John Black (2008) Killing for Britain. Frontline Noir Publishing
John Black’s is a loyalist voice. His views, motivations and judgements are far from supportive of the rights of self-determination for the Irish nation.
He was active at the height of “The troubles” in the first half of the 1970s when a military conflict of annihilation was fought. The military wing of Westminster – the British army – applied its colonial experience on the streets and fields of the Six counties.
John Black’s story centres on one element in the arsenal of repression from the ‘dirty war’ – how state and military intelligences colluded to organise and direct what acted as its proxy death squads, loyalist paramilitaries. Black offers an eyewitness account, albeit an increasingly reluctant participant, in state sanctioned murder. His involvement, and account of state sponsored murder was in defence of the protestant community in Northern Ireland. For him, militant republicanism was clearly the enemy. His activities included joining the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) “in order to defend my homeland from the danger of being overrun by republican terrorists.”
Can you believe what you read?
There is a lot of reconstructed dialogue which is often true of a memoir and questions can be raised about verifiable accuracy. There are the asides mentioning information learnt from reading (for example, Martin Dillion) that supports his narrative. Within a wider context, Black’s account of the Military Reconnaissance Force (MRF) use of loyalist paramilitaries as their weapon to incite a sectarian conflict is an element in wider supporting evidence of hidden collusion and murder at the behest of the Crown forces shrouded in political deniability.
The British state’s dirty war in Ireland has had it contours and some specifics exposed in memoirs, journalistic accounts and even limited official reports. Even Black’s polished account helps build a more complete picture of the mindset of participants entangled in the nefarious intrigues of different British agencies aiming to crush armed republicanism. His account is not so much about the British army as about the proxy paramilitaries trained, equipped and supplied target information by their army handlers. What hit the headlines in May 2021 was more about the behaviour of actual soldiers of the state : Soldiers A and C had their murder trial of an unarmed Official IRA commander Joe McCann stopped on a predictable technicality: the prosecution’s only evidence offered was testimony not taken under legal caution, so rejected as inadmissible by the court. That case related to events way back in 1972.
Likewise fifty years after the event, a Coroner’s inquest in Northern Ireland has declared ten people killed in Belfast during a British army operation in 1971 around Ballymurph were unarmed, innocent civilians and posed no threat to soldiers. There had been the typical disinformation efforts to depict most of the dead as IRA members with contemporary media repeating the army lies of “snipers” being targeted. Amongst the victims, Father Hugh Mullan, a parish priest, was hit by at least two bullets as he read the last rites to an injured man.
“All of the deceased in the series of inquests were entirely innocent of wrongdoing on the day in question,” said the coroner, Mrs Justice Keegan, dismissing claims by soldiers that some of the victims had been armed and shooting”.
The first incident that Black recalls tells of state sanctioned murder when the selected loyalist paramilitaries were trained and supplied for the bombing of McGurk’s Bar on December 6th 1971. Fifteen dead, passed off in the propaganda war as “an own goal” – the supposed result of premature explosion killing the bombers. In 1977, Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) member Robert Campbell was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the bombing. An official report from February 2011 stated there was no evidence that the RUC helped the UVF bombers; Black says the MRF did. Researcher Ciaran Marsh has written [https:/mcgurksbar.com] on the bombing and the Ministry of Defense’ failure to provide any further information relating to the discovery of a covert military operation close to McGurk’s bar, although it had previously told historic investigators there were no British military units in the area.
The apology for the events to the families of 10 people killed by the British army in Ballymurphy that took five decades to wring out of the British establishment was framed as regrettable “terrible errors” rather than operational policy. It follows on from David Cameron apologising in the House of Commons after the Bloody Sunday inquest in 2010, yet the connivance at the time remains buried, unacknowledged and consigned to an Orwellian memory hole. What were the consequence for Lord Chief Justice Lord Widgery and all?
John Black’s account, for all its confusion and caveats of that day’s unfolding events, states senior British officer “advocated the shooting of unarmed civilians” and again the choice to use the Parachute Regiment was deliberate. Black thought “You are forced to conclude that there were plans for mass murder to be committed that day.” [p136]
To speak of a troubled history without assessing what contributed to causing those times, acknowledging “their long and distressing quest for truth” avoids the focus on those who have evaded and obstructed that odyssey. Ministers may talk of the terrible hurt and then quickly move on until the next unresolved killings has its moment in the media spotlight.
In the unsigned letter sent by ‘The Prime Minister’ dated May 12th 2021 to the families of the Ballymurphy victims, Johnson “apologised unreservedly” as if the public acknowledgement fifty years after the event can divert the divergence between rhetoric and state action.
The killings happened in the days following the introduction of internment without trial and the whole sectarian onslaught, Long Kesh, judge only Diplock Courts, rubber bullets on the streets, H-Blocks, repressive laws and policing followed, accompanying what is played down as “The Troubles” with its secret dirty war and shoot to kill. The public relations exercise of an apology without consequences means nothing.
British deception continues. At the same time there was speculation that Britain could stop any future prosecutions over crimes committed by soldiers in Northern Ireland. The leaked proposal would apply to former members of the security forces and possibly paramilitaries too. There are believed to be up to 700 other former members of the military who could be facing possible charges, and seven cases are already “active”. The Times and the Telegraph reported that British ministers are set to introduce a statute of limitations so that no one can be charged for their involvement in any incidents that took place before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Black blends his own (partial) memory of experience with those facts in the public domain, casually repeating and reporting what others said: his army handle Mike’s comments pepper the narrative putting the official view of a few rouge troopers and Martin McGuiness supposedly firing the first shot on Bloody Sunday. He recounts tales of the gung-ho Captain Robert Nairac and provides illustrations of “protestant solidarity” in the UWC strike of May 1974. There is extended recollection of the torture inflicted in UVF’s romper rooms which Black describes as sights of evil. As Black acknowledges, depending on your point of view you believe what you want however that undermines the messy account of blended testimony that an eyewitness is purporting to provide.
While Black can be described as authentic is his description of the emotions and thinking of loyalists at the time, the specific credibility of his account on the indiscriminate terror inflicted relies on believing his unsubstantiated words. In the catalogue of sectarian murders punctuated by OOB (Out of Bounds call) the main thrust of the narrative is “Although Loyalists carried out the attacks, MRF men were in the background, encouraging and synchronising the mission “ p287 In the strands of sectarian conflict, the argument was if Loyalists were killing Catholics and tit for tat, it was not soldiers being sent home in body bags.
That a faction of British Intelligence existed intent to wage the war on its own terms is common currency in many accounts (including self-disclosure: Peter Wright, Colin Wallace Fred Holroyd leading that pack of practioner’s accounts) . Black has “Mike” claiming talks involving British officials are bugged so as to be able to sabotage any perceived threats of sell-out and deals done. As for the feuds stoked by the murderous intervention of MRF and its successors, Mike claims to be operating with political sanction given by Edward Heath.
Black wrote the book to put the record straight. He was arrested in the latter half of 1975 and a process of disengagement from the paramilitary life occurred (without weakening his loyalist identity or sympathies). Black indicates involvement but presents no personally incriminating smoking gun. Generally Black has crafted an account that identifies the crime without conceding personal involvement in a specific incident. There is detail of the collusion, the training at Palace Barracks, the hush hush involvement and nods and winks, the unfolding operation and protection given by the MRF’s code of practice with OOB (Out of Bounds call) that gave an hour free of security force presence in an area. It all goes to illustrate the process of surreptitious, manipulative and deniable but state sanctioned engagement. He adds to the sorry story of the cynicism that surrounds Britain’s suppression of the Irish nation and its peoples.
There has been a red thread running through modern revolutionary nationalism that traces its legacy to James Connolly. The latest incarnation , operating mainly throughAnti Imperialist Action Ireland , Irish Socialist Republicans draw consciously upon the Irish revolutionary tradition seeking first to complete the unfinished revolutionary tasks of 1916.
It is the perspective proclaimed by James Connolly
“If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle., unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts will be in vain. England will still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs”
For National Liberation & Socialist Revolution
Anti Imperialist Action Ireland describes itself as an all Ireland Socialist Republican mass organisation.
“Our position is that Ireland is both a colony and a semi-colony. It is a colony in that the British government forcibly occupy six counties of Ireland while maintaining indirect control of the remaining 26 counties.”
Adhering to the position made popular since the Belfast Agreement of April 1998, that “The British have worked for decades to move Republicans to a constitutional rather than a Revolutionary position.”
Operating at the margins of the broader republican nationalist continuum, the Irish Socialist Republicans maintain a minority left communist maximalist position echoing intransigent pronouncements expressed in the Republican movement in the past.
Reformism, Revisionism and Electoralism are the tools of our enemies to keep our class exploited and oppressed and must be rejected….“The only dealings Revolutionary Irish Republicans should have with the British government is to dictate terms of a British withdrawal.”.
As a class-based organisation, AIA is looking to build upon that Irish revolutionary tradition based on working class militancy and the perspective of what William Morris saw as “when class-robbery is abolished, every man will reap the fruits of his labour.” (forgive the aged gender pronoun) That overtly socialist foundation to its republican politics distinguishes the AIA current from the reformist and bourgeois elements in the nationalist continuum.
Play your part in finishing the business of 1916.
AIA, formed winter 2017, argues the issues directly facing the Irish working class flow from partition and British imperialist occupation, this the primary contradiction in Ireland and dictates the struggle for national liberation (the end to partition of the Six Counties) and Socialist Revolution is primary.
We build on the revolutionary tradition and ideology of Irish Socialist Republicanism, first laid down by James Connolly, as the inextinguishable lamp to guide the feet of the Irish Workers to victory. With Connolly, we follow the Irish Citizen Army and uphold the idea that the Working Class must have our own fighting and political organisations. Like the Citizen Army we hold that there is ‘but one ideal – an Ireland ruled, and owned, by Irish men and women, sovereign and independent from the centre to the sea, and flying its own flag outward over all the oceans.’
What began as a small organisation with a core of experienced activists has developed, in that short space of time, into an All Ireland Socialist Republican Mass Organisation, with a growing membership of Revolutionary Youth across the country. [Macradh- ISR Youth established at Easter 2019] A new generation born after the Good Friday surrender learning the ‘Fenian Faith’ from veterans of the struggle.
ISR boasts having an organised presence in every city in the Occupied Six Counties…. As Irish Socialist Republicans, as Irish Marxist Revolutionaries, for ultimate victory over British imperialism we understand that it is necessary to continue to engage our forces within the class struggle and we must see this struggle to its bitter end.
To smash the class system we need to build a united broad front of militant left republicans, socialists and solid community activists, we continue to unite with those progressives and the masses who have committed to fight imperialism.
Key priorities for Irish Socialist Republicans
The organisation identifies three sectors to concentrate work on:
Irish Socialist Republicans reiterate our commitment to waging the class struggle and combating and resisting the enemies of the working class, be it the exploitative employers, landlords, or imperialist vultures that prey on our communities. Throughout the course of 2021 we will step up our activism to resist evictions, build revolutionary trade unions and fight for Public Housing.
Our activists played a leading role in the fight against Britain’s Far Right in Ireland and their efforts to gain a foothold for fascism in our Country…..extend solidarity to all who mobilised under the leadership of Anti Fascist Action Ireland and we look forward to standing beside you….. uphold the tried and tested policy of no platform. ……
ISR are working for an Anti Imperialist Broad Front to lead the struggle for Nationalist Liberation and Socialist Revolution…..All Ireland Anti Fascist Resistance
It has begun to spread its message in social media with postings as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism Ireland on Facebook, and traditional print medium through stickers and production of the bi-lingual magazine The Socialist Republican. This aims to encourage discussion and debate among the Republican Base and to act as a resource for Revolutionary theory and practice. The first edition of a self-advertised MLM Theoretical Journal , An Ghrian Dhearg appeared in 2020 with a main feature on “Lessons from Loughgall”.[i]
The organisation acknowledges its engagement in public activity such as
To mark the 40th Anniversary of the launch of the 1980 Hunger Strike, Anti Imperialist Action renamed Merrion Road in Dublin that houses the UK Embassy, as Bóthar Breandan MacAodha/ Brendan Hughes Road, and the annual ongoing Poppy Watch Patrols whereby Anti Imperialist Action members confiscated “Brit Imperialist Poppy Wreaths”, as in Bray, County Wicklow, and burned them.
