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Press Release/Preas Ráiteas

IRA “Message to London” in 1978: No Basis in Fact.

Statement from Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, President, Republican Sinn Féin

As one who as President of Sinn Féin was involved in the 1974-76 talks between representatives of the British government and the Republican Movement, I am totally unaware of the purported IRA message to London “seeking talks” in early 1978, as reported from the British state papers and carried in the Irish Times of December 30.
Not alone do I doubt the authenticity of such a message but I believe that if it existed at all it was the work of some self-appointed “well-wisher” and had no basis in fact.
Further, the same report claims that for many Republicans “the truce of 1975 had also been seen as a mistake and that it had undermined Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s leadership”. If this was so how was it that I remained in the position of President of Sinn Féin for another eight years – up to 1983?
Another report in the same newspaper of December 30 quotes a document released through the National Archives in Dublin. It was a “secret intelligence assessment” dated February 15, 1977 and it mentioned “feelers” sent out at Christmas (1976) by the top PIRA leadership in another approach to the British government.
I do not believe that this report either had any basis in fact. The only development of this nature at Christmas 1976 was the commencement of the Boal-McBride talks which sought to marry Sinn Féin’s Éire Nua proposals for a four-province federation with the Ulster Loyalist Central Co-ordinating Committee’s project of an independent Six-County State with a view to a joint approach to the British government for its withdrawal from Ireland.
These discreet and confidential talks lasted until June 1977 but failed when Dr Conor Cruise-O’Brien exposed and criticised them on RTÉ radio.


News Letter
31 December 2008

THE Government feared the Ulster Unionists and DUP uniting – believing it would “mean trouble for everyone in Northern Ireland”.

Secretary of State Roy Mason, in a meeting with Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Michael O’Kennedy (on May 5, 1978, in Dublin) warned that unionist unity could inflame the Province.

He was worried that the Official Unionists, led by Harry West, would harden their stance and join with Ian Paisley’s DUP, in a more radical unionist block.

He made the remark while warning Dublin ministers to stop making public demands for Irish unity, because it was destabilising unionism.

The Secretary of State said “speculation on Irish unity frightened the unionists”.

The minutes from the meeting record that he said “speeches on the goal of Irish unity could bring West and Paisley together by frightening them; that would mean trouble for everyone in Northern Ireland and end to any prospect of political progress”.

News Letter
31 December 2008

FROSTY relations between the UK and Ireland spilled over in an astonishingly heated meeting, between Secretary of State Roy Mason and Irish Foreign Minister Michael O’Kennedy.

On May 5, 1978, the two men met in Dublin for the latest in a series of Anglo-Irish discussions.

Key topics on the agenda were cross-border security, the IRA, the La Mon House Hotel bombing and the economy.

Tensions – only now made public – erupted amid accusations on both sides about their public conduct on matters regarding Northern Ireland and terrorism.

During talks, the Irish said the UK Government should come out and say the only basis for a lasting peace in Ulster would be within a united Ireland.

This was against a backdrop of continual assertions by nationalists, throughout 1978, that this was the only basis for a deal and calls for a British withdrawal – which even the Daily Mirror backed.

Mr Mason, meanwhile, accused Ireland of destabilising the Province with public “demands” for unity.

These Anglo-Irish discussions were supposed to be about better relations, but even before the meeting there was expectation of a difficult exchange.

A Northern Ireland Office paper was drafted by civil servants for Mr Mason on April 27, to brief him ahead of the talks.

It spoke of attempting to “defuse with as little fuss as possible” issues which were affecting the UK-Ireland relationship.

It was especially concerned with the Republic’s interest in Northern Ireland and it taking on any sort of formal or institutional angle.

Mr Mason was urged to say “we are prepared to tell an interested government (of another country) how we see the situation (in Ulster)”. But the lines must be clear and an arms length and informality maintained.

The questions of attempts to “arise afresh the question of Irish unity” were to be avoided by London officials.

When the meeting came, the minutes of May 5, show it was the Mr O’Kennedy who set the ball rolling for a tetchy discussion.

It reads that he immediately stated he “was very concerned, that without any notice at all to them (the Irish), the Secretary of State indicated that those responsible for La Mon might have come from the South; it had provoked a severe reaction in Dublin.”

Mr O’Kennedy believed there was an implicit suggestion of the Republic harbouring or supporting the terrorists.

But he said there “could no public or private apprehensions about their commitment against the IRA”.

The Provisonals were as much an enemy of the Irish state and wanted to replace the government there, he noted.

Mr Mason responded with his own jibe, stating that there had been “irritants on both sides” and not just on the Dublin side.

He noted Irish Government speeches and interviews talking of the aim of Irish unity and that this had caused serious problems.

The Secretary of State also countered that he had not said the terrorists came from the South to carry out La Mon but that they may have fled there.

This was not good enough for Mr O’Kennedy who said “even to refer to it as a possibility caused a serious problem in the South”.

Mr Mason was sorry for this but then he hit back with complaints about Ireland’s delay in various extradition proceedings. The Irish said they were acting within European laws.

Mr O’Kennedy said there was a theme developing to suggest his country was “weak on terrorism”.

He added there had heard comments to this effect in the House of Commons and urged the British to get a grip or warned “the Irish would step in”, the minutes recorded.

The tit-for-tat continued, with Mr Mason accusing the Irish of undermining efforts to get a political settlement in the Province, when the Taoiseach Jack Lynch gave an interview and talked about the aspiration of a united Ireland (in January 1978).

The Official Unionists had been close to walking away from meetings, said Mr Mason – at a time when they had moved from “an intransigent position”.

Mr O’Kennedy said the unionists were just using the Taoiseach as an excuse.

Mr Mason did not agree and warned the Irish Government against further demands for Irish unity which would impact in the Province.

Mr O’Kennedy claimed “his government had not been and would not be responsible for any demands for Irish unity”.

He also said reference to an amnesty for terrorists, in the same interview, had been picked up wrong and “Mr Lynch was the last person to want to give succour to terrorists”.

However Mr O’Kennedy said “Irish unity was the only possible long-term basis for peace”.

He added, “his government was convinced that there could be no real move until the UK Government accepted this and said so”.

But the Irish also accepted that consent was crucial to any settlement and they wanted to see good British-Irish relations as a cornerstone to an agreement.

Mr Mason said the liberal use of the word consent, rather than unity, in speeches, would “minimise harm”.

