The Michael Reade Show
LMFM Radio 95.8
Michael Reade has Co. Louth Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick in studio to discusses his questioning of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris about the 1991 murder of Co. Louth farmer Tom Oliver at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice yesterday, 13 February 2019.
(begins time stamp ~ 26:06)
Michael: Now the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) Chief Constable has the name of a senior Provisional IRA man who allegedly ordered the murder Tom Oliver in 1991 – this is according to the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, who was in front of the Justice Committee yesterday and was responding to questions put to him by Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick who’s come into us this morning. Good Morning! to you, Peter Fitzpatrick, and thanks for joining us. It was a most interesting interaction. In fact, we’ll be listening to the questions you put to the Commissioner and the Commissioner’s response a little bit later on in the programme. But perhaps you’d begin by putting this into context for us – what happened in 1991? Who was Tom Oliver?
Well, first of all Tom Oliver was a forty-three year old man. He was a husband. He was a father of seven children. He was a sheep farmer. And the Gard and everybody in the area maintain that he had no connection to any paramilitary or security forces. He was abducted, he was tortured, he was brutally murdered by members of the Provisional IRA. His body was found in Belleek in Co. Armagh; he was shot in the head. In postmortem the local priest couldn’t really recognise him because it looked as though a concrete block had smashed the whole man’s body up. Tom Oliver was an innocent person who back in 1989 discovered a barrel on his land and in the barrel there was, when the Garda came along, there was guns and I maintain from that day on that Tom Oliver’s life was a big threat.
Michael: Alright and the IRA took responsibility and An Phoblacht, the Republican newspaper, published the reason why which was that the IRA believed that he was an informant and I think, if I remember correctly, the IRA at the time made it known to people that informants would be treated in the way that Tom Oliver was.
Peter: Yes, that Sinn Féin magazine made serious allegations against Tom Oliver and his family and also published that the Provisional IRA did do the murder. Yes, it was an opportunity – this is my second time in front of Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris – and I think, you know, it’s about time – like 1991 is an awful a long time and like since 1991 Tom Oliver’s mother has died, one of his daughters has died, the wife’s not well at the moment and I think it’s time we need a bit of clarity and I had an opportunity…
Michael: …It was twenty-eight years ago!
Peter: It’s a long, long time.
Michael: I mean, surely the file’s now closed on this.
Peter: No. As you know yourself there’s new file opened there last year. There was supposed to be new information found on the head of the car number on cigarette packet and that there, but listen…
Michael: …And just to stop at that point – at that time, when the Gardaí reopened the investigation, Drew Harris was actually working for the PSNI. Now Drew Harris is the Garda Commissioner. And he told you that the PSNI has the name of the person who ordered Tom Oliver’s killing and this is why you raised it with him at the Justice Committee yesterday.
Peter: Yeah. I think the main reason I did take it up is when you look back from 2006 to 2014 Drew Harris was a Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable and his main function – at that time he was the crime operator. He was the man that gathered all the intelligence, he was looking after the terrorist groups, the criminal groups and he had direct links to MI5. So, and also, I also stated yesterday that back in 2012 he came in front of the Smithwick Tribunal and he made serious allegations as such…
Michael: And the Smithwick Tribunal was investigating the killing of two RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) officers.
Peter: Yeah, there was two RUC officers they murdered and there was also a connection there with the Dundalk barracks and there was a lot of things that happened there but like if you look back there, that happened back in 1989, and there was two RUC – first of all there was Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan who was ambushed and murdered by the Provisional IRA – and his witnesses he found, Drew Harris was up in front of the Smithwick Tribunal and people don’t realise it – he was actually there for eleven hours – so he was giving an awful lot of information. He was talking about the murder of the two RUCs and he also maintained that the person who informed the IRA about the activities of the two RUC officers was also the person who that informed the IRA about allegations on Tom Oliver. So, we had an opportunity…
Michael: …Was that somebody in Dundalk Garda Station?
Peter: Well listen, as I said, Peter Smithwick, the judge over the case, said that everything that Drew Harris, said the evidence that he gave, was all true. And these…
Michael: …He was asked by Justice Smithwick: Who ordered the killing of Tom Oliver?
Peter: Oh, he did. Like let’s, I’ll tell you what, Michael, I’ll just start it at the beginning, Michael. I know you said that later on you’re going to run in on your programme. Back in October 2012 there was the Smithwick Tribunal and it was done in closed session and Drew Harris made a lot of statements there and what happened was then, it was in closed session – and in fairness to Peter Smithwick, who was the judge at the time, after consultation he came out and published a lot of what was said and what he did say was that Drew Harris told him that there was a file and there was sensational information in the file. And it was basically saying, naming, a senior IRA personnel who ordered the murder of Tom Oliver.
Michael: A member of the Army Council?