Campaigning on working class issues …
Anti Imperialist Action in Dublin have launched a new Revolutionary Housing Action Campaign and like the Land League of old, we are fighting for the 3F’s: Fair Rents 2. Fuck Evictions and 3. Funding Public Housing
And for political rights….
Stop the Extradition of Liam Campbell Campaign. In May 2009, he was arrested following the issue of a European Arrest Warrant at the behest of the Lithuanian authorities, where he was wanted in connection with a gun running plot which saw his brother Michael arrested. Campbell remained in prison for four years and was released in 2013 following the decision of Belfast Recorders Court to deny Campbell’s extradition to Lithuania.
Commemorating Ireland’s rich revolutionary history with
Pickets honouring Ireland’s patriotic dead e.g. Annual candlelit vigil for Vol. Kevin Barry at the GPO, grave-side commemorations and remembrance for former patriotic fighters for Ireland. It planning includes this year’s 40th anniversary of the Hunger Strike campaign.
Static demonstration solidarity with Pickets in support of Irish and International Political Prisoners, take solidarity action on the streets on campaigns highlighted by Maoists worldwide: release of Comrade Amhad Sa’adat, the imprisoned General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, of Chairman Gonzalo, the leader of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) of Leonard Peltier of the American Indian Movement and of Georges Abdallah, the Lebanese Communist. [ii]
Leaning to Maoism
Their publications and social media utterances are peppered with maoist terminology and references and more overt advocacy that identifies a current of thinking with militant republican nationalism last seen in Cork in the 1960s.[iii]
For ultimate victory against our enemies we have initiated the correct policies and have put in place well planned militant Marxism – Leninism – Maoism as our scientific revolutionary ideology that has proven correct in many parts of the world.[iv]
Connections to developing MLM resources e.g. Its activities and statements reproduced on Maoist website like the news site, Redspark [v] and the related publishing house, Foreign Language Press produced a collection of speeches “Revolutionary Writings” by Seamus Costello, the INLA Chief of Staff assassinated October 1977 by the Official IRA, in its “Colorful Classics” Collection.[vi]
AIA reciprocates the signs of solidarity reproducing statements and reports from the Maoist environs on its website, such as the 2020 international 1st of May declaration “Proletarians of all countries, unite! Cast away the illusions and launch into fight!”, published on a German Gonzaloist site. This call to arms aimed squarely at the Maoist milieu.[vii] Furthermore its public association tends to be linking to the more Gonzaloist tendencies articles e,g the MLM internet review, Communist International.
[i] Available to purchase from An Culturlann 216 Falls Rd, Belfast BT12 6AH Price: £2.50
The British version is of a turning point during the early 1980s when the Republican leadership accepts that a military victory was no longer possible, and peace talks could begin.
Subsequent elaboration is that the republican movement was defeat militarily from within by the use of informers and politically by British political manipulation to force the peace process.
Let’s break it down to three components, and set aside interesting consideration of state collusion activities and intercollegiate security conflicts which remain out of the public realm, and look at some inconvenient truths to factor into this scenario:
The communications between the Republican Movement and the authorities in Britain, both in person and via third-parties, continued throughout the 1990s, including the return to war in February 1996 and the final ceasefire in July 1997 (still negotiating the actual cessation terms until a formal announcement by the Irish Republican Army in September 2005).
After the initial military engagement, the failure of colonial-tested repression to extinguish the insurgency, the sustained armed resistance was a fact of life, contained within the abnormal Direct Rule from London backed by an army of occupation. In transmitting the idea it was a ‘law and order’ issue the political causes were side-lined. There were few public admissions along the way: in December of 1989 by the then secretary of state for “Northern Ireland”, Peter Brooke, in which he accepted that it was “…difficult to envision a military defeat” of the IRA. More often was the posturing associated with Roy Mason (1924-2015) the Labour Party’s secretary of state for Defence and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the 1970s.In 1979 he confidently predicted in the media that the IRA was “weeks away from defeat”.
The struggle in the Six Countries as an insurgency reflected the domestic social conditions, and shaped by a patriotic element, as the guerrilla struggle was attuned to the issues specific characteristics where the existence of the state was at question.
Significant as that was, the character of the armed struggle did not take on those of a protracted people’s war and the stalemate attained in decades of struggle probably the limit of what the guerrilla mode of struggle could achieve. In the absence of the prospect of military victory (by either side of the conflict) an alternative approach and more nuanced strategy did emerge.
It was predicted on many occasions between 1969 and 1997 that the Irish Republican Army was on the precipice of defeat, only to be proven wrong: despite all evidence to the contrary, a British narrative emerged that the Long War (1966 – 2005) came to an end with the “defeat” of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
However the failure of the British state to impose a military solution only left the way for a negotiated resolution. This option became a possibility as prominent elements in the Republican leadership had come to a conclusion that Gerry Adams voiced in the autumn of 1984:
“Basically, I think there is a stalemate situation” [ii]
There is strong evidence that the peace process was emerging well before the early 1990s. This suggests that the negotiations grew from a situation of stalemate rather than defeat. It is likely that Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin leader, was crafting a “dual track” refinement of the armed struggle from the early to mid-1980s. The republican choreograph peace strategy occurred in real time, and open diplomacy through Sinn Fein publication and interviews: early on, Adams signal that
“We will have to come to an arrangement which won’t necessarily fulfil the republican objectives” meaning the end of partition.[iii]
Supporters of the Republican struggle observed at the time of the first ceasefire:
“Since the 1988 discussion document “A Scenario for Peace”, the architect of the peace process has been the Republican movement. The British government has embarked upon a process which they will be unable to control. The ceasefire represents the beginning of another phase of struggle, and not the end of “The Troubles”. It is clear that the impetus for peace will not stumble because of Republican action. The responsibility to fail to grasp the opportunity created by the republican movement will lay squarely with either Dublin or London. Dublin’s role may be undermined by the fragility of its own ruling coalition. London can reject the process and retreat to the failed practices of the past that could not extinguish the most sustained insurgency in the industrialised world.” [iv]
Throughout British governments pursuing behind-the-scenes talks with the insurgency or its representatives. Key political and military leaders in Britain had privately concluded that the Irish insurgency was too deeply embedded to be overcome by the United Kingdom’s counterinsurgency policies. The occasion admission did surface to signal the thinking that was shaping policy options:
”In no way, can or will the Provisional Irish Republican Army ever be defeated militarily.”
This judgement from Sir James M. Glover, the former Commander-in-Chief of the UK Land Forces, to TV journalist Peter Taylor in a documentary first shown on February the 21st 1988, repeated a secret assessment that he had made ten years earlier for the Defence Intelligence Staff called Northern Ireland: Future Terrorist Trends.
Far from being on the cusp of defeat in the Nineties, the IRA was operating on a sustainable level as widely understood by General Sir John Wilsey, the General Officer Commanding the UK Forces in the Six Counties, in a “depressingly realistic assessment” of the Irish Republican Army:
“…defeat of the IRA is not on the horizon while current security policies are maintained.
[it is] …better equipped, better resourced, better led, bolder and more secure against our penetration than at any time before. They are an absolutely formidable enemy. The essential attributes of their leaders are better than ever before. Some of their operations are brilliant. If we don’t intern its a long haul.
The government knows it is up against not a bunch of evil, psychopathic criminals, as its propaganda has tried to suggest, but a highly disciplined and political, motivated guerrilla army.” [v]
And indeed the Irish Republican Army, despite dissident splits, emerge largely undefeated from decades of conflict with the British. The signing of the multi-stranded Belfast Agreement of 1998 by a Labour administration twenty years later gave lie to those knowingly false claim.
The armistice broke down on the 9th of February 1996 as the IRA launched a new military offensive in the occupied north-east of Ireland and in Britain. Despite the seventeen month duration of the truce the insurgents proved themselves to be more than capable of returning to war.
There were strikes against major economic targets in the UK , the achilles ’ heel of the British state, in April 1992 with a devastating attack on the City of London’s financial district (the Baltic Exchange bombing). Behind-the-scenes negotiations, accelerated by a new Labour Party government in Britain under Tony Blair, quickly resulted in a deal which led to the final IRA ceasefire of July 20th 1997, as the insurgency displayed its ability to turn on and off their operations at will.
The outcome of the peace process was the multiparty and inter-governmental Belfast or Good Friday Agreement reached on the 10th of April 1998.
Accounts from inside from George Mitchell, Jonathan Powell and Mary Daly, the numerous academic and journalist commentators are all testimony to the negotiation of a hard won agreement that set the framework for the establishment of “normal” bourgeois contested politics.
While neither of the main parties to the conflict achieved their primary aims, proponents of the defeat thesis try to defend their claim by arguing that a ”draw” or ”stalemate” in the conflict between the British state and the Irish Republican Army represents the ”effective defeat” of the insurgents because they did not achieve their objective: a 32 County Republic within a reunited Ireland. Arguably, all the parties to the Good Friday Agreement were ”defeated” because none of them achieved their stated or long-term objectives (for example unionists or the British hardly wanted ”terrorists in government”,). The defeat thesis tends to be advocated by those who believe that the only choice was between defeat and victory and, therefore, encourage the escalation of violence to achieve the latter.
In reality the British military in 1969-1970 had the intention of crushing the Republican Movement. From the mid-1970s, the British state wanted to contain IRA activity and Sinn Féin support to such an extent that republicans would be unable to significantly impact normal political and socio-economic life. The British sought an “acceptable level of violence”, whereby the IRA would either give up or join a peace settlement over which they had little influence. Yet it emerged thirty-six years later with its formerly dismissed enemy acting on an equal footing with the government in London.
As argued by Niall Ó Dochartaigh, the persistence of the IRA’s campaign alongside Sinn Féin’s sizeable minority of the Northern nationalist electoral mandate meant that the British and Irish governments, unionists and the SDLP had to involve republicans in the peace process if they wanted political stability. The IRA and Sinn Féin leadership agreed to a peace settlement because whilst the IRA could continue causing a persistent and disruptive level of armed activity, they lacked the political support necessary to achieve all their objectives by 1998. [vi]
The armed struggle in reaching a stalemate had stalled. In a pattern familiar in Irish history physical force had reached an impasse in that its resilience could not be extended from its level of defensive resistance and move on to offensive to achieve its aims. The limited political victories could now be consolidated and built upon. The time was to talk.
Looking at it the security forces certainly played their role in containing the Republican threat but it was the important role played by politicians and others involved in complex and morally difficult political negotiations and diplomacy that more convincingly explains the success of the peace process.
The post-justification that political ends could not be obtained by violent means was true of both sides; recognition of that led both sides to the path that led to the Good Friday Agreement. This is why the peace process did not represent the IRA’s surrender but involved tortuous negotiations, morally difficult compromises and a high degree of uncertainty as to the intentions of the Republican leadership and its ability to deliver their movement.
Achievement ~ Yet the British are still there.
The dismantling of the original Orange northern state, for those republicans whose background and history was militaristic, was an insufficient reason to agree to the Good Friday Agreement and suspend, and eventually end, the armed struggle. Tactically, for strategic reasons, it had long been the position that armed struggle had no part in the republican struggle in the 26 counties, so its absence in the Six counties was also a political judgement.
Adams had stated the bottom line that there was “one simple demand of the British and that is that they should withdraw. Once the British have indicated that they are going to withdraw, representatives of the Irish people should get together, free of Britain to work out constitutional and financial arrangements…..This is going to be a long struggle.” [vii]
A decade later, the 1994 GFA marked the start of a new phase of the process towards the completion of the national democratic stage achieving the basic demands of the Civil Rights movement that sparked “the Troubles”, the demand for one person one vote, the demand for the ending of the Special Powers Act and the effective dismantling of the sectarian Orange state. That achieved reset the political agenda that twenty-five years on seems a stalled process.
“Ending the orange state was a significant achievement but something that fell short of a socialist republic” [viii]
The unfinished business thesis is essentially correct: the so-called “Peace-settlement” left the Six Counties and partition of the isle of Ireland intact. The Republican goal of a United Ireland still to be achieved.
Politically, it is hard to argue that Republicans achieved much except an end to military conflict and the means by which, sometime in the future, a unitary state could be peacefully achieved. Except, the Orange terror state has been totally and utterly destroyed.
The Northern Ireland insurgency originated in the anger of a disadvantaged people living in a discriminatory ”Orange State”. The political positions of “Brits Out” and “A democratic socialist republic” were in some strands of Republican thinking and demands that came to dominate the insurgency propaganda. The multiparty settlement of 1998 grew out of a military stalemate between the Irish Republican Army and the British state forces – military and Police.
