Part 2-The Internal Threat-The Provisional IRA

While security threats to European states came mainly from external sources the threat in Ireland has mainly been internal. The Republic is unique in Europe in having within its territory an underground political and militaristic movement which claims to be the ‘historical legitimate government’ of the island of Ireland. Organised in 1970, the Provisional IRA (PIRA) has never revoked this claim. Therefore, it must be accepted that it continues to claim to be the legal and lawful government of the Irish Republic, which in its own words was forced underground by overwhelming forces. According to its rule book members of our elected government, An Garda Síochána, and The Defence Forces (official name Óglaigh na hÉireann) are regarded as guilty of treason. During the Troubles, the PIRA’s Green Book, Standing Order No 8, pragmatically ordered that ‘Southern forces are not to be regarded as targets.’ This however did not stop them from murdering members of both An Garda Síochána and The Defence Forces when they deemed it opportunistic or deniable.

PIRA’s objective as proclaimed in its book is to establish a 32 County Socialist Republic. This to be achieved through an ‘armed struggle’ in Northern Ireland and subversion against the Republic of Ireland state institutions.

In its campaign to achieve its objectives the PIRA underwent three phases. From the start it used the ‘bomb and the bullet’ but realising in the 1980s post-hunger strikes period that it could achieve electoral successes. This led to its strategy of ‘the bomb, the bullet and the ballot box’. By the 1990s, PIRA strategists realised that the organisation was heavily infiltrated by British intelligence, its terrorist campaign was at a standstill and it was possibly heading to total defeat. They realised they needed to negotiate a way out. This led to what has become known as the ‘Peace Process’ and the strategy of the ‘ballot box and the peace process’.

During the peace negotiations Southern politicians in their enthusiasm to appease PIRA negotiators failed to acquire three important undertakings from Sinn Féin/PIRA:

  • that it would cease using the appellation Óglaigh na hÉireann to describe its members;
  • that it would accept that PIRA was not the legitimate army of the Irish Republic; and,
  • that it would renounce the claim that the PIRA Provisional Executive and Provisional Army Council were the lawful government of the Irish Republic.

Southern politicians’ failure to get these undertakings demonstrated a naivety and a lack of understanding of the cult, culture, and long-term subversive strategy of Sinn Féin/PIRA. “We broke the Free State and this country will never be the same again - “And what we say is, up the Republic, up the Ra agus tiocfaidh ár lá.” (Dalton 2020).

The uncomfortable truth for people in the Republic is that the PIRA terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland could not have been so prolonged if it had not been possible for them to use the Irish Republic as a safe-haven. Past governments in the Republic, especially taoisigh and ministers for justice, must accept that responsibilities The Republic was utilised among other things for:

  • terrorist training and manoeuvres;
  • a safe harbour for ‘on-the-runs’;
  • cross-border terrorist attacks;
  • funding; rest and recreation; and
  • the importation and storage of a large number of weapons and war matériel. The shipment of weapons and explosives into the Republic in the 1980s, of approximately 136 tons, in four large shipments was enough to sustain the long-war for up to twenty more years. This was a massive intelligence failure. The arms were landed along the Wicklow coast, transported on the roads around the Republic and then remained hidden in the Republic for twenty years; without discovery by Garda intelligence. ‘These shipments represented the greatest boost to the IRA arsenal in its entire history (O'Brien 2019, 116).

A non-exhaustive list of Garda intelligence failures during the Troubles includes:

  • the helicopter escape from Mountjoy Prison;
  • the killings of the British Ambassador, Earl Mountbatten and accompanying children,
  • the bombings in Warrenpoint and Omagh;
  • the targeted killing of Garda Clerkin near Portarlington,
  • Shergar abduction and killing;
  • the murder of Pte Kelly and Garda Sheehan in Derrada Woods;
  • the murder of Det Sgt Jerry McCabe, prison officer Stack, Seamus Ludlow, and Thomas Oliver;
  • the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, Dundalk bombings, Belturbet bombing etc.

In addition, in later years during judicial investigations, trials, tribunals, etc., it was discovered that in a number of high-profile cases  proper investigations had not been conducted. In other cases, evidence collected and notes taken had disappeared from Garda custody. Did the evidence disappear due to negligence, or was the evidence conveniently disappeared by an insider working for the PIRA or British intelligence? We don't know because the question has consistently been brushed aside.

As a consequence, no person in Garda authority or political life was ever held accountable for these failures.

In fact, there never was a post-Troubles lessons-learnt commission to investigate the Republic's intelligence, counterintelligence or counterespionage systems. Instead, the intelligence failures were continuously ignored and the intelligence system remained unchanged. Worse, in recent years, Taoisigh and Ministers for Justice have stated that the state intelligence system during the Troubles was a success and therefore did not need a major overhaul.

Review of State Intelligence System

The only inquiry that did take place occurred in 1973 following the successful helicopter escape of three PIRA prisoners from Mountjoy Prison. The government appointed an inquiry, headed by High Court Judge Thomas Finlay, assisted by former Garda and Defence Forces officers, to investigate the circumstances of the escape. In his 1974 report Justice Finlay found that both the Garda and Defence Forces intelligence departments were under-staffed and under-resourced and recommended immediate increases in all staffing numbers and recommended the establishment of intelligence units in the Air Corps and Naval Service. He also found that communications between the Gardaí and the military were ad hoc and inadequate and recommended the creation of new joint bodies to include:

  • National Security Council comprising ministers and the Garda Commissioner and Defence Forces Chief of Staff;
  • Garda/Army Operations Committee;
  • National Intelligence Committee;
  • Garda/Army Security Information Committee to be chaired by a minister;
  • Garda/Army Communications Committee; and
  • Inter-departmental Communications committee to ensure essential national communications in the event of strikes or sabotage. (C. Brady 2014, 71)

The Government of course accepted the report but shelved the important recommendations (2) (3) (4) (5) and (6). Coordination between the Garda and Military intelligence remained ad hoc. The proposed National Security Council became The National Security Committee (NSC) and tasked with advising the Taoiseach on high-level security issues but not operational security matters. The fact that the NSC does not discuss operational security matters and is without a secretariat or intelligence fusion function confirms that it is merely a briefing body and discussion group; this despite numerous Taoisigh claiming it to be a secretive body about which they were unwilling to discuss due to security reasons.