Tag Archives: IRA Nutting Squad

IRA Internal Security Unit – Nutting Squad

The Internal Security Unit

The

IRA’s Nutting Squad

nutting squad

The Internal Security Unit (ISU) was the counter-intelligence and interrogation unit of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). This unit was often referred to as the Nutting Squad.

The unit is thought to have had jurisdiction over both Northern and Southern Commands of the IRA, (encompassing the whole of Ireland), and to have been directly attached to IRA General Headquarters (GHQ).

Duties of the ISU

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The group was believed to have had a number of briefs:

  • Security and character vetting of new recruits to the IRA,
  • Collecting and collating material on failed and compromised IRA operations,
  • Collecting and collating material on suspect or compromised individuals (informers),
  • Interrogation and debriefing of suspects and compromised individuals,
  • Carrying out killings and lesser punishments of those judged guilty by IRA courts martial.

The ISU was believed to have unlimited access to the members, apparatus and resources of the IRA in carrying out its duties. Its remit could not be countermanded except by order of the Army Council.

Depositions obtained as part of its operation would ideally be noted on paper, and if possible recorded for the purposes of propaganda.

Examples of ISU activity

  • Debriefing of IRA volunteers following their detention by security forces operating in Northern Ireland. These interviews would take place to discover if a volunteer had flipped and decided to betray information or secrets of the organisation. They would also take place in the event of an operation, weapons cache, or unit being exposed to danger or uncovered.
  • Involvement in the Court Martial process as detailed in the IRA manual, The Green Book.

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See IRA Greenbook 

  • The membership of the IRA and wider republican community are expected to comply with requests for information made by the ISU, this information then being used to build or demolish accusations made against an IRA volunteer.

Joseph Fenton

Joseph “Joe” Fenton (c. 1953 – 26 February 1989) was an estate agent from Belfast, Northern Ireland, killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) for acting as an informer for RUC Special Branch.

Activity as an informer

In the early 1980s Fenton agreed to help the IRA and moved explosives from an arms dump to a safe house He was then approached by officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary‘s Special Branch who said he could be prosecuted for the offence.

The officers said if Fenton agreed to work for them as an informer he would not be prosecuted, and he would be paid in addition. After agreeing to a further meeting with the officers, Fenton tried to extricate himself from the situation by attempting to start a new life in Australia with his wife and four children.

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His immigration application was rejected by the Australian High Commission Consulate in Edinburgh, and Fenton started working as an informer for Special Branch in 1982. He started a new job as a salesman for an estate agent, and shortly after started his own estate agency named Ideal Homes based on the Falls Road.

In his role as an estate agent Fenton had access to empty homes that were for sale, which he allowed the IRA to use as safe houses, arms dumps and meeting places for IRA leaders and active service units. Special Branch bugged the houses using covert listening devices, enabling them to gather intelligence. Over twenty IRA members were arrested in possession of firearms, and several IRA bombing units were arrested as they travelled to targets.

A Special Branch officer said of Fenton:

Joe devastated the IRA in west Belfast in the mid-1980s. I was told he loved his work and got a great deal of pleasure after operations were compromised. He was a very willing agent and tried on at least two occasions to entrap senior republicans. But it was probably only a matter of time before he was caught out and by late 1988 he was under suspicion.

Fenton had previously been under suspicion in 1985 following a series of compromised IRA operations. The IRA’s Internal Security Unit (ISU) began an investigation, but Fenton diverted suspicion away from himself by providing the names of two other informers, Gerard and Catherine Mahon who were husband and wife.

The Mahons were interrogated by the ISU and confessed to informing, and were found shot dead in an alleyway in the Turf Lodge area on 8 September 1985. Fenton again came under suspicion in 1988 after four IRA members were arrested at a house in the Andersonstown area of Belfast which was being used as a mortar factory.

Only a few people had knowledge of the location of the factory, and the ISU began a new investigation. As a result of the new investigation the ISU concluded there was a link between compromised IRA operations and homes provided by Fenton. Fenton’s professional life was also investigated, and his sudden ability to start an estate agency business in the early 1980s could not be explained.

Fenton’s handlers in Special Branch stopped paying Fenton when the IRA stopped using properties provided by him, and by the end of 1988 Ideal Homes was facing closure.

By then Fenton was working as a taxi driver to supplement his income, and in early 1989 Ideal Homes ceased trading when the offices were closed by Fenton’s landlord due to unpaid rent.

England

Former Force Research Unit operative Martin Ingram states that Fenton was taken out of Northern Ireland and transported to England by his handlers in Special Branch. Ingram states Fenton wanted to return to Northern Ireland, and asked for help from Andrew Hunter, an MP for the Conservative Party.

Fenton returned to Northern Ireland, with Hunter stating:

“Special Branch told me that if he came home he would be killed very quickly. They warned me he was a marked man and that it was dangerous to be associated with him and I passed this on to him, but he still went back”.

According to Ingram, while back in Belfast Fenton continued to pass information to Special Branch, and in early February 1989 a planned IRA mortar attack was prevented and six IRA members were arrested.

Author and journalist Martin Dillon states Fenton fled to England from Northern Ireland of his own accord, based on an interview with a senior IRA member with access to details of Fenton’s court-martial. Dillon states that Fenton was ordered to return to Northern Ireland by his handlers in Special Branch, and say he had gone to England to see a boxing match. According to the IRA, Special Branch knew Fenton faced execution if he returned and that he was deliberately sacrificed to preoccupy the IRA and divert suspicion from another informer operating within the IRA’s Belfast Brigade.

Death

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The IRA abducted Fenton on 24 February 1989, and took him to a house in the Lenadoon area of Belfast. He was interrogated by the ISU and confessed to working as an informer for Special Branch, and was court-martialled.

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Fenton was found dead in an alley in Lenadoon on 26 February 1989; he had been shot four times. The following day the IRA issued a statement that Fenton had been killed because he was a “British agent”. In accordance with standard procedure the RUC denied Fenton had any connection with the police, while Fenton’s father Patrick blamed the RUC for his son’s death.

The IRA had shown Fenton’s written confession to his father, and Patrick Fenton stated:

Having seen and read evidence which was presented to me I accept his death and wish to say that the position in which he was placed, due to pressures brought to bear upon him by the Special Branch, led directly to the death of my son.

At Fenton’s funeral the local priest, Father Tom Toner, criticised the role of Special Branch in Fenton’s death stating:

The IRA is not the only secret, death-dealing agent in our midst. Secret agents of the state have a veneer of respectability on its dark deeds which disguises its work of corruption. They work secretly in dark places unseen, seeking little victims like Joe whom they can crush and manipulate for their own purposes. Their actions too corrupt the cause they purport to serve.

Toner was also critical of the IRA’s actions stating:

To you the IRA and all who support you or defend you, we have to say that we feel dirty today. Foul and dirty deeds by Irishmen are making Ireland a foul and dirty place, for it is things done by Irishmen that make us unclean. What the British could never do, what the Unionists could never do, you have done. You have made us bow our heads in shame and that is a dirty feeling.

The IRA is like a cancer in the body of Ireland, spreading death, killing and corruption. It is the unrelenting enemy of life and the community is afraid because it cannot see or identify it. We want the cancer of the IRA removed from our midst but not by means that will leave the moral fibre of society damaged and the system unclean. Fighting evil by corrupt means kills pawns like Joe and leaves every one of us vulnerable and afraid. And it allows Joe’s killers to draw a sickening veneer of respectability over cold-blooded murder and to wash their hands like Pontius Pilate.

Fenton was buried at St Agnes’ Church in Andersonstown, Belfast.

John Joe McGee

John Joe McGee (died 2002, Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland) was an IRA volunteer who was formerly in the British Special Boat Service.

Background

McGee had been a member of the Special Boat Service prior to joining the Irish Republican Army in the 1970s. He was a member of the Provisional IRA‘s ‘nutting squad’ (also known as ‘the unknowns’), the Internal Security Unit. He became its leader for around a decade between the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Between forty to fifty of those investigated by the unit were also executed as suspected informers or alleged British agents. Its sentences could only be countermanded by a member of the IRA Army Council. Members of the unit included Eamon Collins, Freddie Scappaticci, and “Kevin Fulton“. During a court appearance, Fulton stated:

“In 1979 I was approached by the Intelligence Corps, a branch of the British Army, whilst serving with my regiment the Royal Irish Rangers in Northern Ireland. I was asked to infiltrate a terrorist group, namely the PIRA during this time as part of my undercover work for the Force Research Unit. I was active in the commission of terrorist acts and crimes … During this time my handlers were fully conversant with my activities and had guided me in my work which included the security section of the PIRA. The commanding officer of this section was John Joe Magee, a former member of the Special Boat Squadron. The purpose of this unit was solely to hunt out agents and informers of the British state. The suspected agents would be … tortured and murdered after obtaining any information.”