On security, the minutes recorded the Irish as “a little sensitive” to any suggestion the border was their problem.
Wednesday December 31 2008

BRITAIN assured the Irish Government in 1973 that it was not conducting espionage activities here and had not been involved, through its agents, in the Dublin bombings the previous winter.

The assurances were given after Ireland raised grave concern about the activities of the Littlejohn brothers and their alleged involvement with British intelligence.

Keith and Kenneth Littlejohn were extradited to Ireland from the UK and convicted for their part in a £67,000 bank robbery in 1972. It was alleged at the time that they had been acting as British agents in the Republic.

Such was the concern of the Cosgrave Government that the Irish ambassador to London, Donal O’Sullivan, was instructed to spell out Ireland’s deep concern over the “Littlejohn business”.

State Papers for the period contain a ‘secret’ report from Ambassador O’Sullivan of an account of his meeting with Britain’s Deputy Under-Secretary of State Sir Geoffrey Arthur on August 9, 1973.

He told Sir Geoffrey that the publicity given to the Littlejohn business was reviving a lot of things from the past such as the allegations about the bombings in Dublin in 1972 and that the effect of the British using criminals for intelligence work had made a serious impact on the public mind in Ireland.

“I had been instructed to seek a firm assurance from him that they had now told us the whole story. If they had not, I was instructed to ask him ‘to come clean’,” said the ambassador.

The ambassador reported that Sir Geoffrey gave the most firm assurance that apart from pure intelligence work, the Littlejohns had no authority to engage in anything else.

Two days after that meeting in London, the British Ambassador to Dublin, Sir Arthur Galsworthy, was received by the Taoiseach at Government Buildings for a meeting.

According to an account of the meeting, marked “confidential”, the ambassador gave Liam Cosgrave an “absolute assurance” that the Littlejohn brothers were not authorised to do anything in Ireland other than to pass on information to the British authorities.

Sir Andrew also confirmed that neither the British government nor their agents had any connection with the previous winter’s bombings in Dublin — in which three people were killed.


By DR Eamon Phoenix
Irish News

President Eamon de Valera accepted gifts from Colonel Gaddafi the same year Libya began arming the IRA, official state papers have revealed.

Documents released into the Republic’s National Archives show the maverick Arab ruler sent Mr de Valera a riding whip, a saddle and a bridle at a secret meeting with one of his ambassadors in 1972.

Later that year IRA chief Joe Cahill met Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in Tripoli to arrange a five-ton shipment of weapons into the Republic.

The cargo ship Claudia was intercepted by the Irish navy in March 1973 and Cahill was convicted for smuggling the arsenal of Libyan arms and explosives.

Files from the president’s office at the time show that a representative of Colonel Gaddafi asked to call at Aras an Uachtarain during a St Patrick’s Day visit to Dublin.

Galal Daghely, Libyan ambassador in Bonn, then in West Germany, was officially in Ireland to meet a foreign trade committee.

A memo, written in Irish, reveals that an official in the Department of Foreign Affairs warned that any meeting with the president should not be part of the published agenda of the visit.

The meeting was initially turned down but the ambassador contacted an Irish official at home on St Patrick’s Day to say he had a present for Mr de Valera and would be disappointed if he did not accept it.

Eventually, after giving assurances that he would not publicise the visit, it was agreed that he could call to Aras an Uachtarain where he was met by the president.

Several days later Mr de Valera wrote to Colonel Gaddafi to thank him.

“For this gift, which richly reflects Arab skill and handicraft, I wish to convey to your Excellency my sincere thanks,” he wrote.

“In expressing my appreciation of your kindness, may I add my good wishes for your personal wellbeing.”

Files from 1973 released several years ago revealed that the Irish government decided against lodging an official protest with Libya over the arms smuggling because it was afraid it would spur the regime into providing more supplies.

It was also felt that it might lessen chances of attracting Libyan investment.

Libya went on to become one of the major sources of IRA arms and finance for its campaign of violence over the following three decades.


By DR Eamon Phoenix
Irish News

Eamon de Valera refused a dying wish for him to attend a commemoration of Michael Collins, newly released official files reveal.

Papers from the Department of the Taoiseach in 1957 show that Sean Collins – brother of the murdered republican leader – pleaded for an official presence at his memorial.

Mr Collins also wrote to the then president, Sean J O’Kelly, saying the attendance of both him and Mr de Val era, the taoiseach, would go towards “healing the sores of the civil war”.

The request came about after the death of a Colonel Coughlan, who had previously organised the annual ceremony at Beal na Blath, Co Cork, where Collins was assassinated in 1922.

Colonel Coughlan “left it as a dying request” that Sean Collins would approach Mr de Valera and ask for him and the army to attend the commemoration, according to the letter.

“Although there are always men at the ceremony who took different sides in the unfortunate civil war, I can assure you there has never been anything but harmony on all occasions,” Mr Collins wrote.

“How I would dearly love to see you lay that wreath at the foot of that cross.

“I sincerely hope you will give your consent to this request as, apart altogether from the respect given to the dead, it would certainly be a great gesture towards the unity of old comrades.”

But Mr de Valera insisted, 35 years after the assassination of his former comrade who he had split with over the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, that his attendance would be inappropriate.

“As I have understood it, your request is that the army should officially take part in the commemoration,” he replied, apparently ignoring the direct appeal for his own presence.

“I have, myself, given the matter the most careful consideration and I have spoken to the other members of the government about it. We are all of the opinion that the decision taken some years ago should be adhered to.

“At that time, we came to the conclusion that… the best thing to do was to have one day set apart on which the state could celebrate the securing of independence here and honour all who took part in the struggle to achieve it.

“Easter Sunday was the day selected.”

Mr de Valera suggested to the president that he reply to Mr Collins, stating that he understood the taoiseach had given him the government’s answer.


BY DR Eamon Phoenix
Irish News

THE widow of an English businessman murdered by the IRA as he left a west Belfast factory was given a payment of £20,000 by the company.

James Nicholson, a Yorkshire business executive, was shot dead on his way back to Belfast airport after a visit to the Strathearn Audio plant on March 14 1977.

At a meeting of Department of Commerce staff with the company’s managing director, Gordon Smyth, on April 24 1978, the position of Mr Nicholson’s widow was discussed.

Mr Smyth took the view that the company should make an ex-gratia payment to Mrs Nicholson but said he had been unable to get an agreement from the firm’s directors.

It was noted that there was concern at the possible public reaction to a payment by Strathearn Audio in all the circumstances.

In the event it was agreed to make a special payment of £20,000 to the widow.


By Dr Eamon Phoenix
Irish News

FRICTION between the fledgling Fair Employment Agency and the direct rule government of Roy Mason was evident in 1978.

