Spying on diplomats
Sir, – I agree with the views of former colleagues dealing with Anglo-Irish relations in the 1980s: it was our working assumption that our phone and communications other than by courier were bugged (“Diplomats knew they were being spied on”, News, February 14th).
It was true of the 1990s also. Ex-diplomats “always knew” Britain intercepted Irish communications. We assumed there was GCHQ surveillance in our offices, and living quarters too, in the Joint Secretariat at Maryfield “bunker” in Holywood outside Belfast where the Irish side also lived; the British side lived out though not necessarily safe from bugging by GCHQ where they lived: MI5 was interested in all of us.
In my time as joint secretary (head of mission) in Maryfield 1990-95, I and senior colleagues would go for an evening walk along the sea coast nearby and discuss sensitive issues on the walk.
Conversely, when we wanted to we could try to get a message through to Downing Street or perhaps to British intelligence – and thus the British army – which could be a law unto itself and often at odds with the Northern Ireland Office. So we would discuss it within the Maryfield building in the hope that GCHQ would pass it on and from time to time, coincidentally or not, we were gratified to see the point seriously taken and acted upon. It is true to say that certain British colleagues dropped cautionary hints that we were being bugged.
I would add that they dropped hints too that Downing Street or others in the system had registered an issue for which they themselves had been trying to get attention. Whereas the Irish side was small but cohesive, the British side was large with many and far more complicated interests and rivalries at play. – Yours, etc,