BYLINE: John Mooney
An internal garda review into the murder of Tom Oliver, a farmer from the Cooley Peninsula in Louth who was abducted, tortured and shot by the Provisional IRA in July 1991, has uncovered failings in the original police investigation.
Oliver’s death, one of the most horrific murders of the Troubles, was examined by the force’s cold case unit, a branch of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
The review established that the father of seven reported to local gardai that he had uncovered a plastic barrel containing guns while digging a drain in 1989. The barrel contained weapons hidden by the Armagh/Louth brigade of the IRA.
Gardai involved in the review have concluded more care should have been taken to protect Oliver, who had done his civic duty by reporting the discovery.
The review also identified issues with how gardai gathered evidence during the inquiry and identified lines of investigation that were not pursued or missed.
Oliver was abducted by members of the IRA near the border on July 18. His family had reported him missing after he failed to return home from going to check on a cow that was calving.
The father of seven is said to have been tortured by the IRA’s internal security unit. It is understood his captors broke his bones while he was strapped to a chair. He was shot several times in the head before his body was dumped on a road north of the border near Belleeks in Co Armagh.
The IRA later admitted responsibility for the murder and claimed the farmer had acted as a garda informer. The IRA released a “tape recording” of a confession that Oliver allegedly made.
Gardai believe Oliver’s abduction was approved by a senior IRA terrorist from Belfast, who authorised the killing on behalf of the group’s army council. The suspect is believed to have travelled to the area where he was consulted on the confession which had been extracted from Oliver after he was tortured. Gardai have no plans to arrest and question the suspect as yet.
Drew Harris, the garda commissioner, provided the name of the suspect to Peter Smithwick, the judge who led a tribunal into allegations of garda collusion in the 1989 murder of two RUC officers, Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan who were shot dead by the IRA after meeting officers in Dundalk garda station.
Harris wrote the name of the suspect on a piece of paper which he handed to Smithwick. He was in charge of intelligence in Northern Ireland while an assistant chief constable of the PSNI between 2006 and 2014. It is thought the information he provided was based on evidence from an IRA informer.
Last year Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein TD for Louth, said the murder of Oliver was a “politically motivated killing” and argued that the pursuit of his murderers would be “counterproductive” and potentially harm the peace process. Adams has said Sinn Fein has no information on the killing.