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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Response from Daily Telegraph US correspondent Toby Harnden to my Cic Saor blog on Harry Breen RUC.

Cic Saor aficionados will be interested to hear that I have received a fairly lengthy response to my blog on the Smithwick Inquiry into the IRA murder of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen – Mr Harnden’s reply can be seen in full below.

Before I tell you why I believe he is mostly very wrong in what he says, I must say Mr Harnden deserves kudos for taking the time to respond to my article and in such detail. Most journalists or writers who feel the wrath of my quill and ink, skulk around on other internet sites throwing oblique barbs in my direction under the cover of pseudonyms and troll names but never revealing who they really are. Toby Harnden clearly states who he is and the reasons for his response. Fair Play to him for that

All references to Harnden’s book “Bandit Country” refer to the “Revised and Updated“ paperback edition of 2000

Response from Toby Harnden (TH) and my replies to those points:

Tue 14/06/2011

Dear Paul,

Thanks for the article, which I found interesting and made some good and fair points. Personally, I am amazed that virtually all of the coverage of this tribunal omits any mention of “Bandit Country”. For almost a decade after the Breen/Buchanan killings, virtually no one said or wrote anything about the incident. The possibility of Garda involvement was raised by Unionist politicians like Willie McCrea in the days immediately following but they didn’t seem to be in possession of any information and the public statements of John Hermon, then chief constable, pretty much quashed the issue. It was my work published in “Bandit Country’ that laid out the case for there having been a tip off by a guard in Dundalk. It is inconceivable there would have be a Smithwick tribunal without “Bandit Country”. The article from Kevin Myers drew heavily from “Bandit Country” and the statement of Kevin Fulton must surely be seen in the light of the fact that Breen/Buchanan had by that time become a politically hot issue. I’ve never met or talked to Fulton but I find it an extremely dubious proposition that (as Cory contended) his statement contained a basis for suspicions of collusion while “Bandit Country” did not.

Paul Larkin’s response:

I agree that Bandit Country was an important catalyst for the inquiry into the Breen/Buchanan killings - I say so in my blog. But what TH doesn’t address is my contention that the Unionist agenda is to try and equate a tenuous allegation of Garda-IRA collusion with the proven facts of systematic British State collusion with loyalist murder gangs. Thus, he is right to say that the Smithwick Tribunal would not have happened if Unionists had not picked up on his book. However, they would also have found some other way to push their untenable collusion argument. In my view, the Smithwick Tribunal is a red herring – a sop to Unionists. Almost all the police officers from both North and South have testified at the inquiry to the effect that they have never found any evidence of Garda collusion in the killings of Breen and Buchanan.

There is another unfortunate repercussion for TH and that is, as with the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, his reputation as a journalist has become mixed up with fantasists like self professed super spy Peter Keely (aka Kevin Fulton) and Martin Ingram (aka Ian Hurst). Mr Ingram has incredibly managed to persuade certain otherwise sane journalists that the IRA was being run by his British army unit (the FRU) and MI5. I will return to Mr Ingram in a separate blog.

Toby Harnden's discomfiture with being linked to these Walter Mitty characters is obvious in his reply, as is his distaste at the fact that his evidence (such as it is) has been lumped in with Ireland’s serial anti Sinn Féin spouter Kevin Myers.

A few other points:

1. I wrote in “Bandit Country” that I had found no evidence of institutional collusion between the Garda and IRA. And clearly individual collusion is much less serious than state or institutional collusion. You surely don’t believe that the notion of an individual guard (or two or three) in Dundalk helping the IRA is “broadly ridiculous”? Given the strength of republicanism in the area, I’d say it would have been surprising if there hadn’t been.