Eamon Collins (later killed by the IRA) quoted a conversation he had with McGee and Scappaticci in his book, Killing Rage:

I asked whether they always told people that they were going to be shot. Scap said it depended on the circumstances. He turned to John Joe (his boss, John Joe Magee) and started joking about one informer who had confessed after being offered an amnesty. Scap told the man he would take him home, reassuring him he had nothing to worry about. Scap had told him to keep the blindfold on for security reasons as they walked from the car. “It was funny,” he (Scap) said, “watching the bastard stumbling and falling, asking me as he felt his way along railings and walls, “Is this my house now?” and I’d say, “No, not yet, walk on some more …” ” ‘And then you shot the f—er in the back of the head,” said John Joe, and both of them burst out laughing.”

Eamon Collins

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Eamon Collins (1954 – 27 January 1999) was a Provisional Irish Republican Army paramilitary in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He turned his back on the organisation in the late 1980s, and later co-authored a book called Killing Rage detailing his experiences within it. In January 1999 he was waylaid on a public road and murdered near his home in Newry in Ulster.

Early life

Collins, the son of a cattle dealer, grew up in a middle class Irish family in Camlough, a small, staunchly Irish republican town in South Armagh. Despite the sentiment of the area, the Collins family had no association and little interest in Irish Nationalist politics. Collins’ mother was devout Catholic, and he was brought up under her influence with a sense of awe for the martyrs of that religion in Irish history, in its conflicts with Protestantism.

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After completing his schooling, Collins worked for a time in the Ministry of Defence in a clerical capacity in London before studying Law at Queen’s University, where he became influenced by Marxist political ideology.

In Easter 1974, as he walked home to his parents’ home in South Armagh during a break from his studies in Belfast, on arrival he found both his parents being man-handled by British troops during a house-to-house raid searching for illegal weapons, and on remonstrating with them Collins was himself seriously assaulted, and both he and his father were arrested and detained.

Collins later attributed his crossing of the psychological threshold of actively supporting anti-British Irish paramilitarist terrorism to this incident. Another influence upon his radicalization at this time was a Law tutor at university who had persuaded him that the newly formed Provisional Irish Republican Army was, as well as a means opposing the British military presence in Ulster, a vehicle for Marxist revolutionary politics, in line with the radical ideological expression of a younger generation in the late 1960’s – early 1970’s that were now replacing an old guard of a movement that had engaged in little more than petty acts of Fenian paramilitary activity in the 1950’s-1960’s.

Collins subsequently dropped out of university, and after working in a pub for a period, he joined Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise Service, serving in Newry, and would go on to use this internal position within the administrative machinery of the British Government to support IRA operations against Crown Forces personnel.

Around this time he married Bernadette, with whom he subsequently had four children.

IRA career

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Collins joined the Provisional IRA during the blanket protest by Long Kesh inmates in the late 1970s, which sought Special Category Status for republican prisoners, and he became involved in street demonstrations at this time. He joined the “South Down Brigade” of the IRA, based around Newry. This was not one of the organisation’s most active formations, but it sometimes worked alongside the “South Armagh Brigade“, which was one of its most aggressive units.

Psychologically unsuited to physical violence, Collins was appointed instead by the IRA as its South Down Brigade’s intelligence officer. This role involved gathering information on members of the Crown security forces personnel and installations for targeting in gun and bomb attacks. His planning was directly responsible for at least five murders, including that of the Ulster Defence Regiment Maj. Ivan Toombs in January 1981, with whom Collins worked in the Customs Station at Warrenpoint, and possibly three times that number.

Many of the bombing targets of his unit were of limited significance, such as the destruction of Newry public library, and a public house where a Royal Ulster Constabulary choir drank after practice.

Collins became noted within IRA circles for his hard-line views on the continuance of armed campaign, and later joined its Internal Security Unit. At the instigation of the South Armagh Brigade’s leadership he became a member of Sinn Féin in Newry. The South Armagh IRA wanted a hard-line militarist in the local party, as they were opposed to the increasing emphasis of the republican leadership on political over military activity.

Collins was not selected as a Sinn Féin candidate for local government elections, in part, due to his open expressions of suspicion of the IRA and Sinn Féin leadership, whom he accused of covertly moving towards a position of an abandonment of the IRA’s military campaign. Around this time Collins had a confrontation with Gerry Adams at the funeral of an IRA man killed in a failed bombing over how to deal with the funeral’s policing, where Collins accused Adams a being a “Stick” (a derogatory slang term among IRA supporters for activists among it who were considered lacking sincerity in their commitment to its cause).

Despite his militarist convictions at this time Collins found the psychological strain caused by his involvement in the terrorist war increasingly difficult to deal with. His belief in the martial discipline of IRA’s campaign had been seriously undermined by the event of the assassination of Norman Hanna, a 28 year old Newry man on the 11 March 1982 in front of his wife and young daughter, who had been targeted because of his former service with the Ulster Defence Regiment, which he had resigned from in 1976. Collins had opposed the targeting of Hanna on the basis that it wasn’t of a governmental entity, but had been over-ruled by his superiors, and he had gone along with the operation; his conscience burdened him afterwards about it though.

His uneasy state was further augmented by being arrested under anti-terrorism laws on two occasions, the second involving his detention at Gough Barracks in Armagh for a week, where he was subject to extensive sessions of interrogation in 1985 after an IRA mortar attack in Newry, which had claimed the lives of multiple police officers. Collins had not been involved in this operation, but after five days of incessant psychological pressure being exerted by R.U.C. specialist police officers, during which he had not said a word, he mentally broke, and yielded detailed information to the police about the organization.

As a result of his arrest he was dismissed from his career with H.M. Customs & Excise Service.

Collins subsequently stated that the strain of the interrogation merely exacerbated increasing doubts that he had already possessed about the moral justification of the IRA’s terrorist paramilitary campaign and his actions within it. These doubts had been made worse by the strategic view that he had come to that the organization’s senior leadership had in the early 1980’s quietly decided that the war had failed, and was now slowly manoeuvering the movement away from a military campaign to allow its political wing Sinn Féin to pursue its purposes by another means in what would become the Northern Ireland peace process.

This negated in Collins’ mind the justification for its then on-going military actions.

Statements against the IRA

After his confession of involvement in IRA activity, Collins became an IRA – in contemporary media language – “Supergrass“, upon whose evidence the authorities were able prosecute a large number of IRA members. Subsequently he was incarcerated in specialized protective custody with other paramilitaries who had after arrest given evidence against their organizations in the Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast from 1985 to 1987.

However, after an appeal from his wife who remained an IRA supporter, and on receiving a message from the IRA delivered by his brother on a visit to the prison, Collins legally retracted his evidence, in return for which he was given a guarantee of safety by the IRA, provided he consented to being debriefed by it. He agreed, and was in consequence transferred by the authorities to the Irish paramilitary wing of the prison.

Trial for murder

As a result of losing his previous legal status as a Crown protected witness, Collins was charged with several counts of murder and attempted murder. However, on being tried in 1987 he was acquitted as the statement in which he had admitted to involvement in these acts was ruled legally inadmissible by the court, as it was judged that it had been obtained under duress and was not supported by enough conclusive corroboratory evidence to allow a legally sound conviction.

On release from prison he spent several weeks being counter-interrogated by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit to discover what had been revealed to the authorities, after which he was exiled by the organization from Ulster, being warned that if he was found north of Drogheda after a certain date he would be executed by it. The technical acquittal in the Crown court based upon judicial legal principles made an impact upon Collins’ view of the British state, markedly contrasting with what he had witnessed in the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, and reinforced his disillusionment with Irish paramilitarism.

Post-IRA life

After his exile Collins moved to Dublin and squatted for a while in a deserted flat in the impoverished Ballymun area of the city. At the time the area was experiencing an epidemic of heroin addiction and he volunteered to help a local priest Peter McVerry, who ran programmes for local youths to try to keep them away from drugs. After several years in Dublin, he subsequently moved to Edinburgh, Scotland for a period, where he ran a youth centre. He would later write that because of his Ulster background he felt closer culturally to Scottish people than people from the Irish Republic.

In 1995 he returned to live in Newry, a district known for the militancy of its communal support of the IRA, with numerous IRA members in its midst. The IRA order exiling him from Ulster had not been lifted, but with a formal ceasefire from the organization in operation ordered by its senior command, and in the sweeping changes that were underway with renunciations of violence by all the paramilitary organizations in the province that had followed on from it, he judged it safer to move back in with his wife and children who had never left the town.

