Tag Archives: IRA

Competition To Rename Northern Bank Robbed By IRA Of £26.5 Million

Thebrokenelbow.com is proud to announce a competition to rename the Northern Bank building which was the scene in December 2004 of what was then the largest robbery in Irish or British criminal history. The IRA is believed to have been responsible and stole £26.5 million from the bank’s vaults in a mixture of new and used notes.

The former Northern Bank in Belfast City centre

The former Northern Bank in Belfast City centre

The Guardian today revealed that the bank, which the paper describes as a classic example of ‘brutalist’ architecture, has been listed as a building of historic or architectural interest by the Department of Environment.

However the DoE has not yet announced what name the building will be given and so to assist the process this blog is inviting readers to make their own suggestions. The winning prize will be, as usual, a lifetime subscription to the blog.

To start the process, here is thebrokenelbow.com’s own suggestion: Bobby Storey House.

McGuigan Killing: With No Evidence, The Irish Times Calls It ‘A Feud Between Former IRA Members’

After days of silence from Ireland’s paper of record, or at least no published articles on the killing of Kevin McGuigan written by a staff writer, The Irish Times has, courtesy of a piece filed by an unnamed reporter from the Press Association (PA), pronounced the McGuigan slaying outside his Short Strand home last week “a suspected feud between former IRA members”.


This politically safe if somewhat ambiguous depiction would, if reflected in the results of the PSNI ‘investigation’, get Sinn Fein off the hook and defuse any threat from the DUP leader Peter Robinson to expel the party from the power-sharing Executive, a threat Mr Robinson would have to make good if the PSNI found that the killing was authorised by the republican/Sinn Fein leadership or that there was foreknowledge on their part.

The use of the phrase “former members” by the PA, and its endorsement by the Times is critical to all this; on one reading, it carries the implicit suggestion that the killers were not members of any existing republican group or the Provisional IRA in a re-structured form, could not have been ordered to kill, and thus accords with the official peace process narrative which claims that the IRA went out of business in July 2005.

On that reading this killing could therefore be seen as an intervention by former combatants that had nothing to do with the Sinn Fein or IRA leadership. In May, Jock Davison, a senior IRA figure in the city was slain in the Markets district and last week, his alleged killer was struck down in the nearby Short Strand. Thus the narrative could read: old friends fell out and their mates took sides, but nothing to do with the Provos.

Neither the PA nor The Irish Times provide any evidence to support this claim nor do they source it. The Press Association has an interesting history covering the Northern Troubles. For a period in the late 1970’s its Belfast office was known for its excellent IRA sources but after complaints from the British military there were staff changes and thereafter the PA became better known for its RUC and security force stories.

Observers of the republican scene, including this writer, believe that while the mainstream IRA no longer exists in its old form and size, the organisation most certainly retains an intelligence-gathering wing which is active on both sides of the Border while common sense – namely the need to defend against precisely the sort of assault represented by the Davison killing – strongly suggests a precautionary need for some armed capacity.

No seasoned observer believes that weapons are not available for use and there is a widespread suspicion in republican districts of Belfast that the McGuigan killing was ordered with the intention of deterring any more killings like that of Mr Davison.

Nonetheless given the high stakes at risk, no less than the survival of the power-sharing government at Stormont, a PSNI inquiry which concluded that Kevin McGuigan was killed by armed members of an organisation linked to Sinn Fein would be a disaster for supporters of the peace process.

The Irish Times/PA description – “a feud by former IRA members (with the accent on ‘former’)” – would give Sinn Fein a ‘get out of jail free’ card and save the process.

A wise punter would bet the mortgage on it. But be quick.

Below is The Irish Times/PA story:


Shankill bomber questioned in McGuigan murder inquiry

IRA Shankill bomber Seán Kelly is being questioned by police investigating the killing of former Provisional IRA member Kevin McGuigan.

Mr McGuigan, a 53-year-old father of nine, was murdered at his home at Comber Court in the Short Strand area of east Belfast last week, in a suspected feud between former IRA members.

He was shot a number of times in front of his wife Dolores outside their home in Comber Court last Wednesday.

Mr McGuigan was suspected by some in the republican movement of involvement in the killing of former IRA leader Gerard “Jock” Davison in the nearby Markets area of Belfast three months ago.

There has been widespread speculation his killing was a revenge attack by Mr Davison’s associates.

Stormont’s First Minister Peter Robinson has warned Sinn Féin it would face expulsion from the power-sharing Executive if the IRA was responsible.