The controversy concerned a ground-breaking report issued by the Fair Employment Agency (FEA) on the occupational profile of the two communities. The report was based on an analysis of the 1971 census.

The FEA was set up in 1976 under the chairmanship of former Alliance politician Robert Cooper with the task of promoting equality of opportunity.

The report showed an overall Catholic unemployment rate of 13.5 per cent compared to 5.7 per cent for Protestants.

Taking as a yardstick the overall proportion of Catholics in the economically active population, the report noted they had a low representation in the manufacturing sector.

In particular, the Catholic percentage in shipbuilding was 4.8.

The FEA report noted that pub and catering work, nursing and teaching were “RC occupations” while such areas as the police (10 per cent Catholic), engineering and senior government officials were deemed “Protestant occupations”.

Using figures produced by the American academic EA Aunger based on the 1971 census, the FEA Report stated that of 1,383 senior government officials, just 13 per cent were from a Catholic background.

“The occupation profile of Protestants and RCs revealed a distribution of RCs towards the unskilled occupations.

The modal Protestant male is a skilled manual worker whereas the modal RC male is unskilled and overall, a RC middle-class exists.

Its size, however, seems to be largely a product of meeting the demands of a segregated society rather than through performing a more general role as does the Protestant middle-class,” it said.

The report immediately irked KR Shemeld, a senior Stormont official who questioned the reliability of the 13 per cent figure for Catholics among “senior government officials”.

Meanwhile, the minister of state for employment, Don Concannon, made it clear that he was “unhappy” with the FEA Report.

In the words of an official, Linda Wilkinson, on January 17 1978, “he feels it can do no good to raise yet again in the public eye questions of the religious division of workers”.


BY Dr Eamon Phoenix
Irish News

INTERROGATION DEBATE: the then Assistant Chief Constable Jack Hermon. PICTURE: Irish News archive

Police doctors, MPs, priests and the Northern Ireland Police Authority were growing increasingly concerned at mounting evidence of brutality in RUC interrogation centres in the north in the late seventies.

The allegations were to lead directly to the establishment of the Bennett Inquiry, headed by an English judge, which reported in March 1979.

Bennett confirmed that injuries sustained in police custody were not self-inflicted. The government accepted its major recommendations, including the installation of closed-circuit television in interview rooms.

On October 11 1977 senior NIO official AA Pritchard reported on a meeting between RUC Chief Constable Sir Kenneth Newman and the Police Doctors’ Association, at which the doctors expressed their “misgivings” and the chief constable replied.

It was agreed there would be a further meeting at which the doctors would produce particulars of “a number of cases of alleged brutality which they wished to bring to the attention of the chief constable”.

The official understood that Sir Ken was prepared to establish a joint working group under Assistant Chief Constable Jack Hermon (later RUC chief constable) to examine the cases.

The mounting concern over the issue of mistreatment of prisoners concerned the NIO. A memo dated October 21 1977 noted that the issue had united the SDLP, the Civil Rights Association, Provisional Sinn Fein and loyalist organisations.

In particular, SDLP leader Gerry Fitt MP had announced his intention to press for an inquiry while Andy Tyrie, supreme commander of the UDA, had declared his support to expose the activities of certain officers at Castlereagh holding centre.

An intelligence briefing document in the file warned of the possible international impact of allegations of police brutality. Their effect would be “to undermine a recent trend towards a more understanding attitude in America towards HMG’s position” while there were also signs of renewed Soviet interest in the matter.

By October 1977 the issue was given renewed urgency by a planned This Week programme by journalist Peter Taylor regarding allegations of RUC ill-treatment of suspects during interrogation.

On October 27 1977 AA Pritchard circulated a memo to ministers and officials on the brutality allegations.

He referred to a talk which he had had with the chief constable regarding the “misgivings” of the police doctors “about particular cases of police brutality”.

Sir Ken said he had been able to reassure the doctors about their concerns “but there was little likelihood that they would be prepared to speak up for the RUC on the general question of alleged brutality if the particular cases became the subject of public debate”.

The chief constable told the official that he felt “he had contributed to the build-up of the current campaign through his decision to permit private doctors to visit those under interrogation at Castlereagh”.

“Dubious elements had taken advantage of this ruling,” he said.

Following the screening of the ‘This Week’ programme on October 27 1977 the allegations intensified.

On November 12 Fr Raymond Murray, chaplain to Armagh (women’s) Prison wrote to Secretary of State Roy Mason about the case of prisoner Mary McCann who had alleged ill-treatment under interrogation at Castlereagh holding centre.

“She alleges she was interviewed 13 times and during that time was pushed, pulled, slapped, kicked, threatened by interrogators, both male and female,” Fr Murray wrote.

“She had extensive bruising on both knees and on the front of her legs; there is a lump and bruise over her left eye and bruises on her left arm. I have seen the injuries myself.

“Her allegations are disturbing and raise a serious moral issue. Only an independent, impartial investigation would dispense one’s fears.”

The pressures increased with a letter from Gerry Fitt on October 28 1977 concerning the case of Tony Crozier, of Co Armagh, alleging serious allegations of police brutality at Armagh RUC Station, including being beaten with an iron pipe.

Crozier claimed an RUC man put a gun to his head and threatened him with assassination on a border road.

Mr Fitt was informed by NIO junior minister James Dunn that the complaint would be forwarded to the chief constable for investigation.

Meanwhile, on November 10 1977, leading Belfast defence solicitor PJ McGrory wrote a strong letter to Roy Mason on behalf of a large number of solicitors who shared “the conviction that ill-treatment of suspects by police officers with the object of obtaining confessions is now common practice” and that this occurred most often at Castlereagh.

“We find it very difficult to accept that this happens without the knowledge of a substantial number of police officers of senior rank,” he wrote.

Mr McGrory said the solicitors would be presenting evidence to the forthcoming Amnesty International inquiry into the allegations.

Mr Mason assured the lawyer that neither he nor the chief constable would condone “lapses in the behaviour of police officers and the NIO and RUC would cooperate with the Amnesty inquiry.

The crisis deepened on December 9 1977 with a strong letter to Mr Mason from Joe Cooper, a leading trade unionist and chairman of the Armagh Prison Board of Visitors.

Mr Cooper told Mr Mason that the board had interviewed six female prisoners at Armagh Jail who had returned from Armagh Courthouse, having been escorted by the RUC.

“The prisoners were in a very distressed and shocked condition. A couple had torn clothing and others had bruises and marks of having been recently physically assaulted by the RUC escort party,” he said.