Broadcasting and published works

Having returned to live in Newry, rather than maintaining a low profile Collins decided to take a prominent role in the ongoing transition of Ulster’s post-war society, using his personal history as a platform in the media to analyze the adverse effects of terrorism. In 1995 he appeared in an ITV television documentary entitled ‘Confession’ giving an account of his disillusioning experiences and a bleak insight into Irish paramilitarism.

In 1997 he co-authored Killing Rage, with journalist Mick McGovern, a biographical account of his life and IRA career. He also contributed to the book Bandit Country by Toby Harnden about the South Armagh IRA. At the same time in the media he called for the re-introduction of Internment after the Omagh bombing for those continuing to engage in such acts; published newspaper articles openly denouncing and ridiculing the fringe Real IRA’s attempts to re-ignite paramilitary warfare in Ulster, alongside publicly analyzing his own past role in such activity, and the damage that it had caused on a personal and social level to the two communities of Ulster.

Witness evidence against Thomas Murphy

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In May 1998 Collins gave evidence against leading republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy, in a libel case Murphy had brought against the Sunday Times, over a 1985 article naming him as the IRA’s Northern Commander.

Murphy denied IRA membership, but Collins took the witness stand against him, and testified that from personal experience he knew that Murphy had been a key military leader in the organization. Murphy subsequently lost the libel case and sustained substantial financial losses in consequence.

After giving his testimony Collins had said in the court-room to Murphy “No hard feelings Slab”. However, soon after the trial Collins’ home was attacked and daubed with graffiti calling him a “tout”, a slang word for an informer. Since his return to Newry in 1995 his home there had been intermittently attacked with acts of petty vandalism, but after the Murphy trial these intensified in regularity and severity, and another house belonging to his family in Camlough, in which no one was resident, was destroyed by arson. Threats were made against his children, and they faced persecution in school from elements among their peers. Graffiti threatening him with murder was also daubed on the walls of the streets in the vicinity of the family home in Newry.

Death

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Collins was beaten and stabbed to death in his 45th year by an unidentified assailant(s) early in the morning of 27 January 1999, whilst walking his dogs near the Barcroft Park Estate in Newry along a quiet stretch of country lane at Doran’s Hill, just within sight of Sliabh gCuircin (Camlough Mountain). His body also bore marks of having been struck by a car moving at speed. The subsequent police investigation and Coroner’s Inquest commented upon the extremity of weaponed violence to Collins’ head and face used during the attack.

Rumoured reasons behind the murder were that he had returned to Ulster in breach of the IRA’s banning order, and further he had detailed IRA activities and publicly criticized in the media a multiplicity of Irish terrorist paramilitary splinter groups that had appeared after the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, and that he had testified in court against Murphy.

Gerry Adams stated the murder was “regrettable”, but added that Collins had “many enemies in many places”.

After a traditional Irish wake, with a closed coffin necessitated due to the damage to his face, and a funeral service at St. Catherine’s Church in Newry, Collins’ body was buried at the town’s Monkshill Cemetery, not far from the grave of Albert White, a Catholic former Royal Ulster Constabulary Inspector, whose assassination he helped to organize in 1982.

Subsequent criminal investigations

In January 2014 the Police Service of Northern Ireland released a statement that a re-examination of the evidence from the scene of the 1999 murder had revealed new DNA material of a potential perpetrator’s presence, and made a public appeal for information, detailing the involvement of a specific car model (a white coloured Hyundai Pony), and a compass pommel that had broken off of a hunting knife during the attack and had been left behind at the scene.

In February 2014 detectives from the Serious Crime Branch arrested a 59 year old man at an address in Newry in relation to the murder, he was subsequently released without charge. In September 2014 the police arrested three men, aged 56, 55 and 42 in County Armagh in relation to inquiries into the murder, all of whom were subsequently released without charges after questioning

Murders of Catherine and Gerard Mahon

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Catherine and Gerard Mahon were a husband and wife who lived with their children in Twinbrook, Belfast. Gerard, aged twenty-eight, was a mechanic; Catherine, was twenty-seven. They were killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 8 September 1985, the IRA alleging they were informers. However at least two of those responsible for their deaths were later uncovered as British agents within the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, leaving the actual status of the Mahons as informers open to doubt.

Background

The Mahons were neighbours of estate agent Joseph Fenton, a supplier of ‘safe houses’ for the IRA, but also a British agent. When a number of IRA missions were compromised, Fenton is believed to have directed a member of the Internal Security Unit, Freddie Scappaticci, and three other men, to the Mahons.

Abducted in August, interrogated and beaten for prolonged periods, the Mahons eventually confessed that their flat was bugged by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who are alleged to have paid the couple for information, weapons finds, or arrests. The IRA took the couple to Norglen Crescent in Turf Lodge and shot them.

It is thought Catherine Mahon was shot in the back while trying to escape.

Those who found their bodies said at the time:

We heard two bursts of gunfire and then a car was driven away at high speed. We went out and discovered the girl. We thought she was dead. We tried first aid but the side of her head was blown away. A young lad came up to us saying there was a man lying in the entry a bit further up and still alive. We got to him and he was badly wounded. He was struggling to breath and choking on his own blood. He had been hit in the side of the head and the face. Whatever is behind it all, it’s ridiculous. Those responsible are animals. Nothing justifies murder. They had both been tied by their wrists – but they must have broken free by struggling when they realised what was going to happen.

Dr Joe Hendron of the Social Democratic and Labour Party released a statement, remarking:

This slaughter has few equals in barbarity and it proves the Provo idea of justice is warped. It makes us all sick.

Victims were ‘sacrificed’ by agent known as Stakeknife

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SOME of the killings to be investigated as part of the new probe into the activities of the agent known as Stakeknife and those in the intelligence services who directed him:

* Husband and wife Gerard (28) and Catherine (27) Mahon, who were shot dead after being taken away from their Twinbrook home in west Belfast in September 1985 and interrogated by the IRA who claimed they were informers. The Mahons were neighbours of estate agent Joe Fenton, who was also later killed by the IRA. When a number of IRA missions were compromised, Fenton is believed to have directed a member of the IRA’s internal security unit to the Mahons

* Frank Hegarty. The body of the 45-year-old was discovered in Co Tyrone close to the border in May 1986. He had been shot dead and his eyes were taped shut. From the Shantallow area of Derry, the IRA alleged he was an informer who had revealed the location of an arms dump in Sligo to authorities

* Joseph Fenton. The 35-year-old, who worked as an estate agent, was shot in the head by the IRA in February 1989 after he was accused of working as an informer. It was alleged the father-of-four from west Belfast man was providing ‘safe houses’ for IRA planning meetings that were then bugged by the security forces

* Joseph Mulhern. The 22-year-old’s body was discovered close to the Tyrone border 10 days after he disappeared from west Belfast in 1993. The IRA alleged he was working for RUC Special Branch

* Caroline Moreland. The 34-year-old mother-of-three was abducted from her home in the Beechmount area of west Belfast in July 1994. Her body was discovered dumped on the Fermanagh border 10 days after she disappeared. Her family had been warned by the IRA not to report her missing

* Margaret Perry (26) disappeared from her hone of Portadown in July 1991, with her body found in shallow grave at Mullaghmore, Co Donegal in June 1992. The IRA claimed she was killed by three men acting on behalf of British intelligence because she had discovered her former boyfriend Gregory Burns (34) was informing to the security forces. He, along with Johnny Dingham (32) and Adrian Starrs (29), were abducted, tortured and shot dead by the IRA

* Charlie McIlmurray (32), from Slemish Way in Andersonstown, was shot by the IRA in April 1987 following allegations that he had been working as an informer. His body was discovered in a van at Killeen in Co Armagh on the border

* Peter Valente (33), a father of four, was killed as an alleged informer in November 1980. Unusually, his body was dumped in the loyalist Highfield estate and a statement was released by Sinn Féin blaming the UDA. However, it is now thought that along with a number of other victims he was targeted by Stakeknife to protect his own cover as an agent after the IRA became suspicious

* Vincent Robinson (29) from Andersonstown in west Belfast was found dead in a rubbish chute in the Divis flats complex in June 1981. The IRA claimed he was an informer and had been outed by Peter Valente, something that his family denied. Again it is believed he was ‘sacrificed’ in order to protect Stakeknife

* Maurice Gilvarry (24) from Ardoyne in north Belfast was shot dead in January 1981 and his body dumped in south Armagh. Again it was alleged he was implicated by Peter Valente but it is now thought he was killed to protect the identity of Stakeknife

* Patrick Trainor (28). Married with three children, his body was found at waste ground near the Glen Road in west Belfast after he had been abducted by the IRA who alleged he was an informer, based on information they claimed came from Peter Valente. This was denied by his family and an RUC detective at a subsequent inquest.