The “Peace-settlement” zero-sum game settlement that everyone on both sides could live with. It has avoided returning to the bloodshed, it did bring some political reforms, a political space in which the Unionists were forced to behave with some basic decency, and shared power. But it was not a permanent solution. It was a staging post as built into the agreement was the option of the Treaty signatories to call a referendum on re-unification. Whereas a slow transition to reunification is probably not what the struggle was about for many, it did split asunder the Unionist veto that Partition was irreversible – and permanent. As a republican blogger argues:
A stalemate by a small non-conventional force 500 strong against a conventional force 20,000 strong after twenty years of fighting is a victory of sorts. Yes, you make some good discussion points. A unitary 32 Co. Socialist Republic was not achieved. (P)RM compromised considerably on this. But so did the UK. If reunification takes place in the next decade or so then I suspect a 100 years hence popular culture will be talking in the same terms about the Long War as the War of Independence. Making the British triple losers in terms of the 1966-2005 conflict.[ix]
Where was the military victory over Irish republicanism?
The self-serving British Army assessment seen in the document, Operation Banner, An Analysis of Military Operations in Northern Ireland, an overview of the counterinsurgency war in Ireland, was intended for internal distribution among the military and government, but, after a request under the Freedom of Information Act made public in July 2007. It argued that the British Forces had defeated the IRA’s “insurgency” between 1971 and 1972 while accepting that it had failed to defeat the IRA’s “terrorism” between 1972 and 1997.The media soundbite was: Army concedes it did not win the battle against the IRA.
The BBC report was heading: Army paper says IRA not defeated [x]
An internal British army document examining 37 years of deployment in Northern Ireland concedes it did not win the battle against the IRA.
It describes the IRA as “a professional, dedicated, highly skilled and resilient force”, while loyalist paramilitaries and other republican groups are described as “little more than a collection of gangsters”.
It concedes for the first time that it did not win the battle against the IRA – but claims to have “shown the IRA that it could not achieve its ends through violence”.
This recalibration of the mission had moved from defeat to containment as if, to use General Glover’s words
“The Army’s role has been now for some time… to help create the conditions whereby a full democratic, peaceful, political solution can be achieved”
What is missing from this suggested push ‘for politics replacing the gun’ argument is how the publically acknowledged co-option of pro-British terrorist gangs as part its counterinsurgency campaign, or indeed the use of death squads, torture-centres, interment, expulsion orders, media censorship and the whole paraphernalia of the “Dirty War”, chimes with the official military view of its political role in the Troubles in Ireland.
An alternative tack was employed to salvage the myth of the IRA’s Military Defeat as assertions emerged that the IRA was ”defeated” by the British Intelligence and Security Forces emerged in the early Nineties and that the peace process was a matter of negotiating their surrender.[xi]
According to this view, the IRA surrendered because of the effectiveness of the British ”dirty war” against them. The dirty war consisted of a ”shoot to kill” policy against the IRA, collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries in the targeting of Republicans.
Far from the official narrative that the state/police etc were neutral, standing aloft protecting all from civil war , the British state was actively helping unionist terror groups target Catholics and republicans while condemning unionist terrorism .
At the same time as they were assisting unionist terror gangs, they claimed to have their own agents within republican groups. And inevitably these agents were often involved in ‘acts of terror’ by their own hand. In Derry city, self-confessed agent Raymond Gilmour set up weapons seizures and failed operations. He also gave evidence against over 30 people arrested by the mid-1980s during a supergrass trial, evidence which was later found by the judge to be unreliable.
The body of evidence both anecdotal and official disclosure is that various British military/ policing and intelligence agencies were actively assisting unionist terrorism (the extent of that assistance we may never know).
One example, UVF commander Trevor Wilson alias John Black’s story – confirms both Republican claims that the British ran Loyalist Death Squads, as well as Loyalist claims that their activities were fully supported by the British state.[xii]
As observed by Cheryl Lawther, lecturer in Criminology, Queen’s University Belfast:
“While the depth and extent of such collusion is unknown, the available evidence makes for uncomfortable reading. In 2003 Sir John Stevens reported that “informants and agents were allowed to operate without effective control and to participate in terrorist crimes”. Former Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, found that collusion between state security forces and informers was “systemic” and that due process was undermined to protect informers suspected of murder.”[xiii]
The claim that the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army was eventually defeated through the combined efforts of Britain’s military, paramilitary and intelligence services, suing for peace in the early 1990s relies on massaging the historical record, and over stressing the effectiveness of counter-insurgency to conclude that the IRA were crushed thanks to the Supergrass informer programme and the penetration of the IRA by informers at the highest levels. The frenzy around media speculation of two senior republicans as informers for British intelligence in 2005 led to a popular perception that the IRA had ‘lost’ the intelligence war and was pressurised into peace.
Reinforcement of this impression came from the Republican side, as there are also republican dissidents opposed to the peace process. These have attacked the Sinn Fein leadership for betraying the IRA volunteers who were killed during the conflict and the cause of Irish unity, accusing them deception and compromises with the British and Irish governments. Dissidents claim that the British so effectively penetrated the IRA and Sinn Féin leadership that the Republican movement effectively became controlled by the British state. Persistent high-profile IRA operations in England by the 1990s[xiv] , alongside the landing of most Libyan weapons shipments in the late 1980s, suggests the IRA leadership was not infiltrated to any significant extent. Although if so, what is the explanation for IRA operations such as attacks upon Downing St (1991), IRA bombings targeted Belfast city centre once again between 1991 to 1993, with attacks damaging the Europa Hotel, Crown Bar and Grand Opera House. There were high profile attacks on the Baltic Exchange (1992),Shankill Road (1993), Bishopsgate (1993), Heathrow (1994), the 1996 Manchester bombing and Canary Wharf (1996). Were the supposed legions of british agents inactive around these events?
The mischievous myth of a “defeated IRA” sought to replace the more accurate view of the peace process that the British government and the IRA fought each other to a stalemate and that a power sharing government resulted from negotiations with what was for decades were portrayed as the political wing of the ”terrorists”.
The integrity of the Republican Movement had been threatened by informers and spies since the earliest days of the war but it had successfully adopted countermeasures against this vulnerability in the 1970s and ’80s.More realistically the majority of the intelligence gathered by the UK Forces on the Irish Republican Army since the 1980s had come through electronic surveillance and not spies or informers. Agents and informers may have disrupt day-to-day IRA operations in certain areas at certain times, however alleged Belfast informers had little access to rural IRA units. Rural units were semi-autonomous and somewhat immune from outside interference. The risk of traitors had done little to curtail the insurgency from running highly effective operations right up to its final ceasefire in 1997. Indeed the IRA had marked up several remarkable intelligence successes of their own, including busting open the covert operations of the Security Service or MI5 in Europe. In the words of the 2012 report by Sir Desmond da Silva in 1989, the IRA was able to maintain a “…number of sources working for the security forces in some capacity” throughout the conflict.
The 1978 secret army report accepted the effectiveness of the IRA and was doubtful that it could be overcome. There was acceptance that the substantial rearmament programme undertaken by the Irish Republican Army in 1985-86, with several tonnes of imported munitions secreted in purpose-built arms dumps and bunkers across Ireland, was enough to sustain the “campaign of terrorism” for another two decades.
Thomas Leahy re-evaluates whether British intelligence force the IRA into peace in his study, The Intelligence War against the IRA. Expanding upon Dr Thomas Leahy’s earlier thesis (click to read), he challenges the myth of a British intelligence victory and finds it wanting. In fact a host of other factors, primarily in Ireland and primarily political, along with a confluence of changes in London and Washington, outweighed any notions of British super-spies changing the course of the conflict. Despite the revelations of many IRA informers, evidence suggests political factors played a greater role in producing the peace process.
By the 1990s the resilience of the IRA was a crucial factor encouraging the British government to include Provisional Republicans in a political settlement. The cumulative economic, commercial and security costs of the attacks in England in the 1990s was certainly in the billions of pounds sterling, threatening London’s powerful position as a world financial centre. The counter-thesis would be that the propaganda losses were even higher giving the Republican movement leverage in subsequent talks. Irish republican leaders sought to combine armed and political pressure to bring the British government and other conflict participants back to the negotiating table. Thereafter, republicans would try to maximise concessions towards their objectives.
Leahy’s research provides three main considerations. First, the IRA’s small cell-structure in Belfast and Derry city provided additional security after 1975. Second, most rural IRA units remained elusive and difficult to infiltrate. Finally, the IRA leadership, like most General Staff was not hands-on operational and remained isolated from the rest of the movement, limiting infiltration opportunities.
In the murky world of intelligence, claim and counter claim are battered out in public in newspapers, books and even court. But not all of it supports the conspiracy claims:
“I attach no weight to the evidence given by Ian Hurst to this Tribunal…. I simply did not find Mr Hurst to be a credible witness.” [xv]
The English-born soldier, Ian Hurst served as a lance corporal with the Intelligence Corps from late 1981 to 1983, working primarily as a clerical officer, then as a data “collator” for the Force Research Unit (FRU) providing him with limited access to information gathered by the UK forces in the territory, including the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s controversial Special Branch squad.
A second deployment to the Six Counties in 1987, serving as a sergeant in County Fermanagh. During his final years in Ireland he was seconded to a regional wing of the FRU, allegedly working as a “handler” for undercover agents. In 1991 he was assigned with a section of the Ministry of Defence in London, before applying for early retirement in the same year.
By 1999, writing under the pseudonym byline of “Martin Ingram” sensationalist press stories appeared, however it was not until 2006 that, contrary to his earlier stories, double-agents and informers in the ranks of the Irish insurgency were highlighted as crucial weapon in the British arsenal all along. Along with journalist Greg Harkin, he published Stakeknife: Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland, although it equally covers the notorious FRU. Regarded by some as less a whistleblowing exercise than an act of distraction and disruption. Like much of this ‘confessional literature’ reliant on the judgement of the truthfulness of Hurst’s accounts. Critical commentators conclude that Hurst/Ingram had exaggerated the importance his role and his level of knowledge and access to intelligence.
His account had a shifting degree of supposed collusion with ludicrous claims that one in every four for lower ranks and one in every two senior activists working as British spies. Another revision in 2012 led to the claim that “half” of the IRA’s seven-strong ruling Army Council in the ’90s was made up of double-agents. This at a time when British estimated the IRA had 200-250 volunteers engaged in attacks in the Six Counties and overseas. And an equal number involved in auxiliary and support tasks. The IRA outnumbered and out gunned by British army deployment. How would you prosecute a war with those numbers, the membership riddled with spies and informers, every operation compromised? Hurst’s allegations still form the basis of much speculation, not least about the motive behind his profitable account, and what part may be accurate and what fanciful if not deceptive.
[i] The ‘White Fox’ blog , AN SIONNACH FIONN , an independent media website featuring Irish republican commentary compiled an impressive summary of such contacts and largely shapes the analysis herein.
Remember people are always telling stories. In conversations we recount what has happened at work, to friends, something that was in the news, idle gossip, and the car that cut us up. In the details of the lives we speak of a wide arching narrative is created full of colour, incidents and values. It is a way of understanding what is going on around us, and in that narrative we can place ourselves. So telling stories is an important social and personal function in our lives. And we listen to others stories. Those multitudes of stories weave into creating a wider world, and influencing those narratives affects how individuals response to the world around them as we communicate ideas and values in the cumulative tales we tell. You can plant seeds or reinforce perceptions in the words you use and in the tales you choose to tell.
Murky allegations abound, and it is not unknown for British intelligence to use agents of influence to undermine the republican movement. The afterlife of this activity is seen in memoirs and accounts of the war in Ireland, especially those around the covert war as discussed in previous postings.
Bleedin’ obvious, you might say and still when you see it in action: the cynical manipulation attempted in a single story, it blares out at you and a tried, almost complacent response of “fake news” seems an inadequate response as the status quo propaganda rolls on.
Internet postings feed speculation of motives and cause, raising charges of little piece of history rewriting with conspiracy theories thriving about individuals republican volunteers working for Special Branch and British military intelligence providing information targeting the organisation and its members.