Paul Larkin’s response:

Anyone who knows the antipathy that the Garda Síochána bears towards Irish republicans will understand my point that the proposal that there was Garda-IRA collusion is indeed broadly ridiculous. It is of course possible (on the basis that anything is) that an individual guard helped the IRA in this case. However, there is no evidence that this actually happened. In fact, the most realistic and detailed scenario for the IRA operation was given by Dublin's ‘Phoenix’ magazine six years ago (repeated in this week’s edition – go out and buy it), viz: that the IRA used a series of bugging devices on North South telecom wires and then placed ambush teams at all relevant points. Moreover, it is well known that a Garda officer named under parliamentary privilege by Jeffery Donaldson as an IRA ‘mole’ won substantial damages from the ‘Irish Mail on Sunday’ after that paper repeated Donaldson’s allegation in 2009.

No, the really serious question that needs to be answered by the Garda Síochána is the exact opposite of what the Smithwick Tribunal is investigating - i.e. how much did the southern Irish police collude with the RUC and British Army and by extension loyalist killers.

It is, in my view, a scandal that so much time and money is being spent on the Smithwick Tribunal when we still have not had a proper inquiry into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombs, say, or the Miami Showband massacre. When we consider that some of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen’s RUC colleagues were involved in these attacks it is more than just a little ironic.

2. You’re surely right that Breen was “a key player in England’s war against the Irish”, or Irish republicans at least. He was a senior RUC officer. The case that he aided loyalist paramilitaries is, at best, unproven. Yes, there were SPG members who aided loyalists (detailed in “Bandit Country”, for which Billy McCaughey was interviewed) but I’m unconvinced Breen was part of this. Similarly, there’s lots of innuendo about Nairac but nothing concrete or, in my view, particularly believable. I think you seriously mix up what you want to believe with reality when you cite the fact that Nairac received a tankard from Special Branch. That doesn’t mean anything. Police and soldiers exchanged these types of mementos all the time. Also, don’t you find it highly convenient that so many lurid theories are hung on the likes of Nairac, Breen and Fitzsimmons, people who are dead and therefore cannot respond?

Paul Larkin’s response:

Here Toby Harnden reveals another key flaw in his book and in his Irish based journalism generally. ‘Bandit Country’ makes no mention of RUC officer John Weir’s ground-breaking statement, which describes very clearly the role played by senior officers like Harry Breen and Charles Rogers (RUC Assistant Chief Constable). There is no apparent reason for Toby Harnden not to refer to John Weir’s very lengthy and detailed affidavit. It was written in January 1999, before the revised version of ‘Bandit Country’ was published in 2000.

John Weir was a leading UVF member and SPG officer (and convicted murderer ). To my knowledge, his testimony has never been challenged by the RUC or indeed by any journalist. What Weir says is that the RUC leadership was aware of the SPG’s activities and of its links to the UVF. Specifically, Weir describes in his statement how Harry Breen personally assisted him in collecting guns from another RUC officer who was also a gunsmith.

It never ceases to amaze me that seasoned journalists who might do good work in other areas, refuse to accept the facts of British state collusion with loyalists. It is an undeniable fact that British military policy was to use surrogate pro British forces in the countries which it occupied. Ireland was no different. British army supremo Frank Kitson not only asserted this policy in 1971, he also specifically linked this approach with the origins of the standing army in England – the suppression of the Irish. Colonel Mike Dewar went on record in a film I made in the 1990s as saying that the loyalists were regarded as "Friendly Forces".

I have spoken to John Weir several times to confirm his account. But I have also spoken to other SPG officers like William McCaughey and two others whom I am not at liberty to name. They all give the same account – that their understanding was that they were to work within the UVF to root out (to use Airey Neave’s phrase) the hard core of IRA terrorists and terrorise their Catholic support base.

So once we have established that these mobile SPG units were working with the UVF, we can then look at how the British military fitted in with this arrangement. Toby Harnden accuses me of mixing up what I “want to believe” with reality. Let us look at that reality, then, where Captain Robert Nairac is concerned. It is a matter of fact (not of my wishing it to be so) that Nairac worked with SPG units in the Armagh area. It is also a fact that many of these officers were members or supporters of the UVF. Are we to accept that Nairac was unaware of this? The same goes for the UDR units with whom Nairac worked. John Weir states clearly in his affidavit that Nairac was working with UVF commander Robin Jackson in the Portadown/Lurgan area. In fact, it was a general military policy for the British to use specially trained police officers and their "agents" in the war against the IRA. This is what I say in my book – ‘A Very British Jihad’.

