ON THIS DATE (10TH FEBRUARY) 36 YEARS AGO : NOLLAIG O GADHRA ‘TALKS TO THE PROVISIONALS’.
This article was first published in ‘The Sunday Press’ newspaper on the 10th February 1985 – 31 years ago, on this date :
The British Government has twice entered into detailed negotiations with representatives of the IRA. Nollaig O Gadhra (pictured) recalls the talks that took place exactly ten years ago between the Northern Ireland (sic) Office and the Provisional Republican Movement.
When the British Government, through its spokespersons from Stormont Castle, met the Provos to negotiate a continuation of the 1974 Christmas Truce – on 19th January 1975 – they made four main points:
*We are prepared for (our) officials to discuss with members of Provisional Sinn Féin how a permanent cessation of violence might be agreed and what would be the practical problems to be solved.
*We are, as we have already said, prepared for (our) officials to engage in a discreet exchange of views with Provisional Sinn Féin on matters arising from their objectives. We would not exclude the raising of any relevant questions.
*Our representatives would remain, as at present, for both sets of talks. We would be content to engage in these consecutively or in parallel, but the urgency of the ceasefire question suggests that this should be taken first.
*The representation would have to be within the terms of the statement in parliament about not negotiating with the IRA though being ready to speak to Provisional Sinn Féin.
Two days of general discussion and some ‘shadow-boxing’ ensued, complicated by the fact that the British side wanted the first two points kept secret but not point three. The formula about speaking to Provisional Sinn Féin but not directly to the (P)IRA was set out in (the British) Parliament on January 14th, 1975, by Mr. Merlyn Rees, the Northern Ireland(sic) Secretary, and became the basis of policy for the months ahead, even when, later on, (P)IRA Commanders from Derry and Belfast joined with Provisional Sinn Féin leaders in direct negotiations with the (British) Stormont Officials about monitoring and maintaining the Truce which finally was agreed to come into operation on 11th February, 1975.
The basis of that Truce was laid in a 12-point document entitled ‘Terms for a Bi-lateral Truce’ which the republican leaders handed over at a meeting on 21st January, 1975. That document called for :
- Freedom of movement for all members of the Republican Movement.
- Cessation of all harassment of the civilian population.
- A cessation of raids on lands , homes and other buildings.
- A cessation of arrests of members of the Republican Movement.
- An end to screening, photographing and identity checks.
- Members of the Republican Movement reserve the right to carry concealed short arms solely for the purpose of self-defence.
- No provocative displays of force by either side.
- No re-introduction of RUC and UDR into designated areas.
- Agreement of effective liaison system between British and republican forces.
- A progressive withdrawal of British troops to barracks to begin with the implementation of the bi-lateral Truce.
- Confirmation that discussions between representatives of the Republican Movement and H.M.G. will continue towards securing a permanent ceasefire.
- In the event of any of these terms being violated, the Republican Movement reserves the right of freedom of action.
The initial ‘off-the-cuff’ British reaction to these demands was as follows –
- Difficult ;
- No trouble in principle ;
- Do ;
- Difficult where political charges were concerned ;
- Timing and extent an issue ;
- ‘A rock’ ;
- OK ;
- Difficult ;
- Would have to involve the Republican Movement and the Northern Ireland (sic) Office ;
- OK ;
- Yes ;
12 . Fact.
There were a few days of indecision, during which the IRA had resumed limited operations in both Britain and the North, leading to a threat from the British side that “..if any further activity takes place in Britain or Belfast, the meetings will probably end..”. The republican response was to note that there had been “…a genuine and sustained cessation of violence for 25 days during the Christmas and New Year Truces and there had been no worthwhile response from the British Government…”
This was a game of bluff, which ended on 22nd January 1975 when the British returned to the bargaining table, handing over a copy of the Rees Statement in the Commons, and emphasising two points in particular which stressed a positive role for Sinn Féin as the political wing of the Republican Movement, if a Truce came into operation on a permanent basis, and steps were needed to ensure it did not break down.
They also stressed that they would have to break off the talks if two acts like those which had happened in Belfast the previous day were repeated. On this and on several other occasions, while the British stressed the need for an over-all ceasefire, the impression was given that IRA attacks on Britain were particularly resented. They had a political effect on Westminster far outweighing much greater horrors in Northern Ireland (sic) though this did not mean, of course, that London was in any way over-looking the suffering which violence had caused there.
Discussions continued from 23rd January 1975, with substantial progress being made on what was seen as the less difficult points in the republican demands. Freedom of movement for all republicans during the period of the Truce was a particular sticking-point, in spite of a precedent set during the course of the negotiations with Mr. Whitelaw and the Tories in 1972.
Towards the end of the month, the Gardiner Report and its implications were discussed. The republican negotiators emphasised, once again, the “terrible consequences” that would follow any attempt to deny political status ; they also re-iterated their original aim in entering the dialogue ie – “If Her Majesty’s Government wished to disengage from Ireland the Republican Movement would help them, but if their aim was to reconstruct British rule in Ireland in some type of more acceptable form, then republicans would contest the ground with them..” (‘1169’ comment – in our opinion, the 1998 Stormont Treaty (‘GFA’) was an agreement between the British, the Free Staters and the Provisional grouping “to reconstruct British rule in Ireland” : Irish republicans will not accept any agreement which seeks to do that.)