Peter: Oh, yes. And this man came to the area and met members of the IRA in the Cooley area – that these people didn’t want Tom Oliver murdered but he gave the direct go-ahead to murder Tom Oliver. So Tom Oliver was abducted, he was taken down to Armagh.
Like and, the Sinn Féin magazine again also stated that there was supposed to be a tape released at the time stating that Tom Oliver said that he was an informer. Like as I said to you, the parish priest looked at the body and I’ll tell you one thing, like, what happened to that poor man! Like he must have been – listen, the problem that I got here is that members of the family listening to this at the moment and you said it, it’s twenty-eight years ago and all they want is closure – but Drew Harris told the Tribunal that the Garda have the information and he wrote down on a piece of paper the name of the person. And I think that people of – first of all the Oliver Family – the people of the Cooley area who, I stated on your programme for the last number of years, is a split community – there’s families not talking, there’s people banned from pubs – like that whole area is completely split! And all we want now is – and Drew Harris, the Garda Commissioner, the Chief Constable of the PSNI – have to come together, we have to – let’s get it once and for all.
Michael: Right. We’re going to hear what you said yesterday, we’re going to hear what Drew Harris, the Commissioner, said yesterday and we’re also going to hear what the Chairperson of the Committee said yesterday because I think people have to hear this for themselves to believe what happened and to make up their own minds as to why there was an intervention. If people are familiar with this story they’ll know that Sinn Féin don’t want this murder investigated. Gerry Adams said it would be ‘unhelpful’ to have it investigated and Gerry Adams certainly doesn’t want it investigated and he made those statements at the time as the president of Sinn Féin. Now you asked these questions of the Garda Commissioner yesterday and the Chair of the committee is a Sinn Féin TD. And Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said: Well, you don’t have to answer those questions. He made it clear to the Commissioner that he wouldn’t expect him to answer them and seemed to think he wouldn’t be in the position to answer them and the Commissioner was, obviously, of a very different mind and was well prepared to answer them and had already met with the Oliver Family.
Peter: Like from day one, even if you look at the first conference that the Garda Commissioner gave he actually sat in the chair on his own. This man has promised to look after vulnerable people. I had an opportunity yesterday to ask questions about Tom Oliver and, in fairness, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin, who was the Chair of the Committee, said that we could ask whatever questions we wanted to ask.
Michael: Were you surprised that Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin suggested that the Commissioner mightn’t be able to answer it?
Peter: Well, I was very, very disappointed and in fairness, he normally is a good chair.
Michael: That was odd – wasn’t it?
Peter: I honestly could not believe yesterday – the way he intervened – because, in fairness, like I’m on the Justice Committee for the last number of years and no matter what TD asked questions I’ve never once interrupted anybody at that moment – we’re all entitled to ask the questions. And I had an opportunity yesterday to ask the questions and, in fairness, he gave me answers. I think the big plus we got yesterday was that the Garda Commissioner has already said that he met the Oliver Family and he’s given the commitment over the next number of weeks to go and visit the family again. I’m sure, when he met the Oliver Family first, I’m sure the Oliver Family did ask him a few questions. I’d say what he’s doing at the moment is he’s sitting down digesting it. I’m sure that he’s talking to the Chief Constable…
Michael: …He was very familiar with it. How do these things work? You said you were told you could ask whatever questions you wanted – was the Commissioner aware that you were going to raise this?
Peter: No. No…
Michael: …He knew the case without having to give it a second thought.
Peter: Well, when the Commissioner came first of all up in front of the Committee I quizzed him for nearly thirty minutes as you told on your programme. And in fairness every question I’ve asked him – I find him him very up, very open. And in fairness, like there’s a lot of allegations going around in this country at the moment that the person who’s involved is A, B and C…
Michael: …But he believes he knows himself who ordered the killing of Tom Oliver. He gave that name to Justice Smithwick. He says that’s information belonging to the PSNI now. He has met with the Oliver Family. He took questions from you yesterday. He said he’ll meet with the family again but there’s no questioning his familiarity with this particular case. He is very, very much aware of what happened in 1991.
Peter: Well, if you go back to the 2012 Smithwick Tribunal he held nothing back. He faced everything exactly. He said that he does know the name of the person who ordered the murder of Tom Oliver, he handed it to the judge so he’s familiar with it. I think he’s a lot of information there at the moment. I know, I know that the people in Co. Louth, the family, the Oliver Family – all we want is clarity. After twenty-eight years I think we’ve really, really come a long, long way. I think Drew Harris has an opportunity of closing this case…
Michael: …We’ve asked Gerry Adams (I’m sorry for having crossed you but we’re coming up to news time) we’ve asked Gerry Adams to make comment on this on the programme tomorrow or at another time. We don’t know if he will because he’s made his statements on it previously. There’s questions about what Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said yesterday or how he intervened in the interaction yesterday and undoubtedly the family have questions that they’d like Sinn Féin to answer now about the investigation into the killing of Tom Oliver. What would you like Sinn Féin to do now?
