Tuesday 20 August 2019

Mountbatten murder suspects on leaked list

Jim Cusack

TWO of the key figures involved in the 1979 murder of Lord Mountbatten and three others are included in the Northern Ireland Office's 1973 list of IRA suspects living in safe houses along the Border.

Thomas McMahon, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the murders of Mountbatten, 79-year-old Lady Brabourne, Nicholas Knatchbull and Paul Maxwell, both 14, appears on the suspect list along with another leading IRA figure of the time, John Joe McGirl.

McGirl provided safe houses for the preparation of the attack in Mullaghmore in August 1979, an event designed to coincide with the killing of 18 soldiers at Warrenpoint, Co Down.

McGirl, a publican and auctioneer from Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, was a founding member of the Provisional IRA and set up its network of safe houses in the Leitrim-Cavan-South Donegal area. He played an active role in the IRA's "Border campaign" of 1958-1962 but played only an organisational role in the Provisional IRA's campaign. He died of natural causes in 1988.

McGirl's nephew, Francis McGirl, was arrested for the Mountbatten attack but released for lack of evidence. He died in an accident 10 years ago.

McMahon, who was originally from the south Armagh area, was one of the most active IRA figures in the Border area during the Seventies but evaded arrest on several occasions. He was one of the prisoners released after the first IRA ceasefire in 1995.

The list of suspected IRA figures released in British government documents of 1973 corresponds to some extent with a list that is understood to have been drawn up by the gardai in preparation for mass arrests as the Irish Government at the time believed the IRA was about to try to overthrow the State. There had been attacks on gardai in Border areas and in December 1972 the Government introduced an amendment to the Official Secrets Act which allowed the Special Criminal Court to imprison people for IRA membership on the word of a senior Garda officer.

That list was drawn up by Garda operation officers along the Border in preparation for mass arrests and, in all, more than 200 names were included in the area from Co Louth to Donegal. There were 50 in all in the Monaghan area.

The total list was leaked to a British Intelligence agent by a Garda collator, Patrick Crinion, working in the C3 Crime and Intelligence Section at Garda Headquarters. Both Crinion and the British agent John Wyman were arrested after a Garda surveillance operation and later sentenced to six months' imprisonment.

The figures that appear on the British map released in the government papers contain only a small number of the names which were in the original Garda intelligence files.

The names on the map include those of such leading IRA figures as Daithi O Conaill (David O'Connell, as he was known then), Sean Keenan, JB O'Hagan, Kevin Mallon, and John Joe O'Neill.

According to gardai some of the names on the list were of relatively minor importance and several have drifted away from the IRA.

One of the men named on the list is Anthony McKiernan who was originally from the Markets area of Belfast and at the time the list was drawn up was already on the run and living in the Border area of Co Louth. McKiernan was subsequently accused of being an informant and was shot dead by the IRA in 1988, his body dumped in west Belfast.

Other leading figures on the list are JB O'Hagan, described in the Dail at the time of his death two years ago by Sinn Fein Deputy Caoimhghin O Caolain as a "good friend of mine". O'Hagan and Kevin Mallon, who is also mentioned on the list, were arrested in Co Cavan in 1972 but broke out of Mountjoy Prison in a dramatic helicopter escape in 1973.

O'Hagan and Mallon were both from Co Tyrone and on the run in the Republic at the time the list was drawn up. Photographs of Mallon, unmasked and carrying a rifle, appeared in a number of publications. He is still living in Howth.

The NIO's intelligence shows that Daithi O Conaill was in hiding in the Bundoran area at the time. O Conaill was not only the IRA's main strategist at the time but also its most important arms dealer. He spent a considerable amount of time on the Continent buying arms including a 4.5-tonne shipment of small arms from Czechoslovakia in 1971 which was seized at Schiphol Airport.

O Conaill was also responsible for drawing up the Provisionals' 'Eire Nua' policy of a regional government structure for a united Ireland based on the four provinces. He was subsequently sidelined by the Northern-based leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and eventually left in 1986, along with Ruairi O Bradaigh and others, to form Republican Sinn Fein. He died five years ago.

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