IRA godfather 'sold out' Provo bombers to RUC
Former detective claims republican movement was full of informers
Published 11/10/2009 | 05:00
A FORMER RUC detective has claimed that a senior figure in the Provisional IRA passed information on bombs and targets to police forces north and south of the Border during the height of the Troubles.
George Clarke claims the IRA "godfather" based in the Republic sold intelligence about the Old Bailey bombings hours before the car bombs killed one man and injured more than 200 in March 1973. He claims the informer was having a "cash crisis" and demanded £15,000 for the information.
In a book to be published this week, Border Crossing, Mr Clarke describes how the IRA mole also named the bombers as Marian and Dolours Price and Gerry Kelly and outlined their escape plan. He says the information enabled police to arrest the gang as they were boarding flights for Belfast at Heathrow Airport.
The claim that the Price sisters, Gerry Kelly, now a Sinn Fein politician, and others in the republican bomb squad were shopped by a senior Provisional is one of several revelations in the book about IRA informants and their work with the RUC and gardai.
Although several retired and former RUC crime detectives have written accounts of their work, Mr Clarke says he is the first former special branch officer to do so. He joined the RUC in 1955 aged 18 and moved to special branch at Newry in 1970, not long after the Troubles broke out.
Infiltrating the IRA was crucial to his policing work on the Border and Mr Clarke suggests that during the Seventies the IRA was full of them. The lives saved by their intelligence is not quantifiable, he says. In just one example, a tip-off from an IRA man averted a 100lb bomb outside Newry police station.
"We were suddenly confronted with terror on a scale that we never heard before in western Europe. We were expected to go from ordinary policeman patrolling the beat to anti-terrorist, intelligence gatherer," said Mr Clarke last week. "In the early Seventies, with the death and destruction occurring on a daily basis, we didn't much worry how the intelligence was obtained or where it came from as long we got it in the door."
Mr Clarke has refused to identify any of his IRA sources, however, and has changed their names in the book. His star informant was the man he names as Seamus McMahon whom he describes as an IRA "godfather" who sold peat cut from his bog in Meath and was "an amateur car repairer".
He claims that his IRA mole introduced him to a Special Branch Garda sergeant in 1973, opening up a covert channel of communication between RUC and gardai at a time when co-operation between the two police forces was prohibited on both sides. Mr Clarke writes that he could scarcely believe that a "senior IRA figure" had introduced his northern handler to his southern one -- "It was like something from a novel." The introduction proved fruitful, he writes, with he and the Garda flouting what he called political agendas to share intelligence on loyalists and IRA members for many years.
Other startling stories in the book include a claim that in July 1971, he was asked by British Intelligence to recruit one of his IRA moles from Armagh to deliver a bomb in a duffle bag to Sinn Fein's then head quarters on Kevin Street, Dublin. Mr Clarke agonised over the request: "This wasn't only agent provocateur, it was conspiracy to murder," he writes. The young IRA man agreed to do the job for £500 but British intelligence called off the plan at the last minute.
Mr Clarke also befriended Robert Nairac, the undercover British soldier based outside Newry. He was abducted and shot in May 1977 by the IRA after passing himself off as a republican in a pub in South Armagh. His body was never recovered. Mr Clarke claimed that Capt Nairac had badgered him for information and pestered him to take him on reckies into the Republic and South Armagh. He also once babysat his children. "I had heard him practise his Irish accent and felt that he was being rather naive in carrying out overt missions in the most violent and dangerous parts of Northern Ireland, on his own," he writes.
Mr Clarke recalls showing off a brand-new listening device he bought in London to his Garda friend some time in the mid-Seventies.
He claims his friend borrowed the device, showed it to his boss, who gave it Charles Haughey, the former Taoiseach, who later became mired in a bugging scandal of his own. Mr Clarke says he never got his device back.
Mr Clarke's book is published at a time when the PSNI is been dogged with allegations of loyalist collusion and corruption from the RUC era. Mr Clarke claims he "had no truck with" collusion: "Ninety nine point nine per cent of guys I was working with were only trying to make life normal," he says. The point of it all, he says, was to save lives.