Mr McGuigan’s relatives have used social media to accuse the IRA.

Sinn Féin has rejected the suggestion of IRA involvement.

Kelly and is among five men aged 39, 53, 41, 44 and 49 being questioned by detectives.

Kelly and Thomas Begley planted a bomb in Frizzell’s fish shop in 1993.

Begley, died in the explosion with nine other people.

Kelly was released from prison under the Good Friday Agreement.

Weapons recovered during searches in Greater Belfast have been sent for forensic examination, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

The Shankill deaths were among the most notorious of the later years of the Troubles.

IRA bombers intended to target paramilitaries they believed were meeting upstairs in one of the most famously loyalist parts of the city. Instead niine shoppers were killed and dozens more injured.

Begley, also died in the blast in the packed fishmongers after the device exploded prematurely. The attack took place on a Saturday afternoon in October 1993.

A total of 57 people were injured, some seriously. Among them was a 79-year-old woman and two two-year-old boys.

Following the attack, the Ulster Defence Association carried out a series of retaliatory attacks, killing eight people at a Catholic bar in Greysteel near Derry shortly afterwards.


So, Was The IRA Defeated, Or Not?


For understandable reasons, Gerry Adams chose the 10th anniversary of the end of the IRA’s campaign against Britain – on July 28th, 2005 – to repeat a claim that the IRA was never defeated.

Adams was also responding, according to press reports, to recent remarks by British premier, David Cameron that, “British resolve saw off the IRA’s assaults on our way of life”, i.e that Britain defeated the IRA.

So, who is right?

In one sense, both men are right.

When a war ends with victory for one or other side, the event is usually marked by a formal surrender ceremony and the signing of a surrender document in which the defeated side concedes their military failure.

No such ceremony happened in 1994, 1997, 1998 or 2005. There is no piece of paper on which P O’Neill concedes with his or her signature the IRA’s defeat.

So, in that sense, Adams is correct.

But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is wrong either.

Defeat or victory at the end of a conflict is also measured in other ways.

For example, if one party to a conflict surrenders its weapons, that is, disarms itself at the insistence of its opponent while that opponent holds on to their weapons, then there is no doubt that the former lost and the latter won. IRA decommissioning happened at the insistence of the British and by agreeing to it signaled that it would no longer defy the British with force or arms. It may have taken a long time to happen but happen it did.

Then there is the question of war aims. The Provisional IRA set out to enforce the Irish people’s right to national self-determination, last expressed on an all-island basis in 1919 with a vote in favour of Sinn Fein, a party that advocated complete Irish independence. In other words the IRA’s war aim was to reverse and destroy the affront to this democratic principle inherent in the existence of Northern Ireland, an entity that came into being within two years of that vote in 1919.

In Unionist and British eyes, Northern Ireland existed and was a legitimate entity because the people of Northern Ireland had the right to consent, or not to consent to a united Ireland. The IRA disputed this right on the grounds that it offended the larger principle of national self-determination and through its war set out to overthrow this principle.

So, how did this pan out? Well not only did the IRA not succeed in overthrowing the principle of consent, its political leadership has accepted the principle and agreed to participate in political institutions based upon that principle and given its support to state institutions like the police force also created upon that basis.

It is rather as if the US and Europe ended up not only accepting the right of ISIS to exist but went on to embrace Islam as their state religion.

The other clue about how a war or conflict ended up can be seen in the treatment of the losing side’s leaders.

In May 2014, the PSNI arrested Gerry Adams and held him, like a common criminal suspect, in a holding centre for four days and questioned him repeatedly about his alleged part in a murder committed by the IRA during the course of its war against the British. It is clear that if they could have, the PSNI would have charged Mr Adams, put him on trial and see him sentenced to a jail term.

In the end, how one side treats the leader or leaders of the other side after a conflict has ended carries the real clue as to who won and who lost.

Does British Army Document Confirm Kevin McKee’s Role As IRA Informer?


By Ed Moloney and James Kinchin-White

The document below is an extract from a British Army ‘watch-keeper’s log’ which appears to show that Kevin McKee, killed and disappeared as a British spy in 1972, and whose body may have just been found in a bog in Co Meath, betrayed a significant IRA arms dump containing five weapons and some 1600 rounds of ammunition.

A ‘watch-keeper’s log’ was a record of all incidents, searches, arrests, lifts, finds or contacts reported by military patrols during a tour of duty. Such logs were kept at each level of the British Army from company level, which this extract appears to be, to Battalion level, Brigade and HQNI, i.e. at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn.

