By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Irish police reacted immediately to offer support to the PSNI in the aftermath of the shooting of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has said.
Mr Heaton-Harris was responding to concerns raised at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee by DUP MP Jim Shannon about a lack of security co-operation from the Irish state in providing information about a number of Troubles offences.
Telling MPs that it was alleged that those who shot the senior detective had fled across the border, Mr Shannon said it “looked like nothing had improved”.
But Mr Heaton-Harris countered that Irish Justice Minister Simon Harris had offered whatever assistance was required following the shooting of Mr Caldwell in Omagh last month. The detective remains in a critical but stable condition in hospital.
Mr Shannon told the committee that the Republic of Ireland had “often been found wanting” when it came to security collaboration over Troubles killings.
He drew attention to three incidents. The first was the 1989 murders in South Armagh by the IRA of RUC officers Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan who were shot shortly after they crossed the border into Northern Ireland as they returned from a meeting at Dundalk Garda Station.
He also highlighted the 1998 Real IRA Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people including a mother of unborn twins, telling the committee that the device was constructed in the Republic.
Mr Shannon then referred to the IRA murder of his cousin Kenneth Smyth and Daniel McCormick in 1971, stating that the killers had escaped across the border and were never brought to justice.
He said: “We look at these examples, a Republic of Ireland government that seems to turn a blind eye to whenever IRA terrorists cross the border to escape their murderous campaign against the people of Northern Ireland.
“It is rumoured and alleged that the people who carried out the attempted murder of Inspector Caldwell also ran across the border.
“If it happened on December 10 1971 and it is happening today, then what has improved with the Republic of Ireland, with their security forces, with their police? Can I say it looks like nothing has improved.”
Mr Heaton-Harris said he believed there was a very good relationship between the PSNI and the Gardai.
He added: “What we have seen following the attack on DCI Caldwell demonstrates a proper understanding of how we can help each other.
“The day after DCI Caldwell was shot I had Simon Harris, the Irish Minister for Justice, on the phone, not just offering an expression of support and solidarity, but whatever assistance the Irish state could give in the aftermath of the attack.
“Commissioner Drew Harris, beyond the usual routine contact his officers have with the PSNI, they acted immediately in the aftermath of that attack to support PSNI with patrols in border areas, investigations and inquiries, so PSNI officers could do what we would have expected them to do around dealing with the immediate aftermath.
“There is a lot of cross-fertilisation. I am actually quite positive about the current and future arrangements and co-operation on policing and security on dealing with paramilitarism.”
Mr Heaton-Harris said there remained “strong differences of opinion” between the UK and Irish governments on how to deal with legacy issues relating to the Troubles.