“The [board] were very concerned at the condition of the prisoners… It was unanimously decided to minute this concern and to request that the allegations be investigated to prevent a reoccurrence.”

By March 1978, six months after the initial allegations, the situation was beginning to concern the members of the Police Authority.

On March 9 two members, Dr W Baird and Mr Canavan, met NIO junior minister James Dunn about the “very serious” concerns of police surgeons about possible ill-treatment of prisoners under interrogation.

The surgeons had requested a meeting with the chief constable and the authority “so that they could be reassured that maltreatment would cease and that adequate safeguards would be put in place”.

Certain surgeons, they told the minister, “had intimated that they would have to consider approaching Amnesty International to express their views, particularly as they had already given statements [to Amnesty] which held at that time but now in their view did not”.

Mr Canavan said the chief constable had refused to meet the Police Authority on the matter.

Mr Dunn said it “would be most unfortunate if the surgeons approached Amnesty International as it would destroy all the good work which the Police Authority had done”. He would speak to the secretary of state about the whole issue.

The file shows that on March 7 1978 WH Baird of the Police Authority wrote to Chief Constable Sir Ken Newman on the brutality issue.

He said the Police Authority had met three police doctors – Drs Alexander, Elliott and Irwin – who were worried about a “resurgence” of brutality.

They alleged “a general worsening of attitudes following the Amnesty visit”. They were uneasy that no result had emerged about specific cases which they had reported to the chief constable last year.

“They have further specific cases which they allege cause grave concern. If no satisfaction is given, they proposed to convey their misgivings to Amnesty International,” Mr Baird told the chief constable.

However, the doctors remained concerned. In a note on the file, another official, Dr Maurice Hayes (the future Northern Ireland ombudsman and Dublin senator) reported a meeting with one of the surgeons, Dr Robert Irwin, on April 4 1978.

Dr Irwin struck the official as “a completely credible witness “concerned about his own professional standards and aware of the difficulties of the police; he is not a trouble-maker or an agitator but is concerned with the public good and with the human rights of persons in custody”.

Dr Hayes reported to ministers: “Dr Irwin said he was alarmed at the number of prisoners showing signs of injury which could not be self-inflicted. These were continuing and were associated with a group of eight or 10 policemen who were consistently described to the doctors by injured prisoners and were familiarly known as the ‘Goon Squad’.

“He was convinced that these officers were maltreating prisoners under interrogation as a matter of policy approved by the chief constable.”

Dr Irwin said there was a marked increase in the incidence of injuries when Deputy Chief Constable Jack Hermon was on leave.

Dr Hayes said: “The surgeons also feel that they were used to secure a favourable report from Amnesty International and are determined not to be so used again. If asked by Amnesty, they were not prepared to stand over the present practice”.

On April 17 1978 one of the surgeons requested a transfer from Gough Barracks, Armagh, triggering a flurry at Stormont Castle.

In his letter of resignation Dr Elliott cited “the intolerable situation regarding the maltreatment-treatment of prisoners”.

At a meeting in Belfast on April 18 1978, attended by Mr Dunn and officials, the minister said he wished to get to the root of the problem. He emphasised that “he would not condone cruelty or the man-handling of persons being questioned in Armagh or other centres and, if it was happening, it would have to be stopped”.

However, Dr Elliott’s departure would trigger a public debate that would “only assist men of violence”.

By April 1978 the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights had taken up the issue. Under pressure, the chief constable agreed to meet the doctors and consider closed-circuit television at interrogation centres. The doctors welcomed his initiative and Dr Elliott agreed to withdraw his call for a transfer.

The situation improved rapidly. In a letter to Roy Mason on May 11 1978, Police Authority chairman Myles Humphreys reported that the police surgeons were satisfied that “the recrudescence of cases” which had caused them such disquiet in March had ceased.

The following March the Bennett Report confirmed medical evidence of ill-treatment at holding centres and the British government accepted its main recommendations.


By Dr Eamon Phoenix
Irish News

In 1978 Troubles atrocities including the Provisional IRA’s bombing of the La Mon House hotel. The Republican ‘dirty protest’ in the H-blocks intensified and there were concerns about the treatment of prisoners in Castlereagh interrogation centre. There was some good news, however short lived, when it was announced that US businessman John de Lorean was to establish a sports car plant in west Belfast. Dr Eamon Phoenix reports on state papers released under the 30-year rule

The year 1978 in the north was marked by political stalemate as the United Unionist coalition insisted on a return to the old Stormont and the Labour secretary of state, the pugnacious ex-miner Roy Mason, signalled a shift away from Sunningdale-type power-sharing.

The SDLP and the Irish government suspected that Mr Mason, like the Tory opposition under Margaret Thatcher, was promoting ‘integration’ by the back door.

The year was still young on the evening of Friday February 17 when three members of the Provisional IRA attached two massive firebombs to the security grilles of the La Mon House hotel near Belfast.

The warning came too late and a huge fireball engulfed the dining room where 400 people were attending a function. Twelve died and 23 suffered horrific injuries.

The atrocity unleashed a wave of revulsion throughout Ireland.

However, relations between Mr Mason and Jack Lynch’s Fianna Fail government were not improved by the secretary of state’s claim that the bombers might have found sanctuary in the Republic.

The British were angry over Lynch’s demand for an “ordered withdrawal” from the north and his hint at an amnesty for republican prisoners.

The La Mon bombing was followed by a determined military offensive against the IRA and in February Gerry Adams was charged with IRA membership, only to be cleared six months later.

In June 1978 the Provisionals ambushed an RUC patrol near Crossmaglen, killing one constable and kidnapping Constable William Turbitt.

In retaliation loyalists kidnapped Fr Hugh Murphy, an RAF chaplain, from his home at Ahoghill.

The kidnappers said they would return the priest in the same condition as the missing RUC man.

Following appeals from Protestant churchmen, including Ian Paisley, Fr Murphy was released unharmed.

Mr Turbitt’s body was later found in Armagh.

The republican ‘dirty protest’ in the H blocks against the abolition of special category status escalated with Archbishop Tomas O Fiaich making a high-profile visit to the Maze in August and branding conditions there as “inhuman”.

The British government was determined to stand firm. Mason told prime minister Jim Callaghan that any concession would push them down “the slippery slope towards political status” – a view supported by all parties at Westminster.

As the campaign intensified the Provos shot dead Albert Miles, deputy governor of the Maze, at his north Belfast home in November.

