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Spooky Tales From Rossport and MI5

category national | environment | opinion/analysis author Monday July 13, 2009 22:52author by Ed - Irish Socialist Network Report this post to the editors

Recent events in Rossport fit into a long pattern of surveillance and harassment of campaigning groups by the "secret state" - as the record of Britain's MI5 shows.

For those who don’t allow the O’Reilly press to frame their understanding of the world, events in Mayo over the past couple of months have raised some disturbing questions about the Irish state and its agencies. One opponent of the Shell pipeline has been savagely assaulted by masked men, while another has had his boat sunk at gun-point. If the state was concerned to uphold the “rule of law”, as it claims to be, it would be reacting to such violence against people and property with great urgency.

In fact, the victims of the recent attacks have been greeted with a wall of indifference. The Irish police and army deployed in the area have continued to act as if the main threat to legality comes from anti-Shell protesters whose restraint in the face of violent provocation has been nothing less than remarkable. Laws have been bent and broken by those charged with enforcing them in order to facilitate Shell, while the Gardaí have worked hand-in-hand with a private security firm whose own staff should be facing close scrutiny by the lads in blue. The evidence which has already come to light of misdeeds in Rossport may be just the tip of the iceberg.

To put the Mayo controversy in context, it’s useful to have a look at the record of MI5, responsible for domestic intelligence operations in the UK. There has been far more investigation of MI5 than of Irish agencies like Garda Special Branch, army intelligence or the Ranger unit, so there’s a lot more evidence in the public domain. Former heads of MI5 have also gone on the record about the force’s role in countering “domestic subversion” - their catch-all term for political dissent which threatens the status quo. By looking at the recent history of MI5, we can probably learn a lot about the thinking of Irish police, military and intelligence agencies when they are assigned to deal with political campaigning groups, not least because those agencies have worked closely with the British state for many years in “counter-terrorist” operations. And since MI5 remains active on Irish soil, having recently constructed a massive base in County Down, its actions should be of great interest to us all.


There has been a steady trickle of revelations about domestic targets of MI5 in the past couple of decades. Files were opened on at least 3 senior Blairite politicians - Peter Mandleson, Jack Straw and Harriet Harman - during their early careers in the Labour Party. Whistle-blowing former agent David Shayler reported that the agency even maintained files on “subversion in contemporary music”, keeping a baleful eye on such threats to national security as UB40, Crass and the Sex Pistols. In his book The Enemy Within, journalist Seumas Milne documented an extraordinary dirty-tricks campaign directed by MI5 against the miners’ union during the 1984-85 strike, which included running agents at a high level in the union leadership.

MI5 has clearly been stung by the criticism it has received in the light of such exposures. Its website includes a section on “Myths and Misunderstandings” (1), which contains the following passage:

“It has often been alleged that, in the past, we systematically investigated trade unions and various pressure groups, such as the National Union of Mineworkers and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. We have never investigated people simply because they were members or office-holders of trade unions or campaigning organisations. But subversive groups have in the past sought to infiltrate and manipulate such organisations as a way of exerting political influence. To meet our responsibility for protecting national security, we therefore investigated individual members of bona fide organisations when there were grounds to believe that their actions were ‘intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means’. We investigated the activities of the subversive groups, but not the organisations they sought to penetrate.”

This requires a bit of translation, as MI5 has given itself a lot of wriggle room in this carefully hedged rebuttal. Note, for starters, the admission that members of the miners’ union or CND were indeed kept under surveillance. This is justified on the basis that “subversive groups” were trying to “infiltrate and manipulate” trade unions and campaigning organisations. The definition of “subversive” is conveniently elastic: the miscreants don’t have to be engaged in violence, “political or industrial” activity which MI5 deemed to pose a threat to parliamentary democracy would have been enough to qualify. We can assume, then, that members of legal political organisations which had not taken up arms against the state, such as the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, would have been considered legitimate targets for surveillance. No attempt is made to define “infiltration”: if a union member was elected as a shop steward because of her hard work and organisational skills, and happened also to be a member of a socialist group, this would presumably qualify as an act of infiltration requiring MI5’s attention.

Most slippery of all is the claim that MI5 never kept tabs on “bona fide organisations”, just the “subversives” within their ranks. It should be immediately obvious that this is a spurious distinction: if you spend months or years tapping the phones, opening the mail, and otherwise monitoring the behaviour of an alleged subversive who holds a prominent position in a union or a campaign, you will inevitably acquire shelf-loads of material about the broader organisation. The plain truth is that MI5, as a central part of Britain’s Cold War military establishment, would have been implacably opposed to the open political goals of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which challenged the NATO alliance at one of its key links. It is very hard to believe that the agency would not have taken advantage of opportunities to undermine the work of CND or other dissenting groups.

