Last month a letter purporting to have been written by the UVF emerged out of the blue from the National Archives. It contained a warning to the former Taoiseach Charles Haughey that MI5 had plotted to murder him in 1985. The letter sparked a short-lived debate about its authenticity. The document may or may not be genuine. This is not crucial to the wider issue of whether MI5, Britain’s internal security service, tried to murder Haughey. There is far stronger evidence than the letter that MI5 plotted against Haughey. In 1981 they helped the attempt by the Loyalist terror group, The Red Hand Commando (RHC), to blow up Haughey and his family during their 1981 summer holiday in Dingle, County Kerry. Crucially, at the time John Dunlop McKeague was in command of the RHC. McKeague was one of the most important Loyalist terrorists of the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s.
The Red Hand Commando plot to liquidate Charles Haughey and his family
Despite the significance of McKeague and the RHC to the history of the Troubles, they are largely forgotten figures. Village will try to redress this with an account of their impact on the Troubles and return to what might have been the high point of their contribution had it succeeded – the murder of Charles Haughey in 1981, in Part 5 of this article.
McKeague was a pederast and rapist who preyed on vulnerable teenagers. Last December Richard Kerr, a child sex abuse survivor, provided Village with fresh information which confirmed long standing allegations about McKeague’s involvement in the Kincora Boys’ Home sex abuse scandal. Kerr’s precise information demonstrated how McKeague’s deviant sex life had rendered him vulnerable to blackmail by MI5 in 1976.
MI5 stopped just short of admitting to the Hart Inquiry in 2016 that it had recruited McKeague as an agent in 1976 through sexual blackmail.
MI5’s denial that it decided not to recruit him is risible. The near certain recruitment of McKeague in 1976 places the 1981 RHC plot against the Haughey family in a chilling new light.
The RHC plot first came to light after the publication of Michael Stone’s book ‘None Shall Divide Us’ (2003). Stone is a former member of the RHC. He also revealed a second plot involving the UDA which will be examined in a later edition of Village.
PART 1: McKeague
A sadist, bigot, child rapist, ethnic cleanser and bomber
John Dunlop McKeague was born in 1930, and originally hailed from Bushmills, County Antrim. He came to Belfast after his parents moved him and his sisters to Belfast from Portrush where the family had run a guesthouse.
McKeague converted to Ian Paisley’s brand of Free Presbyterians in 1966, and acted as Paisley’s bodyguard for a time.
The public bellowing of Paisley and the more secretive machinations of McKeague and others including their mutual friend William McGrath (who later became the ‘housefather’ at Kincora) lit a sectarian fuse that reached a lethal boiling point in August 1969 that would not cool for decades. More than 3,000 people would die while thousands more would be maimed, blinded and handicapped in a hateful orgy of violence that would persist into the late 1990s.
By the early 1970s McKeague had become a ghastly sectarian serial killer with a penchant for torturing his victims before finally finishing them off in Loyalist ‘romper rooms’.
The highly regarded journalist and author Martin Dillon has written of McKeague at the time: “Lean, sleazy and snake-like, his eyes slightly sunken. When he spoke, the menace was wrapped in slyness but there was no missing his capacity for sadism”.
1966: McKeague and the rape of two YMCA boys
By 1966 at the latest, McKeague had become a member of a VIP paedophile ring which included Sir Knox Cunningham QC, MP. Cunningham was not merely a Unionist MP at Westminster, but someone who had served as PM Harold MacMillan’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, 1959-63 and was present at Cabinet meetings. Macmillan awarded Cunningham a baronetcy in his resignation honours and recalled him fondly in his memoirs.
Cunningham was a key participant in the Anglo-Irish Vice Ring of which Kincora was a part. The Kincora whistleblower Robin Bryans wrote that Cunningham ‘always liked to appear as the great Queen’s Counsel who knew more than anybody about everybody, especially those in my books and bed’.
A memorandum Colin Wallace, a British Army Psychological Operations officer, prepared while working at Army HQ at Lisburn stated that Cunningham was ‘closely associated’ with McKeague’s friend and ally William McGrath, the Housefather at Kincora. Cunningham was “aware of his activities”. McGrath would plead guilty to charges of buggery perpetrated at Kincora in 1981.