1978 was the year that allegations of RUC ill-treatment of suspects at Castlereagh holding centre reached crisis point, fuelling a damning report by Amnesty International in June.

As a result the government was forced to establish the Bennett Inquiry which confirmed maltreatment and forced London to introduce safeguards.

In November a leaked military intelligence report saw no prospect of the Provo campaign ending in the next five years but rejected the view that IRA members were “mindless hooligans drawn from the unemployed and unemployable”.

Unemployment remained a major problem, running at 11.4 per cent against only 6.1 in the Britain.

This year saw the publication of a major fair employment report which showed that Catholics were under-represented in the manufacturing sector and public service.

A secret Stormont report described Belfast as “an ailing city”, blighted by violence, poor housing and marked population decline, especially in loyalist areas.

In August Mr Mason announced that US businessman John de Lorean planned to establish a sports car plant in west Belfast, although there were doubts about its viability.

The death toll from the Troubles was 81 with 755 shootings and 633 bombings.

Dr Eamon Phoenix is a political historian and commentator and author of Northern Nationalism: Nationalist Politics, Partition and the Catholic Minority in Northern Ireland 1890-1940.

He is principal lecturer in History at Stranmillis University College, Queen’s University Belfast.

On This Day/December 30 1939

By Eamon Phoenix
Irish News

Dublin was ringed with steel last night as the military authorities drew tight around the Irish capital an armed cordon in search of the million rounds of rifle, revolver and machine-gun ammunition daringly captured by IRA men from the army’s Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park on Saturday.

It was the most rigorous and widespread search known in the country since the civil war years and it extended beyond Dublin to the counties of Kildare, Wicklow, Carlow and Kilkenny.

Throughout the night agents of the government were searching houses in the city as the cordon kept unceasing watch on the roads. A secret military commission sat in Dublin yesterday to inquire into the raid on the magazine. The nine military guards are under detention pending their report.

Armed men, stated to have numbered 50, gained access to the magazine by presenting one of their number at the entrance gate in the uniform of an Irish military officer. The guard was overpowered and the ammunition carried off in waiting lorries.

Five men have been charged and remanded in connection with the raid – three of them yesterday. It was at dawn yesterday that the military cordon was thrown round the city.

Irish News
30 Dec 2008

CATEGORY: By May 23 1978 more than 320 prisoners in the H Blocks at the Maze were refusing to wear prison clothes or to work in protest at the removal of special category status

The escalation of the ‘dirty protest’ at the Maze Prison in 1978 is detailed in the previously confidential files. In a report dated April 1 1978 from the prison near Lisburn deputy governor Albert Miles highlighted signs of a stepping-up of the protest by prisoners in the H Blocks in order to gain “publicity for this propaganda campaign”.

The file contains lists of prisoners with details of remission lost to date due to the failure to comply with prison regulations.

Heading the list was Kieran Nugent, a Provisional IRA member and the first prisoner to be sentenced after the abolition of special category status in 1976. Nugent had lost 519 days of remission.

In a note to NIO junior minister Don Concannon on April 4 1978 an official, ED Barry, noted that prisoners in two H Blocks had stepped up the protest and were refusing to work, shower or “slop out”.

This was, he believed, a further attempt to put pressure on staff and support “the men on the blankets” in an escalation of the campaign to restore special category status.

The file detailed a series of escape attempts from the Maze in early 1978.

On April 5 Mr Barry proposed to Mr Concannon that in future all special category prisoners attempting to escape and charged accordingly should be transferred to cell blocks pending their trial.

Only if found not guilty should they be returned to the special category compound.

The prisons issue was discussed at a briefing in Stormont Castle on April 25 1978. The minister expressed satisfaction that a recent visit by Conservative MPs had gone well. This helped him in assessing the likely parliamentary reaction.

By May 1978 leading Catholic churchmen were concerned at the deteriorating situation in the prisons.

That month Mr Concannon replied to a letter from Bishop Edward Daly of Derry expressing concern at the protest and proposing a form of “emergency status” as a possible way-out.

The minister replied firmly: “I must make it plain that there are going to be no concessions on the question of special treatment for prisoners, no matter how such treatment may be described”.

Emergency status, he said, seemed to imply an amnesty at some stage. This had been firmly ruled out by secretary of state Roy Mason.

Mr Mason was told in a briefing note, dated May 23, that 321 prisoners were refusing to wear prison clothes or to work in protest at the removal of special category status.

The protesting prisoners were to be punished by loss of remission and privileges.

On August 1 1978 Archbishop of Armagh Tomas O Fiaich visited the Maze and issued a strong statement.

Dr O Fiaich said he was aware of the grave concerns of the Holy See at the situation and wished to provide the Pope with a factual account.

Of conditions in the H Blocks he said: “One would hardly allow an animal to remain in such conditions, let alone a human being.”

The Archbishop compared the situation to the slums of Calcutta.

“The stench and filth of some cells was almost unbearable,” he said.

Dr O Fiaich argued that, contrary to the British government’s contention, these prisoners were “in a different category to the ordinary”.

“Many are youthful and come from families which have never been in trouble with the law though they lived in areas which suffered discrimination in housing and jobs,” he said.

An NIO statement on August 1 1978 expressed surprise at Archbishop O Fiaich’s statement and reaffirmed the government’s determination to “stand firm in its policy on special category status”.

However, the growing international impact of the prison protest is candidly acknowledged in a memo circulated to NIO ministers in May 1978.

“The protest has been the PIRA’s main propaganda cause for the last year. It is also the main reason for renewed American support for the IRA,” it said.

“Widespread publicity is to be generated following the release of the original protestor, Kieran Nugent, on 12 May”.

The British government was concerned that four protesters had applied to the European Commission of Human Rights which would rule shortly.

Any change, an official noted, “would lead to expectation of an amnesty for terrorists; this would boost paramilitary recruitment”.

The situation continued to escalate into the autumn and in a memo dated October 20 1978 an official, E Hannigan, reported to Mr Mason on the dangers in the situation for the British government.

“The determination of the protesting prisoners seems strong. They may believe they are winning the propaganda battle which is being controlled by the PIRA,” he said.

In his view, the secretary of state needed to be aware of the risks.

“Responsible people and bodies who profess little sympathy with the object of the protest hold the government responsible,” he said.

The official added that the government would be held culpable if an epidemic broke out in the prison.

However, he noted that the prisoners’ demands -– the right to wear their own clothes, not to do prison work and to enforce their own discipline -– amounted to POW status.