Adding to this litany is the regurgitation of claims that Gerry Adams was an MI5 informer raised in Undercover War: Britain’s Special Forces and Their Battle Against the IRA, by Harry McCallion, (John Blake 2020) basing his astonishing claim on a letter from Irish State papers made public in 2017. The ex-SAS solider and RUC officer claims about three months after the Loughgall operation, a rumour about Mr Adams was passed on to the Department of Foreign Affairs by Fr Denis Faul. He learnt that a notion doing the rounds was that “the IRA team were set up by Gerry Adams himself”.
In May 1987 eight IRA volunteers died in an ambush at Loughgall – one estimate suggested 1200 rounds were fired – as they attempted to bomb an empty RUC barracks in the Co Armagh village. British Army special forces were lying in wait and killed them all, along with innocent bystander Anthony Hughes and his brother was badly wounded.
The eight-man IRA unit killed Clockwise from top left: Gerard O’Callaghan, Antony Gormley, James Lynagh, Eugene Kelly, Declan Arthurs, Patrick McKerney, Seamus Donnelly and Patrick Kelly. Photograph: PressAssociation
The Irish Times reported that: “Fr Faul, a school teacher and chaplain in Long Kesh prison who died in 2006, said the rumour was that two of the gang – Jim Lynagh, a councillor in Monaghan, and McKearney – “had threatened to execute Adams shortly before the Loughgall event”. It was being claimed that Lynagh and McKearney “disliked Adams’ political policy” and that they were leaning towards Republican Sinn Féin.”
Fr Faul had fallen out badly with the republican leadership during the 1981 IRA hunger strikes when Faul persuaded families to seek medical intervention. He believed that Gerry Adams had connived at the death of comrades concluding, that a peaceful settlement of the protest had been sabotaged by Adams and his allies for political advantage. That he was not alone in believing so, does not make it true but demonstrates the persistence of rumour and speculation based on circumstances, coincident and suspicions rather than correlating evidence.[i] So repeating some rumour he had heard, passing gossip as political information to the Irish government, is not surprising. So the theory put forward by Fauls was based on what other than groundless speculation?
The construction of this history in the shadows relies upon those small details and connections that are seized upon to bolster a predetermined conclusion. The peddling of third hand unverifiable accusations – rather like including a factious pig story in David Cameron’s biography – adds colour and talking point and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusion. Any narrative is constructed so that it makes sense, and pieces are made to fit the over-arching storyline, hence the contribution to the conspiracy theory of the peace process that the British intelligence services and successive governments might have helped remove those IRA men impeding Adams and used “agents of influence” to steer republicans towards politics. That a mutually beneficial collusion worked both ways.
Mr McCallion, who did several tours of Northern Ireland with various specialist military units before spending six years in the RUC, admits he wanted Adams “dead”.
“This wasn’t a sudden urge. I was a veteran with seven tours of Northern Ireland under my belt and I’d given the matter some thought,” he confesses. “One night in the mess bar, drinking with a serving officer from MI5, I was loudly voicing my opinion. Looking back, I must have sounded naïve and spectacularly ill-informed, but I truly believed the best way to stop the terrorists was to target the high command. Like I said, kill Gerry Adams. “The somewhat inebriated MI5 officer’s response was surprising: ‘No. He’s one of ours.’ I cannot confirm whether this was true, or whether it had its origins in the kind of drunken bravado that leads to all sorts of tall tales in the mess. “However, the look of shock on the officer’s face after the words came out, and his refusal to continue the conversation, were suggestive, as was the fact that he was unwilling ever to speak with me again outside a formal setting. “I’ve never forgotten that night in the mess. Looking back from today’s perspective, many of the most secret and dangerous operations undertaken by British forces in the province, and their outcomes, make more sense to me if the British security services truly did have an informer right at the top of the Republican movement.”[ii]
Put away the highlighter – not one actionable fact or piece of evidence from a bar room chat.
More than one commentator offer equally credible explanations, including mistakes made by the IRA team as well as routine British surveillance or the activities of informers unconnected to the republican leadership. But in East Tyrone republican circles, the suspicion that the removal of the Loughgall unit was not a chance event and was somehow connected to subsequent political developments, has persisted. And it is in others interests to stoke such suspicions and maintain a continuing covert war on how the past is perceived.
Fr. Dennis Faul, an Irish Catholic priest doctrinally orthodox and socially conservative had spoken out and campaigned against the injustice against Catholics in Northern Ireland.
“At our own expense we are reporting the crimes that go unreported, because they are committed by the British Army and the RUC. The crimes of the Provisionals and Officials and IRSP are well publicised; but I have noted over the last four years that the only occasions that my remarks are publicised by BBC UTV and papers like the Belfast Telegraph are when I condemn these republican groups for atrocities. I have done this very frequently; not all my condemnations are publicised by the same public media”[iii]
For over thirty years, from 1971, Father Raymond Murray and Fr Denis Faul produced approximately 150 books, leaflets, pamphlets and other material highlighting the abuse by the British state of emergency laws in the North of Ireland; harassment and intimidation of civilians; injuries and deaths caused by rubber and plastic bullets; collusion between British security forces, British intelligence and loyalists paramilitaries; unjust killings and murders by the security forces; excessive punishments and degrading strip searching in prison; the political, legal and medical systems that upheld these injustices; and the media that failed to investigate and report on them – abuses ignored by all but a handful of individuals and civil rights organisations.
Fr. Faul died in 2006. As befitting for a former Chaplain in Long Kesh for 20 years, former hunger strikers and prisoners, Republicans and senior members of Sinn Féin attended his funeral. Not all were as complimentary of the man as in his obituary in The Irish Independent[iv] called “sexist and offensively sectarian”, by former Irish president Mary McAleese, calling him “cantankerous and caustic”. [v]
The irony was that Fr Faul was himself smeared as a ‘Provo Priest,’ and following his death Gerry Adams said Irish Republicans had serious difficulties with him: Faul’s continued condemnation of violence from all sides provoked the anger of both loyalists and Republican paramilitaries.
Faul had a role in the wider struggle as noted by Anne McHardy in The Guardian, “through the 1970s and 80s, he was pivotal as a conduit to the Provisional IRA. He was vital in providing information to both the Dublin government and the Catholic hierarchy during the tenure of Cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich. After internment was introduced in Northern Ireland in 1971, Faul gave the early warnings of the inadequacies of British army intelligence. For the British, his role was crucial in ending the 1981 IRA hunger strike (though after he persuaded families to take prisoners off the hunger strike, some Maze inmates refused to take mass from him). “ [vi]
================================================================From released Irish state papers we know that opinions and judgements were voluntarily passed by many prominent Catholics in the north to inform the Department of Foreign Affairs of the situation in the north. The Irish Times reports gives a flavour of the quality of intelligence supplied.
Leader of the SDLP John Hume provided this colourful description of the Ulster Defence Regiment: “a group of Rangers supporters put in uniforms, supplied with weapons and given the job of policing the area where Celtic supporters live.” The description was contained in a September 1985 note prepared by Irish official Daithí Ó Ceallaigh, who Mr Hume had briefed on his meeting with then Northern Secretary Tom King. While Denis Faul and Raymond Murray are recorded as describing the INLA as ‘a bunch of lunatics’[vii]
Other accusations have arisen –
Former colleagues who accuse Adams of having ordered the death of Jean McConville are said to be driven by hostility to the peace process, by a conviction that he personally sold out the republican struggle as a minority split saw the Good Friday agreement as a betrayal of their intransigent ideology of republicanism.
There were claims by Martin Ingram, aka ex Int Corps SSgt Ian Hurst, that Martin McGuinness had been controlled by MI6 for at least two decades. The Sunday Times repeated the baseless accusation with a twist in that a retired RUC special branch officer believes McGuinness was the MI5 agent code-named “Fisherman”, though others maintain that this agent may have been a person close to McGuinness. By Hurst’s own account, the accusation was based on information provided to him by a serving PSNI Special Branch officer. There is little to suggest the information is authentic, and there are good reasons to question the motives of Special Branch officers, who have long been accused of an anti-agreement agenda, and wishing to cause dissention and mistrust within the republican community. The suggestion in McCallion’s latest addition to covert war memoirs repeats blogosphere postings that suggests: “those who opposed Adams and McGuinness often found themselves in the crosshairs of the British Army — so frequently, in fact, that the trend seems more than a coincidence.”
Really? Both public leaders of the resistance against British rule working with the British securocrats? Implausible and unverifiable – this is the problem: what can be done to put a stake into the heart of such zombie accusations?
When McCallion adds: “It seems quite coincidental that so much of this intelligence happened to be directed against figures in the PIRA who had the potential to threaten Adams’ path towards a settlement”, he is reading from the counter insurgency playbook to disrupt and discredit.
His publicist state McCallion writes with the unique authority of a soldier who has served 7 tours in Northern Ireland with 2 Para, passed 14 Intelligence Company selection, served 6 years in the SAS (including 2 tours in the Anti-Terrorism Team) and 6 years in the RUC.
The commercial appeal of such self-publicised insider’s account is well-recognised in the publishing world however they are generally characterised by their story-telling, engagements, mobile gunfight and operational detail than reasoned referenced reconstruction. McCallion’s account received wider circulation when sensationally serialised in the Daily Mail in August 2020.
Was Gerry Adams an MI5 informer? In his dramatic new book, HARRY MCCALLION tells how senior IRA men died in Army ambushes… after mysterious tip-offs
The identity of the PIRA source who revealed ambush plans remains unknown
But a newly-published letter claims that Republicans believed it could be Adams
Adams thought military victory against the British was impossible by the late 70s
Sinn Fein described the theory in Mccallion’s new book as being ‘utter nonsense’
His previous ‘SAS memoir’ Killing Zone (Bloomsbury Publishing 1996) was noted for its unflinchingly honest portrayal of the brutality of life in the Special Forces and its refusal to fetishise or glamourise the business of killing. The mystique about well-rehearsed killing units that comprise the special operation units has been a feature of the retelling of the war in Ireland. It has a counterpart in guerrilla and insurgency culture that elevates the tactic beyond its utilitarian function in revolutionary struggle.
While far from a comprehensive account of the military undercover operations in Ireland from the British perspective, Undercover War: Britain’s Special Forces and Their Battle Against The IRA covers the Military Reaction Force (MRF), “a unit that was so badly thought out, organised, and trained that it degenerated into what can only be called a death squad.” The deployment of the SAS and the creation and training of 14 Intelligence Company follow in his narrative. There are familiar episodes and names like Captain Robert Nairac and assassination of Bernadette Devlin to anyone well-read in the genre. The political deception of the British government illustrated in his account of the ‘debadging’ of half an SAS Squadron so that the men can be deployed to Northern Ireland without breaking a government promise that no Special Forces soldiers would serve in the province. He includes an insider’s account of the mistakes that led to the embarrassing arrest of 8 SAS soldiers by the Irish Gardaí. And in a denial of all their training, McCallion refutation of the claim that the SAS operated a ‘shoot to kill’ policy treads a familiar line of justification. He sticks to the British version of the turning point in during the early 1980s at which the greater emphasis on the mass political struggle following the 1981 Hunger strike, the Republican leadership accepts that a military victory was no longer possible. And would you believe an insider’s account of the final SAS action of the covert war, the capture of an IRA sniper cell who are subdued in a traditional fist-fight when the SAS team tasked to neutralise them are ordered not to shoot anyone for fear of jeopardising the Peace Process?
The literature of deceit, such memoirs and accounts are a difficult genre to interpret, for instance, take Willie Carlin’s Thatcher’s Spy: My Life as an MI5 agent inside Sinn Féin (Merrion Press, 2019). How do you read this? Entertainment, a potential film script? Another over-blown partial account of the covert war? Spies, after all, survive by deception, and their autobiographies are classic vehicles for propaganda. Normal fact checking is problematic when it is interpretations and perceptions offered as evidence. One can check the claims of such books against the other available corroboration, but are so often less reliable on the wider political agendas at work even when seemingly credible about their own experience as an agent, reproducing stories full of second hand opinion and suspicions without evidence.
In April 1921, armed IRA men raided Lyons’ Cafe in Manchester, firing shots in the air to disperse customers and staff, and dousing the premises in paraffin. Before setting the building alight, one Volunteer explained their actions: “We are doing what you are doing in Ireland.”
The mainland campaign had historical precedents. In the early 1880s, Irish Republicans called Fenians bombed several targets across Britain, including the Houses of Parliament. The Manchester Martyrs— William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien—were three men executed for the murder of a police officer in Manchester, England, in 1867 and followed by the Fenian dynamite campaign 1881-1885 led by Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.
