The IRA Did Have An Agent In The Dundalk Gardai

Ed Moloney with a piece looking back at the Smithwick Report. It initialy featured in The Broken Elbow on 29 January 2014.

I guess very few of those who have covered the Troubles in Ireland would ever have thought the day would dawn when senior members of the Irish police force, an Garda Siochana, would commend the evidence of some of the IRA’s most ruthless killers and prefer it to the judgement of a Tribunal of Inquiry established by the Irish state.

Yet this is what happened yesterday with the release of a 33-page rebuttal of the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal, written by former Garda Chief Superintendents John O’Brien, Michael Finnegan and Michael Staunton. The three retired officers took issue with the Tribunal’s conclusion that when the IRA gunned two senior RUC officers, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, to death in South Armagh in 1989 it had been assisted by a Garda mole inside Dundalk police station. Instead, the policemen assert, the IRA did it all by themselves.

The scene at Jonesboro, south Armagh and inset RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan
The scene of the 1989 IRA ambush at Jonesboro, south Armagh and inset RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan

During the eight-year long Smithwick Tribunal, a group of alleged “former” IRA members gave evidence – an arrangement organised by “an intermediary” (Fr Reid, by any chance?) – but not in the way everyone else provided testimony. The IRA members, who allegedly included the military commander on the day of the shootings, first agreed to provide a written statement describing the background to the killings and then to answer written questions in writing. Later in a private face-to-face meeting with three members of the Tribunal they gave oral evidence. But other lawyers representing interested parties were not present, did not know of these proceedings until afterwards and obviously had no opportunity to question the IRA team.

This is what the former Gardai officers write about this evidence from what they called FPIRA (Former Provisional IRA members):
Why should one believe the FPIRA account of the attack?
They are the only ones who know definitively what happened. They have cooperated with decommissioning and the location of the disappeared albeit on their terms. They are proud of the killings as this was a badge of honour to them………Prudently one has to discount their account for self serving recall but on the balance of probabilities their account has significant credibility and also they probably ceased cooperating when their contact with Smithwick was blown by the media.
Leaving aside the fact that we only have the word of others that decommissioning was actually carried out, how it was carried out and to what extent it was carried out and that there are a number of families in Ireland who might take issue with the policemen’s verdict on the IRA’s handling of the disappeared, the message from the three retired Chief Superintendents seems to be, as the Irish Times report put it, that the IRA had “no reason to lie” about having a Garda agent in Dundalk police station.

Well, I can think of one very strong motive for the IRA lying about this, just as I can see a motive for the three retired Gardai’s writing their 33-page critique of Smithwick, namely their understandable anxiety to clear their force of the stain of collusion with the terrorists they were sworn to put away in jail.

In a small number of years it is very possible that some of the people who sat on the ruling council of the organisation that killed the two RUC men, and who, given the political sensitivity of the operation, may well have reserved to themselves the giving of the final green light for the violence that day, will be sitting around a cabinet table in Dublin sharing responsibility for running the same police force they are accused of subverting.

If so, it will likely be a coalition government they join and it does not take a genius to work out that very few of that party’s potential partners in a coalition government would really want to sit at the same table as people whose military subordinates had boasted to a Tribunal of Enquiry that they and members of the force for which they now share responsibility had colluded in murder. As motives go for the IRA denying claims they had help from a Garda in the killing of Buchanan and Breen that seems pretty strong to me.

I do not know what happened on the day that the two RUC men met their end but there are two things that I do know: one is that it was not necessary for the Gardai informant to tip off the IRA on the day of the killings for him to have colluded in the deaths. Surely the crucial piece of information was that the RUC men were regular visitors to Dundalk Garda Station at all, information which the IRA claimed had come their way when the policemen were spotted by chance by one of their volunteers, but which could also have been provided from inside the station by a sympathetic policeman. One explanation is as plausible as the other. Once that basic fact was known the IRA could at its leisure have organised the ambush at a time and place of its suiting, a scenario, incidentally, that fits just as neatly with that offered by the three retired Gardai officers.