By 31st January 1975, the British had suggested that the key to progress lay in keeping “off principle” and getting on with practical arrangements. Towards this end, they handed over two formal documents ; one was a comprehensive system of liaison involving two alternative schemes, the other was a questionnaire regarding the running of proposed ‘Incident Centres’. In the process of reporting back to London, the initial impression was that there was welcome for the constructive discussions that had taken place. But work on the two schemes, the proposals for Incident Centres to monitor a Truce and other matters, continued into February 1975 – on the third of that month, the British added four points to the 12-point document which the republicans had prepared, and which formed the ultimate basis of the bilateral ceasefire. Three of these new points concerned the types of paramilitary activity in which the IRA could not engage during a cessation of hostilities : the fourth new point promised that “the rate of release will be speeded up with a view to releasing all detainees” as soon as violence had come to a complete end.
It emerged, on 7th February 1975, at which the British produced a new version of their (by now) 16-point document, that the early removal of the ‘Emergency Provisions Act’ was foreshadowed : they also made three other central points, on which the fate of the Truce ultimately hung –
- The highest possible consultation had taken place on their (H.M.G.’s) side , involving the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and a named British Civil Servant who acted as ‘link-man’ between Whitehall and the negotiators.
- All points had been considered, and they had gone the furthest possible distance.
- They were now presenting an ‘amended version’ of their previous document, and they had also prepared a document containing possible forms of words for the public announcement on both sides.
The bulk of the republican demands were then conceded, though in phrases that, in some cases, differed from the original Provisional 12-point document. On the question of ‘Free Movement’ for all Provisional IRA people, the legal issue of immunity was recognised, but resolved, by a promise of ‘Incident Centres’, and an assurance that “…the British Army will be pulled back, the RUC will not enter designated areas and the Republican Movement can check, in advance, through the liaison system, regarding the position of specific republican personnel..”
The right of republicans to bear arms, even short arms for their personal protection, was also a major difficulty ; this was resolved by a written British response which stated that “The law provides for permits to be granted for people to carry arms for self-defence. The issue of firearms permits will take account of the risk to individuals. The need to protect individuals who may be at risk of assassination is recognised.”Because the Provisionals did not wish to apply for permits to the RUC it was necessary for the British to give “a personal assurance” from the ‘Northern Ireland (sic) Office’ that “if all that stands between us and the successful conclusion of our present arrangement is 24 permits, we shall find a way around that difficulty.” (‘1169’ Comment – the Provisionals now request permits from the British and the Free Staters to undertake Easter Lily collections : for shame, applying to those that put brave Irish men and women in their graves for ‘permission’ to ‘remember and honour’ those same men and women put there by the same foe. If that is ‘success’, we want no part of it.)
The break-through came on 7th February 1975, and the next day the formula of words to be issued by both Merlyn Rees (pictured) and the Republican Movement on the coming into operation of the new cease fire were agreed. In his statement , Mr. Rees recalled a previous statement about the talks, confirming that they had taken place but being very vague about details, either of what had been agreed or what the talks would involve in the future. The then British Secretary for ‘Northern Ireland’ (sic) , Merlyn Rees, stated that they (the British) would continue “to explain British Government policy” to Sinn Féin, and “to outline and discuss the arrangements that might be made to ensure that any ceasefire did not break down.” He also outlined details of the ‘Incident Centres’ which had been set up “to ensure that any ceasefire did not break down.” The Provisional IRA, on Sunday 9th February 1975, issued its statement as follows – “In the light of discussions which have taken place between representatives of the Republican Movement and British Officials, on effective arrangements to ensure that there is no breakdown of a new truce, the Army Council of Oglaigh na hÉireann has renewed the order suspending offensive military action. Hostilities against Crown Forces will be suspended from 6.00 pm, February 10th 1975.”
For the second time within three years, the British Government had negotiated a cease-fire with the Provisional IRA : this time it was with a Labour Government whose Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, had hinted throughout his long political career of the need to set the wheels in motion towards ultimate British disengagement from Ireland. That, and the fact that an elaborate monitoring-system had been agreed, meant that this second attempt had a better chance of survival.
Negotiations about the more specific issue of British disengagement from Ireland continued for almost a year before the entire exercise collapsed. But that is another story which, hopefully, Merlyn Rees will outline in some detail when his book of memoirs is published. (‘1169’ comment – the British are still here today, politically and militarily, and not only is there no indication from them that they are considering withdrawing from Ireland, but their actual position here has been strengthened by the cooperation of those that once opposed them.)
‘LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS…’
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, June, 1955.
Sinn Féin candidates will be seeking election to local government bodies in several areas at the forthcoming lections. Some of the areas and candidates are listed below –
WESTMEATH COUNTY COUNCIL :
Bernard Kelly, Mount Temple, Moate.
Patrick Mulvihill, Coosan, Athlone.
ATHLONE URBAN COUNCIL :
Patrick Irwin, Iona Park, Athlone.
