Monthly Archives: December 2016

You Thought It Was Just A Bad Dream, But Then You Woke Up……

The First Family.....

The First Family…..

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You’ll Be Seeing A Lot Of This, Maybe Too Much, In 2017….

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Could The IRA’s ‘Tet Offensive’ Have Worked?

This intriguing question arises from a fascinating analysis in yesterday’s Irish Times by John Bowman, of British political opinion in the wake of the Unionist campaign against the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, a compact which, as Peter Robinson put it, seemingly placed Northern Ireland on the window ledge of the union but which was regarded by many British leaders as a sensible way to defang the IRA.

Christening the effect Unionist protest and intransigence in the wake of the Agreement, also known as the Hillsborough deal, had on a British establishment weary of the Troubles and IRA violence and anxious for a way to end a seemingly interminable conflict a ‘churning’ effect, Bowman concludes that the consequence was to weaken British affection for, and fealty to the Union.

So much so, and so widespread was the aversion to post-Hillsborough Unionism, that Margaret Thatcher’s then deputy chief whip in the House of Commons opined to an Irish diplomat, according to Bowman’s reading of Irish government papers from 1986 and recently released under the 30 year rule, that if the IRA managed to assassinate a member of the British Royal family it ‘would put the prospect of British withdrawal from Northern Ireland on the political agenda here’.

Well, maybe not a Royal assassination, but the IRA in 1986 was in the midst of organising a military venture which, if successful, might have had as much a sickening effect on British public opinion.

By 1986 the IRA was well advanced in planning and organising a massive military offensive, nicknamed an IRA ‘Tet’ by some, using Libyan-supplied weapons and explosives as well as cash. Like the effect of the Vietcong’s ‘Tet offensive’ of January 1968 on American public opinion, the IRA’s campaign was intended to weaken British resolve to continue fighting in a war it no longer had belief in winning or ending.

By the end of 1986 several boatloads of Libyan weaponry had successfully evaded British and Irish government monitoring and their cargoes of AK47’s and tons of Semtex explosives had been hidden away in dumps as a reserve for action after the major offensive.

The largest cargo, bringing even more sophisticated weaponry, was due to come to Ireland in the Spring of 1987 and it was this shipment that would be deployed for the IRA’s ‘Tet’.

But just as the cargo, on board the Eksund, was due to sail from the Libyan capital Tripoli, IRA intelligence learned that the Irish Army had been put on alert, from Carlingford Lough to Cork, in expectation of an arms shipment arriving.

The Eksund’s voyage was quickly cancelled.

What happened next and what was subsequently learned about the background to the Libyan shipments, would fuel the bitterness, doubts and suspicions that would eventually erupt in the split between the Adams/McGuinness Northern leadership and the Southern IRA in the form of the Engineering Department, led by Frank McGuinness, and the Quarter Master’s Dep’t led by Micky McKevitt.

The details can be found in the second edition of my book ‘A Secret History of the IRA’, but suffice it to say that the suspicion surfaced internally that a) the Adams/McGuinness faction had so widely briefed the IRA’s upper echelons about the Libyan shipments before they had happened that a leak to British intelligence was considered by their opponents inevitable and b) a decision was made, backed by the Adams/McGuinness faction but opposed by Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy and Micky McKevitt, the principal actors in the Libyan shipments, to try a second time sending the cargo once again on the Eksund. Others on the Army Council had urged sending a smaller cargo to test whether there was indeed a leak but were overruled. So the Eksund sailed and was captured in the autumn of 1987. And so died the IRA’s ‘Tet’ offensive.

The suspicions thus engendered fatally poisoned relations at the top of the IRA.

The intriguing question raised by John Bowman is simple: if the Eksund had got through safely, its cargo unloaded without detection and distributed to active service units and if British intelligence had failed to detect the plans, would the resulting ‘Tet’ offensive have had the same effect as the Royal assassination contemplated in Margaret Thatcher’s whip’s office?

Who knows, but an awful lot of ‘if’s’ there, if you ask me?

