IRA members 'infiltrated Britain's armed services'

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The Independent Online

Active IRA members and sympathisers were known to have joined the British armed forces in the late 1950s but were allowed to remain despite the security risks to avoid embarrassing the War Office.

Active IRA members and sympathisers were known to have joined the British armed forces in the late 1950s but were allowed to remain despite the security risks to avoid embarrassing the War Office.

Some republicans later deserted and used the military training and information they gathered for terrorist activities, papers released to the Public Record Office revealed yesterday. Details of the cover-upinclude how one IRA member based as a soldier in England took part in an attack on his own base after abandoning hisregiment.

Monthly briefings prepared by the Director of Military Intelligence for circulation among Army top brass revealed it was known the IRA had members among civilian staff at some bases as well as enlisted men.

A paper from May 1957 read: "There are 14 known IRA members and active sympathisers employed in the military in Northern Ireland. The RUC advises the dismissal of these employees on the logical grounds that their presence in military units will make these units more vulnerable to IRA attacks."

But it continued: "It has been decided that rather than stir up trouble through their dismissal, the risk caused by their presence has to be accepted."

By October of that year, action had been taken against 20 republicans but it was decided others should be left alone.

The briefing read: "It has been noticeable that there has been positive information that many deserters to Eire are members of the IRA. This gives strength to the belief that members of the IRA sometimes join the British Army to gain military training and to be in a position to give information about camps and guards with a view to further attacks." But it added: "In order to save War Office embarrassment it has been decided to continue the employment of seven IRA persons who were employed as civilians in military installations in Northern Ireland."

In February 1958 the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers training camp at Blandford, Dorset, was attacked by the IRA. A report soon afterwards revealed: "An Irish deserter from the REME unit stationed at Blandford is believed to have been responsible for information used by the IRA leading up to the attack, and is also believed to have taken part in it."

Other discoveries included devices IRA members based in the Republic of Ireland used on intelligence-gathering operations in the North. The archives also show the paranoia within security circles about the potential sympathies of Irish people serving in the British forces and government.

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