UPDATE: Des O’Malley is going to reveal what he knowns about the new allegation that Seán MacStíofáin was a Garda informer in The Sunday Independent tomorrow.
Hopefully, O’Malley will answer the 10 questions Village raised in the original version of this article
In the event that O’Malley does not address these questions in The Sunday Independent, these pages are open to him to answer them here.
By David Burke.
To his credit, Des O’Malley is one of a small number of former government ministers who have taken the trouble to publish a memoir. In this respect Ireland compares poorly to other modern democracies where memoirs are more common. O’Malley was Minister for Justice at a crucial moment in our recent history fifty years ago this week.
The Official Secrets Act was hardly designed to deny the citizens of this nation the insight of figures such as O’Malley who occupied sensitive positions such a long time ago.
Seán MacStíofáin, the former Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA, masqueraded as an IRA informer for years. Helen McEntee, the present Minister for Justice, indicated earlier this week that she is open to the possibility of declassifying some of the files the State possessses about him. Surely it follows that the government could relax the restrictions on former ministers such as O’Malley so that they too can provide their memories of MacStíofáin, the key figure in the creation of the Provisional IRA?
When O’Malley was Minister for Justice in 1970, Chief Superintendent John Fleming was Head of Garda Special Branch while Peter Berry was in charge of the Department of Justice. To a greater or lesser extent, all of these key figures have revealed that the State was running a high-level informer, albeit that none of them ever named him in public.
There was another high-level informer but he was in a separate paramilitary group called Saor Éire.
For the avoidance of any confusion, it must be stressed that MacStíofáin was never a genuine informer. He abused his position to mislead and deceive the Irish State true to his agenda which was to bring about a military campaign to end partition.
For the avoidance of any confusion, it must be stressed that MacStíofáin was never a genuine informer.
On the contrary, he abused his position to mislead and deceive the Irish State. He was always true to his agenda which was to bring about a military campaign to end partition.
In the event, he created one of the most dangerous and violent paramilitary organisations in Western Europe, the Provisional IRA. MacStíofáin went to his grave with a lot of blood on his hands.
From a historical perspective, MacStíofáin’s masquerade as a mole is far too important to let sink into oblivion. As things stand, his deceitful machinations will make the work of historians extremely difficult to unravel. This is particularly unfair on all of the victims of the Provisional IRA for MacStíofáin was the key individual in its creations. The gardai have a serious question to answer over its staggering negligence in its handling of MacStíofáin.
We now, after the dust has settled, have some important information about him from the key sources:
PETER BERRY: The fact of the existence of a high-level informer became apparent when Vincent Browne published the ‘diaries’ of Peter Berry in Magill magazine in 1980. They were replete with references to the information which an unnamed informer had provided to the Special Branch in 1969 and 1970.
The Berry papers included a reference to an allegation made by a high-level IRA source with access to the deliberations of the IRA Army Council, one of which was that “the previous week a Cabinet Minister had [held] a meeting with the Chief of Staff of the IRA [i.e. Cathal Goulding], at which a deal had been made that the IRA would call off their campaign of violence in the Twenty-six Counties in return for a free hand in operating a cross Border campaign in the North”.
The fact that the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, had spoken out against the IRA on 19 August did not dent Berry’s confidence in the ‘information’ he was being fed. Instead of realising he was being played by MacStíofáin, Berry wrote that the Army Council “could not understand the Taoiseach’s statement on 19th August as it had been accepted that the Cabinet Minister was speaking to their Chief of Staff with the authority of Government”.
A wiser man might have suspected that the story was a vortex of lies. An operation to test the information MacStíofáin was providing could have been set in train. Instead MacStíofáin continued to furnish information which was accepted as fact until June/July 1972 when it finally became clear MacStíofáin had been playing the Gardaí all along.
Micheál Ó Móráin has been much derided – especially by Berry – despite the fact he never fell for the diet of lies which was being fed to the Branch.