Anyway, here is what John Bowman writes about the churning effect Unionist antics, post the Hillsborough deal, had on the British political establishment. File it under, ‘What Might Have Been’. If he is right, and the IRA forfeited an opportunity to win its war, then the implications for what came next, the peace process, are pretty obvious. Either that or by the mid-1980’s the IRA had been so infiltrated by British intelligence that the game was up no matter what happened:

The scale of that churn only becomes evident when the detailed notes of Department of Foreign Affairs mandarins are studied. Through the assiduous work of the Irish embassy in London, the Anglo-Irish desk at Iveagh House learned during the year that many of the best-informed players in Westminster believed the union was itself being weakened by the behaviour of unionist politicians.

That these views came from figures as diverse as Conservative MP Ian Gow and Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock is testimony to the extent to which the unionist response to Hillsborough had been counterproductive.

Indeed John Cope, Thatcher’s deputy chief whip, had suggested at a lunch with Richard Ryan of the Irish embassy that the unionists were “shooting themselves in the feet, but with cannon!” He added that “the oft-cited man on the Clapham omnibus” was now “quite fed up with the whole Irish business and that something like a royal assassination would put the prospect of British withdrawal from Northern Ireland on the political agenda here”.

Dublin would have listened with particular attention to the opinions of Gow, whose advice on Northern Ireland Thatcher trusted, although not sufficiently to stay her hand before signing the agreement. Her very signature triggered his resignation that day from her government.

However, Gow remained deeply engaged on Northern Ireland, confiding to Ryan his belief that the unionists were “stretching Westminster’s patience dangerously” and it could have “real implications for the union”.

Kinnock, as Labour leader – and at the time a possible future prime minister – talked of “a growing view” in London that the union was “beginning to rock seriously”, with the shifting of opinion among Tory backbenchers “the most significant thing of all”. Moreover, given “the sort of bloody mood” that they were now in, it might not be “more than a further short step to seriously questioning the union.”

Northern Ireland minister Nicholas Scott was reported as characterising the Anglo-Irish Agreement as “an historical watershed” which was now recognised by the unionists who know “that things will never be the same again and that it is their fault”.

‘Big Bobby’ Storey ‘Thinks The World’ Of Gerry Adams: 1986 Irish Government Files

This piece of intelligence, which arrives courtesy of today’s RTE’s coverage of the release of Irish government files under the 30-year rule, will hardly come as a shock to regular readers of the elbow, but according to Gerry Adams’ solicitor in 1986, Paddy ‘PJ’ McGrory (father of our venerated Director of Public Prosecutions), Bobby Storey thought the world of Gerry Adams.

And still does, by the look of things.

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Gerry and Bobby

Paddy told this to one of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ ‘travelers’ – diplomats who toured the North picking up juicy tidbits from various contacts – adding that two other supposed hard men in the IRA, Gerry Kelly and Brendan ‘Bik’ MacFarlane, along with ‘hardened’ Provos in the Maze prison, had considerable ‘affection and respect’ for the SF President.

Bobby Storey went on to become the IRA’s Director of Intelligence and is credited (if that is the right word) with some spectacular operations, not least the bombing of Thiepval barracks in 1996 (on the eve of an IRA Convention called to overthrow Adams) and the robbery of some £26 million from the Northern Bank in central Belfast in 2004.

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Paddy ‘PJ’ McGrory

The Thiepval bombing arguably tempered the hostility to Adams’ peace strategy at the Convention, which he survived, whilst the final disposition of the stolen £26 million still remains something of a mystery and a source of speculation. Bobby Storey spent something like twenty years in jail for one reason or another but did manage once to escape, albeit only briefly.

IRA believe Anglo-Irish Agreement will fall apart

New files released by the Department of Foreign Affairs give an insight into views on the Provisional IRA’s strategy in 1986. David Barry, of the department’s Anglo-Irish division gives a detailed account of a meeting he had with solicitor PJ McGrory at his Belfast home in April 1986.

The files noted that McGrory was providing legal representation for well-known republicans Gerry Kelly and Bik McFarlane who were caught on the run in Amsterdam. McGrory “has never taken seriously the idea that Adams is Chief-of-Staff of the IRA…he is satisfied Adams has a remarkably strong influence on the Republican movement.”

The account continues, “McFarlane and Kelly, who are strong individuals in their own right, ‘think the world of him’ and even hardened Provos in the Maze who might normally be expected to view with a jaundiced eye someone outside who is promoting a political approach, attest to considerable affection and respect for Adams. This applies particularly to the Provo OC in the Maze, Robert Storey.”

