‘Dowra’ affair led to security co-operation rift

Arrest of John McGovern gave rise to ‘suspicions of collusion between the RUC and the Garda’, British papers show

The RUC chief constable, Sir John Hermon dropped the case after conducting his own inquiries. Photograph: Pacemaker

The RUC chief constable, Sir John Hermon dropped the case after conducting his own inquiries. Photograph: Pacemaker

Fri, Jan 3, 2014, 01:00

In 1984, security co-operation returned as a major sore point in Anglo-Irish relations, as the Provisional IRA returned from the “low ebb” it had experienced in 1983 with a resurgent campaign of violence.

In January 1984, the Northern secretary reported to the British cabinet following a recent meeting he had had with justice minister Michael Noonan in Dublin. He stated that security co-operation remained a “politically sensitive” issue to the Irish government. He pointed to the hostile reception given to the Irish Army by the local population and the Garda during recent security operations in Co Leitrim, which showed that “anarchy was close to the surface south as well as north of the Irish Border”.


Improvements
Recent improvements in security co-operation between the governments, the RUC and the Garda were also jeopardised by the fallout of the so- called “McGovern” case (also known as the “Dowra”, or “Nangle” affair).

This referred to the 1982 arrest of James McGovern by RUC Special Branch, allegedly on the basis of intelligence passed to them by the Garda that he was involved in terrorism. The timing of his arrest came just before he was due to testify in court as a key witness against Thomas Nangle, who was accused of assaulting him. Nangle was the brother-in-law of then Fianna Fáil minister for justice, Seán Doherty.


Suspicions of collusion
As newly released British documents describe, the timing of the arrest, and the fact that it was based on false information had given rise to “suspicions of collusion between the RUC and the Garda”.

After the Fine Gael-Labour government under Garret FitzGerald took office in November 1982, new Garda commissioner Lawrence Wren ordered an inquiry into the matter. It was reported that this had implicated a senior RUC officer but the commissioner failed to produce any substantive evidence in support of this. The RUC chief constable, Sir John Hermon, satisfied by his own inquiries, therefore dropped the case.

In December 1983, British state papers reported the incident had contributed to a “major rift between the two police forces”, which significantly impaired security co-operation. Such co-operation was said to have declined palpably since 1982. The documents also suggest the RUC chief constable and the new commissioner were not on speaking terms.

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