Knox Cunningham was involved in the World Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He became Chairman of its National Council in 1949, something which placed him in charge of the YMCA in Ireland, Wales and England. According to Robin Bryans, Cunningham took boys from Kincora to YMCA events in England.
In 1966 McKeague raped two YMCA boys. The RUC conducted an investigation but the offences were covered-up. According to Bryans, Judge William Topping, a former Stormont Home Office Minister, who was a friend of Knox Cunningham, helped McKeague wriggle free. Another immensely powerful figure, Alfred Arnold, who had worked closely with Stormont PM Basil Brooke, also helped.
A fascination with the occult
McKeague’s unbalanced nature was demonstrated by his bizarre obsession with the Occult, particularly one of its practitioners, Evan Frederick Moran, the second Viscount Tredegar.
Bryans, who also knew McKeague well, described McKeague’s fascination with Tredegar in some of his books. In ‘The Dust Has Never Settled’, Bryans wrote about how “John McKeague kept up his interest in the black mass. … [Tredegar] obsessed McKeague who thought himself something of a poet, and therefore eager to learn more about the Playboy Poet, Evan Morgan, the second Viscount Tredegar”. Ironically, McKeague’s idol, Evan Tredegar was internationally known for his conversion to Roman Catholicism, and therefore a ‘Taig’ as well as being the high priest of the black mass.
Bryans also described how, “Evan Tredegar loved giving presents, whether to his handsome men-servants or members of the Royal family. When he found out that my mother had been born in July, he quickly dispatched her a ruby ring which she wore until she died 40 years later in 1986. This ring hypnotised John McKeague for he knew Evan Tredegar believed rings possessed mystical qualities”.
1968: Toppling the Prime Minister of NI
Haughey was not the only prime minister whom McKeague plotted against. In the late 1960s McKeague was a driving force in the campaign to oust Captain Terence O’Neill as PM of NI by extremist Loyalists. McKeague despised O’Neill because he wanted to build bridges with the Catholic community in the North and the Irish Government in the South.
As the 1968 Stormont elections drew near, McKeague and his associates plotted to convince the Unionist electorate that the IRA was on a war footing when in reality it was all but extinct. They hoped to portray O’Neill as weak, ineffectual and an appeaser in the face of a faux IRA campaign; and thereby create a springboard to eject him from office.
McKeague was ever present when trouble was brewing. On 30 November, 1968, he assembled a convoy of thirty cars and headed for Armagh where a NICRA demonstration was about to take place. The RUC intercepted it confiscating 220 cudgels and a pair of guns among other weapons.
Ian Paisley stood against O’Neill in the Bannside constituency in the 1968 election and polled favourably, an outcome that severely undermining O‘Neill’s standing. Weakened, but back in office, O’Neill forged ahead with his reforms. On 23 April 1969 he persuaded his Government to support adult suffrage in local government elections. This in effect gave the Civil Rights organisation the “one man, one vote” they had been looking for. This led to more dissension: O’Neill’s Minister for Agriculture, Major James Chichester Clark, resigned in April 1969.
As we shall see, the plot against Haughey involved the planting of a bomb. McKeague was one of the most experienced Loyalist bombers of his era as his response and that of the UVF to O’Neill’s programme of reform demonstrated. Between 30 March and 23 April 1969 they orchestrated a series of explosions. On the eve of a crucial Unionist Party meeting to discuss leadership issues, the electricity sub-station at Castelreagh, Belfast, was destroyed by four explosions. On Sunday 20 April, another two explosions detonated at the Silent Valley Reservoir in County Down, wrecking valves and supply pipes which cut off two thirds of the water supply to Belfast. On the same night in Kilmore, Co. Armagh, an electricity pylon was damaged and high-tension wires were cut. Three days later another water-supply pipe in Antrim was destroyed. On the 24th an explosion damaged yet another supply pipe.
O’Neill resigned on 1 May, 1969. “Either we live in peace or we have no life worth living”, he told his party. These were prophetic words.
Charles Haughey came to believe O’Neill collapsed because he “was not strong enough in his own back yard and his enemies used the [Taoiseach Sean] Lemass visit to undermine him”. O’Neill stated that the bombs “quite literally blew me out of office”.