"Inspector Jimmy Blair of RUC Special Branch, confirmed this police/army axis at the trial of Special Branch sergeant Charles McCormick. Blair confirmed at the trial that McCormick and O’Doherty had worked for a special unit of the British Army and that this strategy had been condoned by RUC Special Branch. Martin Dillon makes reference to this and then quotes a Special Branch source in his book Dirty War:"

'I was told by a Special Branch source that McCormick had led ‘an interesting life’ and that he worked for a time with a special Army unit based at Castledillon in County Armagh. Robert Nairac and Tony Ball were members of the same unit […] '

Source - A very British Jihad – page 289
(Citing, The Dirty War, Martin Dillon p 356, 1991, paperback edition)

Castledillon, or Four Field Survey Troop, receives not one mention in Harnden's book, yet it was a key unit for covert forces working in the South Armagh area in the 1970s and Nairac used Castledillon as his base.

I spoke to two RUC Special Branch colleagues of the above mentioned SB man Jimmy Blair whilst researching my book. They insisted on anonymity but were aggrieved at the treatment that Blair had received by his superiors after he had revealed the existence of secret Police/Army/Agent cells in the North of Ireland. Blair was retired from the RUC after the court case and committed suicide in April 1989. These two officers again asserted that their superiors were fully aware of collusion with both loyalist and to a lesser extent republican agents. Of course, the problems come when one of these officers, like Blair, lets the collusion cat out of its bag.

More collusion evidence comes in a private letter from British Army “Psyops” agent Collin Wallace to his immediate superior Tony Staughton. Wallace named more or less all of the key loyalists in the Portadown area and their links to “SB/Int”. These names were repeated to me by the UVF/SPG officers I spoke to and also concur with those given in John Weir's affidavit.

Not only has Colin Wallace's letter been verified as genuine, the British government (in the guise of Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher herself) was forced to apologise to Wallace and confirm that he did indeed play a senior role in intelligence and that there had indeed been a black propaganda unit in which he had served in order to promote Clockwork Orange. With regard to Wallace's letter, it is an important historical source because at that time he bore no ill will to the British army, was speaking in private, and could only base his knowledge of the UVF/security force link on intelligence that he himself had learned or been told of.

Finally, TH raises the issue of why these collusion charges are made against police and military who are now dead. (You can’t libel the dead).

He is clearly not aware of my journalistic record. For example, I went to great efforts to get former RUC chief constable Ronnie Flanagan to answer my questions on the above or related matters (all were ignored of course; until finally and inappropriately, a PSNI press officer contacted me to tell me that Sir Ronnie did not wish to respond to my questions in any way shape or form). I have placed these questions on camera and on air (as with Colonel Mike Dewar) and have directly challenged senior police officers like Hugh Annesely to respond to my allegations about collusion (in the case of Paddy Flood – see below).

3. You mention Judge Cory’s report and his bizarre attack on me and Kevin Myers. Quite why “Bandit Country” – a serious work of history and investigation that runs to 140,000 words - should be bracketed with one newspaper column is one matter. Another is what Cory says. In my view, his report was a disgrace. He never spoke to me or attempted to do so. He took hearsay from Garda and RUC officers about what I had said to them and quoted it as fact. He seemed to suggest that unless a journalist had incontrovertible evidence with which to convict a person then they should not write about a subject. Inevitably, journalists almost always have an incomplete picture (as do police and intelligence agencies). Yes, we sometimes deal in hypothesis. And yes we have confidential sources who, for many reasons, want to remain anonymous. But "Bandit Country" was also packed with facts never before made public. The issue of protecting sources seems not to have crossed Cory’s mind. Yes, you can quote Cory having a go at me but isn’t that just a rather lazy way of discrediting me rather than dealing with the Breen/Buchanan stuff in “Bandit Country” on the basis of the facts? I could quote any number of very favourable reviews of “Bandit Country” by republicans and nationalists but that doesn’t mean everything in it is true any more than Cory’s rather odd opinions mean everything should be discounted.