GALWAY COUNTY COUNCIL :
Martin Kelly, Ballygar.
Patrick Ruane, Carnmore.
TUAM TOWN COMMISSIONERS :
Michael Daly, Tuam.
SLIGO COUNTY COUNCIL :
James Dolan, Martin Savage Terrace, Sligo.
SLIGO CORPORATION :
James Dolan, Martin Savage Terrace, Sligo.
Patrick Mulcahy, Dublin Road, Limerick.
(END of ‘Local Government Elections’ : NEXT – ‘Occupation Forces Augmented’, from the same source.)
‘IN THE NAME OF THE LAW…’
Confidence in the Garda Siochana continues to erode as more incidents of questionable Garda ‘evidence’ emerge.
By Sandra Mara.
From ‘The Magill Annual’, 2002.
Judge John O’Donnell said – “I do want it brought to the notice of the DPP and the Garda Commissioner that such an event happened”. He said there was a “…grave seriousness attached to it..” and he reserved the right to cross-examine the two gardai when a date for a hearing was arranged.
Bernard Conlon, the small-time criminal from Sligo, was subsequently charged on three counts of making a false report to gardai, an offence under the Criminal Law Act 1976. Garda sources indicate that Conlon was encouraged to make false claims by a serving garda member. Conlon is expected to give evidence as a State witness against this garda.
Edward Moss was a reluctant witness against the McBreartys ; from Strabane, in County Tyrone, Moss had crossed the border to visit the McBrearty-owned Frankie’s Niteclub and, having been ejected from the club, tripped on the way out and injured his ankle. He instructed a Strabane solicitor to sue for damages for personal injury and got £10,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
From the moment they became aware of the incident, the gardai pressurised Moss to bring charges for assault against McBrearty, contacting him on numerous occasions at his place of work in Donegal… (MORE LATER.)
ON THIS DATE (10TH FEBRUARY) 35 YEARS AGO : HANGING SENTENCE COMMUTED TO 40 YEARS IN PRISON WITHOUT REMISSION.
Free State Detective Garda Frank Hand (pictured, left).
This article was published in ‘Magill’ magazine, March 1986.
On February 10th 1986 – 35 years ago on this date – the courts turned down the appeals of three men sentenced to hang. The men now face, on commutation of sentence by the (Free State) government, 40 years in prison without remission, for their involvement in the Drumree robbery and killing.
John Collins retired from the Garda Siochana (Free State police) in February 1984. He lived at Ballybane, County Galway. Two months later, on April 27th 1984, he had a night out at the golf club in Salthill and emerged at 1.30am to find his beige Opel Ascona had been stolen from the carpark. He had left a lot of property in the car, including golf clubs, golfing clothes, spectacles and a briefcase. Two days later the briefcase was handed into Coolock Garda Station in Dublin, minus a chequebook, banker’s card and documents relating to the Ascona car.
Three months later, on July 27th 1984, John Small of Newcastle, County Down, parked his dark red Mercedes car in an open carpark at Monaghan Street, Newry : when he returned after three hours it was gone. Tommy Eccles, aged 24 , from Muirhevenamore, Dundalk, County Louth, went to Newry on that day. Eccles was a Provo ; he had been instructed to go to Newry and pick up the red Mercedes. He found the car, as per his instructions, parked near the Cupid Nightclub, with the keys in the ignition. He drove the car down across the border and left it in the care of Paddy Duffy, aged 24 ; he was a landscape gardener and lived in a mobile home in a yard at Dromiskin, a village south of Dundalk. Duffy was a Provo. Around the same time he was also given the Ascona car , and concealed both cars on a farm near Castlebellingham.
Joe Gargan had a yellow Ford Escort car ; he was a Provo sympathiser, aged 34, a lorry driver who lived at Kentstown, County Meath. Noel McCabe, aged 44, from Dundalk, County Louth, was a Provo sympathiser : he was handy with cars and, around July, he began repairs to a car belonging to another Dundalk man – it was a blue Ford Cortina, and when McCabe fixed it he didn’t return it to its owner immediately, but began driving it himself.
A stolen beige Open Ascona, a stolen red Mercedes, Joe Gargan’s yellow Escort, Noel McCabe’s ‘borrowed’ blue Cortina : two cars brought within reach, two local cars ‘on tap’. Noel McCabe was an alcoholic who was beating his problem ; by August 1984 he was eight months off drink. To fill his time and keep his mind off drink he fixed television sets in a shed at the back of his house in Oliver Plunkett Park, Dundalk, County Louth : his odd-jobs extended to various kinds of electrical work and car repairs.
Some time in 1983 a man arrived at Noel McCabe’s house with a TV that needed fixing ; the man was a Northerner , a hardened Provo now living in the South. As legal proceedings may yet ensue against this man we will for the purposes of this narrative call him ‘Paul Finnegan’, though that is not his name. McCabe fixed the TV and Finnegan asked him to fix the TV again in February 1984 ; on this occasion McCabe went to Finnegan’s house to do the job. The two chatted for a long time about politics, about the Provos. Finnegan said his family had been harassed by the RUC and the British Army and he was forced to go ‘on the run’ and come to live in Dundalk. McCabe expressed sympathy with Finnegan’s republican sentiments – the two became friendly and McCabe sometimes dropped into Finnegan’s house for tea. Finnegan sometimes dropped around to McCabe’s with some little repair job on a car or radio. Eventually, Finnegan asked Noel McCabe if he would “do a bit of work for the Republican Movement”.