See Stakeknife

See The Disappeared

See The IRA Greenbook

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The IRA Greenbook

The IRA Greenbook

IRA Green Book poster

The Green Book is a training and induction manual issued by the Irish Republican Army to new volunteers. It was used by the post-Irish Civil War Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Cumann na mBan, (“League of Women”), along with later incarnations such as the Provisional IRA (PIRA). It includes a statement of military objectives, tactics and conditions for military victory against the British government.

— Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in this post/documentaries  are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

This military victory was to be achieved as part of:

“the ongoing liberation of Ireland from foreign occupiers”

The Green Book has acted as a manual of conduct and induction to the organisation since at least the 1950s.

Extracts

What A Volunteer Should Do When Arrested!

1. The most important thing to bear in mind when arrested is that you are a
volunteer of a revolutionary Army, that you have been captured by an enemy force,
that your cause is a just one, that you are right and that the enemy is wrong and
that as a soldier you have taken the chance expected of a soldier and that there is
nothing to be ashamed of in being captured.

2. You must bear in mind that the treatment meted out to you is designed to break
you and so bleed you of all the information you may have with regard to the
organisation to which you belong.

3. They will attempt to intimidate you by sheer numbers and by brutality.
Volunteers who may feel disappointed are entering the first dangerous threshold
because the police will act upon this disappointment to the detriment of the
volunteer and to the furtherment of their own ends. Volunteers must condition
themselves that they can be arrested and if and when arrested they should expect
the worse and be prepared for it.

 

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History

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Because the IRA and later republican groupings have been identified as illegal organisations (the PIRA, IRA & Cumann na mBan have been proscribed – declared illegal – in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and a number of other countries)

 

The Green Book has been distributed and published secretly. It is published at unknown printing presses and distributed to or shared with IRA volunteers as they are accepted for active duty. Due to this secrecy only two editions of the Green Book have so far been released into the public domain. The first, published in 1956, appears to be intact.

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The second, publication date unknown but dating to the 1977 detention of then IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey, has only been released in three parts (referred to here as the 1977 edition). With the beginning of the latest IRA ceasefire and the 2005 ending of their campaign, it seems unlikely that a new edition of the manual will have been issued in recent years by the IRA. However, it is possible that known/unknown groupings have issued a more recent version.

Volunteers’ treatment of the Green Book

The Green Book is issued to IRA volunteers as part of their training and is considered a secret document which should not be revealed to, or discussed with non-IRA members. In order to protect the organisation, disclosure of its training material and any other training documents, including the Green Book, would most likely carry stiff penalties up to and including Court Martial. Once issued, each volunteer is expected to study and learn from his/her copy of the manual, to apply the rules given in it, and to apply lessons learnt from it. While the manual is clearly not all the training a volunteer could expect, it gave a broad overview meant to go some way to preparing the volunteer for active duty with the organisation.

1977 and 1956 editions

Both known issues of the Green Book were in existence while the IRA, (in the case of the 1956 edition), and the PIRA, (in the case of the 1977 edition), were engaged in a military campaign. In 1956, this was the Border Campaign, in the 1970s it was the Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997.

Commonalities and differences exist between the two documents. This demonstrates that the Green Book is a living document updated periodically. These updates are made to reflect changes in;

  • political policy and social structure,
  • military strategy and tactics of the organisation,
  • military strength of the organisation and,
  • the technology/tactics of the organisation’s enemies,

While splits in the IRA since 1922 up to the 1950s do not appear to be noted in the 1956 document, developments in the fields of insurgency and counter-insurgency are. Both T. E. Lawrence and Field Marshal Sir William Slim are quoted.

The 1977 edition appears to have been more heavily influenced by the work of Brigadier General Frank Kitson.

By the 1977 edition, the document had increased in scope with length remaining around the same. Some doctrinal sections from the 1956 edition were still appearing, while new sections aimed at combating the counter insurgency efforts of the British Army and RUC had appeared. Notably the 1977 edition would have existed alongside the IRA’s change in tactics towards the entirely self-reliant cell structure.

The 1956 edition on the other hand discusses the use of the IRA flying column – en masse attacks by large groups of volunteers against concentrations of the enemy. Another notable facet of the 1977 edition is the attention paid to mental preparation of IRA Volunteers, this being the time of the IRA’s “Long War” strategy. Readers of the 1977 edition are warned:

“The Army as an organisation claims and expects your total allegiance without reservation. It enters into every aspect of your life. It invades the privacy of your home life, it fragments your family and friends, in other words claims your total allegiance. All potential volunteers must realise that the threat of capture and of long jail sentences are a very real danger and a shadow which hangs over every volunteer…”

“..Another important aspect all potential volunteers should think about is their ability to obey orders from a superior officer. All volunteers must obey orders issued to them by a superior officer regardless of whether they like the particular officer or not”.

The 1956 edition, contains no such warning but appeals to the “Guerrilla code.” In ‘Chapter Five – Organisation and Arms’ the reader is advised:

“Leadership will not come so much by appointment as by the trust the guerrillas place in their commander. He must be worthy of that trust if he is to succeed. Instead of discipline of the regular army type there will be a more stern battle discipline: agreement on the job to be done, and the need to do it, and obedience to the guerrilla code, these take the place of the unthinking army type discipline. Breaches of the guerrilla code — desertion, betrayal, breach of confidence in any way — must be severely dealt with on the spot”.

Contents of the Green Book

The book contains information on:

  • political philosophy of the IRA,
  • Irish history in terms of struggle against the occupation of Ireland,
  • the military objectives of the organisation,
  • the military strategy for Guerrilla fighters,
  • the military equipment and tools that can be used by Guerrilla fighters,
  • the military equipment and training for tools available to the IRA,
  • propaganda techniques within the theatre of operations,
  • interrogation techniques and how to resist them.

The book has also included references to the training, development, and tactics employed by Regular & Irregular/Specialist forces in modern armies – particularly those of the British Army.

Green Book historical context

The 1956 document couches the violence and occupation of the island of Ireland in a long history of armed resistance to occupation. The first Chapter is entirely taken up with providing this history from the viewpoint of the organisation. It provides information on the Kerne, the battle of the Yellow Ford, Owen Roe O’Neill, the 1798 Rebellion and United Irishmen, James Fintan Lalor, and the Tan War.

All are described as being within the context of legitimate resistance to the occupation of Ireland. This discussion is largely romanticised and aimed at demonstrating a lineage of “armed struggle” from which the IRA assumes its legitimacy in the fight against “occupying forces in Ireland”.

One entry in this discussion is the fact that the efforts of IRA guerrillas were the direct cause in ending the British occupation of the 26 counties of Ireland—the territory that would become the Irish Free State, and later the Republic of Ireland. The 1956 manual also implies that the bulk of the IRA’s work in “freeing Ireland from occupation” is over. This indicates both a “southern” perspective on Irish independence and an underestimation of the resistance they would encounter during the Border Campaign, that was aimed at the end of British rule in Northern Ireland. With the publication of the 1977 edition this assumption of an easy victory in ending partition had been dropped and the “Long War” strategy adopted.

The 1956 edition summarises the result of the violence during the 1919-1921 Irish War of Independence (referred to by republicans, who considered independence as having been only partially achieved, as the Tan War) with this passage:

“The hammer blows of the guerrillas destroyed the British administration. The guerrillas acted in small numbers in the right localities and compelled the British to disperse to find them. Then as the British searched, they hit them at will by means of the ambush. Communications were systematically destroyed and even the British army’s transport system in the country was disorganised.”

“The enemy’s intelligence service was completely dislocated. The R.I.C.– the eyes and ears of British rule- was demoralised. British justice courts could not operate–for the people ignored them. The British gradually were forced to evacuate the smaller, more isolated garrisons. They concentrated in the larger towns. The areas evacuated came under sole control of The Republic. The next step was to isolate the larger centres and keep cutting communications and constantly hitting the enemy. In time these would have been evacuated too. Thus ended the last great phase of guerrilla operations against British rule in Ireland.”

Compare to the Marxist intrepretation in the 1977 edition, published during a new campaign and new conditions of waging war. The “struggle” is couched in more socio-economic terms, terms which would have made more sense to a generation living through unemployment and economic hardship in post industrial revolution Northern Ireland (referred to here as the “six counties”). It is also an indication of the influence of Marxist Philosophy that permeated the IRA in the late 1970s:

“The objective of the 800 years of oppression ‘is economic exploitation with the unjustly partitioned 6 counties remaining Britain’s directly controlled old-style colony’ and the South under the ‘continuing social, cultural and economic domination of London’. This last led to Irish savings being invested in England ‘for a higher interest rate’ and many hundreds of thousands of boys and girls from this country had to emigrate to England to seek the employment which those exported saving created.”