In reporting on the IRA campaigns in England the BBC got it wrong, stating that the first IRA attacks on England came in 1939. [BBC News , 4 March, 2001] The early 1920s had seen action taken in IRA campaigns throughout England. As the war in Ireland escalated in autumn 1920, operations in England were authorised (though not in Scotland or Wales, as their people were “more or less Gaelic”, as Liam Lynch put it in 1923).
The consequences of war are not going to be kept solely in Ireland.
When the War of Independence began in 1919, the growing number of Volunteers in Britain became a vital source of arms for the emergent IRA. They did business with Jewish gunsmiths in London, German arms dealers in Glasgow, criminal gangs in Sheffield and Birmingham, anyone who would take their money: “we found the Englishman always willing to do business”, remembered Liverpool Volunteer Paddy Daly. Irish men were sources, too: a Sgt Roche helped smuggle guns from Chelsea barracks, while Irish miners in Lancashire and Lanarkshire set aside portions of their daily explosives allocation to send home. By 1921 there were more than 2,500 Volunteers in Britain (Noonan 2017).
Kevin Davies details the activities of the Tyneside Brigade of the IRA.
It comprised ten companies established in the North East between the start of 1920 and March 1921. Its membership, some of whom were demobilised soldiers from the First World War, according to Tyneside IRA Brigade Quartermaster Gilbert F. Barrington, had 480 men of English birth enlisted from the Irish diaspora in the north-east. (Davies 2010)
To counteract potential attacks, a wide range of security arrangements at sites, including Dunston Power Station, seen as potential I.R.A targets were in place. These arrangements were composed of watchmen at workplaces, employers providing their own fire prevention services, and twenty four hour police cover. Train stations in urban and rural areas were under police surveillance. Subsequently soldiers from the Ninth Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry were posted at Dunston.
Still there were on March 5th 1921 incendiary attacks on a bonded warehouse in Hanover Street, an oil refinery in Forth Bank both in Newcastle. A timber yard at Tyne Dock, South Shields was also attacked. In the months that followed: Gosforth aerodrome was attacked, incendiary attacks were carried out on around thirty attacks on farms on both sides of the River Tyne. There was also the destruction of telegraph lines by chain saws which disrupted communications between London and Scotland for a week. The assessment of one participants was “the papers played up our little acts considerably”.
Davies noted the Tyneside Brigade’s participation in the procurement of arms and ammunition. “For the whole of 1920 the Tyneside Brigade supplied arms for Ireland via Liverpool”.
After the brutal Black and Tan burnings of Balbriggan and Trim, the Liverpool IRA sought “an eye for an eye”. On November 27th they launched more than 40 arson attacks around Merseyside, causing more than £500,000 damage; a civilian was shot dead in gun battles with police.
There was the assassination in June 1922 of the Unionist member for North Down, former Field Marshall Henry Wilson in London.
Tynesides’ anti – treaty IRA reconstituted brigade had one hundred volunteers but only a small percentage of this figure were deemed reliable for potential operations.
Hart, P. Operations Abroad: The IRA in Britain, 1919-23
The signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty of December 6th, 1921 did not create an Irish Republic but a state within the British Empire with Dominion status which was divided by partition creating Northern Ireland. That decision unleashed a civil war amongst the republican forces.
The Irish Free State under William Cosgrove began a ruthless campaign against the anti-treaty I.R.A which was in essence martial law enacted by a civilian government. While the new National Army co-operated with (illegal) mass arrests and deportation of anti-Treaty republicans in Britain. In March 1923 110 Irish republicans were deported to the Irish Free State by the British government. Within the United Kingdom, Irish Free State intelligence officers were operating within the Irish community. It was their intelligence reports that led to the deportation.
Nine months before the outbreak of the Second World War, and a month before the IRA’s own bombing campaign began in Britain, the unionist government had begun interning republicans in Belfast in 1938. Sporadic bomb attacks, mainly by unionists, on targets such as GAA club houses, had occurred almost every month in Belfast in 1937 and 1938. No unionists were arrested.
On 22nd December 1938, the RUC carried out a series of raids across Belfast, arresting 33 men (plus one in Ballymena). Among those arrested was the O/C of the Belfast IRA, Sean McArdle and many senior republicans, like Chris McLoughlin (the Belfast IRA delegate to the 1938 IRA Army Convention) and veterans like Jack McNally and Joe McGurk. The raids revealed the stark limitations of RUC intelligence. Most of the IRA staff, including the likes of Sean McCaughey and Albert Price, remained at large. Some republicans were to be held until 1945, without trial or charges.
In the 1930s a group of militant radicals gained control of the IRA Army Council. In January 1939 they issued a brief ultimatum to the British government, demanding the withdrawal of all British military personnel from Ireland. 15 January 1939, with no reply from the British Government, a proclamation was posted in public places throughout Ireland announcing the IRA’s declaration of war on Britain.
Their ultimatum was ignored and IRA leaders responded with a campaign in England. They initiated their S-Plan: an operation to sabotage English infrastructure with stolen and improvised explosives. Between January and December 1939, IRA cells planted a total of 290 bombs in England. The S-Plan sought to create disruption, panic and fear rather than deaths or casualties. The bombers targeted electricity stations, railway stations, communications infrastructure, roads, bridges and government buildings.
The campaign was wound back in August 1939 after an IRA bomb intended for an electricity station exploded in a Coventry shopping street, killing five civilians. This bombing caused widespread outrage and a growth in anti-Irish sentiment. A bomb, hidden on the handlebar basket of a bicycle, went off by accident outside Astley’s shop in the busy Broadgate area of Coventry. Two members – Peter Barnes and James McCormack – also known as James Richards – would hang for the Broadgate blast, although neither planted the bomb.
Part of the S Plan campaign, attacking commercial premises in an effort to rid Ireland of British troops. The bomb was actually intended for an electricity generating plant on the outskirts of Coventry .On March 23, 1939, they struck four times, destroying underground telephone inspection chambers.
The S-Plan (sometimes referred to as the Sabotage Campaign) was a campaign against the civil, economic, and military infrastructure of the United Kingdom from 1939 to 1940, conducted by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). At various moments in the twentieth century the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in its various incarnations have used the tactic of infrastructural bombing, notably in their 1939 attacks in England on electricity pylons and in the summer of 1971 in Northern Ireland on its electrical distribution network. In 1996 the British Security Service (MI5) foiled an attack by the IRA aimed at causing a total electrical blackout of the greater London area, a plan that would have seen major disruption in the capital for many weeks or months. The months of 1939 were punctuated with a variety of attacks and targets : electricity pylons, power stations, London underground, two bombs exploded at Kings Cross railway station, and at the aqueduct for the Grand Union Canal and Hammersmith Bridge. In June 1939 bombs exploded in thirty post offices and postboxes.
The five deaths during the Coventry bombing on 25 August effectively ended the campaign. By late 1940 the introduction of the Treason Act 1939 and the Offences Against the State Act in Éire, and the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act in Britain had seen many IRA members interned in Éire, arrested in Britain, or deported from Britain. The granting of extra powers to the Irish Justice Minister under the Emergency Powers Act in January 1940 led to 600 IRA volunteers being imprisoned and 500 interned during the course of World War II alone. (S-Plan from Wikipedia)
In the contemporary era any chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions contain intervals when cease-fires were declared to facilitate political progress; the ceasefires of 1972 Cheyne Walk talks and 1974, 1975, the hopeful ceasefire of 1994–96 celebrated in Republican heartlands with Sinn Fein claiming the IRA was ‘undefeated’ but the word ‘victory’ was notably absent, and the final ceasefire of 19 July 1997. However as the war continued, the military campaign was employed in England, often to public revulsion, but regarded as an effective tactic to advance the political goals.
The PIRA modern-day maxim: “One bomb in London is worth 20 in Belfast.”
From 1970 to 2005, 19,000 IEDs – Improvised Explosive Devices – were exploded on British territory: that’s one every 17 hours. Not all were of Irish origin. In the parlance of the time, ‘spectaculars’ were milestones in the struggle. Irish republicans had been using training grounds in Counties Donegal and Armagh, to develop an unprecedented level of adapted technical IED expertise, evident in an attempt to blow up Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet at the 1984 Conservative Party conference at The Grand Hotel, Brighton. Targeting the Government again, on 7 February 1991, involved a multiple mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. Three bombs were launched from a firing position in a stationary van. They hit a tree and exploded 13 m short of target, forming a crater several metres wide and shattering the blast windows of the Cabinet room. Prime Minister John Major and his Cabinet dived under a table. As well as extensive damage to 11 and 12 Downing Street, two civil servants and two policemen were injured.
The first significant attack on English soil during, what was referred to as, ‘the Troubles’ was carried out by the Official IRA, acting in retaliation for Bloody Sunday. On February 22nd 1972, three weeks after the shootings in Derry, Official IRA volunteers drove an explosives-laden car into an army base in Aldershot.
In early 1973, the Provisional IRA sent 11 volunteers to operate undercover in London; there were attacks on the symbols of British state like the Old Bailey and Whitehall, Other attacks included the 1974 Woolwich, Guildford and Birmingham Pub bombings (November 1974), the M62 Coach Bombing, Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament and a bomb exploded at the Tower of London in an exhibition room.
In 1975, bombing Oxford Street (August 28th, seven injured), the London Hilton (September 5th, two killed and 63 injured) and Connaught Square (November 3rd, three injured).
Individual targets Ross McWhirter, Airey Neave, a Conservative MP and adviser to Margaret Thatcher, Lord Louis Mountbatten. On the same day Mountbatten was assassinated, the South Armagh division of the Provisional IRA ambushed a British Army platoon near Warrenpoint, County Down and killed 18.
Each decade saw a mainland campaign and varied targets.
October 1981 a bomb packed with six-inch nails exploded outside Chelsea Barracks; Wimpy’s, fastfood hamburger bar on Oxford Street was attacked.
July 20th 1982 when IRA targeted military parades in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.
December 17th 1983, detonating a car bomb outside the iconic department store Harrod’s in west London.
October 12th 1984 the Provisional IRA detonated a bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. The hotel was hosting a Conservative Party conference. Provisional IRA statement was succinct “Today we were unlucky, but remember, we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no war.”
1989 the Provisional IRA revived the mainland campaign by bombing a Royal Marines music school in Deal, Kent. During the 1990s, there were attacks on military personnel in Wembley (May 1990) and Litchfield (June 1990) that killed two men. In July 1990 IRA volunteers assassinated Ian Gow, a Conservative MP who embraced a hard line on Northern Ireland, routinely attacking the Provisional IRA in parliament and the media. In February 1991 volunteers launched three mortars at 10 Downing Street.
Conservative leader, John Major won the British General Election of 9th April 1992.The Conservatives’ fourth election victory in a row.
April 10th 1992 at 9:20 pm, a huge bomb of homemade explosive inside a white Ford Transit van, detonated in front of the Baltic Exchange building at 24–28 St Mary Axe. Three people died and 91 injured.
Following the attack on the world’s leading international shipping market, reports in the media that insurance claims from this single attack amounted to £800 million pounds more than the total damage caused by the 10,000 explosions that had occurred during the Troubles in Northern Ireland up to that point. [Some truth perhaps to the PIRA modern-day maxim: “One bomb in London is worth 20 in Belfast.”]
A few hours later another similarly large bomb went off in Staples Corner in north London, also causing major damage. The site, together with that of the Chamber of Shipping at 30–32 St Mary Axe, was eventually redeveloped, now home to the skyscraper commonly referred to as The Gherkin.
Feb 18th 1996 eleven people were hurt after a bomb in transit explodes on a double decker bus in the heart of London’s West End. A few days earlier on February 9th 1996 the IRA detonated a 3,000 pound bomb in London’s Docklands in South Quay. The blast devastated a wide area and caused an estimated £150 million worth of damage and wrecked the Midland Bank HQ. Although the IRA had sent warnings 90 minutes beforehand, the area was not fully evacuated. Two people were killed and more than 100 were injured, some permanently
The explosion marked the end of a seventeen month ceasefire, forcing the British government to re-table talks for peace in Northern Ireland. Did extensive damage caused to City of London office blocks by IRA bomb attack concentrate the minds? In the mainstream media this event has been read as the IRA successfully ‘bombing its way to the conference table’.