Kevin McKee - did he tell British Army to raid arms dump in Ballymurphy?

Kevin McKee – did he tell British Army to raid arms dump in Ballymurphy?

This post will be updated later with more complete details, including dates (although this event appears to have happened on February 7th and my recollection is that the year was 1972), but from memory this was a ‘watch-keeper’s log’ kept by a company of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, then stationed in Ballymurphy

The relevant extract reads: “Kevin McKee gave info to search 57 Westrock Drive.” The log then goes on to say that a search was made at seven minutes past midnight and then lists the weapons and ammunition discovered.

It is important to retain a degree of caution about the identity of the informer. There may have been more than one Kevin McKee acting as an informer at this time but as it stands, the document appears to suggest that the IRA may not have been wrong in accusing him of being a spy.

Here is the extract. Click to expand.



We can now confirm that this ‘watchkeeper’s log’ was kept by ‘C’ Coy, 1st Btn, Kings Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) which served in Ballymurphy between 28 December 1971 to April 24, 1972. The asterisk at the top of the page (see below) indicates that everything on that page should be sent to Brigade, i.e. 39 Brigade which included Belfast-based military units. This may have been because McKee was a member of the MRF (Military Reaction Force) and anything concerning that unit would have been of interest to the Brigade staff. CS 37 (call sign 37) is the codename for the officer who led the raid.

Inside Cover Page

The cover page of the watchkeeper’s log with instruction to send pages marked with an asterisk to NIREP 1, i.e. report to 39 Brigade

‘An Phobcrapt’ – A Further Thought On Who Wrote It

A further thought or two on the MI5/UDA spoof paper An Phobracpt, these derived from a more forensic examination of the writing style that can be found in the British black propaganda exercise, compared to what was usually on offer from the UDA’s editorial offices.

The first excerpt (see below) is taken from what is believed to be the inaugural edition of An Phobcrapt which appeared around December 1988. The second comes from an editorial that appeared in the UDA magazine, Ulster about a year earlier. Both publications were ostensibly edited by Sammy Duddy, a well known UDA activist and the organisation’s former intelligence officer. He was also believed by some UDA colleagues to be working secretly for the British, presumably MI5.

The second excerpt, from Ulster magazine, contains spelling mistakes and, while not wishing to disparage or belittle the late Sammy Duddy’s writing skills, is not the most elegant piece of prose to grace the English language. Also, notice how, like all Loyalists, Duddy simply refers to the Provos as ‘the IRA’ while An Phobcrapt employs security-speak: ‘PIRA/Sinn Fein’.

Not only that but the An Phobcrapt extract has no less than two references to Marxism or Communism in some 120 words – and Communism was, next to the IRA, MI5‘s big bugaboo. By contrast, as anyone who has had dealings with them can testify, the UDA rarely if ever mentioned the Provos and Marxism in the same sentence. Republicanism or anti-Protestantism, yes, but Communism, no.

It is though the writing style of the An Phobcrapt extract that is perhaps the real give-away. I mean read this sentence from the black propaganda excerpt and ask yourself if Sammy Duddy or any other UDA man you have crossed paths with would pen language like this: “….fictitious, verbose diatribes, ranting editorials, distinguished distortions of the truth, and marvelously malevolent hypocrisy….”, or, “We are proud to be able to inform our readers that the same perverted mixture will continue to be on sale….”

No, my money says that this part of An Phobcrapt at least was composed by some ex-public school, Boris Johnson clone sitting up in that building next to Stormont House and having great fun with his mates enjoying this latest jape. If so, then this would mean that not only did MI5 supply information for An Phobcrapt, but they helped write it.

Here are the two extracts, first from An Phobcrapt:

AP/RN is proud to announce its acceptance of the distinguished Libyan award for inventive and imaginative Marxist journalism. The Semtex Trophy will be presented by Colonel ‘Mad’ Ghaddaffi in Tripoli to our editor Rita O’Haywire, on January 13. The citation states that AP/RN has ‘upheld throughout the past year the high standards of Communist press-reporting with fictitious verbose diatribes, ranting editorials, distinguished distortions of the truth, and marvelously malevolent hypocrisy over the heroic murders by brave PIRA/Sinn Fein of Loyalists, civilians, little old ladies and other enemies of the Libyan-Irish peoples’. We are proud to be able to inform our readers that the same perverted mixture will continue to be on sale every week (except July 12) in 1989.