JOHN FLEMING: We also know there was an informer from the evidence provided by CS Fleming to the Public Accounts Committee in 1971. He alleged that the source had alleged that Irish military intelligence had provided funds to Cathal Goulding, the chief-of-staff of the IRA. The information was a potage of lies.
DES O’MALLEY: In his memoirs, Des O’Malley wrote about a “tip-off” that the Garda received in April 1970 about a flight that was due to arrive at Dublin Airport with arms. This was the event that sparked the Arms Crisis.
According to O’Malley: “Those involved had planned to bring arms through Customs without the consignment being examined; but the Gardaí had received a tip-off about the plot, as well as intelligence that Haughey, as Minister for Finance, had authorised passage through Customs”. (See pages 50-51).
O’Malley’s memoirs also reveal that earlier, in the ‘autumn of 1969 the Special Branch received further information that small consignments of arms were being imported through Dublin Airport at times when a sympathetic customs officer was on duty’. (See pages 60-61.)
O’Malley may not have elaborated about the “tip-off” on the perfectly understandable and entirely responsible basis that he might otherwise have breached the Official Secrets Act. Surely now, however, some fifty years later, the Government should be prepared to let him provide a more detailed picture of these fascinating events, especially as the informer was an audacious liar and historians will face the daunting task of unravelling the impact of his deceit. Assuming the present government appreciates the value of history, the wish list of questions it might permit O’Malley to answer includes the following:-
- When was O’Malley told about the ‘tip-off’ by the informer? (Certainly during his tenure as Minister for Justice, probably within weeks of assuming office in May of 1970)
- Who told him about the ‘tip-off’? (It was most probably Peter Berry)
- Was he told the ‘informer’ had been on the pre-split Army Council and had subsequently joined the Provisional IRA?
- Was he ever told the ‘informer’ was Seán MacStíofáin? (He may not have been told this as Berry claims in his diaries that he did not know who the source was – at least not in 1970 but this may have changed in November 1972 when MacStíofáin was arrested)
- When the Provisional IRA embarked on a campaign of violence, what assistance did Berry or the Gardai say their asset was providing the State in its efforts to curtail the growth of the Provisional IRA?
- If he was not told the Branch was running MacStíofáin by name, what type of figure did he suspect was their asset?
- Did Berry or anyone else tell him that the source had once made the dubious claim that the Cabinet – of which he was chief whip – had struck a deal with the IRA in August 1969? (As chief whip he attended Cabinet meetings. Hence, the overwhelming odds are that this was not relayed to him as he would have realised immediately that the story was false)
- When the Branch finally discovered that MacStíofáin was not a genuine informer (in June/July of 1972 or thereabouts), was he told of this embarrassing fact by Berry’s successor Andrew Ward (who took over from Berry in early 1971) or the Gardai?
- If Ward and the Garda revealed the MacStíofáin fiasco to him, what excuse did they provide for their staggering negligence, especially in circumstances where the Provisional’s campaign of violence, assassination and bombing grew in intensity and reached a crescendo in 1972?
- If the information was not relayed to him, did he note that the information from the Branch’s source dried up after June/July 1972 and, if so, what explanation was he provided for this by Ward and the Gardai?
If the Government is not prepared to let O’Malley talk freely, it might at least indicate to him that he could provide an account of these hugely significant historical events privately to an appropriate organ of the State so that the information might be released at a later date.
The arms which were due to land in Dublin were going to be taken to a monastery in Co. Cavan. (A report in a newspaper this morning – 26 September 2020 – that they actually landed in Dublin is incorrect.) In the event of a ‘doomsday’ situation they were going to be distributed to citizen defence committees (CDC) in Northern Ireland. The CDC was not a front for the IRA as is sometimes claimed. This is defamatory of many of those who were involved, some of whom are still alive. No doubt Des O’Malley will not try to link the CDC to the Provisional IRA.
James Callaghan described how the the CDC in Derry ‘represented the genuine fears of many people’. Callaghan was British Home Secretary at the time and later became prime minister.