The Belfast solicitor believed that under Adams’ influence the IRA had decided to “lie low” until the Anglo-Irish Agreement “falls apart of its own accord.”

“They expect the Taoiseach and Mrs Thatcher to make some concession on the Agreement which will appease unionists and alienate nationalists. They will stand in the wings ready to reap the benefits when the time comes.”

The IRA believed the “agreement will become a ghost” and this would result in “a massive electoral shift to Sinn Féin and increased recruitment to the Provos.”

McGrory said that “the Provos would allow the agreement disintegrate by itself but not try to hasten its demise to any significant extent.”

A Bizarre Donald Trump ‘Press Conference’….

This character will soon be leader of the most powerful nation on earth. Happy New Year!

The British Soldier Who Killed Jim Bryson Interviewed…..

By Ed Moloney and James Kinchin-White

Amongst the litany of heavy blows inflicted by the British Army on the Provisional IRA during the early 1970’s – when the war really was IRA vs British military – one of the most severe was the shooting dead of Ballymurphy IRA leader Jim Bryson and Patrick Mulvenna in August 1973.

Jim Bryson, pictured just before his death

Jim Bryson, pictured just before his death

Their loss to the IRA came at a critical time for the Provos. The IRA had just seen Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes arrested and interned in a swoop made possible, it is believed, by an informer, and Adams’ successor as Brigade commander, Ivor Bell, was attempting to install a number of cells to frustrate British penetration of the IRA in the city. Bryson and Mulvenna were key members of the new Ballymurphy cell when they were killed.

The full story of their death was told on this site by myself and James Kinchin-White, then labouring under the nom de plume ‘Bob Mitchell’, after James had acquired a copy of an internal Royal Green Jackets publication, ‘Chronicle of 1973′, which included a detailed account of the incident.

For some time the belief persisted that Bryson and Mulvenna, who was Gerry Adams’ brother-in-law, were either killed by members of the Official IRA or set up by them.

While there was indeed a plan by the Official IRA to ambush Bryson that day it seemed that the unfortunate gunman who had volunteered for the task developed cold feet at the last minute and the ambush was abandoned. The Officials played no other part in the day’s events and the death of the two Provisional IRA leaders was entirely the work of British forces.

Bryson and Mulvenna were shot dead, and a colleague, Jim ‘Bimbo’ O’Rawe seriously wounded, by a British Army sniper hidden in the roof space of a building in Ballymurphy’s Bullring. This account, followed by a correction, was published on thebrokenelbow.com in July 2015, nearly eighteen months after it had first appeared on the ‘Politico’ website in Dublin. You can read the article here, and the correction here.

What we did not know was that the sniper had been interviewed, with his face pixelated, by Peter Taylor on one of a series of TV programmes about the Troubles called ‘Families at War’. Someone, it seems, extracted the pieces dealing with the British military and put them together in a series entitled ‘The Royal Green Jackets in Northern Ireland’ and posted them on YouTube under the moniker redMARS1.

The interview with the Bryson sniper starts at 09:17 and ends at 12:17:

 

 

Donald Trump And Ayn Rand, A Marriage Made In Hell….

More and more commentators are concluding that Donald Trump’s real goal, now that he has ‘won’ the US presidency, is to create a society, and a capitalist economy, based on the extreme libertarian views of the Russian novelist Ayn Rand – an economy that will be red in tooth and claw that doubtless will be eagerly imitated in Europe.

The fact that he has filled his cabinet with multi-billionaires who could have stepped out of the pages of Rand’s homage to capitalist leader-heroes, ‘Atlas Shrugged’, is just one pointer in that direction. Others are the plans for corporate tax cuts, the scrapping or privatising of government health schemes like Medicare and Medicaid, and a shredding of government regulations that he promises.

In that context, it is worth revisiting a celebrated interview Rand gave to Mike Wallace of CBS back in 1959. Note how Wallace regards Rand’s views as so far out of kilter with American society even back then, that they would be rejected by most.

How far things have changed, and how much worse they are likely to get, a path blazed by Reagan, Thatcher, Clinton and Blair leading to, of all people, Donald Trump.

All down to this evil woman who personifies the selfish worst in humanity (in her old age however, her libertarianism didn’t stop her from seeking treatment under Medicare, a government run programme!)