The Ulster editorial:

Many people sincerely hope that the Enniskillen massacre will be a turning point in the Ulster ‘troubles’, and if hoping were enough it would be – but the reality of the suggestion suggests that it will not. It will fail to be a turning-point because O’ Faich (sic) and Hume (et al) refuse to cease peddling Nationalism the intellectual ‘heroin’ which has always doped the IRA into its murderous acts. Even the recent statement from the Heirachy (sic) – that it was sinful to join or support the IRA – was not only twenty years later it was merely another head of the nationalist hydra.

Gerry Adams Tells CBS: ‘I Never Pulled A Trigger, Ordered A Murder Or Set Off A Bomb’. Well, Two Outta Three Ain’t Bad!

60 mins

According to a publicity release from CBS’ Sixty Minutes programme, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has told the show’s presenter Scott Pelley during an interview scheduled for airing this coming Sunday, that he was never in the IRA, adding that he never “pulled a trigger, ordered a murder or set off a bomb.”

You can watch a preview here.

Well, two of those claims are true or at least mostly true. During all the years that I covered the IRA for various newspapers in Ireland, I came across only two instances when Adams could be said to have pulled a trigger or implied himself that he had done so – both happened very early on in the Troubles – and absolutely no evidence that he had ever set off a bomb.

The Scott Pelley interview has inadvertently thrown into relief a rarely discussed aspect of Gerry Adams’ life in the IRA. He may have been the IRA’s most able strategist – in fact I would rate him alongside Michael Collins in that regard – but he never got his hands dirty. He never went on operations, he never really fired a shot in anger but he did spend most of his IRA life issuing orders, including orders that led to loss of life.

During the IRA’s lengthy war against the British, Gerry Adams was often like the Generals in the First World War. Living well behind the front lines and the danger they presented, they devised the strategies and issued the orders to implement them – although to be fair and accurate none of those Generals lived on the run, sleeping in different houses, wearing disguises and always in fear of arrest or worse at the hands of the enemy, which was the life Adams certainly lived, especially post-1970.


The two incidents when Gerry Adams may have pulled a trigger happened right at the outset of the Troubles. One incident he wrote about in one of the short stories that he published in the 1980’s. In the story he tells the tale of two IRA Volunteers firing shots over the grave of a recently interred comrade.

This story is a thinly disguised account of the controversy over the death of Liam McParland in November 1969, then the pre-split IRA leader in Ballymurphy who died in a car accident on MI motorway en route to Belfast. There are conflicting explanations for the journey. One says McParland was on the way back from an unauthorised training camp in Donegal. Adams, who was in the car with McParland when it crashed, was also at the same camp but neither had the permission of the leadership to attend. Another version, from Brian Feeney, says they were returning from Leitrim and were transporting weapons. Needless to say Adams himself has not shed any more light on the matter.

Adams was suspended from the IRA, according to Brian Feeney’s account of the episode, and the IRA leadership refused to afford McParland the usual republican funeral trappings, including a volley of shots over his coffin/grave. Adams’ fictionalised account has a young man, clearly himself, and an older man (Joe/Tom Cahill?) stealing into Milltown cemetery in darkness to fire some revolver shots over the grave.

So he may have pulled the trigger in this instance even if the shots fired were not in anger.

A contemporary of his in the pre-split IRA, the late Jim Hargey who kept friendly relations despite the subsequent parting of the ways, once told me that he knew that Adams had fired shots at the British Army’s base in Ballymurphy, the Henry Taggart hall, very early on in the Troubles. The hall, a local community centre, had been taken over by British troops who used it as their headquarters in the district. That was at a time when there were nightly incidents like that.

Gerry Adams’ lack of operational experience was well known within the IRA and a serious handicap when he began steering the Provos in a political direction. Adams was widely credited within the movement for rescuing the IRA from defeat after the 1975 ceasefire but nonetheless was viewed with suspicion by some for holding views that sometimes echoed those of former comrades in the Officials.

Hence the partnerships with figures whose military credentials were beyond question. Brendan Hughes and Ivor Bell were key allies when Adams began chipping away at the Provisionals’ abstentionist roots from Long Kesh by advocating ‘active abstentionism’ – i.e. the involvement of Sinn Fein in community politics as a way of building a long-term support base for the IRA’s military campaign. In practice though ‘active abstentionism’ signalled the beginning of a journey in the opposite direction, towards the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The fact that figures like Hughes and Bell supported these ideas at their outset was crucial in settling nerves internally.