1969: Igniting the troubles
In August 1969 McKeague led the Shankill Defence Association (SDA) gangs that burned hundreds of Catholics out of their homes in Belfast and sparked the Troubles. Half of the houses on Bombay Street were gutted by arsonists, but not before many of them were looted.
Paddy Devlin MP described the tactics of McKeague’s thugs: “Loyalists who knew the streets daubed whitewash marks on the doors or windows of Catholic homes. These homes were then emptied of the people and burned. As far as I could tell around 650 Catholic families were burnt out that night. Five people lost their lives in exchanges of sniper fire. Police in uniform, covered in civilian coats, were recognised amongst loyalist attackers in Dover Street and I myself saw police armoured cars in Conway Street, standing by as the mobs broke the windows of hastily abandoned Catholic houses before pouring petrol in to burn them”.
Ian Paisley did not participate in the rioting and maintained a relatively low profile. At one point he surfaced at the Ulster Hall to claim that the fighting was being organised by the Catholic Church. He alleged he had evidence that priests had been handing out guns from a church in the Ardoyne. He also claimed that Catholics on the Falls Road were responsible for setting their own homes ablaze as one house had been stockpiled with petrol bombs and when it had been set on fire, all the buildings next to it had gone up in flames.
McKeague on the other hand was proud of what he had done and boasted that if the men under his control had been given “another 48 hours” they would have burnt Catholics out of the maze of side streets around the Clonard.
A terrified jury
On 10 November 1969, McKeague, Samuel Stevenson and others were charged with a bomb attack that had taken place at Dunadry on 24 April 1969. Stevenson confessed and was charged with the unlawful possession of gelignite.
McKeague’s trial took place before a jury in Belfast in February 1970. Stevenson, who had already been sentenced, was called as a Crown witness. He told the court that when he had been in the police station, Paisley had visited him and whispered: “Did you talk?”.
Meanwhile William McGrath had circulated a document about the affair which the trial judge had to instruct the McKeague jury to ignore.
During the trial a bomb exploded outside the courthouse, a clear signal to the jury about how they were to determine the outcome of the prosecution. McKeague and his co-defendants were acquitted.
Paisley distances himself from McKeague because of his sexual proclivities
Despite his interest in the McKeague trial – which involved a lot of self-interest and self-preservation – Paisley had fallen out with McKeague by the end of 1969. Paisley’s biographers, Ed Moloney and Andy Pollock, have pointed out that: “McKeague was discarded [by Paisley] in late 1969 at a time when rumours of his homosexuality had become rife in Loyalist circles – his boyfriend was arrested during the August riots and McKeague became so distraught it attracted comment. All that McKeague would ever say about his break with Paisley was that Paisley had summoned him to say that he had become ‘an embarrassment’ and would have to leave the Free Presbyterian Church”.
After the August 1969 riots, Paisley blocked McKeague’s attempts to reactivate the SDA and a string of interlocking vigilante groups. When McKeague tried to organise one in the Donegall Road area, the local defence committee – controlled by Paisley – issued a statement warning people not to engage with him. The Ulster Unionist Party and the Orange Order joined the chorus of denunciation. As authors Cusack and McDonald noted there was “also an effective whispering campaign about McKeague’s homosexuality. The word was put around the Shankill that he was a ‘fruit’”.
As a result of this, from early 1970 McKeague kept to the east side of Belfast where he set up his own private army, called the Red Hand Commando, which was small but well armed and dangerous.
PART 2: TORTURER, MURDERER AND INFORMER
The formation of the Red Hand Commando
The precise date upon which the RHC was formed is still a mystery but it was most likely sometime in 1972. It was centred on East Belfast, the Sandy Row area and parts of North Down. McKeague and some of his fellow members of the SDA were at its core. They enjoyed close fraternal links with the UVF.
McKeague would personally engage in a series of gruesome sectarian murders with UVF men. Some of these involved so-called ‘rompering’ during which victims were given slow and horrific deaths in torture chambers called Romper Rooms after a television programme for children. They were usually located inside disused buildings, lock-up garages or rooms above pubs and drinking clubs controlled by the UVF, UDA and RHC. Once inside, a victim would be beaten and tortured relentlessly as a prelude to murder, often for the pleasure of his captors. McKeague was the ring leader in a string of these type of gruesome murders.