MI5’s avowed concern to defend “parliamentary democracy” against subversion should not be taken at face value, either. Stella Rimington, the first female boss of MI5, recently defended the operation against the miners’ union which she had personally directed: “If the strike is led by people who say they are trying to bring down the government, our role [is] to assess [them].”(2) It’s certainly true that Arthur Scargill wanted to see the end of Margaret Thatcher’s government, and made no bones about it: the immediate goal of the strike, however, was to defend miners’ jobs and the communities that depended on those jobs. Such concerns probably did not appear very important to the MI5 top brass, whose place in the social elite was secure.

The implication of Rimington’s statement is that MI5 would react with equal concern to any attempt to bring down the government of the day, whether that government was Labour or Tory, radical or conservative. The evidence suggests otherwise.


When Harold Wilson served as Labour prime minister in the 1970s, Britain entered a period of social unrest marked by an unprecedented wave of strikes. According to the former MI5 agent Peter Wright, a paranoid clique of MI5 staff convinced themselves that Wilson and the German chancellor Willy Brandt were Soviet agents trying to destroy NATO from within. They embarked on a campaign of destabilisation recalled by Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian:

“MI5 men burgled the homes of the prime minister’s aides, bugged their phones and spread black, anti-Wilson propaganda throughout the media. They tried to pin all kinds of nonsense on him: that his devoted political secretary, Marcia Williams, posed a threat to national security; that he was a closet IRA sympathiser ... the great and the good feared that the country was out of control, and that Wilson lacked either the will or the desire to stand firm. Retired intelligence officers gathered with military brass and plotted a coup d’etat. They would seize Heathrow airport, the BBC and Buckingham Palace. Lord Mountbatten would be the strongman, acting as interim prime minister. The Queen would read a statement urging the public to support the armed forces, because the government was no longer able to keep order.”(3)

It may sound like the plot of a thriller, but Harold Wilson himself was in no doubt about the potential threat to his government. Journalist Barrie Penrose later recounted his conversations with Wilson after he had resigned as prime minister:

“Wilson spoke darkly of two military coups which he said had been planned to overthrow his government in the late 1960s and in the mid 1970s. Both were said to involve high-ranking elements in the British army, eager to see the back of Labour governments. Both involved a member of the Royal Family - Prince Louis Mountbatten.”(4)

Such fears need to be placed in the context of Britain in the 1970s, when it was a far more troubled society than it is today. The British army was fighting an all-out war in the North of Ireland, while the growing power of the trade union movement was considered intolerable by business leaders and their political allies. Proposals by the Labour industry minister Tony Benn to introduce elements of planning and industrial democracy into economic life were denounced as a plot to establish a Soviet Britain. Against that background, it is very likely that sections of the British establishment considered the option of subverting Wilson’s government if it went “too far”. And MI5 officers, far from intervening to defend parliamentary democracy against subversion, were right there in the thick of it.

One remarkable thing about this episode is that Harold Wilson was firmly on the right wing of the Labour Party: he defended the NATO alliance, supported the American war in Vietnam, and opposed calls from the Labour Left for sweeping nationalisation of industry. A Labour government headed by a more radical figure like Tony Benn would surely have prompted a much sharper response (it was this prospect that led the Labour MP Chris Mullin to pen his novel A Very British Coup in the early ‘80s). In any case, the campaign against Wilson’s government represented far more of a challenge to parliamentary democracy in Britain than any of the left-wing groups deemed “subversive” by MI5, but there was no sign of the agency stepping in to protect the elected government against the threat it faced.

There can only be one explanation for the double standards: MI5, like most state institutions in a capitalist society, is under the command of people who slot neatly into the upper class. If they weren’t born to privilege (and often they were), they have certainly won themselves a place among the cream of society by climbing the ladder to the top and acquiring the income and status that come with such elevation. It has always been very easy for the British upper class (like its counterparts elsewhere) to convince itself that its own interests are synonymous with the rule of law, national security and the democratic way of life. So a Tory government confronting militant trade unions will receive full-blooded support, while a Labour government facing businessmen and army generals can go hang.


So what’s changed? According to MI5, “the subversive threat to parliamentary democracy in the UK is now negligible and we have no current investigations in this area”. It would be wise to take this claim with a pinch of salt: MI5 may simply have passed responsibility for tackling “domestic subversion” to other state agencies. The Cold War is certainly over, but legislation introduced after 9/11 has increased the power of the British state to spy on its citizens, and the technology available to do so has greatly improved.