Noel McCabe agreed to do a bit of work for the Republican Movement ; he began doing the odd bit of fixing walkie-talkies, radios and battery chargers. Before long McCabe became a kind of Provo ‘chauffeur’ : he would be asked to pick someone up and drive him to, say, Inniskeen, and pick the guy up a couple of hours later and drive him back. He got petrol money for this ; sometimes Paul Finnegan himself was the passenger. Another of the people he drove for was a Northerner called ‘Frankie’ ; McCabe used to see Frankie around Dundalk from time to time and he would give him the nod. The man never acknowledged the greeting. The next time McCabe gave Frankie a lift he was warned never to speak to him in the street – McCabe was not to be publicly identified with the Provos, he could then be used safely as a driver or helper.
Around March 1984, Paul Finnegan began leaving guns with Noel McCabe ; first, a .38 automatic for just one night, then a sawn-off shotgun for a month. McCabe hid the guns under a bench in his shed – he was nervous about this and complained. Finnegan was understanding and took the guns away. He asked if McCabe would do one last run for him, he was stuck and he wouldn’t ask again. McCabe agreed and gave Finnegan a lift to either Inniskeen or Swords (he couldn’t remember which) and picked him up later and brought him back to Dundalk.
A couple of months went by in which McCabe wasn’t asked to do anything for the Republican Movement ; then, around June or July, Paul Finnegan arrived with a bag of guns : a sten-gun, two carbines, a sawn-off shotgun, a modern pistol and a rusty old revolver – “Everyone has to play their part. Headquarters know you held guns for us before and they expect you to do so again, and to do your part”, Finnegan told Noel McCabe. So McCabe kept the guns under his bench for a few weeks.
A few weeks later, Paul Finnegan came and took them away. A few days later he was back with a request that Noel McCabe “do a wee run”. Someone else had let him down ; and at the weekend he might want McCabe to do another run up the country “to collect a few lads and take them back to Dundalk.”Noel McCabe drove Finnegan about three-quarters of a mile up the Carrickmacross Road that day, to an old farmhouse. There was an old man there and he told Finnegan – “There was a few of your lads here earlier this week.” A Ford Cortina drove into the yard and a transaction followed involving guns ; one man from the Cortina wound coloured tape around a rifle – “I’ll know my marking,” he told Finnegan.
That gun was passed on to a man driving yet another car, and then Noel McCabe drove Finnegan back to Dundalk ; on the way, Finnegan told McCabe he wanted him to pick up three blokes the following Friday morning, August 10th, and take them to Dundalk – they wouldn’t be armed, they’d be clean. On the Thursday night, Finnegan would show him where to pick them up. That Thursday, Paul Finnegan went about organising a number of people for the robbery of a post van at Drumree Post Office, to take place about 8am the following morning. Drumree is a ‘speck on the map’ about twenty miles from Dublin, about forty-five miles from Dundalk ; the post office is in a lay-by. It is run by Mary Gilsenan and her son Michael – it is not the obvious place for a large haul. That Thursday, Paul Finnegan went to Drogheda at noon and met Seamus Lynch, a Provo from Kentstown, which is about fifteen miles from Drumree : Finnegan instructed Lynch to be at a field at Rathfeigh, near Drumree, shortly after 8am the following morning, to collect guns and money and store them. Finnegan and Lynch drove to the field so that Finnegan could show Lynch where to pick up the stuff.
Others lined up that day for the robbery of a post van at Drumree Post Office were Paddy Duffy of Dromiskin, to provide the stolen cars ; Tommy Eccles of Dundalk, who had brought the Mercedes down from Newry and who was to drive it in the robbery ; Joe Gargan of Kentstown, who was to provide Seamus Lynch with a car and help him hide the money ; Noel McCabe, who had been doing odd jobs for Paul Finnegan, who was to drive three robbers to safety ; and Pat McPhillips and Brian McShane, two Provos from Dundalk, who were to help unload the money from the post office van into the red Mercedes. There were also at least two others lined up for the robbery, plus Paul Finnegan : two armed men would wait at Drumree Post Office for the post van to arrive, the others would be involved in getting the money and guns away from the area after the job.
That night Paul Finnegan and a number of others assembled in Paddy Duffy’s yard at Dromiskin, about six miles south of Dundalk ; Duffy was the Provo who lived in the mobile home and was in charge of providing the cars. He had the Opel Ascona ready, someone else brought the red Mercedes. That was the end of Duffy’s participation in the robbery.