The Red ‘Handbag’ Commando
Michael Stone, who is the source of the information about the RHC plot against Haughey, was once a member of the RHC. He was introduced to McKeague by Sammy Cinnamound the RHC leader in the Braniel estate: “I met McKeague just once, in the Loyalist club on the Ravenhill Road. Sammy introduced us to McKeague and I spoke for a few minutes. I was initially taken aback by his shock of blond hair but immediately understood why people said he was a member of the Red Handbag Commandos. McKeague was blatantly homosexual. A hard-working loyalist, he even printed his own political papers on his own press and he ran the Woodvale Defence Association like a military operation”.
Author Martin Dillon, who was a close observer of these events, has noted that McKeague was “a practised manipulator and the young thugs under his control were sometimes targets of his sexual appetite. However, all of them were directed to commit hideous murders… William McGrath, another pederast, was a British Intelligence agent from the 1950s onwards. Like McKeague, he sought out young men and boys, often using his religious ministry as a cover for his sexual proclivities. His connection to McKeague was through their shared, insatiable paedophile leanings and both knew Sir Knox Cunningham and other leading Unionist homosexuals. Collectively, they were part of what today would be called a paedophile ring”.
Another tactic deployed by the RHC was the random drive-by shooting of perfectly innocent Catholics. Some of these were carried out by his teenager recruits.
1971 and 1972: McKeague becomes an RUC and British Army informer, after his mother murdered by UDA
McKeague may have purchased a degree of protection from the RUC by becoming an informant for it in 1971. According to Cusack and McDonald, he was handed over as an informant to the British Army the following year. Cusack and McDonald spoke to a man who claimed he had been McKeague’s military intelligence handler. If the Army source was telling the truth, it means that while McKeague was acting as a source of information for the British Army, he was participating in a series of sectarian murders perpetrated by the RHC.
McKeague’s motive in becoming an informer was to have his revenge against the UDA over a conflict involving protection rackets and, significantly, because they had killed his mother on May 9 1971 in a botched attempt to kill him.
1972: Bloody Sunday was ‘Good Sunday’
In light of McKeague’s deep hatred of Catholacism/Republicanism, which was intense even by militant Loyalist standards, it is not difficult to understand how he could have approved of the attempt to murder Haughey, who was perceived as an arch-Republican in Loyalist circles.
McKeague’s career is littered with examples of extreme antiCatholic/Nationalist loathing. McKeague published the sectarian Loyalist News, which he filled with anti-Catholic rants and sectarian rhymes and cartoons which presented Catholics as unwashed idiots and drunks, and the women as slatternly.
In 1971 McKeague was prosecuted under religious hatred legislation but acquitted.
In early 1972 McKeague appeared on television shortly after Bloody Sunday which he described as “Good Sunday”.
In September 1972, six months after the fall of Stormont, and the introduction of Direct Rule from London, Loyalist News, seethed with resentment against the British Government, and provides a valuable insight into McKeague’s mindset. It opined that for ‘being British we have had the privilege to lose our democratically elected local government, thus putting us in a state of limbo which Westminster cannot cope with, never mind understand [..] we are enforced to have to sit and watch every Tom, Dick and Harry of English politicians taking notes and talking a lot of rubbish about our troubles … the privilege of being British means having to sit back and watch people whom you know have no love for this country being taken by the hand by blind politicians grasping for an answer to our troubles. The Loyalist people have certainly paid a heavy price for the privilege of being British … our sacrifices in two world wars and our service to Britain count for nothing when the chips are down. We are being used in a dirty political game by those whom we depend on. Yes the privilege of being British falls heavily on Ulstermen’s shoulders and only time will tell how long we can carry the burden (Loyalist News 30 September 1972).
He added ominously, “What we need are one, two, three, many more Bloody Sundays”.
1972: Working ‘hand in hand’ with the UVF
McKeague was involved with the UVF, an organisation that perpetrated terror campaigns including bombings in the Republic. Hence, a plot against Haughey would not have been unthinkable.
Gusty Spence of the UVF escaped from imprisonment after he was released to attend the wedding of his daughter. He and McKeague concluded an agreement on 15 July 1972 on behalf of their respective militia. It stipulated that the two bodies would “work hand in hand in a joint effort to aggregate all resources of both groups and devote all their energies to the war against the IRA”. The agreement noted that the larger UVF recognised “the right of Red Hand units to retain their own separate identity, as a regiment with its own pride and particular style of internal organisation”.
