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UK spies in the Gardai

(Greg Harkin, The People)

At least three Garda officers in the scandal-hit force in Donegal were secret agents for British military intelligence, The Irish People can reveal.

Garda Special Branch detectives have launched a secret probe into finding the to date un-named moles who supplied intelligence on IRA suspects directly to the shadowy British Army outfit, the Force Research Unit.

The officers were paid for their work for the British side - but always claimed they carried out the work to help defeat the Provos at a time when it was claimed that some Garda officers weren't doing all they could to stop the IRA. We understand that a secret team of Branch detectives have now been tasked with finding those moles.

The probe comes after the Morris Tribunal slammed two senior Garda officers for faking arms finds in order to boost their careers in the 1990s. Detective Garda Noel McMahon is to be asked to resign by Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy. He and Superintendent Kevin Lennon had been suspended during the inquiry by Mr Justice Morris into allegations of corruption and now face being booted off the force.

It now also seems likely that Lennon could also find himself out of a job - the Government will decide his future in September.

They may also face perjury charges after the judge said he was satisfied 'that their evidence is so contradictory and unbelievable that it comprises a tissue of lies'. A number of other officers were cleared of any involvement in corruption but were severely criticised on other matters. Last night (Saturday), however, The Irish People learned of the startling new development.

It is understood the first objective will be to officially rule out any foreign dimension in the Lennon/McMahon affair. The bogus arms finds caused confusion in the ranks of the IRA at the time because quarter masters of local units knew the explosives didn't belong to them.

The Provos conducted a number of inquiries and we understand they concluded the 'finds' were the work of an official Garda dirty tricks operation designed specifically to hit IRA morale.

The special Garda unit set up to probe British moles in the force has a number of suspects. They have been going through the personal finances of several officers with a fine tooth comb.

One source told The Irish People: "They know how far a Garda salary can stretch so they are looking at bank statements going back years and comparing it to the lifestyles of officers, asking questions about foreign holidays, cars and homes.

"They are looking at those who might have had that little bit more than a Garda income would normally allow." The source went on: "It is reckoned that at least three Garda officers worked for the security forces in Northern Ireland, specifically the Force Research Unit.

"There is also an acceptance that officers who did help the British may have done so for very good reasons - that is, the defeat of the IRA along the Border.

"Nevertheless, it is a source of deep embarrassment and of course it would be illegal for a Garda to pass information unofficially to a force in a different jurisdiction, whatever the intent.

"Senior officers are furious that they were targeted for penetration by the British security services.

"And they know now that they were penetrated, not just in Donegal but in other counties along the border."

Justice Minister Michael McDowell has been kept informed of the moles probe.

It's known that Garda officers working for the British security services would have received large cash rewards.

The Irish People understands that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the FRU rated Garda officers at the top end of the payments scale.

An officer providing regular information on republicans could expect at least £200 per week as a retainer. He would then get substantial cash bonuses of anything up to 5,000 for top grade information. On average, Garda officers working for the FRU could bring in an extra £25k to £40k on top of their salary.

Responsibility for hiding that cash so as not to arouse suspicions rested with the informers - but the FRU would often help set up foreign bank accounts that couldn't be traced by the Irish authorities.

"Generally they knew the score better than most because they were themselves intelligence operators but they did spend a lot of the cash on things like home improvements, plots of land, cars and holidays," said one source.

Meanwhile, republican sources in Derry claimed the IRA knew a decade ago that there was 'some sort of dirty tricks' campaign inside the Donegal Garda.

A senior republican told The Irish People: "We knew a lot of these finds were just bollocks: that the gear didn't belong to us or to anyone else.

"We concluded fairly quickly that it was some sort of operation to create confusion inside republican ranks."

Mr Justice Morris's damning 500-page report has rocked the force throughout the country and has, once again, focused attention on the need for a new independent Garda Ombudsman, which will be set up once the new Garda Bill is passed by the Oireachtas. At least four senior Gardai are expected to be dismissed or resign as a result of corruption.

Late on Friday the Morris Tribunal claimed its first major casualty when former Chief Superintendent Denis Fitzpatrick revealed he was retiring. FBI-trained Fitzpatrick had been tipped by many Garda insiders to one day become Ireland's top cop.

The Morris Tribunal have sent Supt Lennon a copy of the 500 page report and invited him to respond to its findings.

Last night a senior Garda officer close to the inquiry suggested that this was only the beginning of the clear-out.

"Two very senior officers have gone and many in the know feel a number of others will follow.

"There is a lot more evidence to come and this is only Justice Morris' first report.

"There was no way that heads weren't going to roll - these were some of the most serious allegations ever made against any police force anywhere in the world.

"The thought of top Gardai planting explosives to give them a career boost is stuff that you read in spy novels.

"One day the full truth behind what really happened in Donegal will be made known.

"But by that stage any officer involved will have retired or will have been booted out of the force in disgrace," said the source.

July 22, 2004

This article appeared first in The People on July 19, 2004.