Thwarted attack on infrastructure
Over 30 mass-produced devices seized by Gardai from the IRA’s Clonaslee bomb factory in the Irish Republic in the mid-1990s were intended to take out 22 electrical substations – specifically, the transformer units – which channel almost all the electricity used in the London area. IRA researched their intended targets and reconnoitered at least five substations. The 100,000-V environment meant the power would have to be shut down before bombs could be found and rendered safe. Had up to five transformers been disrupted, large parts of London would have been without power for days or weeks.
The attacks in the north-west saw the IRA attempted to blow up the Navy and RAF recruitment office in Preston city centre, two separate bomb attacks took place during early 1993 in Warrington. The first attack happened on 26 February, when a bomb exploded at a gas storage facility. This caused extensive damage, but no injuries. The second attack on 20 March, when two smaller bombs exploded in litter bins outside shops and businesses on Bridge Street, killed two children and dozens of people were injured. Blackpool was targeted just six months later when the IRA planted a large number of incendiary devices in various shops and businesses. Manchester city centre modern developments were down to the IRA bomb of June 1996. A huge explosion near Arndale shopping centre rocks central Manchester injuring more than 200 people. The largest IRA bomb detonated in Great Britain and the largest bomb to explode in Great Britain since the Second World War, it causes more than £400m worth of damage.
A statement from the IRA leadership on 19 July 1997 confirmed the “unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire of August 1994”: peace talks were now being shaped without IRA arms decommissioning as a precondition; that formal declaration appeared in July 2005: “All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means.”
After the Belfast Agreement came into effect in December 1999, dissident republicans opposed to the Agreement, including the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, continued to carry out sporadic armed activities, both in the six counties and England.
Dr Darragh Gannon | ‘Irish Republicanism in Great Britain, 1917-21’ Doctoral thesis 2011
Gary McGladdery | The Provisional IRA in England: The Bombing Campaign 1973-1997. Irish Academic Press 2006
Gerard Noonan | The IRA in Britain, 1919-1923: “In The Heart of Enemy Lines” Liverpool University Press 2017
Joseph Mckenna | The IRA Bombing Campaign Against Britain 1939-1940. McFarland & Company 2016
Kevin Davies | The IRA Campaign in the North East and the State Response 1920-1923. north east history Volume 41 2010 78-100pp
The only member of the Communist Party’s Executive Committee to vote against the Party’s programme, `the British Road to Socialism’, because “the dictatorship of the proletariat was missing”. [Morning Star 9th January 1989] George Thomson was the author of “From Marx to Mao Tse-Tung” (London: China Policy Study Group, 1971).
Though written over 40 years ago, this is still a fine, if dated, introduction to a Mao-influenced Marxism-Leninism. Subtitled, “A Study in Revolutionary Dialectics “ it includes a great many quotations from Marx, Lenin, Mao and others, all arranged in a way to illustrate the overall coherence and unity of MLM theory. It was translated in many languages and received a wide circulation in the international communist movement, the first volume of three books written for the China Policy Study Group by the renowned British Marxist activist intellectual, George Thomson – From Marx to Mao Tse-Tung: A Study in Revolutionary Dialectics; Capitalism and After: The Rise and Fall of Commodity production.
This is a Marxist study of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949, designed to demonstrate their unity and continuity as two successive stages in the world socialist revolution. Their common theoretical foundation is expounded by means of extensive quotations from the Marxist classics, especially the writings of Lenin and Mao Tse-tung. These enable the reader to follow the two revolutions through the minds of those who led them, and at the same time they provide him with an introduction to the basic principles of dialectical and historical materialism; for that theory can only be understood in the light of the revolutionary struggles out of which it has grown and in which it finds its fullest and clearest expression
George was a leading academic, a Cambridge graduate, who pioneered a Marxist interpretation of Greek drama. His first scholarly commentary, published in 1932, was on the Aeschylean Prometheus Bound. His Aeschylus and Athens and Marxism and Poetry won him international attention. He became a professor at Birmingham University in 1936, the year he joined the Communist Party. Thomson had a leading role in the CPGB internal party education programme in the Forties, a member of the CPGB Cultural Committee and also it’s Executive Committee.
He resigned from the Party in the early Fifties in protest at the British Road to Socialism, but this was not much more than an act of an individual. He was around loose anti-revisionist circles, Thompson’s musician wife Katherine Thompson worked with Ewan MacColl, another anti-revisionist communist member, and A.L.Lloyd on ‘Singing the Fish’. And Thompson continued to write and was active in the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding and other pro-Chinese societies; public lecture he gave Marxism in China Today by George Thomson.
He never lost his political beliefs and his commitment to working-class education, which included giving lectures to factory workers at Birmingham’s Austin car plant, encouraging study groups in Birmingham that saw the formation of the Birmingham Communist Association.
English translation of a paper delivered in commemoration of G. Thomson organized by the Classics Department of the University of Ioannina
His Wikipedia entry notes Thomson as “English classical scholar, Marxist philosopher, and scholar of the Irish language.”
Thomson first visited the Blasket Islands off the west coast of Ireland in 1923.He spent several years with the people of the islands studying their language, history and culture. He maintained a special study of the now extinct community in Ireland, in which he perceived elements of surviving cultural resonances with historical society prior to the development of private property as a means of production. Thomson became a champion of the Irish language, writing and translating a history of Greek philosophy up to Plato written in Irish in 1929.
Thomson went on to become professor of Greek at Galway University before moving back to England in 1934 where he continued a successful academic career, including over 30 years as professor of Greek at Birmingham University. Academically he produced a stream of publications which were informally blacklisted at Oxford University, but very widely read outside the Classics establishment in Britain, and indeed were on the syllabus of many departments of Anthropology and Sociology as well as the reading lists circulated by workers’ educational organisations.
In 1938 he published his impressive two-volume commentary on Aeschylus’ Oresteia, which still needs to be consulted by any scholar working on that text. But the work of classical scholarship with which he will always be primarily associated was his 1941 Aeschylus & Athens, a Marxist anthropological study of early Greek tragedy, published by the press most closely associated with the CPGB, Lawrence & Wishart. In 1949 he followed this with The Prehistoric Aegean, and, making a kind of ‘trilogy’ of Marxist interpretations of ancient Greek civilisation from the Bronze Age to Periclean Athens, in 1954 with The First Philosophers based on a 76 page book written in Irish for the common reader in 1932 and published in 1935 under the title: Tosnú na Feallsúnachta. source
Maggie Burns produced a study, George Thomson in Birmingham and the Blaskets 0709302339 that tells the story of his life and is illustrated with photos from Ireland, Birmingham, China and Greece.
In 2003, at the Galway Conference “Irish involvement in Greek Culture, Literature, History and Politics” organised by the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens (that included Professor Margaret Alexiou on the life and work of her father, George Thomson), the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre reminisced:
“I began to read George Thomson, a professor of Greek first at Galway and then at Birmingham and a member of the Executive Committee of the British Communist Party. He played a part, I believe, in my joining the Communist Party for a short time. In 1941, he published “Aeschylus and Athens,” which came after a history of Greek philosophy up to Plato written in Irish, entitled Tosnù na Feallsùnachta, as well as the translation of some Platonic dialogues into Irish. It was through thinking about the problems of translation involved in rendering Greek philosophy into modern languages as different as English and Irish that I had my first inklings of two truths: that different languages as used by different societies may embody different and rival conceptual schemes, and that translation from one such language to some other such language may not always be possible. There are cultures and languages-in-use that one can only inhabit by learning how to live in them as a native does. And there are theories framed in different languages-in-use whose incommensurability arises from their partial untranslatability. These were thoughts that I only developed fully some thirty-five years later in Relativism, Power and Philosophy and in Whose Justice? Which Rationality?”
Of George Thompson, it was said that “he was a noble person, he loved the people” (“Bhi se usual iseal” – Maire Guiheen).
Works by George Derwent Thomson
Aeschylus and Athens: A Study in the Social Origins of Drama . A Marxist anthropological study of early Greek tragedy, published by the publishing house most closely associated with the CPGB, Lawrence & Wishart
Studies in ancient Greek society 1949
The First Philosophers 1954
From Marx to Mao Tse-tung: A study in revolutionary dialectics
Marxism and Poetry 1946
The Greek language
Capitalism and after: The rise and fall of commodity productions
A manual of modern Greek
The Blasket that was: The story of a deserted village
Greek Lyric Metre
Os primeiros filósofos
Τὰ Ὁμηρικὰ Ἒπη
An Essay on Religion
Aeschylus: The Prometheus Bound y
La filosofía de Esquilo
Les premiers philosophes.
The human essence : the sources of science and art
Stakeknife was named in 2003 by disaffected Army agent Kevin Fulton. Fulton, whose real name is Peter Keeley, infiltrated the IRA for the Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) in the late Seventies. Media speculation that followed, drawing on former RUC Special Branch officers and senior members of the Garda Siochana, saw Henry McDonald in The Observer. write,
“Stakeknife was only one of five highly- placed agents working inside the republican terror group…. Garda Siochana told The Observer this weekend that Scappaticci’s second in command during the Eighties, the late IRA veteran John Joe Magee, worked for the security forces on both sides of the border.” [The Observer Sunday 18th May 2003].
Naming a dead person to raise further speculation, distrust and retrospective accusations to destablise political opponents is straight out of the “counter-terror” manual. The construction of a truth takes on many aspects and much of the media coverage contains the phrase “According to security sources” – hence the Independent headline: “IRA’s GHQ riddled with informers” [May 18 2003] stoking up the suspicion the controversy has provoked, inducing a backdrop of fear and mistrust. The propaganda war did not end hence the narrative: British spies had infiltrated the IRA, spreading deceit and rumours of deceit. The IRA had turned against itself. The story is that British agents subverted the IRA from within.
Not everyone neatly observers the set script. Journalist Eamon Mallie was not alone in pointing out: “A question screaming out for an answer is how the Army and MI5 explain and justify the alleged role of Stakeknife – an agent in that part of the IRA that interrogated and tortured other suspected agents, steps often leading to execution.Whilst rubbishing the initial charges against Scappaticci, former republican publicity director Danny Morrison raised the flaws in the broader narrative in his Guardian article, The story of Stakeknife is full of holes.
Likewise an American journalist Matthew Teague raised the other issue talking to “Scappaticci’s attorney, Michael Flanigan… I asked about Scappaticci’s career as a spy, and Flanigan shook his head. He has previously called the allegations “misinformation” and told me it was all British propaganda. The British, he said, just wanted to embarrass the IRA by pretending they had penetrated it. When I suggested that the Stakeknife affair might reflect as poorly on the British as on anyone else, he smiled.”
Shortly afterwards Teague relays Denis Donaldson, “the legendary IRA hunger-striker who had met with me in his kitchen— has just been expelled from Sinn Féin… For being a British spy. Donaldson, it turned out, had been spying on the IRA for two decades.”
To date the only charge raised against Scappaticci arose from his brief arrest in February 2018. An inspection of his laptop resulted in a sentence of three months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, for possession of pornographic images. After the trial in December 2018, Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, who leads the investigation for Operation Kenova, said: “Today’s conviction came about as a result of material recovered during a search conducted by the Kenova team. This result is an indication that wherever criminal behaviour is identified during my investigation, evidence will be presented for the purposes of prosecution.” Really?
A previous inconclusive inquiry, the Smithwick Tribunal was set up in 2005, by the Irish Government on the advice of Michael McDowell, then Minister for Justice, and sat in public in Blackhall Place, Dublin from 2011 until 2013, examining the possibility of Garda collusion in the deaths of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) who were murdered North of the Border in March 1989, after a brief meeting in Dundalk Garda Station. The purpose of the RUC officers’ visit was to discuss a move against the IRA’s Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy, which had been ordered by then Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Tom King.
One of the principal sources for the Tribunal was the author of Unsung Hero (John Blake Publishing) , a former army spy, Kevin Fulton, who was living “somewhere in the UK”, in hiding from the IRA and was engaged in a lengthy legal battle with his former employers over a “severance package”. He says he was promised money, relocation and a new identity if his role as a spy within the Provisional IRA was ever compromised. The intelligence services, he claims, have reneged on that promise.Fulton, who was born in Newry, has written a book about his undercover war. He outlines how he was recruited by military intelligence as a young soldier in the Royal Irish Rangers and asked to infiltrate the IRA in the Newry/Dundalk area. In Unsung Hero, he defends his active role arguing that he was assured that while his role may have cost lives – even those of soldiers, police informants and RUC members – it saved more lives than it cost.