With the Soviet Union gone, opportunities to smear people as “communists” or “Moscow agents” are much more limited, but there’s a new discourse to justify the criminalisation of protest. Non-violent civil disobedience is cynically conflated with violence and terrorism: breaking the law, we are told, is itself a form of violence, and laws now on the statute book make any form of effective protest potentially illegal. In practice, the only demonstration considered legitimate by the British security establishment is one that can be ignored:

“The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (Netcu) is the police team directing the fight against extremists. To illustrate the threats it confronts, the Netcu site carries images of people marching with banners, of peace campaigners standing outside a military base, and of the Rebel Clown Army (whose members dress up as clowns to show that they have peaceful intentions). It publishes press releases about Greenpeace and the climate camp at Kingsnorth, in Kent. All this, the site suggests, is domestic extremism.”(5)

This discourse would certainly have transformed Martin Luther King into a criminal and presented the US civil rights movement as a conspiracy against legitimate authority. And it provides ample justification for any police, army or intelligence agency that wants to spy on “domestic extremists”.

It doesn’t take much imagination to apply the lessons from Britain to the Irish experience in Rossport. There, too, a legal campaign using non-violent methods of protest has been denounced as a criminal conspiracy led by subversive elements bent on overthrowing the state. The labels used have been different. Green-baiting has more resonance in Ireland than Red-baiting, so the Shell 2 Sea activists have been vilified for receiving support from republicans. But the goal has been essentially the same: to justify the use of repressive methods, from phone-tapping to baton-charges, against the citizens of a supposedly democratic state.

The opponents of Shell in Mayo have faced this campaign of intimidation even though their core demand poses no direct threat to the social order in Ireland: if Shell was required to build an off-shore pipeline, its profit margins would be reduced, but our political and economic systems would not be affected in any drastic way. It says a lot about the subordination of the Irish state to corporate power that nobody appears to have contemplated stepping in and requiring Shell to compromise with local residents.

Progressive activists of all kinds should be asking themselves: if the forces of “law and order” in this state are willing to go to such lengths in coercing Irish citizens on behalf of a multi-national company, even when the stakes are relatively low, how might they react to a much broader movement for change?

1) http://www.mi5.gov.uk/output/myths-and-misunderstanding....html

2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/jul/11/mi5-interviews...orism

3) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/mar/15/com...bour1

4) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/4789060.stm

5) http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/12/23/the-paranoia...quad/

author by Ed - ISNpublication date Thu Jul 23, 2009 12:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Well you never know, of course, and after all the stuff that's happened at Rossport you wouldn't really be surprised by anything that comes out in the future, but best to stick to what we know. Shell may be a British corporation, but the Irish agencies active in Mayo seem to be doing a faithful enough job of protecting their interests against Irish citizens. No need for any outside agencies to get involved, I would have thought, so let's just stick to what we know for the time being.

author by Niallpublication date Thu Jul 23, 2009 12:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Methinks MI5 is far more directly involved in state subversion south of the border than we know. Shell Plc is a major Brit elite institution... think about it!

author by Conspiraloonpublication date Fri Jul 17, 2009 14:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

as far as I recall, there was a fair bit of talk of a british sub off the coast of mayo. Thats certainly showing an interest don't you think? Expensive things to run, subs. Perhaps they ran out of sugar and surfaced to ask shell for a cup!

thanks for posting kenny interview. Pity about pat. He used to be a half decent interviewer willing to stand up for the rights of less well off when he was younger. Now he's just a highly paid predictable and influential corporate shill.

Yeah, like we all break out the m16's for a bit of harmless fun while we are on a shady subsidised holiday in a third world oil rich country with known killers and mercenaries pat. FFS!!!

author by sheapublication date Thu Jul 16, 2009 17:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

don't think its paronia to suggest mi5 involvement in corrib. the island of britian is hugley over populated, relys heavly on fuel. with north sea oil running out it is very dangerous for them to be at the end of a pipe line that russia keeps turning on and off. not saying there behind all the dirty dealings but its well in the brits interests to know whats going on regards our energy. if they can nudge things in there favour they'll do it.

author by old codger - pensionerpublication date Thu Jul 16, 2009 16:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Both Pat kenny and Joe Duffy are media stooges and are anti Shell 2 Sea.
I would recomend that any interviews conducted with RTE should be done in a prepared manner. Have your points as short and concise as possible and put them across in a firm but polite way.Do not let the likes of Kenny bully you, take the initiative away from him.
I have phoned his program many times but got through only once. I made his researcher aware that Shell were using the TWISTER PLATFORM RIG ( unmanned, Polution free and far cheaper to run and of course AT SEA) in lots of locations around the world and that the reason they would not use it in Corrib was =
Also that this was collusion between the government and Shell and that Cassells the mediator was a Fianna Fail member and not an impartial person.
Next interview Write your points down and deliver them in order and insist on a reply.

author by Andrewpublication date Thu Jul 16, 2009 14:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think there were a few points missed by the S2S spokesperson in the Pat Kenny interview broadcast just now which I list below. Of course this was always going to be a very difficult way to talk about what happened, a segment that was about whether or not it was decent to use a particular image on a street in Galway does not _really_ seem to be the main story here, its shameful that this is the way the mainstream media is coping with its failure to cover the actual story.

