State papers: Gerry Adams 'set up Loughgall IRA gang for ambush'
- Respected priest passed on rumour to Dublin authorities
- Sinn Fein spokesman insists claims are ‘utter nonsense’
Gerry Adams was rumoured to have set up a notorious IRA gang for ambush by the SAS as they tried to blow up a police station in May 1987, previously secret files have revealed.
Eight members of the Provisionals’ East Tyrone Brigade were shot dead after they loaded a 200lb bomb onto a stolen digger and smashed through the gates of the RUC barracks in Loughgall.
British special forces were lying in wait and killed them all, along with innocent victim Anthony Hughes.
Declassified documents released through the National Archives in Dublin revealed that ballistic tests on weapons found on the dead were used in 40-50 murders, including every republican killing in Fermanagh and Tyrone in 1987.
Three civilian contractors had been murdered in the counties that year, along with members of the RUC and UDR.
The rumour about Mr Adams was passed on to Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs by respected cleric Fr Denis Faul about three months after the Loughgall operation.
The priest, who had taught Padraig McKearney, one of the IRA men, at St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon, said the theory doing the rounds was that “the IRA team were set up by Gerry Adams himself”. Fr Faul said he was “intrigued” by the theory.
In response to the reported remarks, a Sinn Fein spokesman said: “These claims are utter nonsense.”
Fr Faul, who was a chaplain at Long Kesh, said the rumour was that two of the gang — McKearney and Jim Lynagh, a councillor in Monaghan, — “had threatened to execute Adams shortly before the Loughgall event”.
It was being claimed that the pair “disliked Adams’ political policy” and that they were leaning towards Republican Sinn Fein.
Three days after Loughgall, Tanaiste and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Lenihan wrote to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Tom King urging him not to display any triumphalism over the killings.
“We asked you through the Secretariat to be mindful of the need to avoid any sense of triumphalism on the part of your authorities,” Mr Lenihan said.
“It is necessary that sensitivity be shown in regard to the funerals which are now taking place and that the investigation of the events should pay particular attention to the question of whether such a large number of casualties, including the civilian casualty, could have been avoided.”
Mr King wrote back over a week later and revealed: “My advice is that that (IRA) group had at least 40-50 murders to their score over the years.”
Notes from briefings by the UK Government to Irish officials in London revealed the security forces claimed the IRA fired first, that the gun battle lasted two to three minutes, that the SAS fired “no more rounds than were necessary”, and that every IRA weapon had been fired.
Along with Lynagh (31) and McKearney (32), the IRA gang included Gerard O’Callaghan (29), Tony Gormley (25), Eugene Kelly (25), Patrick Kelly (30), Seamus Donnelly (19) and Declan Arthurs (21).
The Loughgall ambush has long been associated with questions of an informer having tipped off the RUC and Army.
In the same file, Bishop of Clogher Joseph Duffy told a diplomat that Lynagh was a “madman” and was believed to have been responsible for 20 murders, including that of former Stormont Speaker Sir Norman Stronge (86) and his son James (48) in January 1981.
They were killed while watching television in the library of their home, Tynan Abbey, near Caledon, on January 21, 1981.
An IRA gang armed with machine guns used grenades to blast through the locked heavy doors to the mansion, before setting it alight.
The RUC and Army arrived at the scene and encountered at least eight IRA men.
A gunfight lasting 20 minutes followed, in which at least 200 shots were fired.
There were no casualties among the security forces, and the Provo gang escaped.
The bodies of the father and son were later discovered in the library of their blazing home. Each had gunshot wounds in the head.
A series of previously classified files have been released in Belfast, London and Dublin.
Since 1976, official records held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland which were 30 years old have been reviewed annually with a view to making them publicly available — a process that is known as the 30-year rule.
In September 2011 the Assembly accepted a legislative consent motion to reduce the time limit for release from 30 years to 20 years, in line with the practice London.
The 20-year rule is being phased in, with two years of records being reviewed and released each year. Records released today in Dublin — which still operates under the old system — are from 1987, and from 1992 in London and Belfast.