In Unsung Hero, ‘Fulton’ claims that he worked undercover as a British Army agent within the PIRA at the height of its campaign. He was believed to have operated predominantly inside the IRA’s, “South Down Brigade” as well as concentrating on IRA activity in South Armagh. “Fulton” supposedly pioneered the use of flash guns to detonate bombs.
Fulton worked as a painter by day, whitewashing the pocked walls of County Down, Northern Ireland. But secretly he made bombs, as part of a small team of demolitions experts who operated in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Some of their bombs blew up military targets. Others blew up civilians. Fulton could sometimes sabotage missions. Often he could not. Admittedly Fulton now distances himself from the graphic book expedient in the face of the, at least nine, PSNI Investigations arising from it, and the many civil actions in the pipeline.
So how does he now view his role? “There is no such thing as a clean war,” he says. “War is always dirty. What people saw in Belfast, South Armagh or Newry, soldiers patrolling the streets and roads, was only the overt part of the war. There was a covert war going on that they knew nothing about. The real war was going on behind the scenes and it was hurting everyone.
It is alleged that he was personally been linked to the death of Eoin Morley , member of the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation, a splinter republican paramilitary organisation, who was shot dead by the IRA in April 1990. A subsequent investigation by former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’ Loan concluded that the RUC failed to properly investigate Morley’s killing. However, she ruled there had been no effort by police to instigate a feud between the IRA and IPLO!
An IRA statement, supplied to An Phoblacht newspaper, stated “Following meetings with the mother of Eoin Morley the leadership of the IRA has conducted an in-depth inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Eoin Morley. “Eoin Morley was shot and killed in Newry on 15 April 1990. No order was issued for the killing of Eoin Morley. At the time allegations were made that he was an informer. In the course of a lengthy interview in An Phoblacht in November 1992 the IRA leadership described those allegations as, “incorrect and totally inaccurate”. “The killing of Eoin Morley was wrong. The IRA leadership offers its apologies to the Morley family for the grief and pain they have suffered as a result of our actions and the subsequent false allegations levelled against Eoin Morley.”
Kevin Fulton was testifying at the Smithwick tribunal https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-16201740 into alleged Garda collusion in the IRA murders of two other RUC officers in March 1989. In 2006 Fulton /Keeley was arrested in England and questioned about the Morley killing and the death of British soldier Cyril Smyth, who was killed when the IRA carried out a bomb attack on a checkpoint outside Newry in 1990. Keeley also played a role in other IRA operations which the MoD should have known about. These were said to include the mortar attack on a police mobile patrol that claimed the life of Constable McMurray and seriously injured one of her colleagues. In one incident, Fulton /Keeley was questioned on responsibility for designing firing mechanisms used in a horizontal mortar attack on an RUC armoured patrol car on Merchants Quay, Newry, County Down, on 27 March 1992. A 34-year-old RUC officer (Colleen McMurray) died and another RUC officer was seriously injured “Kevin Fulton” claims he tipped off his MI5 handler that an attack was likely. He was later released without charge.
Some observers find it hard to endorsed Fulton, a man who had made a lifetime “career” of deception, as a highly credible witness. During the Smithwick tribunal, Fulton was asked for his reaction to previous evidence from RUC witnesses who described him as a “fantasist” and intelligence nuisance. “I have done things that I am not proud of and they would be party to that” he said, “Maybe it’s good to discredit someone who could do them harm.”
Matthew Teague’s articles stated “Fulton harbors complex feelings about the British spy services. His handlers in Northern Ireland abandoned him after his encounter with Scappaticci. His special toll-free number suddenly stopped working and eventually became the hotline for a forklift company. Fulton suspects that once the IRA loosed Scappaticci on him, his handlers decided he would make a good sacrifice: another mark of credibility for their prize agent, Stakeknife. His handlers betrayed him. “He trusted the people he worked for,” Jane Winter told me. She heads a human-rights organization called British Irish Rights Watch, one of the few authorities respected by people on both sides of the continuing conflict. “He believed that he was doing something that—although it was difficult and unpleasant—was necessary and right. And then he found out the people that he trusted were not worthy of his trust. I think that must be very difficult for anybody.”
Into the limelight appeared another former member of the British Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU) using the name Martin Ingram and, as with Fulton, the reliability of Martin Ingram’s stories is unclear. He co-authored a book about Stakeknife. Ingram, whose real name was Ian Hurst said, “There is a firebreak between government and the work on the ground. Do you honestly believe that politicians would have allowed themselves to implicated in murder? They just don’t have the balls.”
Hurst talks about the difficulties involved when loyalist and republican paramilitary members became agents of the state. Operations get complex and thus more dangerous. To illustrate this Hurst gives this quote from (Lord) John Stevens who was in charge of three inquiries into collusion between the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and loyalist paramilitaries in the war with republicans.
‘There was the RUC, MI5 and the army doing different things. When you talk about intelligence, of the 210 people we arrested, only three were not agents. Some of them were agents for all four of those particular organisations, fighting against each other, doing things and making a large sum of money, which was all against the public interest and creating mayhem in Northern Ireland.’
Robin Ramsay, editor of the Lobster magazine noted, “That 98.5% of those arrested were on the British secret state payroll is the most surprising thing I have read for a very long time. These were on the Loyalist side of the conflict – allies, essentially, of the British state – and I think we may assume that on the Republican side a lower percentage of the combatants had been recruited by the British state.”
The dirty war does not end, the propaganda war to control the narrative remains sharp and the collusion, hypocrisy and misdirection does not diminish because as a letter writer to The Guardian asked,
“I wonder whether, during their conversation, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a chance to ask Theresa May when the murders of Pat Finucane will be brought to justice?” [December 4 2018]
Operation Kenova, an ongoing operation scheduled to last five years, was launched in June 2016 to investigate a range of alleged activities including murders, kidnaps and tortures dating back to the 1970s and into the activities of ‘Steak Knife’ , ‘the alleged British Army’s highest ranking informant within the Provisional IRA. Named in the media, originally from west Belfast, Freddie Scappaticci has denied the allegations.
https://www.opkenova.co.uk/ is the website of the investigation led by Chief Constable Jon Boutcher of Bedfordshire Police. He said, “I do not underestimate the huge task of establishing the circumstances behind how and why these murders occurred during those dark days.” Publically his objective “is to bring those responsible for these awful crimes, in whatever capacity they were involved, to justice.”
Such sentiments were also expressed by fellow leading police officers in the investigations that saw to the Stalker report, and with the Sampson report which took over from Stalker. It is hard not to be skeptical. The inquiry is not the first into the secret intelligence war. It is not hard to be skeptical that it will publish evidence that implicates too many senior members of the British intelligence services, or the Republican movement. Boutcher counters this concern, saying “if any of this perceived resistance happens, I will challenge it”. However the prognosis is that a secret inquiry, held in private will produce a report which will be said to be so sensitive that its contents will not be divulged, possibly a short, sanitised summary will be produced, and the British authorities will be able to say that they did something about the Scappaticci scandal.
Below FRU at dinner
It has all been seen before: Stalker, Sampson and Stevens. Of all the previous inquiries into Northern Ireland’s undercover war that have taken place over years, none has the potential to threaten as many vested interests as Kenova. Press speculation was that Kenova’s sights are also targeted on members of the IRA’s provisional army council who sanctioned the murder of agent/informer suspects as required by the IRA’s rule book. And what about IRA members executed as informers by the IRA? It has been pointed out that Michael Kearney in 1979 and Anthony Braniff in 1981, for example, who have since been exonerated by former comrades.
Former IRA member McIntyre, who knew Scappaticci, said that the Provisional leadership had “behaved disgracefully” after the spy had been unmasked. He said:
Like the Catholic Church hierarchy in sex abuse cases, the IRA leadership acted to protect themselves and their own reputations by covering up the truth about Stakeknife, rather than reaching out to help those who had been wronged. Stakeknife sent dozens of people to their deaths as alleged informers. Surely the IRA leadership is not going to continue to rely on the evidence of a British agent? Any case he was involved with is tainted beyond salvation. The evidence can’t be relied upon.”
In January 2018 the Kenova investigation team confirmed that a 72-year-old man had been arrested in England and questioned. The BBC reported the man being questioned was Fred Scappaticci. He was released later that week on bail after being questioned by detectives investigating 18 murders. The arrest of Scappaticci came 15 years after the Sunday Herald first named him as “Stakeknife” in May 2003. It was an ex-British soldier, a former member of the Force Research Unit, Ian Hirst who, using the pseudonym ‘Martin Ingram’, exposed the Scappaticci story to daylight. Efforts by the British Ministry of Defence to silence Hirst led to a court injunction forbidding him to use or promulgate Scappaticci’s code name, ‘Steak Knife’. So instead he called ‘Scap’ ‘Stakeknife’ and the media followed suit in its initial reporting. ‘Scap’s’ real code name though was ‘Steak Knife’. [The Sunday Herald also named Brigadier Gordon Kerr as the head of the Force Research Unit in November 2000.]
Scappaticci is pictured bottom left with dark moustache at funeral of Provisional IRA member Larry Marley
Broadcast on April 11th 2017, Scappaticci was the subject of John Ware’s BBC Panorama investigation, The Spy in the IRA, allegedly working for the British intelligence services while running the IRA’s internal security unit. It was claimed he was Agent 6126 – codenamed Steak Knife’ – who had worked as an agent for the FRU since 1979.
“covers what was probably one of the darkest and dirtiest chapters of the British state’s secret war against the IRA in which the republican movement’s top spycatcher was in an ideal place to subvert his own comrades while giving British intelligence an unprecedented opportunity to manipulate IRA policy and personnel. During that enterprise it is more than likely that British intelligence allowed Scappaticci to kill people and may even have connived at others’ deaths in order to promote their intelligence goals. It is hard to understand how Scappaticci was employed by the British without at least a blind eye being turned to what he did. In that capacity he was in a position to help British intelligence advance the careers of other informers, halt or divert the careers of those who were not and, arguably, help shape IRA military and political policy.”
According to John Ware’s reporting, thirty people were killed during Scappaticci’s time as IRA interrogator. Not all were registered agents such as Frank Hegarty run by military intelligence’s Force Research Unit (FRU), “but the majority provided information to the security forces. Yet they were not saved from interrogation and death, sometimes even after being tortured. In defence, the British army said Stakeknife’s intelligence could be credited with saving some 180 other lives… the 180 figure is partly the army’s “guesstimate” of lives that would have been lost had Stakeknife’s intelligence not led them to recover weapons from various dumps.”
It leaves the question who benefits? Who instigates the action?British ministers from every prime minister down always emphasised that the Northern Irish conflict was not a war and that the state maintained the rule of law. Yet Steak Knife’’s handlers were acquiescing in, tolerating, colluding – call it what you like – his involvement in preparing fellow agents/informers for death as the price of keeping him in place.if allegations were true that “Scappaticci was killing people at the behest of those in charge” then the question was not “who pulled the trigger, it’s who pulled the strings. It’s something that isn’t going away no matter how much the British government wants it to”.
Pat Finucane, a prominent human rights lawyer who represented republicans, was killed in 1989 after alleged collusion between FRU officers and loyalist paramilitaries, including Brian Nelson, a former Black Watch soldier who became head of intelligence for the terror group the Ulster Defence Association. Nelson was FRU’s man in the UDA. In December 2012, a report by Sir Desmond de Silva QC said he had found “shocking” levels of collusion involving the army, police and MI5. It said the state had facilitated the killing and made relentless efforts to stop the killers being caught. But demands for a public inquiry remain rebuffed.
The stonewalling phraseology often employed: A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We are assisting the police in their investigation. As the investigation is ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Stalker: Ireland, Shoot to Kill And the Affair (Penguin 1988)
A reasonable point was made by an Amazon reviewer: When someone of John Stalkers rank with an unblemished record can be kept in the dark and treated so badly by his superiors for no reason other than being too professional, too thorough and digging too deep and asking questions that they would rather he didn’t, what chance have lesser mortals have?
John Stalker was a straight up law and order copper.In 1984, when he was Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, John Stalker had been asked to go to Northern Ireland to investigate the alleged “shoot to kill” policy by RUC policemen of suspect terrorists. With a team of six experienced policemen he spent two years conducting three murder enquiries. Just as he was about to complete his inquiry he was called back to Manchester, suspended from duty and subjected to an intense investigation for alleged improprieties. It ended his career.
