Peter Smithwick: IRA ambush

THE Smithwick tribunal has yet to hold any public hearings and it is not yet known how many witnesses will be called.

The tribunal was established five years ago to investigate the killing of two senior RUC men by the IRA almost 20 years ago. It has cost in excess of €5m since it was established in March 2005.

Responding to a query from the Sunday Tribune, Jane McKevitt, a solicitor for the tribunal, said the "tribunal has made significant progress.

As the tribunal is in its private investigation state, comment on private matters would be inappropriate and in violation of the tribunal's obligations."

Judge Peter Smithwick's tribunal concerns Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan who were killed in an IRA ambush in south Armagh on their way back from a meeting in Dundalk garda station in March 1989. It is investigating claims that a garda source may have informed the IRA of the men's movements on the night.

When asked about the expected length of the tribunal's hearings McKevitt said that depended on the number of witnesses called.

She added: "However the tribunal also appreciates the public interest in its work. In an effort to accommodate all interests the tribunal will say it hopes to commence public hearings this year."

Pat Rabbitte, the Labour Party's justice spokesman, is to raise the issue of the tribunal's progress with justice minister Dermot Ahern.

Rabbitte said: "After five years the Dáil is entitled to know what progress has been made and why there have not been any public hearings to date."

Figures last year by the Department of Justice revealed that the Smithwick tribunal cost €4.81m between 2005 and the end of 2008. It is now estimated the tribunal has cost well in excess of €5m to date.