Adams’ relationship with Martin McGuinness was another and much more important example of this stratagem.

McGuinness suffered none of the military shortcomings of Adams and was well known throughout the IRA as an enthusiastic operator, always ready and willing for action. The Bloody Sunday tribunal, for instance, has an utterly believable account of McGuinness on the day of the killings wandering the Bogside toting a Thomson sub-machine gun, something that Adams would never have done.

Both Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price describe a Gerry Adams during this time who was always very careful to keep a safe distance from weapons, for instance on the day in 1972 when Armalite rifles were first delivered to the IRA in the lower Falls.

The role played by McGuinness during the dropping of Dail abstention in 1986 and later as the IRA was edged ever closer to the 1994 ceasefire was absolutely crucial. His constant re-assurances to the rank and file, his promise, for example, that no ceasefire would happen without an IRA Convention meeting to endorse it, settled nerves. Activists were just not ready to believe that McGuinness would sell them short while many were ready to think the worst of Adams.

There is no doubt that Gerry Adams was in the IRA and that he gave orders that led to others pulling triggers or setting off bombs and, of course, killing people. But he was not an operator by any stretch of the imagination. And this is a crucial and defining aspect of the story of how he brought the IRA from war to peace.

Does The IRA Still Exist? Follow The Money For The Answer…..But Don’t Listen To Eoghan Harris!

I don’t know why or how but this story about new Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan refusing to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question of whether the IRA still exists and is active in Ireland, passed me by. I only became aware of it when I noticed Eoghan Harris’ article in today’s Sunday Indo.

My first thought on reading his piece was that Harris had one hell of a nerve complaining about the media ignoring the story of a political party seeking office in Ireland while continuing to operate an armed wing. As he put it:

“Why is the fact that the party well poised to take State power may be secretly controlled by an armed criminal conspiracy not seen as a major news story?”

My, my! Aren’t Irish memories conveniently short? It wasn’t so long ago that Mr Harris’ comrades in the Workers Party (WP) were doing exactly the same as Sinn Fein is doing now, lying about the existence of its armed wing as they sought office. And I don’t recall him complaining at the time.

In fact the Workers Party, with the armed Official IRA (OIRA) still intact and running brothels with the UVF in Belfast and building site rackets alongside the UDA,  helped shore up Charlie Haughey’s second spell in government in 1982 when a deal was struck with the WP’s three TD’s. And the OIRA got involved in such dubious schemes with one main purpose: to raise money for the WP’s electoral efforts in the South – just as the Provisional IRA does for Sinn Fein.

And what about the media in those days? What did Irish journalism have to say about this sordid confection of political party and armed wing propping up an Irish government, or running brothels so that Prionsias de Rossa and his ilk could become TD’s? What did Eoghan Harris have to say about this deplorable state of affairs?

Well aside from one or two of us, myself and Vincent Browne in particular, my memory is that media behaved in exactly the same way as Mr Harris accuses it of behaving now when faced with a Sinn Fein that is being every bit as dishonest and devious about its armed wing. They turned a Nelson’s eye to the WP’s armed wing.

In fact it was worse than that. To write about the lie risked damaging your career – and even your health. I remember only too well the day I discovered that half an entire Northern Notebook had been censored by The Irish Times – removed in its entirety – because I dared write about the secret wing that Charlie Haughey’s new buddies were running. I learned about this only when I picked up the paper on that Saturday morning. The Irish Times had not even the courtesy – or was it courage? – to tell me.

The truth was that the Workers Party had infiltrated The Irish Times and much of the media – as well as semi-state bodies scattered throughout Ireland. The purpose was to bend them all in the direction of the WP’s ideology. And I don’t recall Mr Harris complaining about that!

Not only that but back in 1982 Harris ruled the news and current affairs section of RTE with an iron rod, inflicting a Stalinist-like purge of the station of any elements not considered reliable on the anti-Provo question, while advancing the careers of WP fellow travelers and imposing a WP analysis on the news stories of the day, especially those North of the Border.

When you think about it Harris is the last person in Ireland who should be lecturing the media about ethics or their refusal/reluctance to cover certain stories!

Manipulating the news and current affairs coverage of the national broadcaster to suit the ideology of a party of which you and many or your staff are secret members, is a far greater sin in my book. Irish journalism has still not recovered from the experience.