The RHC would also allow the UVF to claim some of the killings it perpetrated.
1973: RHC Hunger Striker
On 12 November 1973, NI Secretary of State William Whitelaw MP proscribed the RHC.
McKeague was not only interned that year but arrested for armed robbery and sentenced to three years in prison. During his imprisonment he maintained his relationship with Gusty Spence; assumed a leadership role among Loyalist prisoners, and went on two short hunger strikes in protest against the Special Powers Act and prison conditions.
He also intervened to assist the leader of the barbaric Shankill Butchers Lenny Murphy when Murphy landed himself in trouble inside the Maze with some of his fellow Loyalist prisoners.
PART 3: AN ABYSS OF EVIL
1973: Did McKeague’s associates murder and burn the body parts of a 10-year-old boy?
The fact that the RUC were aware of McKeague’s brutal nature is evident from the fact that they suspected his circle was responsible for one of the most horrific child murders in Irish history, that of Brian McDermott.
On 2 September, 1973, Brian McDermott, a ten-year-old boy from East Belfast was kidnapped and murdered. He was last seen at a playground in Ormeau Park. Parts of his mutilated body were found in a sack in the River Logan nearly a week later.
Since McKeague had been interned in February 1973, he clearly did not commit the murder. Such was his reputation, however, that he was interviewed by the RUC to establish if he could help with their inquiries.
For a while, one of McKeague’s close friends ‘C’ was the RUC’s chief suspect. McKeague and ‘C’ had been members of Paisley’s Ulster Constitution Defence Committee. ‘C’ had escaped conviction for sexually assaulting a boy from the Bawnmore home in 1971 when leading Loyalists gave him a false alibi.
A military intelligence report on Tara touched upon the murder of McDermott. It noted that the “only link that can be identified between the murder and the homosexual community is via John McKeague. McKeague’s own statements (see Flag ‘S’) raise more questions than they answer. Certainly, his boast that he will not be prosecuted because ‘he knows too much about some people’ merits serious investigation…”.
Village will be in the position to provide fresh information about this killing in the near future.
Colin Wallace’s damning memo on the McDermott murder
On 8 November 1974, Colin Wallace produced a memo for his superiors highlighting the abuse at Kincora and at other children’s homes. It also addressed the McDermott atrocity.
Wallace wanted to interest the press in the Kincora scandal “with a view to exposing what has been taking place and thereby stopping further assaults on the youngsters in these hostels”. He felt this could be achieved by making use of “our own background information… As you know I did try to develop press interest in this matter last but without any success”.
Crucially at paragraph 10 (b) he stated that “The Rev PAISLEY is aware of the situation but has failed to take any action because of possible blackmail pressure owing to his connection with MCGRATH, DAVID BROWN and JOHN McKEAGUE”.
Under the heading ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ Wallace stated that he found it “very difficult to accept that the RUC consistently failed to take action on such serious allegations unless they had specifically received some form of policy direction. Such direction could only have come from a very high political or police level”.
If, however, the allegations were true, he felt “we should do everything possible to ensure that the situation is not allowed to continue. The youngsters in these hostels almost certainly come from problem families, and it is clear that no one will fight their case unless we do. Those responsible for the murder of Brian McDermott must be brought to trial before another child is killed, and if it can be proved that there is a connection with this homosexual group, then the RUC must be forced to take action irrespective of who is involved”.
The McDermott murder has never been solved.
1975: The IRA’s attempt to murder McKeague
By 1975 McKeague had been released from custody. He nearly met his demise on 6 October 1975 when the IRA attacked his shop. An IRA man threw a bomb into it and killed a Catholic customer, Alice McGuinness. One of McKeague’s sisters was severely injured.
1976: The RHC’s murder of Thomas Ludlow in the Republic
There is no doubt the RHC were prepared to operated in the Republic and we know of one that McKeague oversaw.
