Monday 14 October 2019

IRA's Marita Ann arms shipment 'betrayed by mole'

The Marita Ann
The Marita Ann

Ralph Riegel

BRITAIN was so concerned over the security situation in Ireland they were worried about sending an expert witness to assist the Marita Ann gun smuggling trial.

The revelation came as State archives, released from 1984, revealed both Dublin and London were alarmed about IRA attempts to escalate the Northern Ireland terror campaign by accessing heavy weaponry and more powerful explosives.

The Marita Ann trawler was intercepted off the Kerry coast by the Naval Service on September 29, 1984, and seven tonnes of arms were seized.

State papers now reveal that both Dublin and London suspected an Irish-American crime gang in Boston as having played a key role in procuring the IRA arms shipment.

One document specifically mentions the Winter Hill gang made notorious by Irish-American gangster, Whitey Bulger.

Bulger (85), one of the FBI's most wanted criminals, was on the run for 16 years before he was caught in 2011.

The US heavy machine guns recovered on the Marita Ann had special mountings allowing them to be used as anti-aircraft weapons.

Amongst those detained on board - and later jailed for 10 years - was Martin Ferris who went on to become a Kerry TD for Sinn Fein.

However, as Mr Ferris and the others arrested on board the Marita Ann awaited trial before the Special Criminal Court, the arms seizure caused a headache for both Dublin and London.

As the trial approached, the Irish authorities requested assistance from London in proving the marine charts as to where the Marita Ann was when she was boarded.

On November 22, 1984, a secret dispatch from the Irish Embassy in London to the Department of Foreign Affairs outlined British concerns about sending an Admiralty expert to offer evidence in Dublin.

"Clarke of Foreign and Commonwealth Office phoned this afternoon bring to our attention that there are ways of proving the chart other than the testimony of an Admiralty expert." The British civil servant pointed out that such charts can be proved by independent marine surveyors.

"Clarke went on to say that the purpose in asking whether the (two) options had been considered was first to minimize expense and second to reduce the security risk."

However, at the insistence of the Irish authorities, London agreed to provide an expert witness for the Dublin trial.

"A senior draughtsman of the Hydrographic Department of the Ministry of Defence (Navy) will be able to attend the trial as requested," a Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo dated November 27, 1984, confirmed.

"You confirmed that the Garda will be looking after the security arrangements for the visitor's stay in Dublin. He will be met on arrival at Dublin Airport and will be escorted at all times until his departure."

On December 12, 1984, three men - including Martin Ferris - were jailed for 10 years for the attempted gun running operation.

However, Department of Taoiseach files revealed the Irish security authorities were keeping a close eye on media reports about how the Marita Ann was intercepted.

Detailed files were kept on reports from 'The Boston Globe' that the Naval Service were waiting for the Irish trawler to take the arms shipment from a US registered mother ship.

On December 13, 1984, a special file was opened on US reports that the arms shipment was betrayed by a Boston-based gang informer.

However, British newspaper reports claimed that the Marita Ann was intercepted because of intelligence from a garda informer within the ranks of the IRA's Munster organisation.

Irish Independent

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