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The Sunday Herald
Sun 26-Nov-2000

Revealed: how we spied on Ireland


By Neil Mackay Home Affairs Editor

BRITISH army intelligence officers have revealed for the first time that they carried out illegal surveillance operations in the Irish Republic despite repeated assurances to the contrary by Westminster to Dublin.

The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, is outraged at the revelations of the covert cross-border operations and intends to raise the matter personally with Tony Blair this week and demand an explanation.

The operations were ordered by Brigadier Gordon Kerr, the Scottish military intelligence officer who controlled the ultra-secret Force Research Unit in Ulster between 1987 and 1991. The surveillance by the army's FRU, and its IRA double agents, included the planting of bugs in the homes of Irish republican activists and sympathisers.

The FRU staged its illegal incursions from British military bases along the border with, over 100 border-crossings under Kerr's command. Faulty intelligence also led to ''ordinary'' Irish citizens being bugged by the FRU.

Military intelligence sources have also revealed that a number of pubs, thought to be frequented by republican sympathisers, were also bugged in Louth, Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim and Donegal.

''If we received information that there were arms in a certain location in the south or that republicans and IRA men were meeting in a specific house, then FRU officers would cross the border under cover to either place listening or tracking devices or carry out surveillance,'' one military intelligence officer said.

The operations also involved ''jarking'' - secreting electronic bugs on - weapons left in IRA arms dumps so the movements of guns could be traced. In other cases weapons were rendered inoperable and arms caches put under surveillance.

Revelations about the illegal incursions will seriously damage future co-operation between British security forces and the Irish special branch and G2, the Irish military intelligence.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach's office said: ''We are horrified by this information. These are serious allegations and we will be asking the British government to investigate them immediately.

''It has long been suspected that this kind of activity was happening. It is intolerable that a foreign country's agents entered Ireland for espionage and surveillance purposes without the authority of this government. Feelings of outrage and betrayal will remain until this is resolved.''

The MoD said it could neither comment on operational matters nor allegations of illegal activity made against its personnel. The Foreign Office also declined to comment. Sein Fein is now leading calls for a wide-ranging public inquiry into all the activities of the FRU.

Investigations into the FRU follow revelations about the bugging of Sein Fein president Gerry Adams' car and allegations that Britain authorised wire-taps to listen in on Irish government communications.

Sir John Stevens, Scotland Yard's commissioner, is heading an inquiry into allegations of loyalist collusion with the FRU. His detectives have found the fingerprints of FRU personnel on documents used by loyalist gunmen to carry out assassinations.

Last week the Sunday Herald revealed how Kerr's FRU officers passed information on Catholics and Republicans to loyalist murder gangs via double agents like Brian Nelson, the Ulster Defence Association's chief intelligence officer. These documents were used by loyalist assassins. Stevens' detectives want to interview Kerr and plan to arrest a number of FRU staff.