Journalist Peter Taylor, author of numerous well-received studies on the conflict, covered the investigation into Stalker himself and not so much his investigation into Northern Ireland. The focus of this book [Stalker: The Search for the Truth (Faber 1987)] is how his loose links with criminals in Manchester through a friend of his meant he ended up being taken off the investigation. Stalker was replaced by Sir (now Baron) John Stevens, Commissioner of the Met (2000-2006), producing three reports of increasing exposure of collusion by state forces leading to the murder of nationalists.
The Stevens Inquiries found that elements of the British Army had used loyalists as “proxies”. His secure inquiry offices within RUC headquarters suffered an arson attack. The extensive evidence he gathered remains secret. The report released in April 2003 states that members of the security forces in Northern Ireland colluded with the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) over the loyalist murders of many innocent people in the 1970s and 1980s, including the solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989. The government forces involved include the Force Research Unit of the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), in particular its Special Branch.
The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday stated that British paratroopers “lost control”, fatally shooting fleeing civilians and those who tried to aid the civilians who had been shot by the British soldiers. The report stated that British soldiers had concocted lies in their attempt to hide their acts. Saville stated that the civilians had not been warned by the British soldiers that they intended to shoot. The report states, contrary to the previously established belief, that none of the soldiers fired in response to attacks by petrol bombers or stone throwers, and that the civilians were not posing any threat. It rejected the findings of the tribunal set up under a former army brigadier, the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Widgery, that had reported on 19 April 1972 and long been regarded as a legal cover-up.
It is clear that during Operation Banner, the British Army longest continuous deployment, state security forces often dispensed with judge and jury, selected candidates for assassination, managed collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, on the streets exercised a shoot to kill and reckless use of plastic bullets against civilians, extracted false evidence from suspects, forced confessions from innocents and tortured citizens detained without trial. In the covert war each of the three agencies running agents – the RUC Special Branch, the Army’s Force Research Unit and the Security Service – operated under their own separate regimes. The result was that: the RUC SB had no workable guidelines; the FRU were subject to Directives and Instructions that were contradictory; and the Security Service received no effective external guidance to make clear the extent to which their agents could be permitted to engage in criminality.
The picture painted of continuous internecine warfare between the various bureaucracies, and covert operations and counter-terror completely out of political control sidesteps the contextual contingencies that they were defending the state and the status quo in the manner they thought acceptable. Given the extent of the accusations and that it was indeed routine and systematic in Northern Ireland, and that the British state acted on all levels, but to varying degrees, illegally in their counterterrorism strategy, can they all be rogue operations?
A library of material has emerged with writers like Martin Dillion regularly publishing on the subject of The Dirty War (Arrow 1991) that started in 1973 with the Penguin Special Political Murder in Northern Ireland. From a variety of viewpoints, and critical reception, the literature on the subject has grown
• Ten-Thirty-Three: The Inside Story of Britain’s Secret Killing Machine in Northern Ireland (Mainstream Publishing 2000) by Nicholas Davies reveals the conspiracy between British Military Intelligence and the gunman of the UDA who targeted and killed both Republican terrorists and ordinary Catholics.
• State Violence, Collusion and the Troubles: Counter Insurgency, Government Deviance and Northern Ireland (Pluto Press 2012) by Maurice Punch
• Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland (Mercier Press 2013 ) by Anne Cadwallader.
• A State in Denial: The British Government and Loyalist Paramilitaries (The Mercier Press 2016 ) by Margaret Urwin
• In Search of the Truth: British Injustice and Collusion in Northern Ireland (The Collins Press 2017 ) by Michael O’Connell
Everyone wants to put their part
The RUC Special Branch have their champion in Secret Victory: The Intelligence War that beat the IRA (2016) by Dr William Matchett who served in the RUC. Likewise a former police officer, Colin Breen, tell their own stories in their own words. A Force Like No Other: The real stories of the RUC men and women who policed the Troubles (2017) covers overt and public aspects of police work, from handling informants and conducting interviews with criminals to dealing with the aftermath of bombings.
Ever since Contact by A.F.N. Clarke’s account of a paratrooper in Northern Ireland during the mid to late ’70s, there has been the British Army memoirs, even the secret covert bits – Fishers of Men – The Gripping True Story of a British Undercover Agent in Northern Ireland (John Blake 2017) by Rob Lewis. Mark Urban’s Big Boys’ Rules: The SAS and the Secret Struggle Against the IRA (Faber & Faber 1996) and Ambush: The War Between The SAS And The IRA (Pan 1988) by Anthony Bainbridge Robin Morgan, & James Adam contributed to a British narrative of “The Troubles”. The quality of the research seldom matches the sensationalist claims with central allegations coming without any substantiating material and are thus impossible to evaluate, such as The Nemesis File: the true story of an SAS execution squad (Blake Publishing 1995) by Paul Bruce.
Although Fred Holroyd’s revelations did not receive the widest distribution – see the long out of print War without Honour: True Story of Military Intelligence in Northern Ireland (Medium 1989) by Fred Holroyd and Nick Burbridge.
There is even the niche account for army buffs from Pen & Sword Aviation: Steven Taylor’s Air War Northern Ireland: Britain’s Air Arms and the ‘Bandit Country’ of South Armagh, Operation Banner 1969 – 2007 (2018).
Increasingly the subject for academia there is Liverpool University Press’ microscopic investigation, An Army of Tribes: British Army Cohesion, Deviancy and Murder in Northern Ireland (2018) by Edward Burke. An article titled “The Influence of Informers and Agents on Provisional Irish Republican Army Military Strategy and British Counter-Insurgency Strategy, 1976–94” by Thomas Leahy of King’s College, London, pretty much demolishes the myth of British “super spies” in the ranks of (Provisional) Irish Republican Army.
From the introductory abstract:
This article investigates the impact of British informers and agents on Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) military strategy and British counter-insurgency strategy in Northern Ireland between 1976 and 1994. The importance of this topic was highlighted by revelations in 2003 and 2005 concerning two senior republicans who had both been working for British intelligence for decades. While acknowledging other important factors, various authors believe that these intelligence successes were vital in containing the IRA, and significantly influenced that organization to end its military campaign in the 1990s.
Yet after cross-referencing new interview material primarily with memoirs from various participants in the Northern Ireland conflict, this article reveals that the nature of many rural IRA units, its cellular structure in Belfast, and the isolation of the IRA leadership from the rest of the movement, prevented it from being damaged to any considerable extent by informers and agents.
In fact, by the 1990s the resilience of the IRA was a crucial factor encouraging the British government to include Provisional Republicans in a political settlement. The IRA’s military strength by the 1990s also points towards the prominence of political factors in persuading the IRA to call a ceasefire by 1994. The role of spies in Northern Ireland and the circumstances in which the state permitted negotiations with paramilitaries such as the IRA, are key considerations for those interested in other recent and current conflicts.”
Out of the Ashes: An Oral History of the Provisional Irish Republican Movement (Merrion Press 2017) by Robert W. White
Ed Moloney’s Voices from the Grave: Two Men’s War in Ireland (Faber & Faber 2011) draws upon the interviews with Brendan Hughes of the IRA and David Ervine of the UVF.
A number of IRA memoirs have emerged, amongst them Insider: Gerry Bradley’s Life in the IRA (2009 ) by Gerry Bradley & Brian Feeney which is not the normal apologetic reformed terrorist memoir that gets printed.
Will Kenova produce a best seller or do a widgery?
Contemporary accounts are the first partial draft but often not the most accurate account of history, here, written by participants, structured by a historian, the compilation of quotes provides a narrative and the conveys the flavour of the Easter Rising. From the witnesses’ recollections of their schooling and other childhood influences to their accounts of what happened at Easter 1916, Rebels tells of this seismic and much-debated insurrection. The testimonies gathered from participants by the Irish Bureau of Military History in 1947 provides a real feel for the ordinary person in history, and captures the detail often absence in the general histories. To recall just two incidents: Seamus Pounch stationed at the Jacob’s biscuit factory, in the first few quiet days before the arrival of British army reinforcements in Dublin, said:
“During a lull in the fight in Jacob’s we held a miniature ceilidh – Volunteers and Fianna, Cumann na mBan, Clan na Gael Girl Scouts… a real welcome break in the serious business we had in hand.”
A testimony to the rank-and-file spirit, and indicative of the conglomeration of forces – not solely a Sinn Fein rebellion – involved in the struggle for Irish national freedom. Not quite a carnival but a celebration, not the mystic “blood sacrifice” so often stressed, but a survivor’s account and insight in an incident that contributes to the human story and commitments that makes history. In another contribution from Liam Tannam, based at the GPO, not a story about the great James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, but a nameless Finn. He, and a Swede appeared at the GPO to join the fight.
“The Finn[ish] volunteer was no catholic. He had no English but before he left he was saying the rosary in Irish.”
This provoked a smile and thoughts of Lenin talking in defence of 1916 with references to no pure rebellions, and Mao’s reference to revolution not being a dinner party. The range of forces that were involved in the action, and those who opposed it from within, is clear in the contributions in the book quoting Bulmer Hobson, Irish Republican Brotherhood and general secretary of the Irish Volunteers in Dublin. Among “the rebels” the warmth and affection that Tom Clark, one of the signatories to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, engendered in many activists had not previously registered with my own preference for James Connolly.
We know the insurrection was not popularly acclaimed, jeered and booed by the Dublin mob at the time. The rebels were branded as criminals, traitors, fanatics, or, at best, dangerously misguided fools in the first drafts of history Dublin 1916. However, the suppression of the rebellion and executions, military occupation with twenty thousand troops in the Dublin city centre alone and nightly curfews that followed meant that the Rising’s legacy would transform Ireland forever. It was the opening shots of the protracted modern Irish revolutionary struggle .
In his more conventional historical narrative, the Rising [Oxford University Press 2010] McGarry points out that within the nationalist tradition, republicanism was moved central stage, and many revolutionary-minded activists could raise “the accusation that they had failed to live up to the ideals of the Proclamation “ so central had those events of Easter 1916 become to the identity and legitimacy of the extensive rebel tradition in Ireland. In their own words are the men and women who played a part in that writing of history.
Small press publications have traditionally been the vehicle for radical political argument and providing an alternative record from the dominant narrative that makes up the general fare of public and academic publishing. Throughout the 1970s, the Cork Workers’ Club were industrious in publishing a series of historical reprints of classic texts of Irish socialist republicanism, including James Connolly. There was eventually twenty pamphlets in the series that reflected an orthodox Marxist analysis of Ireland’s radical tradition. These long out of print pamphlets had an international distribution.
The Cork Workers Club emerged from the Cork Communist Organisation. The latter had itself been formed in 1972 in reaction to the Irish Communist Organisation’s shift from a Republican standpoint to a ’two nations’ and functionally pro-Unionist one. Through a number of organisational developments the Cork Workers’ Club, operated out of the same premises in St Nicholas Church Lane in south Cork that the republican Saor Éire had used since 1968 as its headquarters. The premises acted as a meeting place, bookshop and printing house.
Memories of CWC posted by Fintan Lane on the Irish blogsite The Cedar Lounge Revolution in 2007 recalls:
The ‘Cork Communist Organisation’ was made up largely, I believe, of the Saor Eire people (publishers of ‘People’s Voice’ etc.), who had earlier merged with the ICO. Their politics was a mixture of Marxist-Leninism (Maoism in this instance) and republicanism. My father – Jim Lane – was involved….
The CCO later morphed into the Cork Workers Club, which survived into the late 1970s as a real group and, afterwards, as a sort of publishing house. The bookshop in Nicholas Church Place remained open until the early 1980s, when it was actually an IRSP bookshop/office. It was a centre for the anti-H-Block campaign during the hunger strikes and was later used by the Release Nicky Kelly Campaign. In its early years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, public meetings were held upstairs at times. I remember once seeing a poster advertising an appearance there by Eamon McCann.
I ‘staffed’ the bookshop for a while in the early 1980s, when it was open only on Saturday and some week nights. There were some regular customers, but, as time moved on, few people slinked in besides the affiliated. Its heyday really was at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s when it was the place to go in Cork to get left-wing and republican literature. It was a genuine backstreet bookshop and when other places opened, such as the bookshop in the Quay Co-op in the early 1980s, it effectively no longer had much of a purpose. It was too far off the beaten track. A strange place, in some ways. Internet shopping would have wiped it out, had it survived that long, because it primarily dealt in political material that mainstream shops wouldn’t sell.