Those few journalists who did try to tell the truth about the WP were not only the target of venomous verbal attacks but came under physical threat as well.

I know that Browne was the subject of one very sinister threat while I learned from the UDA that two well known WP activists had tried to persuade the Loyalists that my job as Northern Editor of The Irish Times was really a front: I was actually an INLA intelligence officer. They wanted the UDA to kill me but thankfully the UDA knew me well enough to doubt the story and they checked it out.

(Incidentally I have always suspected that, via the same mechanism, the Official IRA/WP had a hand in assisting the UDA assassinations of Ronnie Bunting and Miriam Daly)

So when it comes to political parties seeking office while running an armed wing secretly in the background, the Sinn Fein/IRA nexus is not new and no-one knows that better than Eoghan Harris.

Nonetheless as it was then, so it is now a very legitimate question to ask. Organisations like the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA are, like their political fronts, essentially undemocratic and conspiratorial. The fear that should haunt most citizens is that once in power they will be reluctant to give it up. Elections are, in their minds, merely tactics by which power is achieved; they don’t really believe in them.

As for the continued existence of the Provisional IRA, the answer is obvious. Of course it still exists. There may not be the elaborate structures of old, the Northern and Southern Commands, the Brigades or the ASU’s but there is a skeleton organisation out there for sure.

I know for a fact that the IRA’s intelligence capability is still active, that a unit dedicated to collecting intel for the leadership, including presumably the SF leadership, exists.

We know the name of the man who heads it and the names of some of those who are active in it. And from the experience of colleagues and friends we know the sort of activity they have been engaged in. As the man said last May, ‘They haven’t gone away, you know!’ (Incidentally the strenuous efforts subsequently to remove his words from the internet are the equivalent of the bloody fingerprint left on the assassin’s knife)

An intelligence unit needs to be steered and directed, to get its marching orders and somewhere to deliver the actionable intelligence.  The logic of the unit’s existence is the presence of a leadership, an Army Council for instance. And where there is a head, a body is never far away.

There is though an even more compelling reason to believe the IRA still exists and has a leadership, even if only in skeleton form. That is the IRA’s money.

Back before the Northern Bank robbery the Irish Department of Justice estimated the IRA’s property portfolio at the €400 million mark and intelligence estimates suggested the IRA had businesses and homes not just in both parts of Ireland but in Europe, especially Portugal, and in the US and the Caribbean.

This was not a new practice for the IRA. The most senior republican in the organisation has a house in West Belfast which was originally bought and owned by the IRA and was gifted to him in the mid-1970’s by the then head of IRA finance in Belfast, a veteran republican who recently died. The house was in that veteran’s name – it is now in the name of the senior republican’s wife – but it really still belongs to the IRA.

There is more than one elected Sinn Fein politician who now enjoy the delights of a holiday home in places like the Algarve, people who would never have the wherewithal to buy such property themselves. And again the villa or apartment may be in their name but just let them dare sell it!

Now while the DoJ estimate was calculated before the 2008 property crash it was also made before the Northern Bank raid swelled the coffers even more, so the chances are that one way or another the IRA still has a very healthy portfolio of businesses, holiday homes and the like.

And with the property market gradually recovering, the portfolio will grow, making money available for the political wing to spend on elections and to reassure internal skeptics that if the peace process does collapse the wherewithal exists to replenish all those decommissioned weapons stocks.

But this is a pile of wealth that can never be liquidated and distributed amongst the rank and file. It was amassed by and for the IRA and belongs to the IRA. No individual can claim it. As long as that money is there it must be owned and administered by an organisation and that organisation is called the IRA.


Britain Continues The War Against The IRA And Sinn Fein Stays Silent

The leaked story in today’s Sunday Telegraph reporting the British police’s intention to pursue six IRA activists who had been given so-called ‘comfort letters’ by the Blair government is another indication that the British are determined to continue waging war against the IRA despite the peace process and the reality that the Provisional movement has effectively accepted British rule in Northern Ireland.

This, along with the Cameron government’s expressed intention not to stand over the Blair letters to the so-called ‘On The Run’s’ or OTR’s – IRA suspects given promises of non-prosecution – and the pursuit of Ivor Bell, who will learn in a fortnight whether he will face charges in connection with the disappearance of Jean McConville, amount to a British default both from the spirit of the peace process and the commitments given during good faith negotiations with Sinn Fein and the IRA.

That the British intention to continue to pursue IRA suspects, try them in the courts and then imprison them amounts to an act of war against the IRA is undeniable in the context of the conflict since 1969.

