04 June 2006

'A supermarket for bombers with no one at the checkout'

Sunday Life

Warnings about IRA stealing explosives ignored, claims new book

By Ciaran McGuigan, Chief Reporter
04 June 2006

THE Dublin government ignored repeated warnings that the IRA was able to steal explosives for its deadly bombing campaigns from right under their noses, according to a former Irish army officer.

The shocking claims are made in a new book - Speaking Truth to Power - by Londonderry-born author Don Mullan which tackles corruption in the Irish Defence Forces.

Ex-Irish army commandant Patrick Walshe was detailed to administer security at the Irish Industrial Explosives Plant at Clonagh, Co Meath in 1974.

The Irish Defence Forces took responsibility for security at the plant on behalf of the Department of Justice.

But Walshe's grim warnings to superiors that the plant was ripe to be targeted by paramilitaries looking for explosives went unheeded he claims.

Walshe told the author: "It was a supermarket for bombers with no one on-duty at the checkout."

It is believed explosives from the plant may not only have provided the firepower for the IRA's early 1970s bombing campaigns, but explosives from the same source, intercepted by the British security forces, had been used in the UVF bomb attacks on Dublin and Monaghan.

In 1972, a leading British civil servant was able to gain access to the plant posing as a friend of one of the plant's directors.

The ease with which he gained access confirmed British fears that the plant was wide open to exploitation by the IRA.

Commandant Walshe told the author that when he was handed responsibility for security at the plant two years later he immediately warned officials of the lapses in security that still existed.

He even photographed the ease with which bombers could gain access to the site and the explosives.

Another senior army officer, Colonel James Cogan, later described the situation as "a scandalous and criminal lack of security".

In one note to his superiors, three months after he first warned about the lack of security, Walshe warned about large quantities of explosive materials stored just yards from the factory flimsy perimeter fence.

In September 1974, he concluded: ". . . there can be no reasonable assurance that the source of bomb-making material in unauthorised hands has not come from the Irish Industrial Explosives Plant at Clonagh".

Walshe was even admonished for reporting the security lapses.

A fellow officer who reported the matter directly to the Irish Minister of Defence was later warned by his superiors that he had placed his military career in jeopardy.

Walshe said: "On February 6, 1975 unexpectedly, the military security duties at Clonagh were transferred to another unit.

"The Chief of Staff and security officials in the Department of Justice had failed to silence us, so the duty was returned to 'safer hands'.

"I had pointed out that there can be no confidence in the State Security System until the officials responsible for the scandal at Clonagh are identified and dealt with."

• Speaking Truth To Power by Don Mullan is published by Currach Press.

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