Paul Larkin’s response :
I agree with TH's point that, on the face of it, the fact that a judge can place his trust in a proven deceiver like Keeley (aka Kevin Fulton), whilst proceeding to rubbish the account of a seasoned journalist does raise questions about that judge's (Judge Cory's) line of reasoning and perspicacity. However I quoted the judge’s criticisms of Harnden's evidence because they bear the ring of truth and not for some lazy way of discrediting him. Read the blog again Mr. Harnden, it's hardly the work of a flippant internet troll. Essentially, what TH says in his response to me (prompted by security force sources) is that we are dealing with South Armagh "Bandit Country" here, so there's almost bound to be a garda that is willing to help the IRA. That is not good enough.
4. You mention the Saddam Hussein thing. What you say is basically accurate and fair and I thank you for that – a lot of people have got it wrong. The only thing I would take issue with is the notion that I am “famous in journalistic circles” for that little storm in a teacup. It was basically fairly straightforward: I was asked to write a preview piece on Saddam’s hanging and did so using the future and conditional tenses. Unfortunately, all the briefings about the execution given beforehand proved to be way off the mark. Then the “Guardian”, with its petty agenda against the “Telegraph” jumped in and I was accused of fabricating a news story etc etc. The facts got buried as everyone piled on. You should know that I later took legal action over a book that dealt with this; I received an apology, the payment of my costs and a correction in future editions.

Paul Larkin’s response:

It is possible that Mr. Harnden is not aware of how far his fame has spread amongst journalists with regard to his erroneous and rather previous account of the Iraqi dictator's gruesome execution.


5. Of course you’re right that the IRA didn’t “need” the help of the Garda to operate successfully in South Armagh/North Louth. But the IRA was a professional outfit and as such sought to have people is every state and commercial institution that could possibly be of help (Customs and Excise, British Telecom, even the RUC). Leaving aside whether or not guards were helping out the IRA in Dundalk, do you think that the IRA would not have liked that help? Of course they would. The Garda had access to all sorts of information, not least from the RUC, that would have been extremely valuable.

Paul Larkin’s response:

I refer to my point above about IRA surveillance etc.


6. I agree with you that there is a hell of a lot of laziness in journalism. This has perhaps been doubly so in Ireland, where for years reporters could make a living simply by repeating what various institutions told them. But whatever you can accuse me of (and I’ve probably been accused of most things) I believe laziness is not one of them.

Paul Larkin’s response

In his reply to me, Toby Harnden promotes his book “Bandit Country” as a serious historical work but I find it remarkable that he is either unaware of the above clear evidence of collusion, or chooses instead to accept the bland reassurances of certain intelligence operatives who wish to place their own spin (and more importantly that of their political masters) into the public domain. This is the problem I raise in my blog regarding his journalistic approach and the reason I quoted Judge Cory’s view of his evidence. The word of a soldier or police officer (special forces or otherwise) cannot be treated as some higher form of truth.

The Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday atrocity carried out by the Parachute Regiment in Derry (around six months after the regiment did the same thing in Ballymurphy) took evidence from Toby Harnden and he is to be congratulated for refusing to name his sources. However, the evidence presented by Harnden included accounts from paratroopers where they said that bullets were ripping up the road in front of them as their platoon came under fire from the IRA. The soldiers concerned subsequently admitted that this was untrue and they had sexed up their account of what happened. My point is, that in all my time of living and working in Derry, I have never heard anyone describe such a scene. It should have been discounted for the nonsense it is.

Remaining in Derry, in ‘Bandit Country’ Mr Harnden refers to Derry IRA volunteer Patrick (Paddy) Flood. Flood was killed as an informer in July 1990. The book shows a picture of Flood’s corpse with a caption below it that says - inter alia “ has since been established that he was not an informer". Who has established this we ask and to whose satisfaction?

