Author absent from tribunal hearing

[caption id="attachment_69678" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Judge Peter Smithwick."]


Journalist Toby Harnden, whose book "Bandit Country-the IRA and South Armagh," alleged collusion between a member of Dundalk gardaí and the IRA, has declined to give evidence at the Smithwick Tribunal, the Irish Times reported Tuesday.

As the tribunal opened Tuesday morning Judge Peter Smithwick was told that Mr. Harnden had been scheduled to give evidence for two days, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. But counsel for the tribunal, Fintan Valentine, said this would not happen as Harnden had now said he was unavailable.

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Valentine, according to the Times, said Harnden's withdrawal appeared to have been decided after consultation involving the journalist's new employers, Associated Newspapers.

The Smithwick Tribunal is investigating suggestions of collusion between a member or members of Dundalk gardaí and the IRA in the murders RUC officers Chief Supterintendent Harry Breen and Supterintent Bob Buchanan.

The two officers - the most senior RUC men to have been killed in the Troubles - were shot dead in an ambush minutes after leaving a meeting with senior gardaí in Dundalk in March 1989.

Responding to the news that Harnden waould not appear, Jim O'Callaghan SC for former detective Sergeant Owen Corrigan of Dundalk Garda station, told the chairman thart the tribunal was entitled to take "an inference" from the non-appearance of Mr. Harnden.

He said Mr. Harnden's book had claimed a retired Special Branch detective inspector "had confirmed to him" that there was collusion between a member of the Garda Síochána in Dundalk and the IRA.

Mr. O'Callaghan identified this special branch detective as former Detective Inspector Dan Prenty, who he said had given evidence to the tribunal that Mr. Harnden had misquoted.

Mr. O'Callaghan, reported the Times, said the allegation in the book that a special branch detective had confirmed collusion, was a key allegation "that gave this story legs". He said he had hoped to cross examine Mr. Harnden on the allegation, as following Mr. Prenty's evidence it appeared the book contained inaccuracies.

Commenting on Mr. Harnden's non-appearance Judge Smithwick said he would prefer not to say very much at this stage.

The tribunal had been given "very short notice of his not appearing" the judge said. However he added the tribunal would endeavor to secure Mr. Harnden's testimony on another occasion.

"If there is anything I can do to straighten out matters I will do so" the judge said.

The tribunal is continuing with the evidence of Charlie Flanagan TD who raised concern about collusion in the Dáil back in 2000.