On 1 May, 1976, three of McKeague’s subordinates along with a fourth man crossed the Border at a British Army checkpoint, a low level member of the UDA called Paul Hosking who was then a 19-year-old factory worker who had fallen in with the RHC unit during a drinking spree earlier that day. As the session proceeded, the gang asked him to join them on a spying mission across the Border. Hosking had never been in the Republic and agreed to go, hoping to enjoy a pint of Guinness on enemy soil. He was shocked when, in the early hours of the morning, the trip ended in the brutal random slaying of Seamus Ludlow, a much-loved and inoffensive 47-year old forestry worker, in Dundalk.
The next day one of the unit, Richard Long, spoke to McKeague and told him what had happened including the fact that Hosking had been present. McKeague saw a solution to the problem by forcing Hosking to join the RHC. Later Hosking was told that McKeague knew about his presence on the mission and that he would be killed if he talked about it and that McKeague wanted him to join the RHC. Hosking didn’t want to join and successfully obtained help and protection from the UDA.
Part 4: McKeague becomes an MI5 agent
1976: Mi5 makes its bed and tucks McKeague up in it
In 1976 MI5 moved centre stage.
In 2016 and 2017 Judge Anthony Hart reviewed the case of Brian Gemmell, an acknowledged British military intelligence officer, who ran Loyalist agents for MI5 in the mid-1970s. Gemmell had disclosed to the press that he had attended a conference with MI5 officers in a hotel on Buckingham Palace Road, London, at which the MI5 contingent spoke about a compromising film they had shot of McKeague while engaged in homosexual acts, something that was still illegal in NI although not in England. MI5 was considering recruiting McKeague as an ‘agent’.
As described earlier, McKeague had been a British Army informer, so the prospect of securing his co-operation as an agent was positive.
MI5 could not dismiss Gemmell as a liar or fantasist because of the existence of a paper trail that copperfastened his credibility. Instead, damage limitation became the order of the day.
An independent inquiry by Village last November revealed that McKeague and some of his associates had been supplied with boys by Joseph Mains, the notorious Warden of Kincora Boys Home, at The Park Avenue Hotel in Belfast. According to Richard Kerr, a Kincora resident 1975-77, McKeague ‘and other men’ used to meet Mains at the hotel.
McKeague’s group used to meet in the bar and later abuse boys upstairs. Village has been supplied with the names of some of these boys.
MI5’s ‘compromising film’ of McKeague was part of a scheme to blackmail McKeague into becoming an MI5 agent. The odds are high that it was shot in NI; probably at the Park Avenue Hotel.
Significantly, MI5 acknowledged to Hart that the London meeting took place and that Gemmell had been at it. They even provided an exact date: 10 May 1976. Another meeting took place on 7 September 1976.
Crucially, MI5 then managed to divert Hart’s attention from Belfast to London. As Hart reported, McKeague had been “the subject of surveillance during a visit to London in June 1976 when he was suspected of being part of a UVF arms procurement operation. Photographs were taken of him in public places which suggested to those conducting a surveillance that McKeague had contact with young men to establish homosexual assignations”.
When a half truth becomes a whole lie
Although Hart swallowed it whole, MI5’s account of the Gemmell-McKeague affair does not chime with the truth. The purported photographs of McKeague in London conversing with ‘young men’ would have been worthless to MI5 as tools of blackmail. In the first instance, homosexual relations with young men – once they had reached the age of consent – was legal in England in 1976. Moreover, McKeague’s sexuality was common knowledge in NI.
Clearly, MI5’s ‘compromising film’ must have involved something far more squalid than photos taken on the streets of London; it far more likely involved moving footage of McKeague engaged in the rape of a juvenile or child in NI.
On one level perhaps MI5 deserves credit for having at least conceded that a proposal had been made to blackmail McKeague. ‘Officer 9004’ of MI5 admitted to Hart “that there was a proposal in November 1976 by the MI5 officer with whom Brian Gemmell had lunch in September that ‘serious consideration should be given to using [McKeague’s] homosexual tendencies to recruit him’”.
Readers, however, are invited to make up their own minds about another assertion made by Officer 9004, namely that while the proposal was examined by other MI5 officers, including management, it was not endorsed in the end.
At least one thing has been put beyond debate: it is now an officially acknowledged and recognised fact that MI5 considered the use of sexual blackmail to ensnare McKeague – a known sadistic sectarian serial killer – on the basis of his sexual interest in ‘young men’.
