The last few days has seen the publication of another tranche of heretofore secret government documents under the National Archives Act, the 1986 legislation which requires files of historical value to be opened up for public scrutiny within thirty years of their addition to the National Archives of Ireland. Notable among these new materials is File 2017/10/34, from Roinn an Taoisigh or the Department of the Taoiseach, which has become the subject of headlines in the Irish and international press.
Dating to August 5th 1987, the document consists of a communication from the Ulster Volunteer Force, a British terrorist grouping in the UK-administered north-east of Ireland, to Charles J Haughey, the then Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. Using official UVF-headed stationery, and signed with the customary code name, Capt W Johnston, the letter details a 1985 request from Britain’s clandestine Security Service, better known as MI5, seeking the assassination of the Mayo-born politician. At that time, Haughey was the leader of the Opposition in Dublin, and his murder would almost certainly have derailed attempts by Garret FitzGerald, the head of a Fine Gael-led 1982-87 coalition administration, to find a permanent solution to the conflict in the disputed Six Counties with Margaret Thatcher, the hardline Conservative Party prime minister in London. Attempts which eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of November 1985, an international treaty which a faction of MI5 viewed as a “sell-out”.
According to media reports, the UVF statement claims that the organisation had been used by the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Service (popularly known as, MI6), and the British Army’s Special Forces, from 1972 to 1978, and again from 1985, to carry out various gun and bomb attacks in Ireland. These included seventeen targeted assassinations.
In 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer attached to the NIO [the ministerial Northern Ireland Office] and based in Lisburn, Alex Jones was his supposed name. He asked us to execute you and supplied us with the following details. Your cars, aerial photographs of your house, your island home on the Kerry coast… details of your trips into Farranford private airport, photographs of your plane. Photographs and the details of your private yacht.
We refused to do it. We were asked would we accept responsibility if you were killed. We refused.
We have no love for you but we are not going to carry out work for the Dirty Tricks Department of the British.
The communication also complained about the duplicity of the UK intelligence apparatus.
MI5 were double crossing us all the time we were working with them. We executed some of our best men believing them to be traitors. Jim Hanna was killed as a result of information given to us by MI5. Hanna was totally innocent and we killed one of our best volunteers.
Hanna was a senior leader of the Ulster Volunteer Force, and a close associate of several senior officers in the British Army Intelligence Corps, until his violent death in 1974.
During the 1980s, allegations by Charles Haughey and other leading members of Fianna Fáil, that Britain’s intelligence services were regularly interfering in Irish politics and elections, were usually dismissed by their opponents as paranoia or excuse-making. Now, such claims look like informed observations.