In the wake of 2013’s Smithwick Tribunal investigation into the violent death of Harry Breen, the Royal Ulster Constabulary chief superintendent killed by the Irish Republican Army in a 1989 ambush, An Sionnach Fionn was the only news site in Ireland or Britain to discuss the officer’s known ties to British terrorism. A deluge of eulogising reports and features by the depressingly one-sided press in 2013-14 studiously avoided any mention of Breen’s controversial career in the RUC or his association with the gunmen and bombers of militant unionism. It has taken four years for the conventional media to build up the courage to tackle the issue, the Village magazine recently publishing an investigation by the former RTÉ journalist Deirdre Younge.
The new piece examines Harry Breen’s much-debated relationship with the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Resistance, the de facto military wing of the late Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party. From 1986 to 1987 these two terror gangs played a significant role in the importation of South African-supplied arms from the Middle East to the north-east of the country under the direction of the United Kingdom’s Intelligence Corps and Security Service (MI5). This has been charted in quite some detail on ASF.
Younge argues that Harry Breen may have used his position as a senior RUC officer to aid the distribution and hiding of the Lebanese weapons and ammunition in County Armagh, some of which was stored at a local British Army base.
Breen chaired wide-ranging RUC meetings at the highest level during the period when it was suffering heavy casualties in shootings and bombings. For the last year of his life he was Divisional Commander, had access to high-level intelligence from the British Army and Special Branch, and kept in constant touch with his men on the ground in rural RUC stations.
Shockingly, the former-Security-Forces sources say Harry Breen was sympathetic, and supplied information, to the Loyalist paramilitaries who were in control of the shipment, in particular Ulster Resistance.
Perhaps as a result of this, although the UDA and a part of the UVF arms were seized, the Ulster Resistance arms were not located.
Loyalist sources have made it clear to Village that Breen was not ‘rogue’ but was following what he believed was an Intelligence agenda.
There is also some mention of the convicted policeman-cum-gunman John Weir, a former member of the RUC’s notorious Special Patrol Group and an active terrorist with the so-called Glenanne Gang (a loose coalition of serving or former members of the UK’s military and paramilitary forces in the counties of Down, Armagh and Tyrone).
In a long statement in 1999, John Weir, by then out of prison, alleged that in the 1970s Harry Breen, then a Chief Inspector in uniform, was aiding Loyalist paramilitaries by supplying them with weapons and encouraging their activities. Breen was close to an RUC Sergeant who was an expert gun-maker for the UVF, he claimed.
The suggestion below may explain the main motivation for the fatal ambush of Harry Breen and his colleague, superintendent Bob Buchanan, at Jonesborough by the South Armagh Brigade of the IRA:
Around the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement senior members of RUC Special Branch are believed to have made it clear to Officials in the Security Services and Government, that they were completely opposed to any new direction that involved appeasement. Harry Breen was seen as a leader who would stand against the appeasement. He was so influential and well-connected that, “If Breen had lived there would have been no Ceasefire” was the opinion of one former member of the UDR in Armagh who spoke to Village.
The same was said of those chief RUC, Int Corps and SS/MI5 officers who lost their lives in the still controversial Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash in 1994, three months before the penultimate IRA ceasefire of that year (itself, a response to the developing Irish-British peace process of the early ’90s).