Belfast Telegraph

Garda tipped off IRA army council about raid, former Provo intelligence chief reveals

By Chris Kilpatrick

Unionists have demanded an inquiry after allegations that rogue police in the Republic colluded with the IRA and helped prevent its entire 'army council' from being arrested.

Former IRA director of intelligence Kieran Conway claimed the group's leadership received a tip-off from high-placed figures within the Garda that the force's Special Branch was planning to swoop on a meeting during a temporary ceasefire.

Senior members of the Provos had set up a meeting with Protestant clergy at a secret location in 1974.

Mr Conway - who is now a criminal lawyer in Dublin - also said prominent members of the Irish establishment, including a leading banker, stockbroker, journalist and mainstream politicians, aided the Provisionals during the Troubles.

He said others helped move IRA weapons and money in top-of-the-range cars and provided safe houses for IRA members in some of Dublin's most affluent areas.

Mr Conway said the Feakle talks in December 1974 helped the IRA repair its image after the Birmingham and Guildford bombings.

And he said the terror group was also able to reorganise following the short period on ceasefire.

Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Tom Elliott called on the Dublin government to provide full disclosure of any dealings with the IRA during the Troubles.

"The information contained in Kieran Conway's book reinforces the suspicions held by many people that the IRA was assisted in its terror campaign by elements in the Dublin establishment including politicians, bankers, stockbrokers and members of the Garda," he said.

"The claims are consistent with long-held suspicions fuelled by the 1970 arms trial, the findings of the Smithwick Inquiry into collusion between elements of the Garda and the IRA, and the relative ease with which the IRA was able to operate in the Republic throughout the Troubles.

"The claims in this book reinforce the need for a full-scale inquiry into the role played by successive Dublin governments and the Irish State into the creation of the Provisional IRA and the extent to which its activities were not only tolerated, but facilitated."

Mr Conway detailed his journey from upper middle-class Dublin to the Republican movement in a new book (right), Southside Provisional: From Freedom Fighter To The Four Courts.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, he claimed that the entire IRA leadership was almost captured during the secret talks in Co Clare in the west of Ireland with Protestant ministers that led to a ceasefire which lasted into mid-January 1975.

"I think that the army council had particular contacts with those in the security area which weren't even shared with me.

"We had contacts in the law offices of the state and contacts in the upper echelons of the guards. Take something like Feakle, the place was raided and they (the leadership) got away. Because a tip-off was received that the Special Branch were on their way to Feakle and that tip-off came from within the Garda," he said.

Asked if this was just a one-off, he said: "It wasn't just in 1974 and it wasn't just concentrated in border areas like Dundalk, it was some individuals, but it was more widespread."

When it was put to him if any members of the Irish parliament helped the IRA during the conflict, Mr Conway said: "I really would not want to say. Wild horses wouldn't drag me to the name of any of those in the establishment who helped us. But there were those who definitely colluded with us," Mr Conway added.

Mr Conway described the Birmingham pub bombings - in which 21 people were killed - as a "total disaster", claiming the IRA unit behind the attack could not find a telephone box in time to issue a warning.

Of the six Irishmen arrested over the explosions, he said it was known they were innocent "from the get-go, from the very start".

He said he met Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness when Mr Conway was an IRA recruit in 1970. Four years later, when he was head of the IRA intelligence department, the IRA killed 140 people.

He left the IRA in 1975, rejoining during the 1981 hunger strike. He left again in 1993 when the Downing Street Declaration was announced.

"The outcome was one of disappointment, as it was not what we fought for.

"The IRA went on ceasefire, it decommissioned and did all the things they said they would never do and disappeared into history.

"It was a complete and utter defeat, absolutely," he said.

Mr Conway added, however, that the current armed republican dissident campaigns were "utterly futile".

Last December the Smithwick Tribunal concluded that gardai colluded in the IRA murders of two senior RUC officers.

Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan were shot dead in an ambush in March 1989 as they crossed the border after a meeting in Dundalk Garda station.

The report was published after almost eight years of painstaking investigations.

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