“Another aspect of economic imperialism at work is the export of raw, unprocessed materials: live cattle on the hoof – mineral wealth, fish caught by foreign trawlers, etc. Further, from 1956 on, the Free State abandoned all attempts to secure an independent economy, and brought in foreign multi-national companies to create jobs instead of buying their skills and then sending them home gradually. Africanisation’ is the word for this process elsewhere. Control of our affairs in all of Ireland lies more than ever since 1921 outside the hands of the Irish people. The logical outcome of all this was full immersion in the E.E.C. in the 1970s. The Republican Movement opposed this North and South in 1972 and 1975 and continues to do so. It is against such political economic power blocks East and West and military alliances such as NATO and the Warsaw Pact.”

While the 1956 edition does not engage in any legitimisation of the struggle beyond the historical context of resistance to occupation, the 1977 edition does – claiming direct legitimacy from the members of the Second Dáil who transferred their authority to the IRA in 1938 after the takeover of the IRA Army Council by Seán Russell.

This had always been the official ideology of the IRA, however after the split between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA in 1969 it was probably deemed necessary to lay more of a claim to the historical struggle than the pre-split IRA had felt necessary. The 1956 edition would have also been published for use during a period when the failed S-Plan or Sabotage campaign was within living memory of younger IRA volunteers. Newer volunteers needed to be reminded of previous IRA activity in the “struggle for liberation”:

“The moral position of the Irish Republican Army, its right to engage in warfare, is based on:

  • (a) the right to resist foreign aggression;
  • (b) the right to revolt against tyranny and oppression; and
  • (c) the direct lineal succession with the Provisional Government of 1916, the first Dáil of 1919 and the second Dáil of 1921″.

“In 1938 the seven surviving faithful Republican Deputies delegated executive powers to the Army Council of the I.R.A. per the 1921 resolution. In 1969 the sole surviving Deputy, Joseph Clarke, reaffirmed publicly that the then Provisional Army Council and its successors were the inheritors of the first and second Dáil as a Provisional Government.”

In November 2003 during testimony to the Saville Inquiry on the events of Bloody Sunday alleged former Chief of Staff of the IRA, Martin McGuinness, denied that he had ever read such a book before he claims to have left the IRA in the 1970s. McGuinness reportedly said:

“When I was in the IRA there was no such book, I don’t know when it came into existence.”

When asked what the phrase “green book” meant, he stated: “I think it means the book was green.”

Extracts

Court Martial Procedure.

14. At any time it so desires, the Court may go into private session to decide on points
which may arise, such as the admissibility of evidence.

15. When all witnesses have testified, Defence Counsel will sum up and make closing
address to the Court. This will be followed by summing up and closing address of the
Prosecuting Counsel. The Court then goes into private session to consider its verdict and
sentence.

16. For breach of any General Army Order, the Court shall not have power to impose a
lesser penalty than that laid down in such order.

17. The verdict and sentence of the Court shall be set down in writing and signed by the
three members. This, together with a summary of the evidence, must be forwarded by the
President to the Convening Authority. Sentence is subject to the ratification of the
Convening Authority. Note: In the case of the death penalty, sentence must be ratified by
the A/C.

18. The accused may forward an appeal against the verdict or sentence or both to the
Adjutant-General who will place it before the Competent Authority. The appeal should
be forwarded by accused through his O/C. who in return will forward it to the AdjutantGeneral
with a signed copy of verdict and sentence and a summary of the evidence. The
Competent Authority may order a new trial or reduce the penalty but may not increase
the penalty imposed by the Court.

The Guerrilla / The Volunteer

The 1977 edition of the Green Book is very much focused on the mental strength of the volunteer. The manual is eager to draw a clear distinction between volunteer and his enemy:

“A member of the I.R.A. is such by his own choice, his convictions being the only factor which compels him to volunteer, his objectives the political freedom and social and economic justice for his people. Apart from the few minutes in the career of the average Brit that he comes under attack, the Brit has no freedom or personal initiative. He is told when to sleep, where to sleep, when to get up, where to spend his free time etc.”

In the 1977 edition the term Guerrilla is dropped in favour of “volunteer”, the new edition also stresses that this volunteer is part of a movement with common aims and objectives. From the PIRA’s point of view this would have been necessary to combating competing interpretations encountered in the community and the propaganda efforts of the enemy it faced:

“Before we go on the offensive politically or militarily we take the greatest defensive precautions possible to ensure success, e.g. we do not advocate a United Ireland without being able to justify our right to such a state as opposed to partition; we do not employ revolutionary violence as our means without being able to illustrate that we have no recourse to any other means. Or in more everyday simple terms: we do not claim that we are going to escalate the war if we cannot do just that; we do not mount an operation without first having ensured that we have taken the necessary defensive precautions of accurate intelligence, security, that weapons are in proper working order with proper ammunition and that the volunteers involved know how to handle interrogations in the event of their capture etc, and of course that the operation itself enhances rather than alienates our supporters.”

The 1956 edition on the other hand stresses the physical aspects of IRA operations:

“Outside of the support he [the Guerrilla] gets from the people among whom he operates-and this support must never be underestimated for it is vital to his eventual success-he fights alone. He is part of an independent formation that is in effect an army by itself. He must be self-contained. If necessary he must act alone and fight alone with the weapons at his disposal- and these very often will not be of the best. He must find his own supplies. His endurance has to be great: and for this he needs a fit body and an alert mind. Above all he must know what he is fighting for- and why.”

Military objectives in the Green Book

The 1977 edition describes the military objectives of the IRA as:

“The position of the Irish Republican Army since its foundation in 1916 has been one of sustained resistance and implacable hostility to the forces of imperialism, always keeping in the forefront of the most advanced revolutionary thinking and the latest guerrilla warfare techniques in the world.”

The enemy is described as:

“The establishment is all those who have a vested interest in maintaining the present status quo in politicians, media, judiciary, certain business elements and the Brit war machine comprising, the Brit Army, the U.D.R., R.U.C. (r) [reserve], Screws, Civilian Searchers. The cure for these armed branches of the establishment is well known and documented. But with the possible exceptions of the Brit Ministers in the ‘Northern Ireland Office’ and certain members of the judiciary, the overtly unarmed branches of the establishment are not so clearly identifiable to the people as our enemies as say armed Brits or R.U.C.”

The military objects of the IRA in 1977 are presented as closely tied to the political objectives of politicising the citizenry. Rather than the tactic of surgical strike, the tactic of continuous escalation or the strategy of what has been called the PIRA’s Tet offensive is preferred:

“By now it is clear that our task is not only to kill as many enemy personnel as possible but of equal importance to create support which will carry us not only through a war of liberation which could last another decade but which will support us past the ‘Brits Out’ stage to the ultimate aim of a Democratic Socialist Republic.”

“The Strategy is:

  1. A war of attrition against enemy personnel which is aimed at causing as many casualties and deaths as possible so as to create a demand from their people at home for their withdrawal.
  2. A bombing campaign aimed at making the enemy’s financial interest in our country unprofitable while at the same time curbing long term financial investment in our country.
  3. To make the Six Counties as at present and for the past several years ungovernable except by colonial military rule.
  4. To sustain the war and gain support for its ends by National and International propaganda and publicity campaigns.
  5. By defending the war of liberation by punishing criminals, collaborators and informers.”

The 1956 edition stresses the military objective and barely mentions political objectives. It contains a lot of practical advice on operating as a Guerrilla fighter and how to inflict damage on targets. No mention is made of the establishment of “a Democratic Socialist Republic”. This can probably been seen in the context of the IRA keeping pace with social changes and the material aspirations of Irish men and women living within the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

At the time of the Border Campaign the communities the IRA came to rely on were not politicised to the same degree as those in 1977. A lack of support within their host community is commonly given as the reason for the failure of the Border Campaign. This edition of the Green Book even goes so far as to announce the aim of restoring the Irish language as the national language, an aim not mentioned in the earlier edition.

Military equipment in the Green Book

The 1977 edition of the Green Book makes little mention of arms and equipment available to the volunteer. The one entry that does appear deals only with the issue of tactics as affected by lack of weaponry:

“Tactics are dictated by the existing conditions. Here again the logic is quite simple. Without support Volunteers, Dumps, Weapons, Finance, etc., we cannot mount an operation, much less a campaign. In September 1969 the existing conditions dictated that the Brits were not to be shot, but after the Falls curfew all Brits were to the people acceptable targets. The existing conditions had been changed.”