Clifford's introduction rolls back considerably on his article, he actually acknowledges that Dwyer was involved in 'shady groups' but is less than honest in saying he can't find anything else, unless we believe he hasn't read this article. And his spin that 'sure don't we all do embarrassing stuff on our holidays when we are 24' seems a little insane in terms of bombing cardinal's houses and planning to start civil wars. PK takes the same angle towards the end of the interview.

But Dwyer isn't the important story here, the IRMS-Shell-Bolivia story is. Here is what I think was missed

a. Kenny got away with implying that Dwyer was the only connection. This was countered by pointing to Revesz but it wasn't just the two of them. At least 4 and as many as 7 or 8 IRMS from Corrib went to Bolivia with the group. One of the men arrested in the hotel at the time of the shooting was one of them. Two or three of them worked for IRMS on returning from Bolivia including Revesz (see my last comment).

b. Kenny got away with claiming there was no connection between Flores and Shell. It should have been pointed out that Shell lost its Bolivian gas pipeline when Moreles nationalised it last year and that Flores was linked to Banco, the major individual shareholder in the Shell pipeline. BY PK's 'whose interests' test they clearly had an interest it the intended civil war.

c. Kenny (and its interesting its Kenny who does all the heavy spin in the interview) got away with painting Flores as a confused and foolish romantic. It needed to be pointed out that 'Journalists without Frontiers' tried to prosecute him for murdering two journalists during the Croatian war, the was a brutal killer and not just some crazed poet.

d. Kenny got away with suggesting that the sinking of Pat's boat made no sense for Shell because it was only bad PR for them. That would have been a good point to outline that Shell had no legal way to remove Pat's boat from the bay, that this had held up the operation last year and resulted in the Gardai arresting Pat on stupid pretexts and then playing 'cat and mouse' to avoid a high court case ordering his release. Shell's interests were in saving the millions that every day Pat remained fishing in front of the Solitaire would have cost. The sinking of one of his boats days before the arrival of the Solitaire achieved this (alongside the arrest on invented 'exclusion zones' and impounding of his two remaining boats). Shell clearly had a very well thought out PR response post sinking which PK repeats (and has said on other shows) which is to suggest that the boat was really sunk by S2S. Multiple comments to that effect appeared on indymedia almost as soon as the sinking was reported.

The structure of the whole segment is very interesting. PK appears to have a reasonably good knowledge of the facts and is using the interview to protect IRMS / Shell by stepping very carefully around them. The 4 points he raises above have nothing to do with the 'common decency' cover Cliffords provides for the operation but PK retreats behind this point towards the end and hands back over to Clifford. Overall a very well managed piece of spin by Shell's friends.

author by Monicapublication date Thu Jul 16, 2009 14:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Micheal Dwyer using unnessesary force on protester .

Michael,a rotund heavy individual ,is seen kneeling on and twisting arm of protester as he crawls under illegal fence.Curious he is the only security worker who feels it nessesary to use such force on the unthreatening protester.

Caption: Video Id: qpFZr_33roE Type: Youtube Video
Embedded video Youtube Video

author by shelloutpublication date Thu Jul 16, 2009 14:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Just listened to that piece. Pat Kenny is so one-sided. it's ridiculous.
RTE have been disgraceful with their reporting on the whole corrib issue from the beginning.
Over the last few months, I have become utterly disillusioned with this whole country for what they are allowing to happen. But then you listen to this kind of clip and you realise what you're up against. A brain washed population who listen religiously to other people's opinions, accept them as their own, refusing to formulate their own by themselves. Facts speak for themselves and if people bothered to look at them with any degree of critical analysis they would see that what is happening in mayo is so wrong. Today, an bord snip will destroy our public services - education, health etc., and the people will take it not for one second questioning why over 500 billion euro has been given away by successive governments in this country. idiots, all of them. j'accuse

author by S2Spublication date Thu Jul 16, 2009 14:13author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for putting the recording up.

