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Double agent? September 14, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

The Phoenix in the current issue references a book, to be published, by barrister David Burke, entitled Deception & Lies, the Hidden History of the Arms Crisis. In it Burke argues that Seán Mac Stíofáin – first chief of staff of PIRA, was a double agent who was ‘recruited’ as the Phoenix put it by Special Branch in the 1960s, passed information that might ‘create mischief’ for Cathal Goulding, then chief of staff of the pre-split IRA. The import of this is that some of the ‘information’ passed to Special Branch was utterly incorrect and assisted in generating the febrile atmosphere within which the Arms Crisis came to pass. Examples of this include the idea that the Cabinet of the Republic had an agreement with the IRA to operate in the north but not in the south, and so on.

It also references various arms importations which appear to have been under the aegis of G2, at least in part.

The Phoenix argues that:

Coupled with Michael Heney’s book on the arms crisis, it looks as though the two-part fairy tale of FF creating the Provos and Jack Lynch’s huge surprise at the attempted arms importation is being seriously undermined.

That’s an interesting point, but I’d imagine many observers at this point would be sceptical at the idea that FF did ‘create’ the Provisional IRA. There were more than sufficient dynamics in play for that to come about as it did. Not unsurprisingly the Officials ran hard with this idea – not least because it offered a rationale for events slipping beyond the control of those who went on to be the Officials, and doubly so because it could be laid at the door of the hated FF. Much more expedient to have the excuse of PIRA being some sort of creation of others rather than a near predictable and almost certainly inevitable outcome of Sinn Féin and the IRA’s political tilt leftwards.

As to the central claim, any thoughts? And more broadly – for years there was talk of agents on various Ard Comhairle. I always thought, until it was clear how many British agents were in PIRA, that such talk was overstated but clearly that was a part of matters. That said one has to wonder how much actual influence they could exert given the constraints of their roles and the wider dynamics.


1. CL - September 14, 2020

” Information Research Department (IRD) of the Foreign Office…The IRD worked with the British Secret Service and was run by a team of professional liars and forgers. It is the only known wing of British Intelligence that was shut down by politicians on account of its deplorable behaviour…..
the IRD was the black-propaganda wing of MI6….

Official Sinn Féin (later the Workers Party) spent years trying to convince the public that Haughey was really guilty; moreover, that Fianna Fáil had set up the Provisional IRA.
While they were tilting at these windmills, the Official IRA, led by Cathal Goulding and Sean Garland, was also engaged in a campaign of robbery, extortion and murder…
An indication of the moral depravity of the Official IRA is that they later attempted to have the journalist Ed Moloney murdered by the UDA for researching aspects of their criminal empire including bank robbery and building site protection rackets….
When it came to spreading lies about the Arms Crisis, the Officials were developing the fantasies of William McGrath, one of Ian Paisley’s key supporters in the 1960s and 1970s….
The IRD reproduced two Official Sinn Féin publications with dramatic amendments which portrayed Haughey as the puppet master of the Provisional IRA….
British Intelligence believed that Dick Walsh of the Irish Times was involved in the production of the original 1971 OSF pamphlet….
The campaign to link FF to the Provos was given a further boost by the IRD in 1973 when the IRD reproduced a 68-page booklet produced by OSF that same year. It expanded upon their 1971 pamphlet. It was distributed by IRD agents to a string of left-wing bookshops in the UK at the time…..
Ironically, Goulding ended up living on Ailesbury Road in Donnybrook, deepest Dublin 4, one of the most expensive addresses in Ireland. …

After the house was sold, refurbishments were carried out to it during which the floor boards were lifted and wads of cash were found stashed beneath them. The money undoubtedly emanated from Official IRA activities which included bank-robbery and building-site protection rackets run in co-operation with the UDA in the North. Those rackets were never investigated properly by the RUC. Predictably, the Provos believe this was a reward for the Official IRA’s co-operation with British Intelligence.”-David Burke.

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WorldbyStorm - September 14, 2020

That’s quite some ineptitude to leave wads of cash behind.