Noel MCabe, the alcoholic who had been doing odd jobs for Paul Finnegan, had driven Finnegan out to Paddy Duffy’s place that night, where the cars and guns were assembled. Finnegan passed money around – he gave McCabe £30 to make sure the blue Ford Cortina had enough petrol ; he showed McCabe the crossroads where he was to pick up ‘the lads’ next morning. McCabe then drove Finnegan back to Dundalk, getting home himself at about a quarter to one in the morning. He was uneasy and had trouble getting to sleep. Meanwhile, Tommy Eccles, Pat McPhillips, Brian McShane and some others moved on from Duffy’s to some sheds near Dunshaughlin, about three miles from Drumree. They travelled in the stolen Mercedes and Ascona ; they slept in the sheds that night.
Earlier that day, (FS) Detective Sergeant Patrick Millea of the Central Detective Unit was rostering gardai for Friday’s duties. He assigned Detective Garda Francis Hand for Post Office escort duty commencing at 7am the next day and, just before 7am that morning, Detective Garda Frank Hand of the Central Detective Unit arrived at his Headquarters at Harcourt Square. The detective with whom he would work that day, Detective Garda Michael Dowd, was already there. Dowd had signed out an attache case which held an Uzi submachine gun ; the two Gardai went out and found the Fiat Mirafiori they would be using that day. Dowd took the Uzi from the case, along with two magazines carrying twenty rounds each ; he put the attach case, containing three more magazines, on the back seat of the Fiat. He put one magazine into the Uzi and left the other on the floor of the car near his feet. He was also armed with a Walther P.P. semi-automatic pistol ; Frank Hand was armed with a Smith and Wesson .38 Special.
Frank Hand was 25. He joined the Garda force in 1977 and became a detective in 1981. He was one of seven children of a Roscommon family and, on joining, in 1977, worked in Dublin – in Donnybrook and Irishtown. In 1981 he became a detective and subsequently worked with the Drug Squad.
Early in 1984 he was assigned to the Central Detective Unit. In July 1984 he married Ban Gharda Breda Hogan ; they had returned from their honeymoon in Venice about a week before Hand set out with Detective Michael Dowd on post office escort duty. They lived in Lucan, County Dublin. Frank Hand was driving. He and Dowd arrived at the GPO at around 7.15am and almost immediately drew in behind a post office van and set off on Route 3, which begins at Dunboyne, in Meath, just beyond the border with Dublin. That route then went to a few post offices in Meath, wound back into Dublin through Blanchardstown, Cabra, Phibsboro, to Berkeley Road, a stone’s throw from O’Connell Street. Route 3 covered nineteen post offices, there were twenty-three mailbags in the van, containing almost a quarter of a million pounds, most of it social welfare money.
Ironically, the route which the post office van took on its way to the beginning of its deliveries – through Phibsboro, Cabra, Blanchardstown etc – was the way it would travel on its official route back ; in other words, the van was going to almost the most distant point on the route before beginning to drop off money! Had it began dropping off mailbags on its way out of the city it would have arrived in Drumree with just a few thousand pounds.
The armed detectives stayed roughly 100 yards behind the post office van ; routinely, they paid attention to any vehicle coming in sight, assessing it for danger. There was nothing suspicious. At Dunboyne Post Office, the first drop, the garda car stopped behind the van ; detective Michael Dowd sat where he was, the Uzi on his lap. Detective Frank Hand got out of the car ; the post office helper, Donal Brady, got out of the van with the mailbag. He and Hand went to the door of the post office together, and Hand kicked the bottom of the door and rattled the letterbox. The bag of money was handed over. Next stop, Batterstown, the same procedure. Detective Hand got out, Dowd stayed in the car. Brady got out of the van and J.J. Bell, the van driver, stayed at the wheel. No problems. Next stop, Drumree. The van now carried £202,900 in cash. It was about 7.50am.
Around that time Tommy Eccles, Pat McPhillips and someone else, a man with an earring, were in the red Mercedes in the shed about three miles from Drumree ; Brian McShane was in the beige Opel Ascona along with some others. They had walkie-talkies. In Kentstown , about fifteen miles from Drumree, Seamus Lynch was up and about. He had to be in the designated field at Rathfeigh to pick up the money and guns ; he needed a car and knew where to get it. He had several times borrowed Joe Gargan’s yellow Ford Escort. Gargan also lived in Kentstown.
Noel McCabe had left his home in Dundalk at 7.10am and was now driving his ‘borrowed’ blue Ford Cortina south-west towards a crossroads somewhere around Dunshaughlin, where he would pick up ‘the lads’, as requested by Paul Finnegan. In a lane beside Drumree Post Office, behind an iron gate, two armed men were waiting. They wore blue boiler-suits and black balaclavas. One carried a Sten submachine gun, the other had a Webley revolver, .455 calibre. Just a few feet away, inside the post office, Michael Gilsenan and Mick Boyle, the local postman, were sorting mail. The post office van pulled into the lay-by at Drumree Post Office ; Donal Brady, the van helper, got out with the money bag – this time he didn’t wait for detective Frank Hand to join him. He went into the post office. It was 8.03am, give or take a minute. The Garda Fiat car coasted to a stop behind the post van. The gunmen in boiler suits, two of them, began running towards the garda car from the lane beside the post office. The one in front had the Sten gun, the one slightly behind had the Webley.