The other thing I know is that the IRA did have an agent inside the Dundalk Garda station. The Smithwick Tribunal was established largely because of allegations from Toby Harnden in his book Bandit Country – The IRA and South Armagh that a Dundalk-based Garda helped the IRA kill the two RUC men. Harnden got his information from security force sources on both sides of the Border and although he refused to give evidence to Smithwick – presumably on the laudable grounds that he would not compromise his sources – I believed him.

I believed him not just because I know him to be a reputable and ethical journalist but also because I was told the same, that a well known Dundalk Garda was in the back pocket of the IRA in South Armagh. My source was a well-placed member of the IRA whose position in the organisation was such that he was in a position to know all about the Garda agent. The details about the agent that I was given dovetail exactly with Harnden’s information.

So between Toby Harnden’s security force sources and my IRA sources I think we can be pretty sure that the Garda IRA mole in Dundalk police station did exist. The protestations to the contrary from the retired Garda officers are understandable but they do not add up.


  1. of course there was collusion, on all sides, it was war, and of course those who are accused will deny it, that's how propaganda works. The search for truth is important, paramount for the family but there is a danger we will go round in circles.

  2. Ed Moloney-

    " The IRA did have a agent in the Dundalk Gardai "

    Ed believes his sources who like him know nothing only rumours-
    Ed believes in another reporter-( don't laugh )-Tony Harnden-who could not even be bothered to turn up at the smithwick Tribunal because he feared his lies being exposed and him getting thrown into a cell for making up yarns -did Ed turn up at the Tribunal with all his evidence-go to a Garda station now lad-it's never to late-lol-

    " I ( ed ) do not know what happened on the day that the two RUC men met their deaths "-
    A wee bit of honesty at last-some sources that Ed has-

  3. Michaelhenry,

    how can you appear here calling for honesty when you denied being the Sinn Fein councillor behind the expresed views on this site and elsewhere about suicide victims? You have the right to believe or think whatever you want but at least have the gumption to stand over it.

  4. AM-

    What I say on the Quill are just my own views-nothing to do with Sinn Fein or what ever job I have-I don't care what others do for a living and I have never asked them or made yarns up about them-( i am not having a go at yourself or the Quill because it was not you that first pointed the righteous finger )-

    Ed has made a claim that he knows the truth-why did he not show up at the Tribunal-why did Tony Harnden not turn up-does everyone except for journalists have to tell the truth to the law-

  5. I wouldnt believe a fucking garda inspector anymore than I would an RUC one,they denied shoot to kill,collusion the heavy gang etc, those bastards are as big a bunch of liars as their political bosses,

  6. Michaelhenry,

    what you said on TPQ you denied saying so don't come along and wax concerned about what you claim is the lack of honesty on the part of others.

    Ask Ed or Toby why they didn't turn up. I would not have turned up to tell any court anything I might have gained in confidence.

    I notice your party leader did not turn up to explain how he and others on the army council laid down targeting procedure and that had he and they not have assigned target status to the RUC then neither Breen nor Buchanan would be dead.

    I guesss that would have been more beneficial to Smithwick than anything Ed or Toby could have offered.

  7. AM, how is mein furher supposed to know what happened on the army council? he was never in the ra he 's just an honest politician striving for peace. Lets not question the party line now!

  8. Toby H didnt appear at Smithwick and neither did Ed.
    Stop chasing a flogged horse, after 8 Years and 15 Million Euro Smithwick couldnt find a colluder, so he said "we're all to blame"

  9. Ed believes his sources who like him know nothing only rumours-
    Ed believes in another reporter... Hearsay and Innuendo are not probable facts.

    Ask yourself who is really pushing this collusion agenda and why?

  10. Rumours are not facts.

    Ask yourself who really is promoting the collusion agenda and why?

    Could it be a distraction tactic?