Belfast Telegraph

Britain worried over security of witness at Dublin arms trial

By Ralph Riegel

Britain was so concerned over the security situation in the Republic it was worried about sending an expert witness to assist in an IRA gun-smuggling trial.

Archives revealed both Dublin and London were alarmed about IRA attempts to escalate the terror campaign by accessing heavy weaponry and more powerful explosives.

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

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

One document specifically mentions the Winter Hill gang made notorious by Irish-American gangster Whitey Bulger. Bulger (85) was on the run for 16 years before he was caught in 2011.

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

As those arrested on board the Marita Ann awaited trial, the arms seizure caused a security headache for Dublin and London.

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.

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

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo read: "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."

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