Whereas the IRA’s campaign was characterised in the main by the shooting and bombing of British targets, the British response in the main took the form of trying to put as many IRA members as they could behind bars, using the police and the courts to do so (while the British also shot and killed many IRA members the greater part of their energies was spent trying to imprison them).

The fact that the IRA has completely abandoned violence against the British, has stopped shooting or bombing them and furthermore co-operated in the destruction of its arsenals while the British now trumpet their resolve to keep putting former IRA activists behind bars whenever they can, highlights an unspoken and unacknowledged reality: the IRA has ended its war against the British but the British have not ended their war against the IRA.

This would be completely uncontroversial had the Troubles in Northern Ireland ended in any way other than by a series of negotiated accords with each side making and giving concessions and no side claiming victory over the other.

This latter commitment was the defining principle of the peace process, the oil that greased the wheels: no-one came out and said ‘We Won!’ and by not doing so this enabled the already difficult process of making and demanding concessions to happen.

Implicitly and in an unspoken way, at least in public, the Troubles ended in a draw with every participant agreeing on ways of enabling each other to withdraw from the field of battle. It wasn’t easy and it took a long time to happen but without that agreement it probably never would have.

The fact that the British, or to be precise the Cameron government, are now flouting this principle amounts to a declaration of victory over the IRA and a hollowing out of the core of the peace process.

Had the Provos done something similar, for instance by announcing that the IRA was back in the business of acquiring weapons, how loud would be the cries of anger from London? And from Dublin? How grave would the resulting crisis be for the peace process? How quickly would Unionists have withdrawn from the GFA institutions?

But the Provos haven’t, and they won’t. And nor have they raised as much as a squeak in protest, at least in public, even though one very real consequence could be the abandoning of former comrades to jail time (except when their leader was briefly threatened with the same fate and that protest was quickly put down).

And ultimately it is this silence from Sinn Fein that is making it possible for the British to behave in this way. And by staying silent Sinn Fein is also admitting that the British are right; they won and to the victors go the spoils, including the right to put former adversaries behind bars, peace process or no peace process.


So, Who Was The Stasi Spy In The IRA – And Which IRA?

Avid readers of this blog, and there are some, will doubtless remember that I promised to return to Jerome aan de Wiel’s fascinating new book on the Stasi’s Irish activities, ‘East German Intelligence and Ireland, 1949-90’*, with some more interesting revelations culled from between its covers.

Alas, the recent PSNI/PPS and Boston College-led assault on the UVF part of the oral history archive meant I was otherwise occupied for a time and am only now able to return to the subject. For that please accept my apologies.

There are a number of stories of special interest in aan de Wiel’s book which I hope to deal with in time but for the following tale I am indebted to Liam O’Rourke who tipped me off to this gem.

Some of my older readers will remember that 1988 was a memorable year for many Troubles-related events, political and paramilitary. The Hume-Adams dialogue, a cover for Irish government contact with the Provos, began in January that year, but the IRA also launched its much truncated, post-Eksund offensive against the British with bomb and gun attacks in Britain and mainland Europe. March saw the Gibraltar shootings of three IRA members by the SAS and May witnessed the deaths of three RAF personnel killed by the IRA in the Netherlands. Inbetween there was a bomb attack on a British Army barracks in London.

We will probably never know if these were the sparks for the Stasi’s action but 1988 was the year in which the East German intelligence agency decided it was time to recruit an agent in the IRA, alongside a slew of agents in other European, Arab and international terrorist groups.

According to aan de Wiel, the decision to branch out in this way was taken some time in the 1980’s by the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke. The head of the Stasi’s foreign intelligence wing, the legendary Marcus Wolf, later said that Mielke’s decision to recruit agents in foreign terrorist groups was taken so that they could be used as “behind-the-lines guerrilla forces for sabotage against the West”, a decision he didn’t exactly endorse.

By the late 1980’s the Stasi had agents, or “inoffiziellen Mitarbeiter” – literally “unofficial employees” or “IMB’s” or plain informers – in the Abu Nidal-led Palestinian Fatah group (6 IMB’s), the ‘Carlos the Jackal’ group (5), the PLO (5), the Japanese Red Army (3) and ETA with two IMB’s. In 1988, the Stasi’s terrorism section, known as HA-XXII, was ordered to recruit agents in the IRA and succeeded in persuading one to work for them.

