Sunday Business Post

1973 State papers: British contacts with IRA revealed

04/01/04 00:00

Gerry Adams was willing to become involved in politics as early as April 1973, according to the minutes of a meeting between a British official and two priests, Fr Denis Faul and Fr Patrick Conning.

The priests said Adams could readily be persuaded to "move to politics" if the British produced some formula or arrangement that he could offer "his men". Faul and Conning were b oth i mpress ed by Adams, whom they described as being "much more intelligent and idealistic than his companions".

Adams wanted a British statement of intent about disengagement, though the priests believed that the only essential condition for a ceasefire was an undertaking that volunteers would not subsequently be arrested. Nothing came of such contacts.

A British Army situation report filed in July announced that "Jerry Adams" [sic], described as the commanding officer of the Belfast Provo brigade staff, had been arrested on the Falls Road. In the same swoop, the Provisionals' operations officer and finance officer in Belfast were arrested. Their names have been blanked out in the document.

One of the more intriguing documents to emerge in last week's release of 1973 government papers is a list compiled by the British of alleged active IRA members. The document - entitled "Prominent members of Provisional IRA Active Service Units operating in a cross-border role" - gives the names, addresses, dates of birth and legal status of 28 men. According to the document, the importance of crossborder operations had increased following the British Army crackdown on the IRA in "no-go" urban centres during Operation Motorman in July,1972.

Among those listed is Francis Hughes, who was to become the second IRA man to die in the 1981 hunger strike, and Daithi O Conaill, a prominent member of the Army Council. The list also includes two alleged IRA men from Dundalk, one from Carrickmacross and one from Courtbane in Monaghan, one from Navan, a Sligoman, a Corkman and five from Donegal, one of whom was also a member of the Irish Army.

According to the document, there were five active service units [ASUs] on the border: the "Monaghan salient", the Carrickmacross-Inishkeen ASU, Bundoran ASU, Lifford- Clady-Cloghfin ASU and one entitled "The Enclave", based in Buncrana.

Martin McGuinness, who was arrested in the Republic in December, 1972, was described as the Commanding Officer of the Derry unit of the IRA, based in Buncrana, a group that lived in caravans and holiday cottages. Other British reports noted how McGuinness had already become a "hero-type figure" for 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds in the Creggan in Derry.

The ASUs were reckoned to be responsible for at least 841 border incidents between January, 1972, and March, 1973. These resulted, according to the document, in the deaths of 21 British soldiers and injury to 70, while 21 civilians were killed and 34 injured.

The routes and bases used by the Monaghan ASU were noted with precise grid-references linked to a map. The report is also explicit about the location of training camps and it charts the movements of caravans suspected to house Provisionals. According to the document, only one renegade Official IRA unit based in Warrenpoint/Rostrevor was still in operation.

Overall, it was a year of retrenchment for the IRA. The Offences against the State Act, passed in December 1972, allowed an IRA suspect to be convicted on the word of aGarda Chief Superintendent. Inability to account for movements could also be used to convict a suspect. Martin McGuinness and Ruairi O Bradaigh, among others, were imprisoned in the Republic under this legislation.

The Provisionals were apparently eager to negotiate. At a meeting with Vivian Simpson MP, acting on his own behalf, they outlined their conditions for a truce. They wanted an unpublicised written agreement preceded by "effective liaison". To secure a ceasefire, the British would publicly have to agree to Irish self-determination, set a date for the withdrawal of British troops and give a general amnesty to republican and loyalist prisoners.

Simpson reported to Northern Secretary Willie Whitelaw that the Provisionals, especially Seamus Twomey, were taking a harder line. Earlier in the year, Faul and Conning had said that Twomey was the most intransigent of the leading Provisionals, but he would be unlikely to reject a unanimous decision by the rest of the leadership.

Dublin andLondonbelieved that there were considerable tensions within the Provisional movement. There were said to be differences on strategy between figures based in the Republic - such as O Bradaigh and Daithi O Conaill, who tended towards a political analysis of the situation - and younger Northerners, who were much more committed to militant action.

Prison activity, including hunger strikes, had made little impact on the Dublin government. Unsurprisingly, there is no evidence in the state papers of any direct communication between either administration and the IRA. The British were willing to meet third parties who had met the Provisionals, but refused to negotiate with them, and stressed they could not give undertakings, send messages or even "accept overtures".

On the British side, Sir John Hackett, a retired general and principal of King's College London, was in frequent telephone contact with O Conaill throughout 1972 and arranged to meet him in Donegal in September. Hackett had written to Whitelaw that he was sure O Conaill had not approved the IRA bombs in London in March and Solihull in August.

According to the general, O Conaill showed "small enthusiasm" for operations in England and agreed that a bombing campaign might be counterproductive. Hackett argued that the bombing campaign associated the IRA with company "scarcely respectable for Provisionals", such as the International Marxist Group.

But following Home Office war nings, Hackett - who owned a house on Loughros Point in Co Donegal - did not meet O Conaill. According to the Special Branch, Hackett's life was under threat from militant Provisionals, or even Officials,who resented O Conaill's "channel of communication to the UK".

Later, O Conaill described himself to Hackett as "the last of the old gang" and said that "his removal [through arrest] would open opportunities for less responsible elements".

Earlier that year, an anonymous informant had told the British government - through an official in the North called FF Steele - that O Bradaigh had been willing to call a ceasefire before publication of the White Paper on Northern Ireland, as long as the proposed policies would "give Catholics a square deal".

According to the source, O Bradaigh was angry that he had been arrested in January just when "his political faction had been winning over the militant factions in the Provisionals".

According to the contact, Belfast hardliners had no time for ceasefires because they anticipated that, once fighting units had been stood down, it would be impossible to get them into action again.

In return for his report, the informant pressed Steele for information about the forthcoming White Paper in the hope of being able to secure an IRA ceasefire, but he was given no preview of the document.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?