Both UK and Ireland failed to focus on loyalist violence
Opinion: The Irish government’s commitment to tackling the IRA has been questioned, but not enough was done to stem attacks from the other side
The aftermath of the bombing on South Leinster Street, Dublin, in 1974. A British minister and senior British officials met the UVF leadership immediately before and after the Dublin/Monaghan bombings. Photograph: Pat Langan/The Irish Times
Prof Henry Patterson’s article in The Irish Times last month (“Could Dublin have done more to defeat the IRA?”, September 14th, 2013) gave an interesting perspective on cross-Border security, alleging significant failings by successive Irish governments to come down hard on the IRA during the conflict.
Although this position is now a well-established unionist one, informed discussion of how the two sovereign governments responded to the deadly activities of paramilitary groups on both sides of the Border is welcome.
There is, however, a very different view to Prof Patterson’s. He omitted to mention the critical point that the Border was porous in both directions.
While some IRA members did indubitably flee south after attacks in the North, 50 people were killed in the Republic as a result of loyalist attacks in the opposite direction. Hundreds more were injured, yet not a single loyalist was convicted for any of these murders.
The dominant narrative of a negligent Irish government failing to apprehend IRA fugitives should be balanced with the contrasting account of a failure by the Northern authorities to take effective action against loyalists fleeing north.
In more than a decade of research in the British and Irish National Archives, Justice for the Forgotten and The Pat Finucane Centre have uncovered
declassified documents that shed a fascinating insight into the levels of co-operation between security forces on both sides of the Border.
From early 1974, the British government was anxious to establish formal joint cross-Border security structures. Following a high-powered meeting in Baldonnel in September 1974, four specialist panels were set up under the joint chairmanship of senior officers from both police forces. These officers met thereafter on a monthly basis, co-ordinating cross-border communications; advance planning; ballistics, explosives and detection of supply sources for weapons and explosives.
What is striking about the record of the September meeting is the total absence of any reference to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, only four months earlier, in which 34 people lost their lives. Nor was there any mention of possible future forays into the Republic by loyalists. The discussions concentrated entirely on IRA violence.
Inter alia, the documents show the RUC chief constable commenting that the exchange of information between the respective Newry and Dundalk Special Branches could not have been better while minister for justice Paddy Cooney sought British advice on what further measures Dublin could take against the IRA.
By late 1975, the Irish government was doing everything possible to assist the British in their fight against the IRA (it had already agreed, without demur, to the closure of many Border roads and to reconnaissance over-flights into the Republic). The two police forces were also operating joint vehicle checkpoints and had direct telephone/radio links to the highest level (using radios with secure speech supplied directly to An Garda Síochána by the British army).