The 1956 edition goes into a lot of detail on arms that the volunteer can expect to encounter and how to use them. Explosives are detailed alongside what the Guerrilla should know about handling & preparing them. The sabotage techniques and weaponry available at the time had mostly ceased to be commonly used by the late 1970s, namely:

Detonators are also detailed with physical descriptions, handling instructions, and burning rates. Detonators covered include: Cordtex and FID.

Small arms listed range from the revolver, to the shotgun and submachine gun up to the flame thrower, which was almost never used, except for an attack on British soldiers of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. It can be assumed that the use of these weapons, or at least supplies of them, had been diminished when the 1977 edition was published. Given that the organisation was having troubles with internal security, it may have also been considered a security risk for the IRA to detail its available weaponry too closely.

A generation earlier, IRA units operating during the S-Plan / Sabotage campaign did not have access to the above material, with the exception of Gelignite. IRA explosive devices of the 1930s and 1940s were prepared using materials such as Potassium chlorate, Carbide, Saxonite, Iron Oxide, Aluminium, sulfuric acid etc. By the time of the Northern Campaign (IRA) c. 1942, IRA Eastern Command, in cooperation with IRA Western Command could raise 12 tons of weapons and explosives at short notice. This was excluding the tons of weapons and explosives seized during the S-Plan campaign.

When the IRA split in the early 1970s into the Official IRA and Provisional IRA they divided the arms held in IRA weapons dumps. The Provisional IRA got the majority of these weapons. For details on the types of arms recently decommissioned by the IRA as part of their permanent cesation of violence see the article on the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and a breakdown of the PIRA’s weapons before decommissioning took place in September 2005.

Propaganda techniques in the Green Book

The 1977 edition stresses that the volunteer is ultimately responsible within the framework of the movement for ensuring the formulation, dissemination and efficiency of propaganda. This process was to begin within the mind of the volunteer himself:

“A new recruit’s immediate obstacle is the removal of his (her) ignorance about how to handle weapons, military tactics, security, interrogations etc. An O.C.’s [Commanding Officer] might be how to put a unit on a military footing; an I.O.’s [Intelligence Officer] how to create an effective intelligence network; a Cumann na mBan Chairman’s how best to mount a campaign on a given issue, e.g. H Blocks etc., and for all members of the movement regardless of which branch we belong to, to enhance our commitment to and participation in the struggle through gaining as comprehensive an understanding as possible of our present society and the proposed Republican alternative through self and group education.”

The stated war objectives of the IRA within the 1977 document included the success of national and international propaganda as a war objective:

“We exploit these mistakes [mistakes by the British Army] by propagating the facts. So it was with their murderous mistakes of the Falls Road curfew, Bloody Sunday and internment, which were exploited to our advantage support- wise as was the murder of John Boyle in Dunloy.”

The 1956 edition is a lot more practical, suggesting a more limited, less well oiled organisational machine of the IRA then than today:

“The main channels of information available to the guerrillas are newspapers, leaflets, radio, word of mouth. Other methods may be worked out and new ones invented. For example: Painting of slogans, proclamations and manifestoes and so on. All the means of winning the confidence of the people must be utilised. The ideas of the movement must be so popularised that no one is in doubt-least of all the enemy-that it will win eventually.”

“This information service must function continuously to get maximum results. Among the things it must do are:

  • Show weakness of enemy position and propaganda used to bolster that position.
  • Show what is wrong with political and social order.
  • Suggest remedies and how they can be brought about.
  • Be in touch all the times with thinking of the people.”

“The world must know and understand what is being done, what the enemy is trying to destroy and why, and the way these things can be ended and peace restored and freedom won. The use of regular bulletins for foreign newspapers and news-agencies becomes a necessity. The bulletin should be of the documentary type: no room for emotional pleas or the like. Just the facts.”

While IRA volunteers also engaged in the above efforts, the techniques are not described in the 1977 Green Book.

Interrogation techniques

The 1956 edition contains no details on how to react to internment, capture, interrogation, or interrogation techniques. This was no doubt an oversight on the part of the IRA, one which they came to regret with the successful interrogation of IRA volunteers captured by their enemies.

By 1977, with the launching of the IRA’s campaign in Northern Ireland in 1969, the technical capabilities & anti-insurgency apparatus of the RUC, as well as the Regular and Specialist forces of the British Army had advanced. Coupled with this were technical advances in the intelligence gathering and interrogation techniques of those forces. The combination of these factors alongside political determination to capture and kill IRA forces and subdue the nationalist population of Northern Ireland led to changes in the Green Book.

Much more stress was placed on resisting interrogation in what has been called The Green Book II.[7] If captured, the PIRA volunteer is warned to remain mentally implacable:

  1. “The most important thing to bear in mind when arrested is that you are a volunteer of a revolutionary Army, that you have been captured by an enemy force, that your cause is a just one, that you are right and that the enemy is wrong and that as a soldier you have taken the chance expected of a soldier and that there is nothing to be ashamed of in being captured.
  2. You must bear in mind that the treatment meted out to you is designed to break you and so bleed you of all the information you may have with regard to the organisation to which you belong.
  3. They will attempt to intimidate you by sheer numbers and by brutality. Volunteers who may feel disappointed are entering the first dangerous threshold because the police will act upon this disappointment to the detriment of the volunteer and to the furtherment of their own ends. Volunteers must condition themselves that they can be arrested and if and when arrested they should expect the worse and be prepared for it.”

A series of tactics employed by interrogators are listed along with the stages the interrogation process the volunteer should expect to go through: physical torture, subtle psychological torture, and humiliation.

The remainder of the document persists in a similar vein, constantly stressing the dangers of submitting to interrogation techniques. This highlights the increasing threat the PIRA realised interrogations were having against the organisation. Most likely this was a result of experience gained throughout the 1970s and during the Border Campaign when arrest and imprisonment of IRA/PIRA volunteers seriously impacted the operational effectiveness of the respective organizations.

See also

The Green Book (Muammar Gaddafi)

IRA Nutting SquadIRA Nutting Squad

nutting squad

 

 

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ira green book image

Military Reaction Force – Counter Insurgency Unit

The Military Reaction Force

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The views and opinions expressed in this documentary and page are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland.

They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors

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The Military Reaction Force, Military Reconnaissance Force or Mobile Reconnaissance Force (MRF)was a covert intelligence-gathering and counter-insurgency unit of the British Army active in Northern Ireland, during the Troubles/Operation Banner. The unit was formed during the summer of 1971  and operated until late 1972 or early 1973. MRF teams operated in plain-clothes and civilian vehicles, equipped with pistols and sub-machine guns.

They were nominally tasked with tracking down and arresting, or killing, suspected members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The MRF also ran double agents within the paramilitary groups and ran a number of front companies to gather intelligence. In October 1972, the Provisional IRA uncovered and attacked two of the MRF’s front companies—a mobile laundry service and a massage parlour—which contributed to the unit’s dissolution. One former member of the unit has described it as a “legalised death squad“.

It has also been accused of colluding with illegal loyalist paramilitaries and carrying out false flag attacks. The MRF was succeeded by the SRU (or 14 Intelligence Company) and, later, by the FRU

Origins and structure

The MRF was established in the summer of 1971. It appears to have its origins in ideas and techniques developed by British Army Brigadier Sir Frank Kitson, who had created “counter gangs” to defeat the Mau Mau in Kenya. He was the author of two books on counter-insurgency tactics: Gangs & Counter Gangs (1960) and Low Intensity Operations (1971). From 1970 to 1972, Kitson served in Northern Ireland as commander of the 39th Infantry Brigade. It has been claimed that he was responsible for establishing the MRF and that the unit was attached to his Brigade.

The MRF was based at Palace Barracks in the Belfast suburb of Holywood. The MRF’s first commander was Captain Arthur Watchus.  In June 1972, he was succeeded as commander by Captain James ‘Hamish’ McGregor. It was split into squads, each of which was led by a Senior NCO who had served in the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), the Royal Marines or the Parachute Regiment. The unit consisted of up to 40 men, handpicked from throughout the British Army. It also included a few women. nAccording to military sources, the MRF would have up to nine soldiers deployed at any one time, with nine more on standby and the others resting.

Modus operandi

In March 1994, the UK’s Junior Defence Minister Jeremy Hanley issued the following description of the MRF in reply to a parliamentary written question: “The MRF was a small military unit which, during the period 1971 to 1973, was responsible for carrying out surveillance tasks in Northern Ireland in those circumstances where soldiers in uniform and with Army vehicles would be too easily recognized”.

