Sunday Business Post

British try to force the ghost of state terrorism back in the box

21/12/03 00:00
By Paul T Colgan

Moves by the Irish government to have a public inquiry into the killings of RUC men Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan have exposed a rift between the attitudes of the Irish and British governments, and have fuelled widespread anger among nationalists and republicans.

The Irish government has published in full the findings of the retired Canadian judge Peter Cory. The reluctance of Tony Blair's government to do likewise is thought to stem from a fear that the report would discredit the roleof the North's security forces.

For years, unionists and the Northern Ireland Office portrayed the RUC and British army as the legitimate forces of law and order. If, as it is now suspected, Cory has found evidence to suggest they colluded with loyalists - or, in the Billy Wright case, the INLA - that would raise the "appalling vista" of state-sponsored terrorism.

In the report on the Breen and Buchanan murders, Cory - who is reportedly furious with the British government - referred to delays in carrying out his recommendations. He pointed out that the two governments and the Northern parties had agreed to his investigations at the Weston Park negotiations in 2001. Both governments agreed to publish the reports on the same day earlier this month.

"Failure to hold such an inquiry as quickly as possible might be thought to be a denial of the original agreement, which appears to have been an important and integral part of the peace process," he said. "The failure to do so could be seen as a cynical breach of faith, which could have unfortunate consequences for the peace accord."

The British government's contention that publication of the four reports relating to the North needs to be delayed while legal and human-rights issues are considered cuts little ice with nationalists. Cory would have taken care to write his reports in such a way as to avoid prejudicing any future court cases.

The Irish government had no qualms about publishing Cory, as the allegations it dealt with paled in comparison with those levelled against the RUC and the British Army.

Collusion between the Gardai and the IRA has been ruled out in the case of the Lord and Lady Gibson killings. If it is found to have taken place in the Breen and Buchanan killings, it is most likely to be a case of a rogue officer.

Crucial to Cory's findings is a statement from former British Army agent `Kevin Fulton'. Fulton, who comes from Newry, told Cory that IRA members had confirmed to him that at least one garda had colluded with republicans in killing the two RUC officers.

The RUC men met senior garda officers in Dundalk Garda Station before being ambushed while attempting to re-cross the border. Fulton's statement, delivered to Cory a month before he closed his investigation in October, alleged that an unnamed garda officer had given the IRA details of Breen and Buchanan's whereabouts and planned itineraries. Fulton's statement is crucial to Cory's decision to recommend a public inquiry. In conjunction with conflicting intelligence reports, Cory concluded that "the documents reveal evidence that, if accepted, could be found to constitute collusion".

But Fulton's brief statement is viewed with some scepticism. Fulton claimed that he was in Dundalk on the day of the attacks when it came to his attention that a garda officer had told the IRA of the RUC men's movements. He conceded that his information was fourth-hand.

"I am aware that after the ambush took place, my senior IRA commander was told by a member of PIRA that Garda B had telephoned to the Provisional IRA to tell them that officers Breen and Buchanan were at the Dundalk station," read the statement.

Fulton is currently attempting to sue the British government for failing to provide him with money and a new identity. Fulton's credibility has been questioned on numerous occasions. Former RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan described him as a "Walter Mitty"type character after he claimed that the RUC had ignored information he provided about Real IRA bombing plans just days before the Omagh bombing.

Northern Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan later rejected Flanagan's description, pointing out that Fulton had been regarded by the RUC as a valuable source.

Whatever the view of Fulton, the substance of the Northern cases is much more damning. While the IRA is alleged to have had one agent among Dundalk gardaí, Cory's report might show that the RUC and British army intelligence ran scores of loyalist agents as a matter of policy.

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