This would have severe implications for British policy, he said,

“They would thus be prisoners of war and eligible for release at the conclusion of hostilities.

“The courts would be seen as political courts. The RUC would become political police, not the impartial guardians of the law. Terrorism would become respectable.’

**’We are witnessing genocide in Gaza’

By Ewa Jasiewicz in Gaza
Tuesday December 30 2008

Inside the mourning tent in Jabalya refugee camp, a group of men sat in stricken silence as they sought to comfort Anwar Balosha.

Hours earlier, five of his daughters had been killed by an Israeli air strike. Apache helicopter gunships fired missiles at a mosque in Jabalya in the early hours yesterday. The blast destroyed Mr Balosha’s home beside the mosque.

Photo: A heartbroken father cradles the body of his four-year old daughter who was killed along with four of her young sisters in an Israeli air strike on Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza

Of his nine children, four escaped. But the strikes killed Dena (4), Samar (6), Jawaher (8) Akram, (14), and Tahrir (17), who were all crushed as they slept.

“Where is respect for our lives?” asked Mr Balosha. “They are killing us and no one is stopping it.”

In all, five missiles were fired into Jabalya before dawn. Most hit empty buildings, although one attack wounded a young boy, and a middle aged man and woman. At Gaza’s Islamic University, bombed at around midnight on Sunday, the destruction was total. A five-storey building, with administration, engineering and science departments, had been reduced to a pile of smouldering rubble.

Torn textbooks lay amongst slabs of concrete, twisted wires and shattered glass. The university’s destruction happened during the final exams of its students — which they might now be unable to complete.

Elsewhere, two Apache gunships fired missiles at a paint factory on Jaffa Street and a steel works in Abu Shebak Street.

All night, unmanned Israeli drones circled overhead. Generally used for reconnaissance to identify targets for attack, but some of these aircraft can fire missiles. Maysara Mohammed Adwan, a mother of 10 children, and Ibrahim Shafiq Chebat, a 24-year-old man, were killed by a drone two days ago in the town of Beit Hanoun.

Yesterday, a mosque opposite Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City lay in ruins. Local journalists say a doctor and a passer-by were killed.

Palestinian mourners carry five members of the Balosha family, including three children and two teenagers, who were killed in an Israeli missile strikein the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday

The blast broke windows, downed power lines serving Shifa Hospital and blew out the windows and wrecked the interiors of adjoining shops and a kindergarten.

Local hospitals, including Al-Shifa, have been overwhelmed by the flood of casualties. Their wards are filled with people suffering head, facial and spinal injuries, mostly caused by flying shrapnel.

One baby girl suffered shrapnel injuries to her face and leg while another woman was brought in with multiple injuries she sustained in a blast as she sat in her office — a charity based near a police station.

Gaza’s hospitals are short of basic medical supplies and kept alive by electricity generators, many of which lack spare parts that the Israeli blockade has not permitted to enter.

People in Gaza fear the worst is still to come. Drones continue to whine overhead and many expect a ground attack by Israeli troops.

– Ewa Jasiewicz in Gaza – Daily Telegraph, London)

News Letter
29 December 2008

THE Government had IRA informers inside the Maze and had prior warning of republicans going “on the blanket” and the dirty protests. And the republican sources said they had been threatened by the IRA Army Council with “being shot”, if they did not participate in the campaign.

THE Government had IRA informers inside the Maze and had prior warning of republicans going “on the blanket” and the dirty protests.
And the republican sources said they had been threatened by the IRA Army Council with “being shot”, if they did not participate in the campaign.

Secret Northern Ireland Office and Home Office files, released after 30 years, revealthat British intelligence knew of plans to mount the jail campaign – linked to the demand for special category (or prisoner of war) status.

Internal prison documents, covering the 1978 protest, also include files from June 1977 in which it is recorded that prison officers had been passed – from two different sources – information by IRA inmates.

One conversation between an informant and officer was at the Maze on June 15. The other in a mainland British prison.

On June 16, the IRA Maze inmate was brought in for further questioning. He warned the protests would start on June 20, 1977.
Orders were to come from the IRA army council for inmates to strip – discarding their prison uniform.

The report, prior to the protest, said, “the usual pressures will be applied to ensure that the order is carried out”.

The hotpsot for the protest was H5, where the IRA command “reminded them (the IRA prisoners) that they had been asked to stop shaving as a form of protest and counselled not to forget that they came under the control of PIRA staff on H5”.
On June 21, the protest did not begin.

The informer said that “up until now it was the prisoners’ own choice as to whether or not they (went as far as) stripping, but that there was now an army order, stating that those who did not strip would be shot”.

On June 22, the secret Maze files record, a prisoner (a lifer) spoke to a prison officer and said he had intended not to conform with the protest but from that day would be stripping.

The report said: “He was asked if he had discussed the matter with his parents and girlfriend.

“At this he began to cry, and informed the prison officer that they had advised against this course of action but that the pressure was from the army council and he must conform.”

News Letter
30 December 2008

LOYALIST prisoners assisted IRA inmates on the dirty protest, by passing through to them parcels from outside the prison, according to a 1978 NIO paper.

An internal memo dated September 1, 1978, reported on the situation in H6, where the protests were focused.

It said that H6’s spirits were being maintained with a campaign of support in H3, H4 and H5.

In response to the protests, prisoners were denied privileges, however.

This included prison visits and parcels from the outside.

But the memo by an NIO prisons official said: I understand that for a day or two republican prisoners had parcels sent to them, via loyalist prisoners (also housed) in H6.

“The fact that there were loyalist prisoners willing to co-operate in this way is interesting, in view of allegations being only a few weeks ago that all loyalists were so frightened of the republicans (who outnumbered them) that they felt unable to go to the dining halls to eat prison meals.”

NIO officials were meeting loyalist representatives to hear their concerns, during May and June.

The files indicate civil servants’ distrust and dislike for loyalist Hugh Smyth and loyalist women who were protesting at conditions in the prisons.

They also privately accused them of using the threat of violence, in meetings with NIO Minister Don Concannon and others.

And they believed loyalist inmates were being pressurised by their families to step-up protests in the prisons, ahead of meetings between relatives and government.

Inside the Crumlin and the Maze, UVF and Red Hand Commando (as well as UDA) members were seeking segregation from republicans, at meal times and during recreation.

Heavily outnumbered, on most wings or H Blocks, they said they feared attack and feared for their lives.

On May 23, 1978, Ian Paisley led a delegation of loyalist prisoners’ wives to meet Minister Concannon, who had responsibility for the jails.

The NIO records reveal government suspicion of the Paisley group.