Detective Garda Michael Dowd, glancing to his left , saw the two gunmen coming at him ; he shouted to Frank Hand : someone else shouted – ” GET DOWN, YOU FUCKER!” The man with the Webley was already firing – there were six bullets in the cylinder, .455 calibre, all old, some defective. The man got off three rounds, two of which hit the rear left door of the garda Fiat. One lodged in the door panel, the other passing through the car, missing both gardai and smashing through the driver’s window, beside Frank Hand. The third shot from the Webley hit the ground behind the post office van. The gunman pulled the trigger again, and once more, those two rounds misfired ; at this stage the gunman with the Sten was moving to his left : he had not yet fired. He was now standing to the front and left of the garda car. While this was happening – inside the post office Gilsenan and Boyle and Brady heard the running feet, the shouting, the shots. Boyle and Brady ran out the back of the post office and hid in a shed. Gilsenan ran forward and slammed the front door of the post office. He locked the door and went upstairs to look out the window.
The robbery was in progress ; shots had been fired. JJ Bell, the post office van driver, took off the handbrake and put the van into first gear. Then he hesitated, for fear of being shot whilst driving away. All of this was happening in the few seconds after the garda car came to rest behind the van. Then the man with the Sten gun opened up. The memories of the surviving victims of the raid are, understandably, confused and contradictory on some points : Michael Dowd, for instance, thought at first that the man with the Webley was firing a submachine gun. From statements made shortly after the incident and – more reliably – detailed forensic reports, it is possible to work out what happened. The gunman with the Sten fired eight shots, either in one burst, with the gun moving up and to the left or – more likely – two quick bursts of four bullets. Four bullets hit the windscreen area of the car, in a cluster, ripping the chrome and rubber strip holding the windscreen. One of these bullets ploughed across the dashboard and went out the driver’s door, which was open. Detective Frank Hand was already out of the car, or getting out, his Smith and Wesson .38 revolver in his hand, when the Sten gun began firing.
Two more bullets from the Sten hit the windscreen about a foot from the bottom ; a seventh bullet hit the windowframe of the door which Frank Hand had just opened. This all happened in fractions of a second ; Detective Michael Dowd saw the bullet holes appear in the windscreen, the dashboard being ploughed by a bullet. One of the bullets fragmented and a sliver of metal hit him just above his left eyebrow. He slumped to his right, putting his hands to the wound, the Uzi slipping from his lap ; Detective Frank Hand got off two shots – one hit the post office wall about seven feet from the ground, the other was never found. The eight bullet from the Sten gun hit Frank Hand in the right upper chest, passing through the chest cavity causing a hemorrhage.
Frank Hand spun around and fell face down, facing towards the rear of the garda car ; the hemorrhage led to asphyxia. Someone shouted “For God’s sake stop shooting, there’s a man dead…”Detective Michael Dowd was still struggling upright in the garda car, his forehead bleeding, when the door was pulled open beside him and a handgun put to his head ; he was grabbed by the arm and thrown out beside the car on his hands and knees. His handgun was pulled from its holster – he was told to lie down. He hesitated. A gun was put to the back of his head – “On your belly.” He was told to put his nose and lips on the ground and not to move. He sank to the ground.
There was a man with a submachine gun at the driver’s door of the post van – “Turn off the fucking ignition.” The van driver, JJ Bell, switched off and pulled out the key. He was told to get out and open the back doors. For some reason he found himself reaching into the glove compartment and taking his cigarettes and lighter. The stolen beige Opel Ascona and the red Mercedes, with Tommy Eccles, Pat McPhillips, Brian McShane and two or three others whose identity is not known, called there by walkie-talkie, arrived at the post office, skidding to a stop.
JJ Bell had opened the back doors of the van and was now lying face down on the ground ; he still had the keys of the van in his right hand. One of the gunmen kicked the keys from under his hand , put a gun to the back of his head and said “If you move, son, you are fucking dead.” Bell didn’t move ; in his left hand he still had his smokes and his lighter. The money bags were transferred into the red Mercedes ; the radio was torn out of the garda car. Detective Michael Dowd, gambling that the gunmen would be watching the money, raised his right arm and turned his head so he could see under his armpit and from the number of legs he saw moving back and forth he thought there were at least eight raiders. They were wearing blue boilersuits and black balaclavas with red stitching around the mouths. He could see one raider holding a pistol that looked like his own.
The leader of the gang, giving orders in a Northern accent, several times said “Shoot him! Shoot him!” to the raider standing near Detective Dowd ; Dowd didn’t know how the gunmen would interpret this, whether it was a real order or a method of intimidation. Each second he expected to be shot. Mary Gilsenan, Michael’s mother, was in the family bungalow about 60 yards away ; she had heard the shots, so she rang the post office to find out what was happening. The receiver was lifted immediately and Michael shouted “DIAL 999!” then the phone was slammed down. She dialled 999 three times before being put through to Dublin Castle.
