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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen – frontline warrior for the British Jihad in Ireland

Do journalists ever bother to read books any more, consult their fading memory banks, check the internet, or pick up the phone and ask someone who might know more than they do, when reporting what happened in the Troubles?

For the past fortnight we have seen many headlines and column inches in our newspapers devoted to an inquiry set up to investigate the circumstances leading to the murder of two RUC officers by the IRA. The two police officers in question were Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan whose unmarked car was ambushed not long after it had left Dundalk Garda station, and almost as soon as it crossed what was then the border between North and South. (There is no border any more).

SB officers Harry Breen and Robert Buchanan

The killings took place in March 1989 and these were the highest ranking police officers to have been killed at that time.

The Smithwick Tribunal (whose sole member is Justice Peter Smithwick) was set up on the basis of a recommendation in a report compiled by retired Canadian judge, Peter Cory, which looked into allegations of collusion between rogue police officers and the IRA during the Troubles. Pressure for this inquiry also came from Unionist MPs like Jeffery Donaldson of the DUP. We will return to judge Cory in a moment.

Unionist MPs were (understandably from their point of view) hoping to assert that collusion was a two way street - occurring not only between British forces and loyalist killers but also between the southern Irish (i.e. Roman Catholic) police and the IRA. This quid pro quo comparison is of course ridiculous. In legal terms one cannot compare the actions of a state with that of an insurrectionist guerilla army. Besides which, the notion of the Garda Síochána helping the IRA is broadly ridiculous. The whole ethos of the southern Irish police force is anti republican. During the Troubles, the "guards" held the RUC in great esteem and detested the IRA.

There is another compelling point that undermines the idea that the IRA needed assistance from the Gardaí to murder policemen - virtually the whole of South Armagh/North Louth was a No-Go area for the security forces because the IRA's writ held sway in that area. Why should anyone therefore argue that it was beyond the wit of the IRA to carry out the operation under its own steam?

Undercover car ambushed

Now it is right and proper that there should be inquests and inquiries into all controversial deaths during the Troubles, especially where there may be a secretive agenda that may have contributed to the death, or deaths. The phrase “truth recovery” has been used of late and I think that must apply to all sides in the conflict. However in all the recent reportage I have seen about this investigation into the Breen and Buchanan murders two vital pieces of information have been left out:
Harry Breen was a Dirty War operative named by several important sources as a key link man in the covert campaign that was being prosecuted against an irredentist Irish populace in the North (seeking to unite a territory).
One of the main sources of the Garda/IRA collusion theory is an English journalist and former British Navy officer called Toby Harnden whose reliability in this area has been called into question.

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen
With regard to Harry Breen's background, perhaps the best thing to do is to quote my own book- A Very British Jihad. The quote below details how covert British security forces operated with loyalist death squads. Harry Breen was a leading officer in a mobile paramilitary force called the Special Patrol Group (SPG). This group worked closely with the UVF and counted UVF members within its ranks. Notorious murders carried out by these murder gangs include the Dublin and Monaghan Bombs (1974) and the Miami Showband Massacre (1975). The British army liaison officer working with this group was Captain Robert Nairac. Here is how I describe the set up, in which Harry Breen is specifically mentioned:

“SAS officer Captain Tony Ball, who commanded 14th Intelligence in its early days, requested that Nairac be his liaison officer. Further evidence of his liaison role is that Niarac received a tankard from grateful Special Branch officers in Armagh in 1975. Nairac’s job, as a covert war specialist, was to liaise with the RUC and UDR in the Armagh and border area. What this meant, at that time, was that he was liaising with senior UVF members like Billy Hanna and Robin Jackson and senior police officers like Harry Breen and his SPG units which were working with the UVF. In a way there is nothing surprising in this arrangement other than the fact that the state and certain commentators continued to deny it in the face of all the evidence that it happened.”
(Source - A Very British Jihad – p 183)

There is a really excellent description of the wider activities of these RUC/UVF murder gangs here:

Toby Harnden
With regard to journalist Toby Harnden, in Ireland he is best known for his book about the IRA in South Armagh - "Bandit Country”, where the security forces in place at that time seem to have handed over their whole surveillance archive to Mr Harnden, to do with as he pleased. “Bandit Country” was a huge success for the author and much of what he says in his book may well be true, but there is a fault line in his approach. Moreover, this fault line is shared amongst a number of commentators who are known as experts on the recent war in the North and that fault line lies in the fact that these journalists and writers seem happy to take the word of a Special Branch or British Army agent as gospel and then hypothesise on the basis of that information.