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Joe - September 14, 2020

That’s some list of stories and claims by Mr Burke. How many are to be believed?
I never heard that one before about wads of cash under the floorboards of Goulding’s house.
Where was the wad of cash that was found in the house of the ex-Provo, north Derry, gerrybuilder a few years back now? I can’t recall exactly but I think maybe behind the tiles in the shower?

But more generally. Stories and lies and claims and gossip. Ó Stiofáin was a Special Branch double agent – maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t. There probably isn’t a senior SF/ex IRA leader who there wasn’t a story about them being an informer put out somewhere over the last couple of decades. Certainly, I saw claims about Martin McGuinness and yer man with the beard who’s still around from mid-Ulster, Francie Something. Maybe they were and maybe they weren’t.

People on either side of whatever split will accuse each other of being agents. Security services will try to disrupt ‘subversive’ organisations by planting stories as well as by actually recruiting people.

Given what we know, you’d have to expect that all of these organisations were infiltrated in various ways and up to the highest levels. But it seems that, no matter how thoroughly infiltrated, they managed to keep on operating to a greater or lesser extent.


WorldbyStorm - September 14, 2020

That’s a key point Joe – infiltration only works to an extent


2. sonofstan - September 14, 2020

Is Burke credible? I know nothing about him. And is Heney’s book worth a read?


WorldbyStorm - September 14, 2020

I don’t know SoS. It doesn’t seem entirely plausible but who can tell. I’ve not read it yet


Dr Nightdub - September 14, 2020

I’ve read Heney’s book, he focuses on the FF politics and the trials, more so than the goings-on in SF or especially the IRA before and after August 1969. More than anything else, he mounts a VERY robust defence of Col. Hefferon of Irish military intelligence and makes a strong case that both he and Captain Kelly are the only two participants who could hold their heads high.

Worth a read? I’d say “yes”, but read it in conjunction withothers as well, particularly “Orders for the Captain” by Kelly himself, if you can get hold of a copy.

Looking forward to Burke’s book. It’s being published by Mercier Press in Cork, which I take as a good omen – they previously published Anne Cadwallader’s “Lethal Allies” about RUC – loyalist collusion.


3. roddy - September 14, 2020

Francie “something” is Francie Molloy the MP for Mid Ulster and a Republican going back to the days of the Caledon squat.Francie would have had no IRA history at all and the”claims” were lies made under parliamentary privelige by far right DUP MP David Simpson.Simpson ,a religious fundamentalist failed to stand again for parliament when his extra marital affair with another DUP member was exposed.

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4. Colm B - September 14, 2020

I’m usually a bit sceptical of these type of stories: so and so prominent member of the organisation was a state plant etc. I know that this happens and has been exposed (Scrap, Donaldson etc.) but it’s also sometimes just a stick to beat political opponents with.

Didn’t the Officials issue a pamphlet about FF and the Provos? I think someone claimed it was Harris’s first outing as a pamphleteer. Does the Left Archive have it?


Colm B - September 14, 2020

This reminds me of a strange experience I had during the WP/DL split.

A very enthusiastic fella joined my branch just as the break was happening. He was very going-ho about DL, was very active and would frequently drop up to my dingy flat to talk politics, pick up leaflets etc. He had an English accent but claimed to be from Newry area. He claimed his brother had been in the OIRA.

Then suddenly after a few months he disappeared. Never heard from or saw him again. But a while later a woman called at my door saying she was his girlfriend, that they had split up and he had left loads of books and stuff in her flat but she didn’t know where he had gone so would I take them? I politely declined. He was probably just an oddball but afterwards I wondered.

Anyway thats my wee potential spy story, not exactly Steaknife eh?