The leadership of the CDC included the following individuals:
Tom Conaty. Contaty was the chair of Belfast’s Central Citizens’ Defence Committee. Conaty was not a supporter of the IRA, nor ever became one. In an interview on RTÉ on 21 June 1973, while he was still chairman, he criticised the IRA, stating that while it was pursuing the type of objectives the majority of Irish people wished for, what separated them from the rest of the Irish population was their methods, their ‘use of violence’.
Canon Pádraig Murphy: Conaty was also close to Canon Pádraig Murphy, another man committed to non-violence and described by British Home Secretary James Callaghan as ‘a wonderful leader of his flock who constantly strove for peace’.
Paddy Devlin: Devlin later became involved in the SDLP and served as a minister in the 1974 Power Sharing Executive. He was a fierce critic of the Provisional IRA.
Paddy Doherty: Doherty was a friend of John Hume. Doherty attended an early meeting of the Derry defence committee. More than 100 people were present when it commenced. So too did Seán Keenan, a veteran IRA member. In his book, Paddy Bogside, Doherty recalled how, ‘Even though Keenan was operating in home territory, many people began to display considerable resentment toward him’ because they ‘identified Republicanism with armed force’. Keenan assured them that the republican movement had no intention of exploiting the emergency for political purposes and stressed that he was the only republican on the platform, and even then, he was acting in a private capacity. Additional members were appointed from the floor. According to Doherty, they were people with ‘impeccable records of service to peace and the civil-rights campaign’.
Jim Sullivan: Sullivan was Chairman of the Central CDC of Belfast. He was a veteran member of the IRA. When it split into the Officials and Provisionals, he joined the Officials. Like Cathal Goulding, he had repudiated ‘physical force’ violence in favour of politics. Had guns ever been distributed by Irish military intelligence in Belfast, he would have been one of those in control of them. Yet, people persist in claiming that the arms importation operation that sparked the Arms Crisis was one designed to benefit the Provisionals.
The CDCs also included John Kelly (Arms Trial defendant) and Billy Kelly (his brother).
The CDCs in conflict with the proto-Provisionals over the dismantling of barricades.
The dismantling of barricades in Belfast in 1969 exposed a significant rift between the CDCs and the hawks who later sided with the Provisionals. The issue came to the fore at a meeting of the Central CDC in Belfast after the CDC had had talks with James Callaghan in London in October 1969. More than 100 people attended and opposition to the London deal was led by Billy McKee, Prionsias Mac Airt (aka Francis Card) and Leo Martin, all of whom wanted the barricades to remain in place. The moderates had the support of clerical figures such as Canon Pádraig Murphy who in turn enlisted Dr Philbin, bishop of Down and Connor, to support the barricade deal. The bishop’s intervention swung the Central CDC behind it. On the day of the dismantling, the bishop was escorted around the Falls in a British Army land rover and one of the future Provisionals denounced him publicly for it. After the barricades were removed, loyalist gangs torched three nationalist houses. Replacement barricades sprang up promptly. Canon Murphy then engaged in further negotiations with Lt Gen. Freeland and secured further promises of protection from British troops. The barricades came down again. Clearly, the CDCs were not – as has been claimed – a front for the emerging Provisional IRA. They were a wholly separate and distinct organisation.
