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Minister for Justice confirms existence of unreleased “sensitive” Garda files about Arms Crisis but fails to commit to their release after Seán Haughey TD describes Seán MacStíofáin of the IRA as mis-informer in Dáil Éireann.

By Michael Smith.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has confirmed the existence of secret and “sensitive'” Garda files relating to the Arms Crisis. She did not rule out releasing them in “appropriate” circumstances. Her comments were made on Tuesday evening in response to Seán Haughey TD of Fianna Fáil who was asking her to confirm that Seán MacStíofáin, the former chief-of-staff of the Provisional IRA, was a Garda informer but – crucially – one who had misled the Special Branch for his own devious ends and had sparked the Arms Crisis.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Arms Trial. Haughey was looking for the files on MacStíofáin insofar as they related to information he had provided to the Special Branch about the Arms Crisis.

Haughey made a compelling case to distinguish the MacStíofáin case from those of other informers who deserve anonymity and protection: MacStíofáin misled and damaged the State wilfully and was never a bona fide informer. Furthermore, that the Dáil was misled about events connected to MacStíofáin and that the record remains in error 50 years on.

Seán Haughey is the son of the former Taoiseach Charles Haughey who was put on trial exactly 50 years ago this week.

Sean Haughey TD

Haughey began his call as follows:

The events which became known as the Arms Crisis convulsed the politics of this island 50 years ago. Some people came to believe that certain Fianna Fáil ministers, along with a cabal of Irish Army officers, attempted to import arms for the IRA through Dublin Airport. A trial involving four defendants opened exactly 50 years ago today (22 September). All were acquitted. 

An account of these events was provided a decade later by the late Peter Berry, Secretary General of the Department of Justice, who made it clear that the Special Branch had a source inside the IRA who had had access to the deliberations of the IRA Army Council.  

Colonel Michael Heffron, the Director of Military Intelligence, G2, in 1970, knew that the Special Branch had two paramilitary sources. One was in the IRA, and the other in Saor Éire.  

The existence of a high-level IRA informer has been known for decades. Magill revealed his existence in 1980; Des O’Malley referred to a ‘tip-off’ in his memoirs.

In his 2016 memoirs, Des O’Malley, who was Minister for Justice in 1970, revealed that the Special Branch had received a “tipoff” about the incoming arms flight at Dublin Airport, that foreshadowed the Arms Crisis.  

The informer has now been identified as Seán MacStiofáin, a member of the IRA Army Council, in a new book to be published on 23 September, ‘Deception & Lies, the Hidden History of the Arms Crisis’ by David Burke.  The author reveals that MacStíofáin exploited his position to create mischief for his arch rival, Cathal Goulding.

In August of 1969 MacStíofáin convinced the Special Branch that the Army Council had struck a deal with the Irish government led by Taoiseach Jack Lynch to assist a campaign of violence in Northern Ireland. This was untrue. 

In October 1969 Capt. Kelly of G2 hosted a meeting of the Citizens Defence Committees of Northern Ireland at a hotel in Baileboro. It was called to discuss the defence of Catholic communities and the possibility of arms being supplied to them by the Irish government. The ranks of the defence committees included priests, lawyers, a future SDLP minister, Paddy Devlin, as well as some IRA veterans. Yet, MacStiofáin portrayed Baileboro as a gathering of the IRA in furtherance of Goulding’s alleged links with FF.     


Seán Haughey added that:

During November and December 1969, MacStíofáin told the Special Branch that FF was channelling funds to Goulding via Capt. Kelly. This was also untrue.  

The IRA as we know split into the Provisional and Official IRA in December 1969.  

In March 1970 MacStíofáin, who joined the Provisionals, discovered that G2 was about to land an arms shipment at Dublin docks. It was destined for a monastery in Co. Cavan and earmarked for release to the citizens defence committees — not the Official IRA — in the event of a pogrom. Even then, the guns were only to be released after a vote at Cabinet. MacStiofáin sent a Provisional IRA unit to hijack the weapons. In the event, the arms were not on the boat and the hijack was called off at the last minute. This demonstrates that MacStiofain was not a genuine informer and that the guns were not destined for the Provisional IRA.   

By April 1970 the Provisionals had established their own arms supply from America and did not need the inferior arms that G2 was now arranging to fly into Dublin. Deviously, MacStiofáin told the Special Branch that guns were on their way to Goulding’s Official IRA. This sparked the Arms Crisis.  


Seán MacStíofáin, the former chief-of-staff of the Provisional IRA

Haughey asserted that it was clear from the foregoing that: 

  • the Special Branch had what they believed was a genuine source of information at the highest reaches of the IRA; 
  • But that he was peddling misinformation, and that; 
  • Des O’Malley, the Minister for Justice at the time, was aware of a tip-off to the Special Branch about the arms flight. 

Seán Haughey then turned to an inference that flowed from the new facts, namely that the Dáil had been misled:

Regrettably, this house was misled about how the State came to learn of the imminent arrival of the arms flight. It was told it had been discovered by civil servants who were concerned about certain aspects of the paperwork associated with the flight. 

Helen McEntee, Minister for Justice

After McEntee had confirmed the existence of “sensitive” Garda files, Haughey said,

I am calling on the Minister to confirm that MacStíofáin was in fact an informer and to declassify all files relating to the information, he provided to the Special Branch about the events I have just outlined. 

I appreciate what the Minister has just said in relations to the sensitive nature of these files. However, I think this House was given inaccurate information on 8 May 1970 when it heard a version of events which purported to explain how the State had discovered the then forthcoming arms flight. It was claimed that the flight had been discovered by civil servants who were concerned about certain paper work issues. An incorrect version has remained on the record of this House since. It is not satisfactory that the official record of any event, let alone one as important as this should be misleading. Crucially, the Dail record can only be set straight if the State confirms that the tip-off about the flight came from MacStiofain

Haughey added that:

I hope the Minister appreciates that the continued concealment of MacStíofáin’s tales as an informer is tantamount to:  

(1) endorsing and perpetuating his agenda which was to disrupt and undermine democracy and assist the growth of the Provisional IRA; 

 (2) perpetuating the deception of this House, and;

(3) belittling and defaming the memory of Captain James Kelly, an honourable soldier who should never have been put on trial. 

Captain James Kelly of Irish military intelligence, G2.

Haughey said that Colonel Hefferon, the Director of Military Intelligence, had also been defamed.

He suggested that the MacStíofáin files could be looked at “perhaps by a High Court judge” and that they could be ‘redacted’ if necessary. He stressed that MacStíofáin’s case was different to other informers because he was ‘not serving the State”.

He also revealed that many files had been destroyed and, in reference to the records of the information MacStíofáin had peddled to the unwitting Special Branch that, “I am hoping the Minister can even confirm that the presence of these files because there is a suggestion that there was a massive burning of these files shortly afterwards in the Phoenix Park”.

He finished by saying, “I would ask the Minister to listen carefully to what I have just said and if there are files there 50 years later they can be declassified so that this saga can be brought to an end and that various families can get justice at this stage. I am not talking about myself but some of the public servants particularly the Army officers involved”.