusion in their deaths.

The three include a former Provo who had a first-hand "command role" on the day Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were killed in an IRA ambush on the road between Dundalk and Newry in March 1989.

Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan were ambushed after they left a meeting with gardai at Dundalk Garda Station.

Yesterday, Smithwick Tribunal lawyer Mary Laverty revealed, on the first day of public hearings of the long-running collusion inquiry, that its legal team had secured the "unprecedented" meeting with the former high-ranking IRA members after liaising with them through an intermediary.

The ex-commanders, who include former national and south Armagh leaders, met with the lawyers in recent weeks and are among 214 potential witnesses that include serving and retired gardai, former RUC officers and two British agents.

The former Provos gave a detailed account of the events leading to the two RUC men's deaths after receiving assurances that they would not be prosecuted in Britain or Ireland on foot of evidence they give to the tribunal.

Ms Laverty revealed that Chief Supt Breen and Supt Buchanan were returning from a meeting with gardai to discuss the the possibility of launching a joint operation.

The joint operation was to be mounted on lands owned by Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, the prominent Co Louth republican who is currently fighting a high profile court bid to prevent his trial in the non-jury Special Criminal Court on tax charges.

On Monday the tribunal received the finalised note of its face-to-face meeting with the commanders. That note, as well as previous statements and written answers provided by the trio, will now form part of the tribunal's evidence.

Two former British agents, Keven Fulton and Martin Ingram, have also met with the inquiry team and have indicated a willingness to give evidence to it.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, Irish Independent columnist Kevin Myers and 'Bandit Country' author and journalist Toby Harnden will also testify.

The tribunal has also obtained four new intelligence reports that were not available to an earlier investigation into allegations of police collusion, North and South, by retired Canadian judge Mr Justice Peter Cory.

Chief Supt Breen's staff officer, Alan Mains, has told the tribunal that Mr Breen expressed concern that a member of the Irish police was "in the pay" of Thomas 'Slab' Murphy. He is also due to give evidence.

The British authorities still hold relevant documents that the tribunal has not yet seen. A request for sight of those documents is still outstanding, said Ms Laverty.

Irish Independent