‘MI5 ordered assassination of former Irish PM’ – Records from Charles Haughey’s office reveal

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RUC riot police on a street corner in the north
RUC riot police on a street corner in the north

FORMER Irish prime minister Charles Haughey was told by loyalist paramilitaries 30 years ago that MI5 had ordered his assassination, declassified state papers show.

Records from his office while he was taoiseach in 1987 reveal that the UVF wrote to him to tell him that British intelligence also launched a smear campaign against him. Haughey was leader of Fianna Fail, which in 1985 was the official opposition party.

He was perceived by London as pursuing a tougher line on nationalist and republican issues. When the letter arrived in Dublin in August 1987, Haughey was back in power but on holiday. He asked for the Irish justice department to let him know whether it had any information.

The message was signed in block capitals ‘Capt W Johnston’, the name used by the UVF in its formal statements. The loyalists claimed their organisation was used by MI5 and MI6, backed up by British army special forces, from 1972 to 1978 and again in 1985.

‘In 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer attached to the NIO and based in Lisburn, Alex Jones was his supposed name,’ the UVF said. The previously secret letter, on UVF headed paper, showed the loyalists told Haughey that the MI5 operative gave details of his cars, photographs of his home, his island, Inishvickillane, and his yacht, Celtic Mist.

The paramilitaries also alleged they had been given details of Haughey’s trips to Kerry airport and photographs of a plane he used. Charlie Haughey’s son Seán has revealed that his family was aware of a threat from the UVF around this time and it was taken seriously. So much so that army naval divers were even deployed to Dingle to inspect his father’s yacht Celtic Mist and ensure a bomb was not placed beneath the famous yacht.

The letter states too that the UVF were asked to accept responsibility if Haughey was killed but they refused saying: ‘We have no love for you but we are not going to carry out work for the Dirty Tricks Department of the British.’

Explaining the ‘dirty tricks’ reference the letter writer alleges that the UVF killed 17 men based on information supplied by British intelligence agencies between 1972 and 1985. MI5 were double crossing us all the time we were working with them. We executed some of our best men believing them to be traitors. Jim Hanna was killed as a result of information given to us by MI5. Hanna was totally innocent and we killed one of our best volunteers.’

The letter says that MI5 also supplied the UVF with detonators ‘which they had set to explode prematurely,’ as happened during the attack on the Miami Showband near Banbridge in 1975. In a long list of dramatic allegations about British intelligence agencies the letter also says that these agencies will supply foot-and-mouth disease or swine fever to anyone who would release it in the Republic of Ireland.

The UVF said British intelligence planned to provide it with a spoonful of ‘Anthras’ ( sic), ‘Foot and Mouth Disease, Fowl Pest, Swine Fever and Jaagsikpi’ to be released in Ireland. They plan by doing so to destroy Éire’s economy and to make the Éire Government increase border security.’

• Accounts of meetings between Taoiseach Haughey and his British counterpart Margaret Thatcher in June and December show relations between the two leaders became strained by the end of 1987.

Haughey was elected Taoiseach in March and met the British Prime Minister in Brussels in June. Thatcher described the situation in Northern Ireland as ‘terrible’. She indicated her intention to forge ahead with implementing the Anglo-Irish Agreement but at the same time she ‘cannot stress enough how disaffected the unionists are.’

She did not expect unionists to be so disaffected when the agreement was signed two years previously and ‘it is not logic but emotion that governs their actions.’ Haughey attempted to reassure Thatcher and told her that she was the first Prime Minister who indicated to unionists that there must be progress. He said, ‘You have stood firm and that is an historic contribution to Anglo-Irish relations. You must not forget.’

But Thatcher believed as a result of the agreement ‘the minority community would not harbour the IRA. But the security situation has got worse. It is all very worrying.’ The Taoiseach agreed and suggested that when things settle down the two leaders should look at ways of making progress and ways to ‘placate the unionists.’

When Thatcher said ‘the Republic has problems economically’, Haughey admitted there was serious problems with the public finances and ‘we are right up against the wall.’ Later when she pressed him to commit more money to cross-border security Haughey joked, ‘If you would lend us £2 billion or so!’

The state papers also reveal Haughey was on the receiving end of Thatcher’s ill temper during a diplomatic squabble about extradition in 1987. The frank exchange of views took place at a European Council summit in Copenhagen in early December 1987. Relations between the two governments had been uneasy in the aftermath of the Enniskillen bombing less than a month earlier.

The IRA attack took place on Remembrance Sunday and it saw 11 people killed and 63 others injured. The bombing ratcheted up the pressure on the Irish government to pass the Extradition Act which would make it easier to extradite IRA suspects from the Republic of Ireland to the United Kingdom.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on 1 December, just days before travelling to Copenhagen, Thatcher expressed concern about changes to extradition procedures between the UK and Ireland which saw the Irish Attorney General playing a more significant role in the process. ”What the Republic is doing in taking these steps is making us the least favoured nation in this matter,’ Thatcher told the House of Commons.

When the leaders came face to face Thatcher wasted no time laying out her grievances with Haughey. ‘I am extremely upset by your moves on extradition. They are a step backwards. We have been working on a system for 20 years or more and here now I find that it is changed without consultation,’ she said.

Thatcher went on to express the frustrations of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, Patrick Mayhew, who was upset that extradition cases kept getting thrown out of Irish courts for ‘frivolous reasons’. She claimed that one case was thrown out because the documents were not stapled together. ‘I am very angry about all this. My feelings go deeper than anger. He tells me there may never be another extradition case again,’ she is recorded as saying.

The British PM also vented her frustration that the Anglo-Irish Agreement had failed to quell violence in Northern Ireland. ‘They are going back to the Black and Tans – or is it 400 years ago?’ she said, adding that all the agreement had brought her was criticism and ‘bad blood with the Unionists’.