Peter: Well first of all, if I was Gerry Adams and – if you go back to Prime Time back in 2015, Miriam O’Callaghan, when she was interviewing Gerry Adams, first of all he wouldn’t answer any of the questions she was asking him – but he has an opportunity, now, of clearing his name because if you go back to the time Tom Oliver was murdered, in the 18th-19th July in 1991, it just happened that Gerry Adams happened to be in the Cooley area. And Miriam O’Callaghan put all these questions to him and like, like I’m not (inaudible) all we want to know is, sorry, all we do know at the moment is that the Garda Commissioner knows who the informer was and I think there’s an obligation on the Garda Commissioner, the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, to work together for once and for all to put closure on to Tom Oliver. As I said to you early on, his mother died in 1991, his wife’s not very well at the moment, one of his siblings has died and I just think, for once and for all, we have to do something and all I’d say at the moment is: Please let the right thing be done.
Michael: Independent TD for Louth, Peter Fitzpatrick, thank you very much indeed. (ends time stamp ~ 38:39)
Later in this programme the audio portion of the 13 February 2019 Justice Committee meeting related to TD Fitzpatrick asking Garda Commissioner Drew Harris about the murder of Tom Oliver is played. (begins time stamp ~ 51:02)
Michael: The Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, was in front of the Justice Committee yesterday. Let’s hear some of the interaction the Commissioner had with local Independent TD, Peter Fitzpatrick.
Peter: On July 19th 1991 Tom Oliver, a forty-three year old man from Riverstown, Co. Louth, a husband who had seven children, a sheep farmer, no connection to any paramilitary or security forces was abducted, tortured and brutally murdered by members of the Provisional IRA. His body was found across the border in Belleek in Co. Armagh. He was shot in the head. A local priest who attended the postmortem remarked that it looked like they dropped a concrete block on every part of his body. All his family is looking for is justice and who killed their father. In October 2012 you gave evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal in closed session. Judge Peter Smithwick decided after consultation to publish. He stated that you told him, Based on intelligence files compiled by the PSNI and the RUC and MI5, the British security services, you spoke about the killing of Tom Oliver and that one intelligence file was noting short than sensational. File ‘Number Nine’ stated: intelligence indicated that a senior Provisional IRA Council member was directly involved in the ordering of the murder of Tom Oliver. The senior Provisional IRA Army Council had been approached by several Provisional IRA members and others requesting that Tom Oliver not to be killed. Despite this request, the senior Provisional IRA Army member directed that Tom Oliver be executed. You were then asked: Did you know who that person was and, if so, would you pass on the information to the Gardaí? Your answer was: Yes.
Unidentified Voice: …(inaudible)…
Peter: …Excuse… Asked if you would like to give the name of the…
Committee Chair Ó Caoláin: …Deputy Fitzpatrick…
Peter: …I’m nearly finished. I’m nearly finished, please.
Committee Chair Ó Caoláin: If you would indicate what the nature of your question is.
Peter: Yeah. I’ve just one more sentence left. Asked if you would like to give the name of the Army Council member who sent Tom Oliver to his death you opted to write it down and give the name to Judge Peter Smithwick. This family has suffered since the murder. All I want to do is ask the Garda Commissioner: Where do you go from here? A fresh investigation is underway. Will you meet the family? And what also I want to know is : What is actually happening? You’re now the Garda Commissioner and I just want to know and what this family wants to know is: What is happening from here on? Thank you.
Committee Chair Ó Caoláin: Deputy Fitzpatrick, I feel that the Commissioner will respond as he is in a position to respond – if you’re in a position to offer a reply today.
Commissioner Harris: Well, I have met the family and the family will be coming into see me again over the next couple of months. And so they want an update on the review that An Garda Síochána have committed to and indeed finish in respect to the abduction and murder of Tom Oliver. And so I prefer a meeting with the family to brief them on that. The body of Tom Oliver was recovered in Belleek South Armagh so the Chief Constable of the PSNI has the jurisdiction for the investigation of that murder and we will be assisting the PSNI in any review that they would do in respect to that murder.
Peter: This is, like the name – what’s happening with the name of this person of the IRA? What’s actually happening there at the moment? I hope it’s not going to be buried. Where do we go from here?
Commissioner Harris: Well, that’s no longer my information. That’s information which is held by the Chief Constable in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. So that information is in his possession and that’s for him then to determine what actions then he takes next.
Peter: Well, my main concern here is the family and I’m delighted that you already met the family and I’m delighted that you’re going to meet the family again because it’s the family who lost a father and neighbours lost a friend and this person had no connection whatsoever with any paramilitary. To me, this was a very innocent man, I’m delighted – and all I’d like to see is closure and thank you for your response.
Michael: Peter Fitzpatrick, Independent TD for Louth, asking questions of the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, at the Justice Committee yesterday about the killing of Tom Oliver in 1991. (ends time stamp ~ 55:56)