Martin Dillon described the MRF’s purpose as being “to draw the Provisional IRA into a shooting war with loyalists in order to distract the IRA from its objective of attacking the Army”.

Many details about the unit’s modus operandi have been revealed by former members. One issued a statement to the Troops Out Movement in July 1978. In 2012–13, a former MRF member using the covername ‘Simon Cursey’ gave a number of interviews and published the book MRF Shadow Troop about his time in the unit. In November 2013, a BBC Panorama documentary was aired about the MRF. It drew on information from seven former members, as well as a number of other sources.

The MRF had both a “defensive” surveillance role and an “offensive” role.  MRF operatives dressed like civilians and were given fake identities and unmarked cars equipped with two-way radios.  They patrolled the streets in these cars in teams of two to four, tracking down and arresting or killing suspected IRA members.

They were armed with Browning pistols and Sterling sub-machine guns. Former MRF members admitted that the unit shot unarmed people without warning, both IRA members and civilians, knowingly breaking the British Army’s Rules of Engagement. Former MRF members claim they had a list of targets they were ordered to “shoot on sight”, the aim being to “beat them at their own game”  and to “terrorise” the republican movement. According to Cursey, the unit was told that these tactics had British Government backing, “as part of a deeper political game”.

He said his section shot at least 20 people:

“We opened fire at any small group in hard areas […] armed or not – it didn’t matter. We targeted specific groups that were always up to no good. These types were sympathisers and supporters, assisting the IRA movement. As far as we were concerned they were guilty by association and party to terrorist activities, leaving themselves wide open to the ultimate punishment from us”.

Cursey mentions two occasions where MRF members visited pubs and “eliminated” IRA members. One member interviewed for the BBC’s Panorama, Soldier F, said “We were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group“.

Soldier H said “We operated initially with them thinking that we were the UVF“, to which Soldier F added: “We wanted to cause confusion”.  Another said that their role was “to draw out the IRA and to minimise their activities”. They said they fired on groups of people manning defensive barricades, on the assumption that some might be armed. The MRF member who made a statement in 1978 opined that the unit’s role was one of “repression through fear, terror and violence”. He said that the unit had been trained to use weapons favoured by the IRA. 

Republicans argued that the MRF deliberately attacked civilians for two main reasons: firstly, to draw the IRA into a sectarian conflict with loyalists and divert it from its campaign against the state; and secondly, to show Catholics that the IRA could not protect them, thus draining its support.

The MRF’s surveillance operations included the use of front companies (see below) and disguises. Former members claim they posed as road sweepers, dustmen and even homeless meths-drinkers while carrying out surveillance. The MRF is known to have used double agents referred to as ‘Freds’. These were republican or loyalist paramilitaries who were recruited by British Military Intelligence. The Freds would work inside paramilitary groups, feeding back information to the MRF. They were also ferried through Belfast in armoured cars, and through the gunslit would point-out paramilitary individuals of note. Through this method the MRF compiled extensive photographs and dossiers of Belfast militants of both factions.

According to Cursey, the MRF also abducted and interrogated people for information. They used shock treatment on prisoners to force them to give information. This involved immediately breaking one of the suspects’ arms and threatening to break their other arm. Cursey says that they then “dropped them off at the roadside for the uniformed forces to pick up later”.

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BBC Panorama – Shoot to kill, lethal force

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Attacks on civilians

In 1972, MRF teams carried out a number of drive-by shootings in Catholic and Irish nationalist areas of Belfast, some of which had been attributed to Ulster loyalist paramilitaries. At least fifteen civilians were shot. MRF members have affirmed the unit’s involvement in most of these attacks. There are also allegations that the unit helped loyalists to carry out attacks.

McGurk’s Bar bombing

On 4 December 1971, the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) detonated a time bomb at the door of McGurk’s public house in Belfast. The pub was frequented by Irish Catholics/nationalists.

The explosion caused the building to collapse, killing fifteen Catholic civilians and wounding seventeen more. It was the deadliest attack in Belfast during the Troubles.[ The book Killing For Britain (2009), written by former UVF member ‘John Black’, claims that the MRF organized the bombing and helped the bombers get in and out of the area.

Two days before the bombing, republican prisoners had escaped from nearby Crumlin Road Prison. Security was tightened and there were many checkpoints in the area at the time. However, locals claimed that the security forces helped the bombers by removing the checkpoints an hour before the attack.

One of the bombers—Robert Campbell—said that their original target had been The Gem, a nearby pub that was allegedly linked to the Official IRA. It is claimed the MRF plan was to help the UVF bomb The Gem, and then blame the bombing on the Provisional IRA. This would start a feud between the two IRA factions, diverting them from their fight against the security forces and draining their support. Campbell said that The Gem had security outside and, after waiting for almost an hour, they decided to bomb the nearest ‘Catholic pub’ instead. Immediately after, the security forces claimed that a bomb had accidentally exploded while being handled by IRA members inside McGurk’s.

See: McGurk’s Bar Bombing

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‘Secret British Army hits’ on IRA Watch extracts from BBC expose

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Whiterock Road shooting

On 15 April 1972, brothers Gerry and John Conway—both Catholic civilians—were walking along Whiterock Road to catch a bus. As they passed St Thomas’s School, a car stopped and three men leapt out and began shooting at them with pistols. The brothers ran but both were shot and wounded.

Witnesses said one of the gunmen returned to the car and spoke into a handset radio. Shortly after, two armoured personnel carriers arrived and there was a conversation between the uniformed and the plainclothes soldiers. The three vehicles then left, and the brothers were taken by ambulance to the Royal Victoria Hospital. The British Army told journalists that a patrol had encountered two wanted men, that one fired at the patrol and that the patrol returned fire.

In a 1978 interview, a former MRF member claimed he had been one of the gunmen. He confirmed that the brothers were unarmed, but claimed his patrol had mistaken the brothers for two IRA men whom the MRF were ordered to “shoot on sight”.

Andersonstown shootings

On 12 May 1972, the British government announced there would be no disciplinary action against the soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday. That night, MRF teams shot seven Catholic civilians in the Andersonstown area.

Patrick McVeigh

An MRF team in an unmarked car approached a checkpoint manned by members of the Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association (CESA) at the entrance to Riverdale Park South. The CESA was an unarmed vigilante organization set up to protect Catholic areas. The car stopped and then reversed. One of the MRF men opened-fire from the car with a sub-machine gun, killing Catholic civilian Patrick McVeigh (44) and wounding four others.

The car continued on, turned, and then drove past the scene of the shooting. All of the men were local residents and McVeigh, who was shot through the back, had stopped to chat to the CESA members as he walked home. He was a married father of six children. The British Army told journalists that gunmen in a passing car had fired indiscriminately at civilians and called it an “apparently motiveless crime”. The car had come from a Protestant area and had returned the same way. This, together with the British Army statement, implied that loyalists were responsible.

An inquest into the attack was held in December 1972, where it was admitted that the car’s occupants were soldiers belonging to an undercover unit known as the MRF. The soldiers did not appear at the inquest but issued statements to it, claiming they had been shot at by six gunmen and were returning fire. However, eyewitnesses said none of the CESA members were armed and this was supported by forensic evidence. The MRF members involved were never prosecuted.

Former MRF member ‘Simon Cursey’ claimed the unit fired on the men because they included IRA members who were on their ‘wanted’ list. However, there is no evidence that any were in the IRA. An MRF member stated in 1978 that the British Army’s intention was to make it look like a loyalist attack, thus provoking sectarian conflict and “taking the heat off the Army”.

Minutes before the shooting at the checkpoint, two other Catholic civilians had been shot nearby by another MRF team. The two young men—Aidan McAloon and Eugene Devlin—had got a taxi home from a disco and were dropped off at Slievegallion Drive. As they began walking along the street, in the direction of a vigilante barricade, the MRF team opened fire on them from an unmarked car. The MRF team told the Royal Military Police that they had shot a man who was firing a rifle. Witnesses said there was no gunman on the street and police forensics experts found no evidence that McAloon or Devlin had fired weapons.

Two weeks later, on 27 May, Catholic civilian Gerard Duddy (20) was killed in a drive-by shooting at the same spot where Patrick McVeigh was killed. His death was blamed on loyalists.

Killing of Jean Smith

Jean Smith

On the night of 9 June 1972, Catholic civilian Jean Smith (or Smyth) was shot dead on the Glen Road. Jean was a 24-year-old mother of one. She was shot while sitting in the passenger seat of a car at the Glen Road bus terminus. As her male companion turned the car, he heard what he thought was a tyre bursting. When he got out to check, the car was hit by a burst of automatic gunfire. Smith was shot in the head and died shortly after. Her companion stopped a passing taxi and asked the driver to take her to hospital. However, the taxi was then stopped by police and diverted to Andersonstown RUC base, where they were held for several hours.