The RUC help cover up the RHC murder of Thomas Ludlow
The rest of this article will proceed on the basis that McKeague did in fact become an MI5 agent in 1976.
An early indication of this is lies in the fact the RHC enjoyed high-level protection during the ongoing investigation into the murder of Thomas Ludlow. Although Ludlow’s murder had taken place in May 1976 before the likely date of McKeague’s recruitment by MI5, the investigation continued for years. Crucial evidence was withheld from the gardaí by the RUC which could have solved the crime.
PART 5: THE HAUGHEY PLOT
Avenging Mountbatten: RHC plot against Haughey in Dingle
The RHC continued to pursue it murderous agenda during the late 1970s and by 1981 was plotting to kill Charles Haughey and his family.
The RHC plot involved a bomb attack aimed at Haughey’s yacht, the Taurima II, while it was berthed at Dingle Harbour. The RHC conspirators wanted to avenge the murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten whose boat, the Shadow V, had been destroyed in an IRA explosion off the Sligo coast in August of 1979. The RHC operation gathered momentum during the summer of 1981, a few months after Haughey and his Fianna Fáil party had gone into opposition but with a healthy 45.3% of the vote. Haughey had repaired to Kerry to relax after the election. If Haughey had been assassinated, George Colley would probably have succeeded him as FF leader.
Michael Stone learnt about the RHC plot in the 1990s while serving a sentence in the Maze with the bomb-maker who was the driving force behind the operation. Stone referred to him as ‘M’, someone who held ‘rank’ in the RHC.
The RHC unit which murdered Thomas Ludlow in the Republic of Ireland in 1976 had reported directly to McKeague. Presumably, as a holder of ‘rank’ in the RHC, ‘M’ also reported directly to him.
According to Stone, ‘M’ had “seen” a “massive” file which disclosed a large amount of information on all aspects of Haughey’s life. This was hardly something ‘M’ or the RHC had assembled on their own. It was, however, exactly the type of information which MI5 and MI6 had been collecting for over a decade.
In addition, ‘M’ carried out his own fieldwork. According to Stone, he “watched the [Haughey] boat for two weeks and knew it would be easy to breach its security and plant the bomb once it berthed in Dingle”. ‘M’ told Stone “the plan was that Charles Haughey would die in exactly the same way as Lord Mountbatten – blown to bits on his boat”.
Haughey kept the Taurima II in Howth during most of the year but took it to Kerry during the summer holidays. In 1981 it was skippered by a man called Brian Stafford. Haughey and members of his family including Sean and Conor and family friends were often on it. The boat would sail between Dingle and Inisvickillane where it moored just off the island. It also went on longer trips around the Irish coastline. Hence, any number of people could have been killed by the RHC bomb, not just Haughey. Indeed, Haughey might not have been killed at all.
In the eyes of the RHC, Haughey’s wife and children were fair game for this act of revenge; probably because Mountbatten’s grandson had been killed in the Sligo explosion. It need hardly be stressed that Haughey and his family had deplored the Mountbatten atrocity but this mattered little to the extremists of the RHC.
‘M’ had business interests in Dublin which provided him with an excuse to explore landmarks both commercial and industrial that could be attacked. His business associate had a car and that meant ‘M’ could travel throughout the island without attracting suspicion. He said he made the most of all opportunities and even took an unsuspecting girlfriend on holiday to County Kerry, where Haughey had a holiday home and a yacht. ‘M’ said he loved Kerry; it was a beautiful landscape. The couple spent two weeks in the caravan park in Dingle.
According to Stone, ‘M’ planned to “wire Haughey’s boat with five pounds of commercial explosives. … [‘M’] would attach the bomb to the on-board radio using an electrical detonator. Once the radio was switched on, the bomb would explode”.
Fortunately for the Haughey family, the operation ran onto the sand when two of the RHC conspirators were arrested during a bank heist a week before the proposed attack in Dingle.
There was a second hitch: the gelignite for the attack “was purchased from a quarry in Scotland and transported by a sympathetic Ulster freight firm, to the province. Unfortunately, the journey did not agree with the explosives and when the sticks were unwrapped they were covered in beads of liquid. The long transit had caused them to sweat, which meant they were volatile and ready to explode at any time. M disposed of them. He had to go back to the drawing board and look for a new device”.