None other than Judge Peter Cory himself warned of this approach in his report covering another IRA murder in the same area of South Armagh. Where the Breen murder is concerned, this respected judge is damning in his account of Harnden’s evidence (and also of the evidence of our old friend Kevin Myers). This is what he says:

“In summary, the investigations into the book Bandit Country and the article [by Myers] `An Irishman's Diary' indicate that the authors' allegations that there was a Garda mole, or that a Garda member facilitated the murder of Officers Breen and Buchanan, appear to be based upon hypothesis, speculation and a source or sources of information that the authors refused to disclose.
Statements and allegations were put forward as matters of fact, when in reality they were founded upon speculation and hypothesis.
It would have been preferable if the book and the article had made this clear. Fairness to the victims' families demanded no less.''
(Source - Cory Collusion Inquiry Report – Par 1.144. Delivered 7 October 2003)

No journalist working today has any excuse for not reporting the above devastating statement because not only has Cory’s report been around for many years, journalists like Barry O'Kelly of the Sunday Business Post (now with RTÉ) gave an excellent analysis of the background to the inquiry and related events. See the full report here:

It should also be pointed out that Toby Harnden has previous where the realms of hypothesis are concerned. He is famous in journalistic circles for having described (massively incorrectly) the execution of Saddam Hussein before it happened. In absolute fairness to Harnden, he put his hands up over this particular piece of disastrous hypothesis, describing it as “not his finest hour”.

Forked Language
Turning away from stellar journalists like Toby Harnden and Kevin Myers, it is interesting to look at the kind of language Irish journalists use when giving a background to the career of IRA members who are killed in action; often using torrid terminology such as 'ruthless terrorist', 'hit man', ‘expert bomber’, ‘secret mastermind’ etc. This, perhaps, is understandable but these same journalists then describe RUC officers as 'top cops', ‘senior policemen’ and so on. Just imagine if journalists were suddenly to use equivalent language in headlines describing the RUC; like, say – Ronnie Flanagan, head of the ‘notorious RUC Special Branch’, or Harry Breen ‘Death Squad Cop’.

From the coverage in Irish newspapers and television one would think the British Jihad had never happened. This reminds me of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s brilliant book Cien Años de Soledad – A Hundred Years of Solitude where the local populace's struggles against a huge fruit cartel are wiped from history within a couple of generations. This process of amnesia can only happen if journalists and story tellers abandon their Hippocratic oath to tell the truth and keep the folk memory alive. We cannot allow that to happen.

None of the above means, in my view, that we should nurture bitterness in our hearts for the likes of Harry Breen. He is dead now and has had to face the decisions he took in his life, as we all must do. A culture of vengeance has never helped any society. Like a canker in a piece of fruit, bitterness only corrupts the host or carrier of such bile, never anybody else.

However, the plain fact is that Harry Breen was a key player in England’s war against the Irish. A war that has lasted many centuries but is now coming to a close with the descendants of the Planter population finally being forced to acknowledge that its destiny is tied to the history of Ireland.

@Paul Larkin
Mí an Mheithimh 2011


Tá eolas tabhachtach á shoilsiú agat anseo. You are putting very important info under the spotllight here, It's good to get a perspective that doesn't appear to have been written in a press office....
by: Concubhar (contact) - 13 Jun '11 - 09:51
A Chonchubhair - cara Gael - silim gur sin roinnt den fhadhb - caithfidh lucht iriseoireachta sa lá atá inniu ann bheith "ar theachtaireacht" laistigh cibé áit a bhfuil siad ag obair, in áit a bheith neamhspleách.

There's a media culture now that dictates that journalists must be "on message" - carrying the ethos of the company or corporation they work for rather than being independent

mo sheacht beannacht ort

by: Pol (contact) - 13 Jun '11 - 10:13
"There is no border any more" - you could have fooled me. What do you suppose then to call the internationally recognised division between the two jurisdictions?
by: Michael O'Brien (contact) - 18 Nov '13 - 18:27
Well, firstly, anyone who has queued at British army border checkpoints (all gone) for hours sees my point. Nor are there any road markings to mark an exact border any more. Perhaps more importantly, the GFA asserts the right to be Irish on an all Ireland basis.

This is a good beginning.

I suspect you may not be the William O'Brien you say you are. If I'm wrong, thank you for your comment.

Paul Larkin
by: Pol (contact) - 23 Nov '13 - 12:05


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Title: Chief Superintendent Harry Breen – frontline warrior for the British Jihad in Ireland
Date posted: 12 Jun '11 - 12:52
Filed under: General
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