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roddy - September 14, 2020

At a crucial period in the peace process,a non entity called Paddy Murray became very vocal .He lived in the Antrim area and claimed he was being intimidated by Adams supporters because of his forthright anti GFA views.That cretin Anthony McIintyre railed in the media about how “sound Republicans like Paddy Murray ” were being brow beaten for his views.He then moved to the Ballymena area and specialised in stirring up gullable youths to participate in futile actions.He was arrested on some charge( the details of which escape me) and after a few days on remand was suddenly “ghosted” by his handlers ie spirited out of the North – never to be seen or heard of again.He was the classic agent provocateur with the mission to cause a split in the Republican movement.However he failed miserably due to the fact that nobody with any political savy took any heed of him and he surrounded himself with youthful “wannabees” who had virtually no connection to the movement.


WorldbyStorm - September 14, 2020

I’d imagine there were agent provocateurs all over the place.


Starkadder - September 14, 2020

I believe Citizen Press, the publishing arm of the WP, published a pamphlet about Fianna Fail and the Provos ten years ago. I don’t know about any similar pamphlets the WP may have published.


WorldbyStorm - September 14, 2020
Colm B - September 14, 2020

Yep that’s the one. Has some of the characteristically crude Marxist jargon beloved of Harris #1 there so it could be his first outing.

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Dr. Nightdub - September 15, 2020

The Officials put out two pamphlets, one of which was “Fianna Fáil – The IRA Connection.” I have my da’s copy of this, inside it he’d attached a press cutting about its publication, that dates from March 1973 which I think would coincide with Harris’ involvement with SF Gardiner Place…?

Incidentally, my da told me mere possession of the pamphlet was enough to get you arrested in Belfast at the time, so his copy is covered in brown paper, the way we used to cover our school books. All I can say is, just like vampires and garlic, the RUC never got past his brown paper.

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WorldbyStorm - September 15, 2020

It must have been fairly widely distributed given both our da’s had them. Stapled together and in landscape rather than portrait format. I’d wondered about that re the legality of it, though thinking of this in the context of the South.


5. entdinglichung - September 15, 2020

as a trained historian, I would like that the author of that article will be able to provide sound evidence in the form of a reliable source … but wouldn’t be surprised, having the cases of e.g. Richard Aoki or Aksel Larsen in mind

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6. John Goodwillie - September 15, 2020

Compare Roman Malinovsky, member of the Bolshevik central committee, leader in the Duma and police spy. Did his Bolshevik work or his treachery achieve more?

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WorldbyStorm - September 15, 2020

It’s a weird sort of paradox. The more influential someone is the less room they have to move often in an – ahem – ‘unexpected’ direction.


7. CL - September 15, 2020

“In 2001, “Sunday Times” journalist Liam Clarke claimed Mac Stíofáin was an informer on dissident republicans for the Garda Siochána from 1969. According to Clarke, Mac Stíofáin’s former Special Branch handler, the late Hugh McNelis, claimed that: “I think he was doing it because he wanted to get rid of certain people.” Liam Clarke and his wife Kathryn Johnston were formerly members of Official Sinn Féin.”

“SECRET Garda and Department of Justice files which Judge Barron’s inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings complained were “missing” contain some of the most sensitive information about Garda undercover operations against both republican and loyalist paramilitaries. According to senior sources the files – whether or not they still exist – will not be released as they go to the heart of the Garda’s intelligence-gathering operations….
The files detail the information that led Government security policy at a time when it was believed at Cabinet and senior gardai level that the IRA was on a campaign not only to destabilise the North but to overthrow the Government of the Republic.
According to senior sources, this was based on well grounded reports from agents including, it is reliably recorded, the one-time IRA Chief of Staff, Sean MacStiofain, who regularly passed information to gardai. MacStiofain was secretly an opponent of other senior members of the IRA and is understood to have fed information to the Gardai to undermine his enemies. After he carried out a failed hunger strike in Mountjoy Prison in 1972, he was ousted by the younger, mainly Northern figures led by Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams.
It is believed MacStiofain continued to pass information after being usurped and replaced as Chief of Staff.
According to former senior gardai, the Special Branch was able to continue running a number of high-level informants within the IRA including figures who have since emerged in senior positions in Sinn Fein”
-Jim Cusack, Irish Independent, Dec 21, 2003.


roddy - September 15, 2020

Aye right,Liam Clarke and Jim Cusack!


