Public hearings at Smithwick Inquiry to begin

THE public hearings at the Smithwick tribunal, which is investigating the murder of a Banbridge RUC officer, gets underway today (Tuesday) in Dublin.

The Dail has been heavily criticised by the solicitor representing Chief Superintendant Harry Breen’s family after they demanded that the report must be submitted by November 31, and that a interim report must be submitted 10 days after the hearings begin.

Chief Supt Breen, and his colleague Supt Bob Buchanan, were shot dead by the IRA in 1989 close to the border after a meeting at the Garda station in Dundalk.

Speaking on behalf of the Breen family, their solicitor, John McBurney, described the time cap which has been put on proceedings as a “complete sick joke.”

He said, “We have very serious concerns about what has been agreed by the Dail. First of all it means that a range of witnesses in, both here in Northern Ireland and on the mainland, may not get to appear due to the time constraints.

“It has been a long and arduous task to try and get some of these witnesses, some of them elderly people, to appear voluntarily. They are not compelled to attend as thishearing is being held in the Republic of Ireland, unlike the witnesses from the South who are. Now some of those who have been persuaded to come may not.

“We also have concerns that when you put a time bar on a process such as this certain documents, which different parties may have been dragging their heals over, may not appear. I have no doubt that this will have an adverse effect on proceedings.”

The inquiry has cost €8 million to date, in comparison to the £191.5 million spent on the Bloody Sunday inquiry, the £46.5 million that the Rosemary Nelson inquiry cost or the £30.6 million spent on the Billy Wright inquiry, which was held in Banbridge.

“It is a Cinderella inquiry,” said Mr McBurney. “The court is independent and shouldn’t be told how long justice is allowed to take.”

Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail were the only two parties to vote against imposing the deadline. Thirty-five TDs voted against, made up of 20 Fianna Fail and 14 SF members of the Dail, while 104 voted for the deadline - comprising mostly of Fine Gael and Labour members who make up the coalition government.

Only 45 minutes was allowed to debate the tribunal, with Fiannal Fail - who are championing the inquiry - having a proposal to extend this voted down.

“In such a sensitive matter touching so deeply upon Northern Ireland affairs and the relationship with the authorities in the Republic, it was saddening to see the Dáil and Senate divide on the issue as a direct consequence of this insensitive, unnecessary and damaging motion,” Mr McBurney added.