RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen And The British Terror Gangs Of Mid-Ulster

In the wake of 2013’s Smithwick Tribunal investigation into the violent death of Harry Breen, the Royal Ulster Constabulary chief superintendent killed by the Irish Republican Army in a 1989 ambush, An Sionnach Fionn was the only news site in Ireland or Britain to discuss the officer’s known ties to British terrorism. A deluge of eulogising reports and features by the depressingly one-sided press in 2013-14 studiously avoided any mention of Breen’s controversial career in the RUC or his association with the gunmen and bombers of militant unionism. It has taken four years for the conventional media to build up the courage to tackle the issue, the Village magazine recently publishing an investigation by the former RTÉ journalist Deirdre Younge.

The new piece examines Harry Breen’s much-debated relationship with the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Resistance, the de facto military wing of the late Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party. From 1986 to 1987 these two terror gangs played a significant role in the importation of South African-supplied arms from the Middle East to the north-east of the country under the direction of the United Kingdom’s Intelligence Corps and Security Service (MI5). This has been charted in quite some detail on ASF.

Younge argues that Harry Breen may have used his position as a senior RUC officer to aid the distribution and hiding of the Lebanese weapons and ammunition in County Armagh, some of which was stored at a local British Army base.

Breen chaired wide-ranging RUC meetings at the highest level during the period when it was suffering heavy casualties in shootings and bombings. For the last year of his life he was Divisional Commander, had access to high-level intelligence from the British Army and Special Branch, and kept in constant touch with his men on the ground in rural RUC stations.

Shockingly, the former-Security-Forces sources say Harry Breen was sympathetic, and supplied information, to the Loyalist paramilitaries who were in control of the shipment, in particular Ulster Resistance.

Perhaps as a result of this, although the UDA and a part of the UVF arms were seized, the Ulster Resistance arms were not located.

Loyalist sources have made it clear to Village that Breen was not ‘rogue’ but was following what he believed was an Intelligence agenda.

There is also some mention of the convicted policeman-cum-gunman John Weir, a former member of the RUC’s notorious Special Patrol Group and an active terrorist with the so-called Glenanne Gang (a loose coalition of serving or former members of the UK’s military and paramilitary forces in the counties of Down, Armagh and Tyrone).

In a long statement in 1999, John Weir, by then out of prison, alleged that in the 1970s Harry Breen, then a Chief Inspector in uniform, was aiding  Loyalist paramilitaries by supplying them with weapons and encouraging their activities. Breen was close to an RUC Sergeant who was an expert gun-maker for the UVF, he claimed.

The suggestion below may explain the main motivation for the fatal ambush of Harry Breen and his colleague, superintendent Bob Buchanan, at Jonesborough by the South Armagh Brigade of the IRA:

Around the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement senior members of RUC Special Branch are believed to have made it clear to Officials in the Security Services and Government, that they were completely opposed to any new direction that involved appeasement. Harry Breen was seen as a leader who would stand against the appeasement. He was so influential and well-connected that, “If Breen had lived there would have been no Ceasefire” was the opinion of one former member of the UDR in Armagh who spoke to Village.

The same was said of those chief RUC, Int Corps and SS/MI5 officers who lost their lives in the still controversial Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash in 1994, three months before the penultimate IRA ceasefire of that year (itself, a response to the developing Irish-British peace process of the early ’90s).

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7 comments

  1. Thanks Séamus – very revealing indeed.
    There is of course plenty of evidence that the RUC, along with the UDR and several other British state forces, were up to their necks in colluding with fellow-Unionists to murder and terrorize the Nationalist community.

    You also mention the mysterious Mull of Kintyre Chinook (the Panzer tank of helicopters) crash in 1994, when almost 40% of the RUC Special Branch and several other top MI5 and British Int Corps were killed.
    It was truly extraordinary that so many of the top personnel – 25 in total – charged with running the North’s security apparatus were all bundled into 1 single craft – in breach of all of even the most basic safety precautions where travelling in 1 craft is expressly forbidden.

    In addition, I have always found the timing of the historical IRA ceasefire – a mere 2 months later – to be exceptionally interesting. There is a school of thought that previous IRA ceasefires suffered from a lack of commitment from the British state – and a suspicion by the IRA that London was not serious about ending the conflict. In addition, of course, Bill Clinton and his US Administration had become involved – and he certainly would have wanted to see some clear movement. Moreover, the immediate blame by the British Govt. was laid on “pilot error” – only to have this verdict overturned over a decade later.

    All very interesting.

    1. 1990-94 was a perfect storm in Irish-British relations. Or dawn. Depends on how you look at it. Whatever the case, the removal of Stakeknife, the Chinook crash etc. all fed into the burgeoning peace process.

      1. The sudden death of the leader of the British Labour Party, John Smith, in the Spring of 2004 was also historically important in terms of the peace process. If Smith had become British PM after the 1997 election, it’s quite likely he would have been very sympathetic to the Irish republican point of view. – his Northern Ireland spokesman was Kevin McNamara – who had nationalist sympathies. As it was, Tony Blair, Smith’s successor as Labour leader, became PM, and led the negotiations on the British side. It’s difficult to gauge what Blair’s views on the Irish question were (or even if he had any) but some of those around him (including Mandelson) were strongly pro-Unionist.

  2. A very informative piece. I was so repelled by this Smethwick “inquiry” that I avoided media coverage of it like the plague – so this stuff about Breen is news to me, although it doesn’t surprise me in the least.

    Still no inquiry, I notice. into the role of senior figures in the Garda’s possible involvement in the Mi5 Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 – as indicated by Fred Holroyd – amongst others – and as admitted to be eminently possible by former Supreme Court Justice Barron. I recently came across a piece from History Ireland dealing with southern reaction to these attacks. Quite incredibly the then Taoiseach Cosgrave blamed the Provos for “provoking” loyalists, as did then Fianna Fail leader Jack Lynch and almost all of the media. Apparently the only two public figures who actually dared to blame the perpetrators for the crime were Major Vivion de Valera and the journalist Hugh Munro. Amazing how revisionist Unionists always control the narrative – when they allege collusion with republicans – no matter how threadbare the “evidence” – the whole media jumps to their tune, as does the political class. When hard irrefutable evidence of security force sponsorship and direction of loyalist death squads is presented it is completely ignored.

    The late former Labour Party Minister for Industry and Commerce, Justin Keating, once said in the Dail that the British had left many “sleepers” in positions of power and influence in Ireland when they (allegedly) departed. Surely the Smethwick inquiry and the presstitute shilling for militant Orangeism that went with it are proof of that.

    1. There were repeated rumours about a backbench Labour TD in the 1980s linking him to the British intelligence services, specifically SIS/MI6, but no proof was ever brought forth. They were fairly well-known in the press circles of Dublin. It was said that a blind eye was turned to it, though there was an understanding that he would never be allowed near a government job. However, like I said, just an accusation among journalists and political opponents so who knows…

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