By Deirdre Younge.
In April 2000 Jeffrey Donaldson, the new leader of the DUP, stood up in the House of Commons and made the heinous allegation on live television that former Special Branch sergeant in Dundalk Garda Station, Owen Corrigan, had colluded in the murders of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, Commander H Division, and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, while they were on a visit to Dundalk Garda Station in 1989. Donaldson alleged Corrigan had tipped off the IRA about the two officers’ arrival at the station.
As it happened the IRA operation had started early in the morning before Breen had left Armagh police station where he was based.
Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan were shot dead by the South Armagh Brigade on the Edenappa Road in South Armagh a few hundred yards over the border, as they headed to Bessbrook barracks, in the afternoon of the 20th.
Breen had received an order from the Chief Constable Sir John Hermon to talk to the Gardai about a joint operation to “do something” about Tom “Slab” Murphy and his smuggling activities. In fact Breen advised the Guards to ignore any such suggestions from newly arrived members of the British army.
On the same day as Donaldson made his statement, Charlie Flanagan the former Minister for Justice stood in the Dail and called for an investigation into Garda collusion.
At a dinner in Stormont hosted by the Secretary of State Tom King the previous week, Breen and a fellow Chief Superintendent serving on the border, Witness 27 at the Smithwick Tribunal, were joined by two British officers – described as “two Colonels” newly arrived in South Armagh. One of the officers described how on one day 90 lorries went out of Slab Murphy’s yard which straddled the South Armagh border, allegedly on a smuggling operation. King was furious and demanded action against Murphy.
Both Breen and his fellow officer were disgusted that a civilian, albeit the Secretary of State, should order an operation on the strength of some loose talk over the dinner table, fuelled by newly arrived officers who had no previous experience of working on the border. Breen requested his then Sergeant Alan Mains to investigate the incidents, and he discovered that the Army monitored only 1 lorry, as he revealed at the Smithwick Tribunal.
Donaldson had been convinced by meetings with former informer/agent for the British army and other agencies, Kevin Fulton whose real name was Newry man, Peter Keeley. Fulton aka Keeley had joined the Royal Irish Ranger in 1978 and in 1980 while on duty in Germany, was offered an opportunity to return to Newry as an undercover informant/ agent for Army Intelligence and later FRU. ( He later worked for RUC Special Branch, M15 and lastly CID). Keeley readily agreed to the proposition and was debriefed by Lt Colonel Victor Williams, who later died in the Chinook crash, in Wrexham in Cheshire. The object was to work his way into the IRA in Newry and Dundalk, which he eventually did by becoming the driver and accomplice of Commander Patrick “Mooch” Blair.
By 2000 Keeleys varied career as an informant had come to an end. His last handler in CID Economic crimes where he had been a participating informant attempted to get him a resettlement package but it was blocked by M15. Keeley, now an ex agent with a grievance, joined up with other so called whistleblowers and aimed to make as much trouble as possible for his former employers who left him in the lurch.
In 1999 Keeley was introduced to Willie Frazer in Armagh. Frazer who was now heading up his own victims group.He started to introduce Keeley as former agent Fulton, to influential unionists including as Frazer said “Lords and people like that”.
One of the campaign’s that Frazer and his group started was one looking for an investigation into the murders of Breen and Buchanan. Frazer wanted answers as to why the British army did not intervene in the ambush of Breen and Buchanan. The Royal Fusiliers were carrying out a major bomb clearing operation around the Kilnasaggart/Edenappa Road area for the previous fortnight before the murders, which was due to end as soon as Breen as the RUC Commander gave the go ahead to reopen the railway line . However Frazer became persuaded by some RUC men that the collusion came from Dundalk Garda Station and in particular Owen Corrigan.
Fulton was used as the vehicle for the allegations against Corrigan – that he had tipped off the IRA on the afternoon the two RUC men arrived. This was not only fiction but Fulton would completely walk away from the allegations at Smithwick.
However, Donaldson stood up in the House of Commons and repeated the allegation that Owen Corrigan was the colluder. As this was broadcast live on BBC Parliament and could be received in Dundalk, the allegations had a devastating effect on Corrigan’s life.
In 2003 Fulton/ Keeley was then brought by Willie Frazer to Judge Peter Cory, tasked with looking into collusion in various incidents after the Weston Park Agreement between the two Governments. At a meeting in the Merrion Hotel, Dublin ‘Fulton’ made the allegation that Owen Corrigan had told Patrick “Mooch” Blair, the IRA Commander, outside Dundalk station, that the two officers had arrived there. According to Frazer, who was the only other person in the room when Fulton met Cory in 2003, Judge Cory did not reveal the actual allegation in his report. Frazer also said the so-called Fulton Statement in the report bore little resemblance to the conversation, that there had been no actual statement passed and that Cory had actually done all the writing at the meeting. However ultimately Cory called for a public inquiry into the murders of Breen and Buchanan which resulted in the setting up of the Smithwick Tribunal,in 2005. Public hearings finally began in 2011. Drew Harris, then Assistant Chief Constable in the PSNI, was the liaison between the Security Services, the PSNI Chief Constable and former RUC men.
By the time Fulton aka Keeley gave evidence at Smithwick, the allegations had again completely transmogrified.
Giving evidence in December 2011 Fulton/ Keeleys central allegation had completely changed. Now he maintained that the meeting between Blair and Corrigan happened not in 1989 but in 1991 and the information passed over had nothing to do with the Breen and Buchanan murders but concerned Louth farmer Tom Oliver giving information to the Gardai. But what Fulton didn’t realise is that Corrigan had left Dundalk station in 1989 on sick leave never to return.
Willie Frazer was astounded by Fulton’s change of allegation. He himself believed he had been deliberately excluded from involvement by a senior politician and lawyer who decided on ‘lines to take’.
Fulton/Keeley then admitted during evidence over three days, that the allegations concerning Breen and Buchanan, did not actually concern Corrigan, but a Garda the IRA in Newry called “our friend” who was allegedly giving information to the IRA. “Our friend”, he said, he had “thought ” was or might have been Corrigan but he actually didn’t know the identity of the Guard.
Keeley/Fulton admitted under cross examination that he had, in fact, not a shred of evidence connecting Corrigan with the murders of Chief Superintendent Breen and Buchanan.
Jeffrey Donaldson made a heinous allegation about the murders of the two RUC officers, based on a lie. Donaldson gave a statement to Smithwick but refused to resile from his accusations which were solely based on conversations with Fulton. Fulton himself admitted he lied for his own ends. M15 eventually got Fulton under their control in 2005 when they gave him a place to live and an income.
It took the new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and his appearance at the Tribunal to push Fulton and his allegations aside. However Smithwicks credulous reliance on Fulton/Keeley could not be dented.
ADDITIONAL STORIES ABOUT THE ASSASSINATION OF BREEN AND BUCHANAN AND OTHER GARDA-RUC-PSNI AFFAIRS ON THIS WEBSITE:
How Drew Harris diverted the Smithwick Tribunal.