Fair play St. John

I wish I had a chance to talk to Pat about this...

author by Cianpublication date Thu Jul 16, 2009 13:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Corporate Media are accussing Shell to Sea campaigners in Galway of been insensitive to the family of Michael Dwyer by making use of photos of Michael Dwyer posing with guns.

The facts however are:

1. The corporate media printed these photos and published them in vast quantities all over Ireland in the immediate aftermath of the death of Michael Dwyer showing blatant disregard for the family and friends of Michael Dwyer

2. The corporate media did this for the sole purpose of maximising profit

3. Shell to Sea campaigners in Galway only used these photos after they were put into the public domain by the corporate media

4. Shell to Sea campaigners in Galway did this for the sole purpose of exposing IRMS, ie it was done for the public good rather than for private profit

author by carlpublication date Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

St.John, on the Pat Kenny show talking about IRMS and why Michael Dwyer is relevant to the situation up in Mayo.
St.John, on the Pat Kenny show talking about IRMS and why Michael Dwyer is relevant to the situation up in Mayo.

audio dwyer2.mp3 16.87 Mb

author by A10publication date Thu Jul 16, 2009 00:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

giving the Irish "security agencies" wayyyyy too much credit for being able to mount any sort of serious deep cover infiltration into Shannon or Rossport.
The old agage still applies from the 60s."How do you spot the plant from da Man??He's the dude always tryin to get us to do somthin illega!"Find those chacters in your grouping and you have your plant.Then just Mushroom them[.IE keep in the dark and feed them shite!]

author by Ed - ISNpublication date Wed Jul 15, 2009 15:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Just to clarify my own argument - I’ve seen no evidence that MI5 or any other British agency is involved in what’s been happening in Rossport, and I don’t see any reason why they would be on the face of it. I was suggesting something different - that we can probably learn a lot about the thinking of Irish agencies which are definitely active in Mayo by looking at the record of MI5 - the Irish agencies are performing a similar role to MI5 in Britain, they have similar people in charge, and they’ve worked closely with the likes of MI5 in the past because of the war in the North of Ireland, so they’ve probably picked up a few ideas and ways of thinking from the British security complex. Certainly, the record of surveillance and harassment of campaigners in Mayo has a lot in common with the record of MI5 in dealing with British campaigning groups like CND and the miners’ union, the parallels are pretty striking.

BTW, in the second last paragraph, I obviously meant to write “off-shore refinery” rather than “off-shore pipeline” ...

author by skeptomaniacpublication date Wed Jul 15, 2009 15:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Corruption i$ alway$ connected.
The media, police, $pecial branch, MI5, $ecret police, CIA, FBI, Politician$, Big Busine$$, corporation$, Developer$, IMF, World Bank,...It cannot exist without $upport from its partners in crime.

What were CIA doing at Shannon standing sholder to sholder with Garda Siochana preventing the legitimate expression of views, an act they say they invade soverign nations to protect?

What are Irish men doing in Bolivia as part of an assisanation plot to over throw the government.?

What are private security firms doing in Mayo with Garda $iochana preventing ordinary citizens going about their business, beating them up, assaulting ,threatening, ....

What is willy odee doing invested in 'Petrel Resources' (410 %profit post iraq invasion)...and he minister for defense.

author by Fred Johnstonpublication date Tue Jul 14, 2009 15:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I don't doubt for a second that Shell protestors are under surveillance, certainly at Rossport and very likely wherever else they go; it is clear from visits I have made to demonstrate, for instance, at Shannon, that the plain-clothes mob seemed to be aware of who I am and have even jibed with me about it. But MI5 isn't involved in the business of Shell. Irish security branches almost certainly are, at one remove, as it were. And the government support for Shell is blatant in the ease with which the Irish Navy can, appallingly, be called in to 'protect' their work; it would seem natural, then, that other mistier agencies of government would also have an involvement. But MI5 isn't involved in everything. I did receive a threatening phone call about a week ago, but, like anonymous e-mails and letters, that's just common knuckle-dragging behaviour for Galway, it's not secret operations!

author by old codger - pensionerpublication date Tue Jul 14, 2009 15:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I have suspected Britain's involvment in the Corrib ripoff for a long time. The cosy friendship between Bertie Aherne and Tony Blair should be a clue to how these people operate. An agreement between Ireland and Britain to share OIL & GAS has been signed by Eamon Ryan. The Yellow- Green ministers that have joined this conspiracy are a disgrace, their pensions mean more to them than their nations welfare. ( UN PEOPLE ) A book by Mark Curtis a british historian is very enlightening reading on the history of British involvement with Shell
This is just another confirmation on the highly corrupt forces that are allowed to operate in the EU.


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