The money and guns were by now dumped in the Opel Ascona and the red Mercedes and both cars sped off. Just before the second car left the leader said “If that fucking bastard moves, fucking shoot him, shoot him !” Then the cars were gone. Detective Michael Dowd didn’t know if any raiders remained behind. James Gorman, who lived about 50 yards on the other side of the post office, had already seen the activity, and heard the shots ; he got 999 and was put through to the gardai, his son David was watching the events unfold and shouting information to his father, who in turn passed it on to the gardai. He saw the cars speed away.
Detective Dowd, lying on the ground beside the garda car, looked across at JJ Bell lying face down – ” Are they all gone?” Things were very quiet. Donal Brady came out from the shed behind the post office ; “Are you alright, JJ?”, he called to Bell. Detective Dowd looked around and under the car at his partner – “Are you alright, Frank?” The ambulance came from Navan ; it arrived after almost half an hour, around 8.35am. Nurse Olivia Reilly felt for Detective Frank Hand’s pulse but could find none.
It was 8.05am : Seamus Lynch, the Provo in Kentstown, had gone to Joe Gargan’s house, went up to his bedroom and Gargan had given him the keys to his yellow Ford Escort. Lynch was now arriving at the field at Rathfeigh ; Noel McCabe was waiting in his ‘borrowed’ blue Ford Cortina, at the crossroads where he was to pick up ‘the lads’. The red Mercedes, driven by Tommy Eccles, came speeding along, on its way from Drumree, past McCabe, who followed it to the field at Rathfeigh. The yellow Escort was already there. There was panic in the field ; the men from the Mercedes were shouting and arguing about the shooting of the garda, running around in circles. The money, guns, boiler suits and walkie-talkies were dumped in the boot of the yellow Escort and Seamus Lynch drove it away to Kentstown. Petrol was thrown on the Mercedes and it was set on fire.
Tommy Eccles, Pat McPhillips and the man with the ear-ring got into Noel McCabe’s blue Ford Cortina and he drove them off towards Dundalk ; the three passengers were white-faced, arguing. McCabe started to ask them what happened when McPhillips said “Shut up,drive!” The car wound its way through the narrow roads with McPhillips barking“Left, right, right, left,” several times, before admitting he was lost. The panic in the car was such that at Julianstown, three or four miles from Drogheda, Noel McCabe ordered the others out of the car, in fear they would run into a garda checkpoint ; McPhillips and the man with the ear-ring got out and made their way on foot. McCabe agreed to drive Tommy Eccles into Drogheda ; he did so. Then he drove on to Dundalk and went to Mass before returning home.
In Drogheda, Tommy Eccles went into a shop and bought a peach – he ate it walking along the street, then he went into St. Peter’s Church, the one with Oliver Plunkett’s head, and thanked God he had got away. Seamus Lynch drove the guns and money to a big shed about a mile from Kentstown. Joe Gargan was waiting there for him. Lynch hid the guns and money inside an empty tank in the shed and then went home. The 9am news on the radio said a garda had been killed at Drumree. Tommy Eccles took a taxi home to Dundalk from Drogheda. The taxi driver, a Mrs Dempsey, told him there had been something on the news about a garda being shot dead at Drumree. Eccles felt sick. Meanwhile, the beige Opel Ascona had disappeared in another direction, taking the ‘heavies’, the ones who had used the guns, to safety.
Sunday 12th August 1984 ; two days after the killing of Detective Frank Hand. Noel McCabe went to Tommy Eccles’s house. Eccles was there with Paul Finnegan – McCabe asked them about the robbery but Finnegan warned him not to talk about it to anyone or he would be shot – “It went wrong, we didn’t mean to shoot anyone”, said Finnegan, “I did’nt intend to involve you in anything like this.” Then he laughed. “It’s only another stiff, anyway.” When Finnegan was gone McCabe and Eccles talked ; “It’s ironic”, said Eccles, according to McCabe, “but it’s a Scotsman who shot him.”
The gardai drew up a questionnaire and began a house-to-house inquiry. On Monday 13th August 1984 both Seamus Lynch and Joe Gargan received routine visits at their homes in Kentstown ; both answered the routine questions, placing themselves well away from Drumree at the time of the killing(which was, in fact , true). A Garda, Michael Miley, interviewed Joe Gargan – he thought that Gargan talked a lot, very freely, but gave short and to-the-point answers to specific questions about his movements. There was space at the bottom of the questionnaire marked – ‘Member’s Personal Opinion?’ and Garda Miley wrote – ‘Very talkative, seemed very friendly, but not genuine.’
The Gardai lifted a lot of people, the routine round-up. Among them were Seamus Lynch, Joe Gargan, Tommy Eccles and Paddy Duffy. They all made statements, some bare admissions of their own roles in the robbery, others lengthier and fuller. There would later be allegations of garda beatings, but there was little evidence to sustain them. What seemed to have happened is that, faced with the unexpected enormity of the situation in which they found themselves, the suspects crumbled. The money and guns were recovered from the shed at Kentstown. Most of the IRA team had been lifted ; admissions were made. The money and guns had been recovered. Noel McCabe, never publicly linked with the Provos, wasn’t lifted. He was still shocked and full of remorse about the killing of Frank Hand, worried about what would happen to him. Some time in the week after the killing he went to confession in Dundalk, to a Fr. McAuley ; he told about his part in the robbery and said he wanted to tell someone else.