The security forces blamed the killing on the IRA. In October 1973, however, the Belfast Telegraph published an article suggesting that Smith could have been shot by the MRF. Documents uncovered from the British National Archives reveal that the MRF fired shots in the area that night. They claim to have fired at two gunmen and hit one of them.

The Belfast Telegraph article also suggested that Smith could have been shot by the IRA, who fired on the car thinking it was carrying MRF members. The IRA deny this and claim that it was not in the area at the time of the shooting.

Two weeks after Smith’s killing, the MRF fired on a car at the same spot, wounding four people.

Glen Road shooting

On 22 June 1972, the Provisional IRA announced that it would begin a ceasefire in four days, as a prelude to secret talks with the British Government. That afternoon, MRF members in an unmarked car shot and wounded three Catholic men standing by a car at Glen Road bus terminus. A man in a nearby house was also wounded by the gunfire. Shortly after, the MRF unit’s car was stopped by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and they were arrested. Inside was a Thompson sub-machine gun, “for years the IRA’s favourite weapon”.

One of the MRF members—Clive Graham Williams—was charged with attempted murder. He told the court that two of the men had been armed and one had fired at the MRF car. He claimed he was returning fire. Witnesses said that none of the civilians were armed and that it was an unprovoked attack. Police forensics experts found no evidence that the civilians had fired weapons. However, key witnesses were not called to give evidence in person and Williams was acquitted on 26 June 1973.

He was later promoted and awarded the Military Medal for bravery.

St James’s Crescent shooting

On the night of 27 September 1972, the MRF shot dead Catholic civilian Daniel Rooney and wounded his friend Brendan Brennan. They were shot from a passing car while standing on a street corner at St James’s Crescent, in the Falls district. The British Army told journalists that the two men fired at an undercover patrol and that the patrol returned fire. It further claimed that the two men were IRA members. The IRA, the men’s families, and residents of the area denied this, and Rooney’s name has never appeared on a republican roll of honour. An inquest was held in December 1973. The court was told that forensic tests on the men’s hands and clothing found no firearms residue. The six soldiers involved repeated the British Army’s claim, but they did not appear at the inquest. Their statements were read by a police officer and they were referred to by initials. In 2013, former MRF member ‘Simon Cursey’ again claimed that they were returning fire, but said that only one of the men was armed.

New Lodge Six

There are also allegations that the MRF was involved in a drive-by shooting in the Catholic New Lodge area on 3 February 1973. The car’s occupants opened fire on a group of young people standing outside a pub on Antrim Road, killing IRA members James Sloan and James McCann and wounding others. The gunmen drove on and allegedly fired at another group of people outside a takeaway. In the hours that followed, a further four people—an IRA member and three civilians—were shot dead in the area by British snipers. The dead became known as the “New Lodge Six”.

In June 1973, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association issued advice on how to behave in the event of being “shot by MRF/SAS squads”, saying for example that people should “pretend to be dead until the squad moves away”.

Front companies

The MRF ran a number of front companies in Belfast during the early 1970s. They included Four Square Laundry (a mobile laundry service operating in nationalist West Belfast) and the Gemini massage parlour on Antrim Road.[36]The MRF also had an office at College Square. All were set up to gather intelligence on the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish nationalist movement.

A Four Square van visited houses in nationalist West Belfast twice a week to collect and deliver laundry. One “employee” (a young man) drove the van while another (a young woman) collected and delivered the laundry. Both were from Northern Ireland. Four Square initially gathered customers by offering “discount vouchers”, which were numbered and colour-coded by street.

Clothes collected for washing were first forensically checked for traces of explosives, as well as blood or firearms residue. They were also compared to previous laundry loads from the same house—the sudden presence of different-sized clothes could indicate that the house was harbouring an IRA member. Surveillance operatives and equipment were hidden in the back of the van or in a compartment in the roof. Further intelligence was gathered by staff observing and “chatting” to locals whilst collecting their laundry.

Kevin McKee

However, in September 1972 the IRA found that two of its members—Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee—were working for the MRF as double agents. Under interrogation, McKee told the IRA about the MRF’s operations, including the laundry and the massage parlour. The leaders of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade ordered that the companies immediately be put under surveillance. This surveillance confirmed that McKee’s information was correct.

The IRA later took Wright and McKee to South Armagh, where they were “executed” as spies. Their bodies have not been recovered and were cases considered by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains.

See: IRA Nutting Squad

October 1972 attacks

Following these revelations, the leaders of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade planned an operation against the MRF, which was to take place on 2 October 1972. The 2nd Battalion would attack the Four Square Laundry van and the office at College Square, while the 3rd Battalion would raid the massage parlour. At about 11:20AM[ on 2 October, IRA volunteers ambushed the Four Square Laundry van in the nationalist Twinbrook area of West Belfast. Four volunteers were involved: one drove the car while three others did the shooting..

They shot dead the driver, an undercover British soldier of the Royal Engineers, and machine-gunned the roof compartment where undercover operatives were thought to be hiding. The other Four Square employee—a female operative from the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC)—was collecting and delivering laundry from a nearby house at the time. The residents, who thought that loyalists were attacking the van, took her into the house and kept her safe. The woman was later secretly invested at Buckingham Palace with an MBE.

About an hour later, the same IRA unit raided College Square but found nobody there. Meanwhile, a unit of the 3rd Battalion made for the room above the massage parlour, which they believed was being using to gather intelligence. They claimed to have shot three undercover soldiers: two men and a woman. According to some sources, the IRA claimed to have killed two surveillance officers allegedly hidden in the laundry van, and two MRF members at the massage parlour.

However, the British military only confirmed the death of the van driver on that day. Brendan Hughes said that the operation “was a great morale booster for the IRA and for the people that were involved”.

The MRF, realising its undercover operations were blown, disbanded the units and was itself disbanded shortly afterwards.Nevertheless, the incident was believed to have prompted the establishment of a new undercover intelligence unit: the 14 Intelligence Company (also known as “The Det”).

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13th February – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

13th February

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Friday 13 February 1976

There were riots in Belfast and Derry following the news of the death of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger-striker Frank Stagg in a prison in England on 12 February 1976.

Saturday 13 February 1988

Representatives of Sinn Féin (SF) endorsed the talks between John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and Gerry Adams, then leader of Sinn Féin (SF).

Tuesday 13 February 1996

John Major, then British Prime Minister, met Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), for talks at Downing Street, London.

Saturday 13 February 1999

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) released figures on the number of paramilitary ‘punishment’ attacks carried out by Republicans. There had been 18 attacks from 1 January 1999 to 2 February 1999 but no attacks since that date

Tuesday 13 February 2001

British Army (BA) technical experts have made safe a pipe-bomb in Belfast that had been picked up by a 4 year old girl and carried into her home. The target of the attack was a Catholic family living on the Springfield Road in the west of the city. The attack was carried out by Loyalist paramilitaries.

Wednesday 13 February 2002

Two men were charged in London with bombing offences during 2001.

The Metropolitan Police charged one man (33) with causing explosions outside the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on 3 March 2001, in Ealing on 3 August 2001, and in Birmingham on 3 November 2001, and with a number of other offences. The second man (24) was charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion on or before 14 November 2001.

[The two men had been arrested separately in Northern Ireland on 6 and 9 February 2002. The men appeared at Belmarsh Magistrate’s Court on Thursday 14 February 2002.]

Jane kennedy, then Security Minister, announced in the House of Commons extra funding of £16 million for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The additional funding takes the total figure to £656 million. Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said the extra funding was not enough for policing needs.

Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, called on Sinn Féin (SF) to take note of the plight of ‘exiles’ – people who had been forced to leave Northern Ireland by paramilitaries. He said that a resolution of the issue was an important part of the peace process.

[The issue was debated in the House of Commons on Thursday 14 February 2002.]

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Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following  people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live  forever

– To  the Paramilitaries  –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

3 People   lost their lives on the 13th  February  between  1972 – 1984

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13 February 1972
Thomas McCann,  (19)

nfNI
Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: non-specific Republican group (REP)
From Dublin. Off duty. Found shot, near Newtownbutler, County Fermanagh.

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13 February 1976
Sean Bailey,  (20)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Died one day after being injured in premature bomb explosion in house, Nansen Street, Falls, Belfast.

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13 February 1984
 James Young,  (41)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Found shot, Blaney Road, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh. Alleged informer

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See: IRA Nutting Squad