The Irish Monsignor and the British Propagandist

Whilst studying previously secret files in Kew National Archives, London, as part of my on-going research into my grandmother’s murder in the McGurk’s Bar Bombing of 4thDecember 1971, I came across a very interesting archive. At first glance it is a brief, quite non-descript information report from one British civil servant in the Dublin embassy to another British civil servant in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Looks can be deceiving though.

The Information Policy Report from the Republic of Ireland dated 23rd September 1971 (FCO 2/703) was prepared by Information Officer, PJC Evans, for DN Brinson, working in the Guidance and Information Policy Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Evans’s report briefly outlines the objectives and methods of the small and seemingly stretched Information Section a few weeks after internment. Nevertheless, it was sent with a “Secret Annex on the IRD activity” which jumped out at me as it highlighted that the post was run by the Information Research Department (IRD). The heartbeat flutters when you track and find secret annexes like this.

Covert British Propagandists

The IRD was a deeply covert propaganda unit that was set up within the FCO primarily to combat the communist threat during the Cold War. It was also brought into Northern Ireland by British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, in the early 70s to be used against the IRA. It features in my book, The McGurk’s Bar Bombing: Collusion, Cover-Up and a Campaign for Truth, due to the covert management of information and dissemination of black propaganda in the aftermath of the atrocity and death of my grandmother.

Here the IRD helped manage British information policy and reorganise the information activity of agencies including Headquarters Northern Ireland, the office of the UK Representative and the RUC Information Office. Whilst researching my book, I accessed a file which proved that the IRD appointed Clifford Hill and Hugh Mooney to the office of Howard Smith, the UK Representative at Stormont who was Whitehall’s man on the ground in Northern Ireland. Hugh Mooney liaised closely with the British Army’s top-secret Information Policy Unit which was run by expert propagandist Colonel Maurice Tugwell and reported directly to the General Officer Commanding (GOC). Mooney’s post of Information Adviser to the GOC was a “cover appointment for the representative of the Information Research Department” (Annex b to A/BR/180/MO4, section1). In Stormont circles, Hill was simply known as “Cliff the Spy”.
Evans notes that his Dublin section was distributing “a variety of IRD written material on aspects of world Communism” to contacts including the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). The DFA, Evans says, though, was “small and overworked” and “scarcely able to digest IRD material” never mind put it to any propaganda use. These were evidently overt channels of dissemination but Evans also relays that information was being “passed in confidence to one or two trusted local journalists” who wrote about Communist affairs. He also records that the:

“second category of IRD activity at this post concerns the ‘indoctrination’ – if that is not too strong a word – of journalist contacts writing on Anglo/Irish affairs”

It is newsworthy and quite current to find record of a state –and a foreign state at that – seeking to exert control over information that is placed in the Irish public domain via so-called trusted media. Indeed, Evans writes that the stated “aim is to induce, as we frequently can, reliable journalist contacts to publish articles in their own names which contains substantial amounts of information provided by the Information Officer”.

Nevertheless, such journalistic contacts are the stock and trade of the Information Officer’s job so I anticipated such IRD activities as these, no matter how shocking it may be to contemplate that indigenous media would be so open to foreign propaganda. Furthermore, these are unnamed channels for the dissemination of material manufactured by the British IRD.

There is a named source within this secret annex, though, and he was a man in a position of great spiritual and civic influence…

Read more in Trope: Essays and Articles by Ciarán MacAirt. All proceeds from the sale of the Kindle e-book go to the charity, Paper Trail, which works with victims and survivors of the conflict in the North of Ireland.

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