We look in Harnden's book for the sifting of evidence, which gives a plausible explanation for the fact that Flood's bombs were doctored; how he escaped capture when his comrades were apprehended, how the security forces had prior knowledge of operations that only he as a bomb maker knew about. What about his very detailed confession? Is it full of holes and inconsistencies? Where is the IRA's account faulty? We will search in vain for such an analysis of this important allegation. What we get instead, on page 292, is the reassurance that an unnamed "Army intelligence officer" told Harnden that he “believed” that RUC Special Branch had tricked the IRA into thinking Flood was an informer. Well, that's that then isn’t it? Game set and match to that bastion of truth RUC Special Branch.


7. We could debate Breen/Buchanan until the cows come home but for me, leaving aside the opinions of guards and RUC officers, a really key thing was the timings. The IRA planned and executed its operations carefully and methodically. They didn’t just run out of their houses, grab a gun and mount an ambush. The documents I saw during my research indicate that the timing of the Breen/Buchanan arrival (no earlier than 2pm) at the Garda station and the roadblock being mounted (about 2.30pm) make it highly improbable that the IRA didn’t know about the meeting BEFORE they arrived at Dundalk. That means that the possibilities could be narrowed down to: a. surveillance of the car en route to Newry or Dundalk b. bugging of RUC or Garda phones c. a tip off from someone inside Newry or Dundalk stations.

Paul Larkin’s response:

No comment


Toby Harnden

Ps - Re Timings

This excerpt from a British Army document (which I believe saw in my research) gives the timing of the IRA men going into the derelict as 201430 March 1989 – that’s 2.30pm on 20th March 1989:

“Eyewitnesses report at 201430 March 1989, a beige van drove up the Edenappa Road and stopped outside a derelict at GR 06531506. Two armed men, dressed in full combats and wearing camouflage cream, got out of the van and went into the derelict. The men were not wearing berets. This is an excellent ambush position; it is 400 m north of BCP 10; in dead ground to OP R21C, where the road hits a sharp rise but is covered from view from other areas by trees.”

Paul Larkin’s response:

No comment


It is not my intention in all of the above to denigrate Toby Harnden, either as a person or a journalist. He works for the English Daily Telegraph, which my grandfather (may God rest him) made a point of reading in order that he would be "always clear of the enemy's thinking"; so I imagine that we are miles apart politically. However, my correspondence with him on these matters has been cordial and up front. His book is also well written and, when dealing with the human story of British soldiers in South Armagh, makes for very interesting reading.

My point, however, is that there is a culture abroad amongst journalists and writers which dictates that they lose their critical faculties when interviewing security force sources. It was precisely this culture which ensured that collusion between the British state and loyalist killers went relatively unreported for so long. Where journalists treat British intelligence sources as sacrosanct, there is always a danger (as we have seen) that the full story is not told; or the deliberately wrong story is put into circulation.

Maybe Toby Harnden should read my book - A Very British Jihad and take a subscription out on Phoenix magazine.

@Paul Larkin
Baile Átha Cliath – Mí an Mheithimh 2011


Ráiteas ó Ghaillimh

A Phablo.

Tá na meain, oifigiúl agus neamhofigiúl dírithe go hiomlán ar
comh mhea a bhaint amach i ngach earnáil den chogadh
agus beidh aon cheangal, (however tenuous) curtha chun tosaigh
chun an "comh mhea" sin a chruthú.

Mar phairt den normalisation agus "wind down" tá siad ag cuardadh
tag line cosúil le "sure, they were all as bad as each other".

Well, they were (are) not.

Creidimse nach deacar do ghrupa garmiúl eolas fiuntach a fháil
ar bhealaigh seachtreach agus ag an am sin, bheadh go leor cluasa
ag eisteacht leo siúd nach cáirde iad.

(ainm scriosta/name deleted)
by: Pol (contact) - 17 Jun '11 - 12:41
Comment from England

Dear Paul,

A good debate.


The Miner
by: Pol (contact) - 17 Jun '11 - 14:31
Comment fron Derry

Just read your blog - fantastic
by: Pol (contact) - 17 Jun '11 - 14:43


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Title: Response from Daily Telegraph US correspondent Toby Harnden to my Cic Saor blog on Harry Breen RUC.
Date posted: 17 Jun '11 - 11:52
Filed under: General
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