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Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 01:51 GMT
Papers reveal government 'in dark' over IRA

Intelligence was "inadequate" when troops were deployed

The British government had no real intelligence about the IRA at the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, according to secret papers made public for the first time.

A top secret report by the Joint Intelligence Committee shortly before British troops were deployed in Northern Ireland in August 1969 made clear how little the government of the day knew about the situation.

The report stated: "The volume of secret intelligence is small and our knowledge of the strengths, weapons, organisations and intentions of the IRA and the militant Protestant Paisleyite organisations is consequently inadequate."

The JIC report, released to the Public Record Office under the 30-year rule, complained that the government was entirely reliant on the Northern Ireland authorities for intelligence from the province.

However, earlier that year, the head of the Army, General Sir Geoffrey Baker, had delivered a scathing assessment of the RUC's main intelligence gathering arm, Special Branch.

He said, after an inspection visit that May: "It is badly organised and run, with the result that speculation and guesswork largely replace intelligence."

"As yet, neither the S(pecial)B(ranch) nor the Northern Ireland government have the remotest idea who was behind the recent sabotage incidents."


Commenting on the force as a whole, he said: "There is no doubt that the RUC is behind the times, poorly-led and administered."

Nevertheless, JIC advised against the government establishing its own intelligence network in Northern Ireland as that would only alienate the authorities there and cut off what little information they received.

Instead, it endorsed a plan to send a senior MI5 liaison officer to work with the Northern Ireland authorities on modernising their own intelligence gathering capability.

One MI5 report from the time on the Civil Rights Association claimed that it was being secretly manipulated by the IRA whose members, it said, had accounted for half the 70 people present at the association's inaugural annual meeting the previous year.

The report said: "The hand of the IRA was not to be seen and there were to be no banners or tricolours to identify it, nor were there to be any provocative emblems which might alienate non-nationalist opinion."

However, it was perhaps a measure of the level of intelligence available that the report seemed as preoccupied with links with Trotskyist and anarchist groups involved in anti-Vietnam demonstrations in London as it was with Irish republicans.

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