The CDCS, the Home Secretary and Inspector-General of the RUC
In 1969 and 1970 the CDCs enjoyed good relations with the British government, British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
In 1969 James Callaghan brought in Sir Arthur Young, a former commissioner of the City of London Police, to take charge of the RUC as inspector-general. On 9 October Callaghan visited Northern Irealnd. Paddy Devlin described in his autobiography that he met Callaghan and Young in the Conway Hotel at Dunree, ‘The civil rights MPs had been invited for breakfast. As we were leaving this, Callaghan gripped my arm and called Sir Arthur Young over. “This is my man. I want you to look after Arthur. He should be in retirement but is staying on to sort out Ulster for me. He cannot do it without your help”.’ Callaghan brought Young into the Bogside where he introduced him to a cheering crowd. ‘This is Sir Arthur Young. He’s going to look after you. “Oh no,” said Sir Arthur, all London bobby and affability, “they are going to look after me.” There were more cheers’. Unarmed British military police were sent into the Bogside until a reformed RUC was ready to take over. Young sought to win over the confidence of the minority community in Belfast too. Jim Sullivan was instrumental in inviting him to address the Central CDC at the Long Bar in the middle of republican Leeson Street, along with District Inspector Frank Lagan. Tom Conaty, a businessman and the Andersontown delegate to the Central CDC, collected him in his car in Springfield and brought him down to the meeting. ‘You had to walk up a dusty staircase to get to the room where we met and it was hung with a photograph of the McMahons, a family who had allegedly been murdered by the RUC. He walked into the room – you could hardly see the walls for cigarette smoke – a big fellow, well over 6 foot. And when he walked into the room, I don’t know why it was, but every man got up and applauded.’
A photograph exists of James Callaghan on his visit with Young, Hume and Paddy Doherty. In it, a smiling Seán Keenan can be observed at their shoulder.
Presumably Des O’Malley will confirm that the CDCs included many fine people who enjoyed strong links with the British and Irish governments and will go out of his way to correct the decades of smears which some people have circulated that they were proto-Provisionals.
The Hijack Attempt
O’Malley may also reveal what he knows about an attempt by the Provisional IRA to hijack the arms when an attempt was made to bring them into Dublin Port onboard the MV City of Dublin on 25 March. Seán MacStíofáin had a four man unit ready to seize them from Capt. Kelly of Irish military intelligence. This demonstrates that the weapons were not destined for the Provisional IRA. Why, if they were, would MacStíofáin had sent the hijack unit to the port? In the event there were no arms on the ship and the unit was stood down when a spy it had close to Capt. Kelly passed this information to them.
The Arms Crisis, A Victory for the Provisional IRA
The most significant casualties of the Arms Crisis were the various CDCs which began to fade after Dublin cut its ties with them. It is conceivable that had the CDCs retained their status, some of those who deserted them to join the Provisional and Official IRA, might have remained with them. Looking to the future, some of those who enrolled with the IRA would have had an alternative had they merely wanted to protect their communities rather than participate in a campaign to end partition. Worse still, vested interests such as those supporting Ian Paisley, the Official IRA and even the British Secret Service, MI6, began to portray the CDCs as fronts for the emerging Provisionals. Surely, someone astute as Des O’Malley will go out of his way tomorrow to vindicate the fine people among them like Paddy Doherty who offered an alternative to the IRA. See: British Secret Service Smear sheet: the document that proves Charles Haughey was the target of MI6 vilification after the Arms Trial.
No doubt, Seán MacStíofáin considered the destruction of the CDCs via the Arms Crisis as a great victory.
And what about the official record from the Department of Defence?
The Taoiseach and other Ministers have met delegations from the North. At these meetings urgent demands were made for respirators, weapons and ammunition the provision of which the Government agreed. Accordingly truckloads of these items will be put at readiness so that they may be available in a matter of hours.
A secret military document was withheld from the Arms Trials.
It was addressed to the chief of staff or Ceann Foirne (CF) of the Irish Army.
It referred specifically to the Taoiseach i.e. Jack Lynch. It was entitled Addendum to the Memo of 10/2/70, Ministerial Directive to CF. It read as follows: ‘The Taoiseach and other Ministers have met delegations from the North. At these meetings urgent demands were made for respirators, weapons and ammunition the provision of which the Government agreed. Accordingly truckloads of these items will be put at readiness so that they may be available in a matter of hours.’
Des O’Malley obviously did not see document in 1970 as it was suppressed but it was later declassified and published in 2006 in ‘Military Aspects of Ireland’s Arm Crisis of 1969–70 by Arms Crisis expert Angela Clifford. (A Belfast Magazine, September, 2006)
And Finally, Capt. Kelly
Des O’Malley will also surely use his Sunday Independent interview to express his sympathy for the ordeal Capt. James Kelly and his family suffered in 1970 and thereafter.