The priest told him he should. On Friday 24th August 1984, two weeks after the robbery, his name still unknown to the gardai, McCabe began ringing Brendan McGahon, the Fine Gael TD from Dundalk. McGahon had known Noel McCabe for years and knew of his trouble with the drink. That night McCabe went to McGahon’s house and told him of his involvement in the crime ; they talked for three hours. McGahon said he would contact someone in authority. That night he got in touch with the gardai in Dundalk. McCabe was to return to McGahon two days later, but he was attending an ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ meeting that Sunday night ; he went to McGahon’s home on Monday but the man wasn’t there. On Tuesday night he again approached his house, this time just as McGahon’s car drove away. The gardai, meanwhile, had been in touch with McGahon at Leinster House. At 6.45am on Wednesday 29th August 1984 McCabe was arrested ; Brian McShane and Pat McPhillips were arrested twenty minutes earlier.
Within ten minutes of being taken to Navan Garda Station, Noel McCabe began making a lengthy statement. It told everything he knew about the robbery ; it was not the kind of confession sweated out of a suspect over a long period. It was detailed and convincing, and it corroborated and gave credence to statements made earlier by others of the group. McCabe was in over his head and now he just wanted to tell all. He hadn’t intended to get involved in the killing of a garda.
Noel McCabe spent six weeks in solitary confinement in Portlaoise Prison, as a protective measure. In the course of the subsequent trial, in February and March 1985, he pleaded guilty to robbery and received a 10-year sentence, suspended – there was uproar in the public gallery of the Special Criminal Court and a man named Eoin McKenna, from Darndale, Dublin, shouted at McCabe “McCabe, you’re a supergrass, the first Free State supergrass.” McKenna was ordered to apologise to the court ; he refused and was immediately sentenced to 12 months for contempt of court. The accusation of ‘supergrass’ was silly ; Noel McCabe made his statement on August 29th ; Seamus Lynch and Joe Gargan made statements on August 15th ; Paddy Duffy made a statement on August 22nd and Tommy Eccles on August 23rd. The only person named in McCabe’s statement who was subsequently convicted and who had not himself made a statement by that time was Pat McPhillips.
It suited the gardai and the courts to portray the affair as a well-planned and professionally executed robbery ; the Provos have their own macho reasons for believing in their own professionalism. The evidence is that the Drumree raid was poorly organised, dependent on amateurs, panicky in its execution and counter-productive in its political effects. And they got no money. The net effect was the death of a 25 year-old garda. Tommy Eccles, Brian McShane and Pat McPhillips pleaded not guilty to capital murder and claimed their statements were untrue and involuntary. The statements were declared admissible and the three were found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death. Their appeal was dismissed on February 10th 1986 – 35 years ago on this date – and, on February 21st, their sentences were commuted to forty years without remission.
Paddy Duffy claimed in court that he thought the cars he was providing were to be used by the IRA in the North ; he was found guilty of non-capital murder and sentenced to penal servitude for life. Of the four found guilty of murder, only Paddy Duffy had a previous conviction – for possession of a revolver. Seamus Lynch was found guilty of robbery and was sentenced to four years ; Joe Gargan was found guilty of robbery and was given 10 years, suspended. None of those mentioned was present at Drumree when Detective Garda Frank Hand was killed.
Paul Finnegan was picked up a couple of times by the gardai but made no statement ; at least one, if not two or three more men, were involved in the robbery and have never been charged. ‘Paul Finnegan’ is no longer wanted for the Drumree robbery and murder. The gardai have no evidence against him. It is thought that he may be living abroad.
‘LICENSED TO KILL…’
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, March, 1955.
The second incident at Augher, County Tyrone, resulted in seriously wounding a young man of 23 years, Austin Stinson of Derrygonnelly, County Fermanagh. He was driving some friends in his brother’s car when the shooting took place.
Indeed, reports say he was actually reversing the car, so no plea can be made that he was speeding through any roadblock or barrier. Again, the sheer cold-bloodedness of the shooting is startling. For police or auxiliary police, as these people are supposed to be, to go about armed with rifles, revolvers and machine guns is outrage enough, but to open fire on unarmed civilians without rhyme or reason is outrage upon outrage, which even the worst excesses attributed to the dictatorships could not excel.
The fact that Austin Stinson himself was a member of the ‘B Specials’ and his father also a member for many years only sharpens the outrage.
Apparently there was a full-scale emergency mobilisation of the ‘B’ men that night and those who carried out the ambush would have been satisfied that every ‘B’ man in the area would have been ‘on duty’ ; Austin Stinson must have failed to receive his notice or it may have been awaiting him at home. Anyhow, the ambushers felt sure that whoever was driving the car had to be ‘one of the other side’ and hence could be shot, with impunity.
This we are convinced is the explanation of the Augher shooting, in which the same cold-blooded callousness was displayed, as had been shown at Keady on the previous night. It was a complete accident that the victim himself happened to be a ‘B Special…’ (MORE LATER.)
Thanks for reading, Sharon.