In the end ‘M’ abandoned the operation.
PART 6: MI5, THE PUPPET MASTERS
Smith and Jones, MI5’s deskbound killers
If we assume that a protracted and catastrophic breakdown in communication between McKeague and his MI5 handlers did not occur; rather that he alerted them to the Dingle plot in the normal way; is it a surprise that MI5 did not intervene to stop it? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘no’. At the time MI5 was led by Howard Smith and John Jones, both of whom were icily detached political serial killers, albeit they arranged their killing by issuing orders from behind the safety of their desks. Village will take a closer look at them in a forthcoming edition.
McKeague is questioned about Kincora, threatens to reveal all
In 1980 the Irish Independent exposed Kincora, finally bringing the brutal history of abuse to an end.
The investigation into Kincora was conducted by the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) of the RUC, not by the Special Branch. This was significant because while the Special Branch was subservient to MI5, its sway over the CID was not as tight. MI5 certainy managed to corrupt the CID inquiry: at least one CID officer – who is still alive – helped them cover-up MI5/6’s links to Kincora but was not able to save William McGrath, Joseph Mains and Raymond Semple, all of whom worked at Kincora and ended up in prison.
Joss Cardwell, Chairman of Belfast Corporation Welfare Committee which was responsible for Kincora, was also questioned and committed suicide.
Pastor Willie Mullan, a former alcoholic and a friend of Ian Paisley was also implicated and committed suicide.
After the conviction of Mains, McGrath and Semple at the tail end of 1981, the CID began to circle around McKeague. He was questioned by the RUC in January 1982. He began making threats that if he was charged he would expose everything he knew about the vice ring. To the ear of a normal person, this would have been something to be welcomed as it would lead to more convictions of child molesters and safeguard children. Yet McKeague was making it as a threat, a crystal clear indication that he knew of official involvement in the blackmail and control of the vice ring by a group with more power in NI than the RUC. The only organisations that fitted that bill were MI5 and MI6. McKeague patently knew about their involvement as he was an agent of MI5.
Unfortunately for McKeague, the media spotlight was shining brightly over the Kincora scandal and intervening on behalf of McKeague would have created a furore of protest and indignation.
The convenient murder of McKeague inters his knowledge of paeodophilia, ethnic cleansing and the Haughey plot
MI5’s concerns about McKeague were solved permanently when he was assassinated at a shop he ran on the Beersbridge Road by a unit of the INLA on 29 January, 1982, before any further enquiries were undertaken or charges levelled against him by the RUC. He was shot in the head at close range in his shop in the presence of an elderly assistant.
The INLA was never able to establish why the unit responsible for McKeague’s assassination carried it out. They did so without any sanction or orders from their superiors. The man who led the assassination was later revealed to be an agent of the RUC Special Branch. The Special Branch was an instrument of MI5.
McKeague’s death saved MI5 from the prospect that its protection of paedophile rings and sponsorship of sectarian assassinations might be exposed in a manner which even proEstablishment UK newspapers would have found hard to ignore.
Better again, McKeague’s knowledge of the RHC plot to murder the Haughey family in the summer of 1981 was now safe, especially what he had to say about how MI5 had behaved in response to whatever he had divulged to them about it. It is not hard to figure out what he could have revealed: that MI5 had embraced the RHC plot and handed over the ‘massive’ Haughey dossier with its detailed description of Haughey’s movements and habits to him to help ‘M’ murder the Haugheys.
Had the RHC Dingle plot succeeded, the assassination would have been the most spectacular in modern Irish history; not to mention being a hugely significant one on the world stage. Politically, Ireland would have been hurled into turmoil.
Why would MI5 have helped the RHC murder Haughey?
Throughout the 1970s, MI5 and MI6 had engaged in the character assassination of Haughey.
The ill-placed fears of Britain’s ever-paranoid spies about him were described by Village last September and can be found on our website. The September article described a smear campaign which MI6 directed against Haughey for nearly a decade to thwart his rehabilitation after the Arms Crisis of 1970. The campaign was a resounding failure and Haughey became Taoiseach in December 1979.
The failed 1981 MI5-backed RHC plot was a shocking and significant escalation in the machinations to keep Haughey’s hands off the tiller.
By Joseph de Búrca