A briefing paper on the day before the meeting told Minister Concannon: “The Deputy Governor (at the Maze) feels that over the weekend, during visits, Protestant prisoners were put under great pressure, through their families from the outside…

“I would imagine this heating up of the loyalist protests in favour of segregation, is not unconnected with the Minister’s meeting (with Paisley and co) tomorrow.”

The Paisley delegation claimed mistreatment of Protestant inmates, and lesser treatment than Catholics.

They met Minister Concannon at Stormont Castle and prisoners’ wives or relatives took turns to speak.

The NIO record was not just a minute of the meeting, but analysed the participants.

One woman was said to have “a stand point and demeanour which mirrored those of a certain well-known republican spokeswoman”.

Another, meanwhile, warned “murder will take place when the prison blows up”, if segregation was not brought in.

Yet another was “the best spoken” of the group but her reasoning “no less suspect than that of her termagant friends”.

She asked the Minister that if government could not integrate schools, how could they integrate prisons?

To which the NIO minute, suspiciously added, “strangely the identical arguments were put forward by Hugh Smyth” at another recent meeting.

And it was Hugh Smyth – today still a respected councillor and former Lord Mayor of Belfast – who was the subject of an NIO briefing note to Mr Concannon on May 16.

In it, the Minister’s private secretary advised his boss not to talk to the Shankill man, who was requesting a meeting.

“Our past experience,” said the civil servant, “is that when Mr Smyth has sought meetings with prison governors to cool a situation he has not been helpful.

“He does not contribute to constructive discussion, he has a curt manner, he twists the facts and he takes out of meetings what he wants to.

“Also he is likely to rush off to the media to publicise his account of proceedings.”

The advice was that Mr Smyth had a background of “extreme views” and was “affectionately know on the Shankill as ‘Super Prod’,” and therefore must be kept at arm’s length.

Mr Concannon accepted the advice and “ducked on a meeting”.

News Letter
30 December 2008

PRISON staff at Crumlin Road jail were scared to cut through butter and margarine, in the summer of 1977 – in case the food was wired with explosives.

There was a high alert inside the prison, after 40 sticks of gelignite and detonators were discovered in cells, on July 3 – and a planned breakout and mass murder attempt was foiled.

A Northern Ireland Prisons Situation Report, dated August 1977, and copied to the Secretary of State Roy Mason detailed the situation – along with letters and memos prepared by the prison governors.

It now emerges from the secret files that prison officers were tipped off on the escape plan by a prisoner.

The informer’s name is blacked out in the files.

Governor McMullan reported: “The prisoner has given information before but it has not always proved to be reliable.

“He is a scheming individual, who claims not to be involved with paramilitary types. His information is never stated as clear fact but is garbled and has to be sifted before action can be taken.”

The prisoner had overheard conversations about the breakout plan and the explosives in A and C Wings. Some 29 prisoners were involved.

Searches discovered the explosives, which governors believed were smuggled in by family in friends, inside food parcels – to remand prisoners, still awaiting trial, but in the republican cells.

The authorities immediately put a ban on the following items being brought into the jail by visitors: butter, margarine, tubes of toothpaste and chicken which contained bones.

Mr McMullan told the Secretary of State that he believed this was now “a golden opportunity” to crack down and “change direction” on prison rules, related to parcels – and nothing but clothes should be permitted.

“The adverse publicity will present problems,” he noted.

But this, he added, could be countered by the escape plan being fresh in people’s minds “if we act quickly” and by stocking the Crumlin Road tuck shop with all the items normally brought in by visitors.

He also said prison staff were now concerned for their safety, with canteen staff “concerned about cutting butter for fear of a concealed explosive device and detonating it”.

News Letter
30 December 2008


• Irish Prime Minister Jack Lynch called Britain to declare its intent to withdraw from Northern Ireland. The statement caused unionist and internal UK Government anger.

• The European Court of Human Rights offered its judgement on the European Commission on Human Rights’ 1976 decision that Britain had to answer a case of ill-treatment of internees. The Court decided that the Commission was wrong to use the word ‘’torture’’ of detainees but agreed that “inhuman and degrading treatment” had taken place in some cases in the early 70s.


• The LA Mon House restaurant was fire-bombed – killing 12 people and leaving 23 badly injured. The IRA left an inadequate warning and the hotel was being cleared when the bomb exploded. Many of those killed were burnt to death.

• The Ulster Vanguard was dissolved as a political party.

• Gerry Adams, then vice-president of Sinn Fein, was charged with membership of the IRA (he was later freed when the judge hearing the case ruled that there was insufficient evidence).


• David Cook of the Alliance Party became the first non-unionist Lord Mayor of Belfast.

• Amnesty International claimed, in a report, that people held at Castlereagh detention centre had been ill-treated. Chief Constable Kenneth Newman rejected the claims. Roy Mason promised an inquiry into the allegations.


• Tomás Ó Fiaich, Catholic Primate of Ireland released a statement claiming that the prisoners on the “blanket protest” were living in inhuman conditions.

• The Secretary of State announced that the DeLorean sports car factory would be built in west Belfast and would mean 2,000 new jobs.

• The Daily Mirror announced its support for a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.


• Roy Mason and Airey Neave, Conservative Party spokesperson on Northern Ireland, issued statements rejecting continued calls in Britain for a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.

• Ian Paisley held a religious service in Dublin, at the Mansion House, for the first time.


• Albert Miles, Deputy Governor of Crumlin Road Prison, was shot dead by the IRA outside his north Belfast home. This was one of a series of attacks on prison officers.

News Letter
30 December 2008

SECRETARY of State Roy Mason rejected suggestions from NIO officials that he may have to back down over republicans’ dirty protests, in case a prisoner died.

A decision was taken in September 1978, to strengthen the prisons’ internal health programme and hygiene measures, to improve internal monitoring of prisoners and the general situation in jails – so prisoners could have no comeback on how they were being looked after.

An NIO report said, however, if a prisoner refused medical treatment the consequences would officially be put to him, on an “on your head be it” basis.

An internal NIO memo dated October 20, 1978, copied to the Secretary of State, said: “The Government’s determination is at least equal to that of the prisoners but the Secretary of State needs to take into account the risks.”

But other notes flying between officials and ministers did talk, at times, of government possibly stepping back.

There was a lot of concern, in internal notes, for prisoners’ health – not least because the death of an inmate would be a massive propaganda tool and also bring down the weight of international human rights opinion on the Maze.