8. CL - September 16, 2020

“To Gerry Adams, who was one of the young men who followed MacStiofain’s leadership in the early 1970s, he “played a leading role throughout his life in the struggle for social justice and a United Ireland.”
According to Myers, this man who Adams said “will be missed by republicans everywhere” was a “deracinated psychopath.” Yet, according to Martin Lyons, a life-long member of the republican movement who was a close friend of MacStiofain’s, he was “a most compassionate man.”…
“He was one of Ireland’s great republicans,” Lyons said. “And he suffered a lot for that.” Lyons is convinced that without MacStiofain, the Provisional IRA “would never have gotten off the ground.”…
In 1969, a man standing among the rubble of Bombay Street, burned to the ground by loyalist mobs, need not have been a deracinated psychopath to come to a somewhat different conclusion about a role for the IRA….
His being in the IRA gave his life meaning, even when he it was merely the London “unit” which MacStiofain set up in 1950 or so and whose six members did little except read military books in Foyle’s Bookshop. Inadvertently, MacStiofain’s account conveys the sense of a rather sad, somewhat seedy world of Irish exiles desperate to find a role in life that would afford them an escape from its empty dullness, marginal people with fantasies of fighting for Mother Ireland. At the time, that seemed most unlikely. In Ireland as well, the IRA in the early 1950s was a marginalized organization…..
The really interesting, and disturbing, truth is the …IRA attracted ordinary, decent men (and some women), with ordinary feelings and a sense of right and wrong. How they became killers is the interesting story. Perhaps it is the story of all wars, which are rarely fought by psychopaths, but nearly always by the man in the street.
Perhaps this comes as a shock to middle-class people who live lives of unprecedented security, free from violence. But, unfortunately, it is a fact that every civilization that has ever existed would take for granted.”-Jack Holland.

“Mac Stiofain and the Midleton episode….Mac Stiofain’s preferred tactic of shooting landlords was clearly a provocation; no way would this have led to any dent in the armour of British property legislation as adopted by the Free State” -Roy Johnston.


9. WorldbyStorm - September 16, 2020

“In 1969, a man standing among the rubble of Bombay Street, burned to the ground by loyalist mobs, need not have been a deracinated psychopath to come to a somewhat different conclusion about a role for the IRA….”

Sad but true.


WorldbyStorm - September 16, 2020

“The really interesting, and disturbing, truth is the …IRA attracted ordinary, decent men (and some women), with ordinary feelings and a sense of right and wrong. How they became killers is the interesting story. Perhaps it is the story of all wars, which are rarely fought by psychopaths, but nearly always by the man in the street.”

And that I’d agree with completely. it’s so easy to say psychopathy was the reason. Much more difficult to address the material conditions that led to very ordinary people who took up armed struggle. One can be very critical of the course armed struggle took in many ways while not being blind to that. I think much of the PIRA campaign was counterproductive and needlessly so. But it didn’t come from nowhere.

Indeed the history of the Officials and Provisional’s points to all this in their shared aspects – and in the manner in which as many histories from the time and after point to, it was often impossible to predict in what formation someone would wind up in when the split occurred. Some who were left went Provisional, some who were not stayed Official.


10. roddy - September 16, 2020

Those who think the split was deeply ideological are deluded.People followed people they had a lot of time for. To this day I know many. people on the Provo side who were incapable of any action which could have resulted in anybodys death.Similarly I know of Officials who never believed any of the stuff propagated by their leadership.

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dublinstick - September 16, 2020

I believe the FF pamphlets to the best of my knowledge were largely authored by Dick Walsh. At least one leading Soar Eire member I interviewed was quite certain MacStiofain informed on that organisation – such activity does not make him a state agent, just using every trick to take out rivals – I think it would be naive to believe that members of every organisation where not capable of using the state against opponents.

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