What exactly that agent’s brief was or how successful an informer he or she was – and especially his or her name – remains unknown. But since the GDR ceased to exist by 1990 the presumption has to be that the agent’s value was minimal. Even so, this was an intriguing development which demonstrated, inter alia, just how deeply and widely the IRA had been penetrated, i.e. how open to being seduced its members increasingly were. The long war, it seems, had a downside.

aan de Wiel says the Stasi made no distinction between the two IRA’s, Official or Provisional so the agent could have been a member of either. But common sense suggests that if the East Germans wanted someone to cause mischief or “sabotage against the West”, then the Provos would have been the better target. The Stasi and the East German Communist Party presumably had enough lines into the Officials and the Workers Party as it was.

Here then is the page in his book which deals with this episode:

stasiSo, what happened to the IRA agent when, just a year or so later the Berlin Wall fell and the GDR was no more?

We do not know but perhaps this section of aan de Wiel’s book (p. 284) gives a clue:

“On 31 August 1990, the East German State Committee for the Dissolution of the former MfS (Stasi) handed over the hostile target file (Feinobjektakte) on the PIRA to the Zollkriminalamt (ZKA, West German customs investigation bureau). What this file contained is anybody’s guess. Indeed, apart from a covering letter indicating the handing over of the file and a few blank sheets, one of them containing the Stasi’s registration number for the PIRA, XV 5414/85, there was nothing else. The file should be in the possession of the ZKA. It is unlikely that it will be made available for researchers soon as German security services have not released files to date.”

The odds are that the name of the IMB was contained in that file. And as Liam O’Rourke commented, it is just as likely that the name was passed on to the British, giving them another agent in the IRA to add to the burgeoning list of informers working for one or other branches of the British intelligence machine. But who knows?

* ‘East German Intelligence and Ireland, 1949-90 – Espionage, terrorism and Diplomacy’, by Jerome aan de Wiel. Published by Manchester University Press.

Okay, So Who Were The South Dublin Professionals Helping The IRA In 1974?

Kieran Conway’s account of his life in the IRA – ‘Southside Provisional’ – hit the streets today and having read it before it went to the book stores, I guess I have a bit of jump on all you poor schmucks who have to make your way to the local Eason’s, Waterstones, Amazon website or wherever to get your copy.

So, I don’t want to spoil it for any of you either by revealing too much of its contents (what’s really interesting about the book, by the way, is a) the engrossing detail about life as an IRA activist, b) the evident pride he has in taking part in a struggle that most of us would have shrunk from – he would do it again, he writes, but for the way it ended – and c) the fascinating pen portraits of some of the IRA’s leading figures, characters that decades of conventional media coverage have turned into cardboard cut-outs).

Anyway, to amuse my legions of readers here’s a little guessing game arising from his appointment in late 1974 as the IRA’s Director of Intelligence by Seamus Twomey, who took over as Chief of Staff from Eamonn Doherty, easily the least known of all IRA leaders:

Among the intelligence contacts I was given was a man I will call ‘the Banker’ with whom both Dave O’Connell and Eamonn Doherty used to stay. The Banker, in turn, introduced me to a circle of well-placed people in and around the south Dublin area where I had grown up, most of who were as clean as whistles. They included journalists, stockbrokers, lawyers and other professionals, a number of whom became quite famous in the course of their careers. It was a fantastic human infrastructure which I was never able to properly exploit and we ended up simply using many of their houses for meetings and to billet visiting volunteers.

And this from a section on the IRA inquest into the disastrous Birmingham bombs of November 1974 which killed 21 people:

The then England O/C and adjutant had made it home and were debriefed by O’Connell and another member of the leadership at the home of a well-known journalist in south Dublin, to where I had been brought as well for different reasons. I met both men and, though I took no part in the actual debrief, I was later told by Dave that the early indications were that the casualties were the result of yet another failure in the warning system, a succession of phone boxes from which the warning might have been relayed having proved to be inoperable.

So here’s the question: who were these South Dublin professionals who helped the IRA out back in the day? A bonus prize for anyone who can name the “well-known” journalist or journalists. Answers on a postcard to: The Stepford Wives Trust, c/o The GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin 1, Ireland.

First prize: Breakfast with Mary Lou McDonald;

Second prize: Breakfast & lunch with Mary Lou McDonald;

Third prize: Breakfast, lunch & dinner with Mary Lou McDonald;

Bonus prize: A nice bedtime cup of hot chocolate with MLMcD to round off a perfect day!