In the autumn, one official reported to the Secretary of State: “The issues are difficult and finally balanced. The regime is not one designed for a long struggle.”

“The Government is vulnerable if something were to go suddenly wrong.

“A change in regime (handling of the situation) may not be an immediate option, but the Secretary of State may think it is worth further consideration, including consideration of how a change may be presented.

“There should be no question of negotiating with prisoners or their representatives. Rather the Secretary of State needs to satisfy himself that the regime for which he is ultimately responsible is both just and humane in respect of an indefinitely long protest and is seen to be so.”

But on behalf of the Secretary of State, his Private Secretary Mr Pilling replied: “The Secretary of State’s first reaction is that this is not the time for humanitarian concessions. He points out that you could offer something to cleanse our consciences and because it would be good PR, only for the prisoners to gobble up the concessions and press on for more.”

The prison authorities were engaged in a continuous psychological battle of wills with dirty protest prisoners, government files reveal.

Republican inmates began refusing to wear prison clothes and went “on the blanket” in the summer of 1977.

The campaign slowly escalated, both in the numbers involved, and in the nature of the protest, which included refusal to carry-out chores and moved onto refusal to wash.

In the spring of 1978, the prison and NIO documents reveal an intensification of the dirty protest.

Around this time, inmates began plastering the walls of their cells with excrement.

All the time, prison staff, governors, NIO officials and ministers were attempting to pre-judge how long inmates could hold out and how they should treat them.

Should punishments be eased, as a means of encouraging prisoners to ease the campaign – or would this be seen as a sign of weakness by the authorities?

An NIO document, in April, judged that morale among the protesters remained strong but there “are some misgivings within the PIRA command about their ability to sustain the campaign”.

The NIO said: “Despite the unpleasant and provocative nature of the current campaign, it is essential that we do not, by overreaction or neglect, offer ammunition to the Provisional Sinn Fein propaganda machine”. Another NIO plan was divide and conquer.

A civil servant suggested: “Would it be feasible to separate the blanket men into two groups ie: the tough and the less tough?

“If we even go as far as housing them in different H Blocks, is there not possibility that the softer ones being denied any contact with the hardmen might more readily be persuaded to see the advantages of conformity?”

The NIO had surveys and analysis compiled to see if there were signs that certain prisoners would weaken and to try to second-guess them.

For instance, if a prisoner was married and had a family to go back too, was he more likely to give up the protest?

Did the length of sentence have an impact on whether someone would stick at the campaign?

But the findings were inconclusive.

News Letter
30 December 2008

MONITORING for increased levels of bed bugs and fleas; equipment for detecting human odours; burying microphones underground and employing chemical and biological sensors…

Just a few of the dozens of ideas considered by the prison authorities, in the mid-70s, to counteract prisoners digging tunnels to escape the Maze.

Northern Ireland office files from 1974 and 1978, reveal the battle to beat the paramilitary diggers involved the excavation of every conceivable option.

Following 12 tunnel attempts in 1973-74, a report was commissioned on ways to combat the tunnel rats.

It now emerges that prison authorities privately admitted it was impossible to stop tunnelling, among inmates given special category status.

“While upwards of 80 prisoners per compound have virtually unrestricted movement within each compound and are also permitted unsupervised handicraft activities, escape attempts can be expected,” a report noted.

The emphasis was therefore to be on detection, rather than prevention.

The soft, sandy soil at the Maze was rated good for tunnelling and it generally did not need shoring because the compound tarmac and the old runway surfaces acted as a natural ceiling.

And the report on how to detect tunnels, added to the problems, as it said: “As far as we know, there is no low cost, fool-proof device which can be guaranteed to detect tunnelling.”

The key was to detect “before significant progress is made ie: before a tunnel reaches a compound fence.”

The search for detection devices, however, was proving as difficult as the search for the tunnels.

In 1974, it emerges, an “anti-tunnel barrier” was proposed as the solution.

And work took place, involving trench sheet piling.

Each pile was 13 feet long and a foot in width. The piles would be inter-linked and a compressor driven hammer employed to force them into the ground.

A two feet deep trench- running 375 feet – was dug inside the compound, so that once the piles would be driven in, there would be a 15 feet barrier.

It took 23 days to complete the work, but an attempt to then alarm the barrier failed and the Army was eventually called in to remove the barrier.

The search solutions went on and several dozen ideas were explored.

Many related to acoustic methods of detection.

Microphone systems, similar to those employed in prisoner of war compounds in World War II. Buried microphones, acoustic Grave Detectors, microphone cables.

Then there were seismic sensors, magnet sensors, chemical and biological sensors, vibration sensors, pulse radar, thermal imaging, ultrasonic imaging and x-ray and nuclear methods and infra-red photographic technology.

The list went on and on.

Such was the desperate nature of the situation, the report also explored the human odours and bugs avenue.

It said: “An equipment was made for use in Vietnam (by the US Army) which sensed ammonia and perspiration by drawing air across hydrochloric acid and detecting the presence of particles of ammonium chloride, by optical means.”

The problem was: it was only of any use when a tunnel had already been detected and the idea was to flush out inhabitants.

Then there were the bedbug, lice and fleas. All are supposed to increase their activities in the presence of human odours, which could be expected with work in a confined space underground.

The problem for Maze authorities was that the equipment used for this detection was not advanced and data on its effectiveness and sensitivity was not available.

Amid cost effectiveness concerns of any of the devices, traditional methods of frequent searches, sniffer dogs trained to detect soil displacement, and the use of prodders and probes, was still the best way to counter the tunnellers in 1978.

News Letter
30 December 2008

Records were kept of prisoners who were protesting and how much remission they were losing, because of their involvement in the campaign.

In the government files, every prisoner – from the first man on protest, Keiran Nugent – is listed.

Details of how long prisoners had been on the blanket, their jail sentence, estimated time of release and how much remission they had lost was updated fortnightly.

Among the names, is one Robert (Bobby) Sands. Sentenced to 14 years in September 1977.

His time on protest had added 168 days to his sentence by April 1978.

Also among the names was Kevin Lynch an INLA Man who, like Sands would later take the campaign to the end, and die on hunger strike in 1981.

Brendan (Darky) Hughes an IRA boss, is on the list, as is Mairead Farrell, later killed while planning to kill British soldiers in Girbraltar in 1988, and Terence Clarke who became a driver for Gerry Adams and is also now dead.

Bobby Sands mural photo
Ní neart go cur le chéile


December 2008
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'So venceremos, beidh bua againn eigin lá eigin. Sealadaigh abú.' --Bobby Sands