British army penetration of IRA shown in file passed to Cosgrave
by Richard Bourke, Irish Times

The quality of the intelligence assembled by the British on the
Provisional IRA by November 1972 can now be assessed from the
evidence of a secret dossier conveyed to the Irish authorities in
April 1973.

The dossier was passed on to the Taoiseach of the day, Mr Liam
Cosgrave, in person, in an effort to encourage the Republic to co-
operate with British security demands.

What the sheer volume of information makes clear is the extent to
which the Provisionals had been either penetrated by their enemies or
betrayed by multiple informers within their ranks.

The dossier provides an elaborate account of IRA units stationed
along the Border, North and South. Some of the members named
currently hold positions in Sinn Féin.

After Operation Motorman, the IRA had been virtually routed in its
urban strongholds, according to the British, and forced to withdraw
to the Border to launch attacks in Britain and Northern Ireland.

This dossier, compiled by British army headquarters at Lisburn in
conjunction with the RUC, provides a list of major IRA personalities
involved in Border operations (including their addresses, occupations
and dates of birth).

It also provides statistics giving figures for all incidents
attributable to Provisional active service units. Finally, it
supplies a map setting out each unit's sphere of operation, and a
list of bases used by IRA personnel operating out of Monaghan.

In listing major IRA personalities, the dossier also provides an
assessment of key figures in the movement. The former vice-president
of Sinn Féin, Dáithí Ó Conaill [he was referred to as David O'Connell
in the dossier] is one example: "Holds a senior position on the
Provisional Army Council. . . considered to be one of the leading
political 'brains' of the Provisional IRA."

A separate file detailing unauthorised contacts between Ó Conaill and
a retired British army general, Sir John Hackett, corroborates the
British appreciation of Ó Conaill as a dove inside the movement.

But whatever Ó Conaill's predilections, he was in a position, during
a previous conversation with Hackett, to ask the general for an
assessment of the likely strategic impact on the British government
of a bomb attack on Whitehall.

That conversation took place on March 7th. The next day, the
Provisional IRA detonated car bombs at the Old Bailey and the
Ministry of Agriculture building in London. When news of Hackett's
dealings with Ó Conaill reached the Secretary of State for Northern
Ireland, William Whitelaw, the British minister was dismayed by the
likely public reaction to this freelance interaction with the IRA.
According to Whitelaw, Hackett would be seen as "helping the Queen's
enemies. Not a good position for a general". In any case, such
contact was a waste of time in Whitelaw's judgement: "O'Connell will
probably let him down as he did me."

The wavering dovishness of Ó Conaill is contrasted with the
assessment of the former IRA chief of staff, Seán Mac Stiofáin, given
in a number of files available under the current release.

A telegram sent in May from the British ambassador in Dublin to the
Foreign Office in London reports a conversation with the secretary of
the Irish Labour party, Mr Brendan Halligan, betraying uncertainty
inside the Irish government about how to handle MacStiofáin on his
release from custody in the South, due the following week.

Mr Des O'Malley, minister for justice under Taoiseach Jack Lynch, is
presented as having originally planned to deport MacStiofáin to the
UK upon his release. But now that the time for a decision had
arrived, the Cosgrave government was torn between re-arresting
MacStiofáin under the Offences Against the State Act and allowing him
to walk free. Some ministers were pushing for the latter option "in
the hope. . . that this would bring about major splits. . . in the
Provisional leadership".

On no account, however, was Ó Conaill to be arrested "on any charge",
minister for justice, Mr Patrick Cooney is alleged to have decreed,
since he represented the best chance for moderation prevailing among
the Provisionals. "Irish ministers are well aware of the deep rift
which exists between MacStiofáin on the one hand. . . and O'Connell
on the other."

The presentation of Mac Stiofáin as incorrigibly militant (in speech
if not in deed) is echoed throughout the British army dossier on the
Provisional IRA. It is claimed that the activity of IRA Border units
increased noticeably after visits from MacStiofáin. He is alleged to
have been "particularly pleased" by the actions of the Donegal IRA
active service unit based at Lifford in burning Strabane Town Hall.

Sinn Féin chief negotiator and Northern Ireland MLA, Mr Martin
McGuinness, also appears in the dossier. He is identified as the
officer commanding on the Derry command staff, based at Buncrana, Co
Donegal, since the Provisionals were ousted from the cities by the
British army.

The Buncrana unit is identified as "a centre for the supply of
explosives". Domiciled in caravans and holiday cottages near the
Donegal border, the Derry IRA is alleged to have launched explosive
attacks on its home town with members transporting ready-made bombs
into the city centre from their Southern Irish exile. Recent attacks
by the Buncrana unit were alleged to have included a car bomb at a
Derry bakery on October 12th, 1972, and two bombs at a Border Customs
post on October 2nd and 10th 1972.

Much of the information contained in the dossier was collected during
the interrogation of IRA suspects. Confirmation of the organisation
of a key Dundalk unit of the IRA, for instance, "was provided by the
recent conviction and imprisonment by the Special Criminal Court in
Dublin" of Patrick Hamill, Hugh Mullen, Brendan Murray and Martin
McElligott. Other alleged members of the Provisional IRA with a
starring role in the British dossier include one supposed to have
been operating out of Dundalk; another from Cork, "an ingenious and
ruthless bomb-maker"; the director of operations for the Armagh
Brigade; a member "known to have been involved in recent. . .
explosions" and the alleged quartermaster of the Bundoran unit.

January 3, 2004

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