Random Ramblings from a Republican
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
  *this is an excerpt from a book I'm currently reading called Republicanism in Modern Ireland.

A Potential Fifth Column?
The IRA as a German Proxy, 1935-39

by Eunan O'Halpin

It might be thought that the IRA's insurrectionary potential would have loomed reasonably large in the minds of British military and security officials studying problems of home defence which might arise in the case of a war with Germany. Until the spring of 1938, such a war would have been assumed to include operations based on the Irish ports and unspecified other facilities guaranteed to Britain under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. In those circumstances, even the least imaginative staff officers would surely have factored the likelihood of IRA action against British targets. Even after the April 1938 Anglo-Irish agreement ended British defence rights in independent Ireland, there was an obvious danger that the republican movement would take the opportunity to make trouble in Northern Ireland and in Britain, whether through sabotage or espionage. Yet it appears that, until very late in the decade, Britain had no inkling of the IRA's sporadic contacts with Nazi Germany which were initiated in 1935. It may be that the idea of a serious renewal of the First World War Irish separatist-German link which had produced the 1916 rising was discounted in the changed circumstances of an independent Ireland, despite how difficult and unpredictable a dominion Mr de Valera's was proving to be.

The evidence on pre-war British appreciations of the IRA's intentions, capabilities and alliances is very confused. As early as 1927, SIS reported indications that the organisation had, through international communist circles established contact in 1922 with 'the German espionage service'. This seems unlikely: the IRA had in fact reached agreement with the Soviets in 1925 to gather military intelligence in the UK, an episode of which the British seem never to have become aware. In 1927 republicans also formally resolved to take the Russian side in any future Anglo-Soviet war. In 1933 a Russian emigre reported that the IRA had concluded a pact with the Comintern (the Soviet controlled Communist International) under which large quanities of arms were to be delivered to Ireland, a report which SIS was inclined to discount because of its general suspicion of "White Russian information" as "the sources were so uncontrolled, so liable to produce tendentious matter and to be vitiated at their source" by Soviet penetration. These scraps suggest that after 1933 SIS and Mi5 may had regarded the Soviet Union, rather than Nazi Germany, as the IRA's most likely future ally. Yet in December of 1935, a decoded Italian diplomatic telegram from Dublin to Rome indicated that the Italian minister had persuaded the IRA leaders to organise propaganda in the United States in support of his country's attack on Abyssinia. It is not known how British agencies interpreted this second hand evidence of Irish republicanism' ideological elasticity. Even when the first traces of German intelligence interest in Ireland were noted in Whitehall, they do not appear to have been construed in terms of a possible IRA-German alliance: a Joint Intelligence Committee document of June 1937 on "German activities in the Irish Free State" analysed evidence in terms of the possibility of Germany seeking a military understanding with the Irish government not with the IRA which then appeared a predominantly left-wing movement.

There is no evidence to indicate that up to 1939 any British (or Irish) defence or security agency actively contemplated the possibility that Germany was forging links with the republican movement for development during a future war against Britain. It seems that it was not until the IRA launched the "S-plan" that the possibility of German manipulation was seriously considered. An early War Office advocated of irregular warfare dismissed the "completely futile and puerile attempts at sabotage being carried out by the IRA in England", and did not argue the possibility that the activity was German inspired or assisted. Despite its apprehensions about German designs, and its unfolding knowledge of German intelligence activities concerning Ireland, Mi5 concluded that there was "no evidence that German agents had been responsible for the IRA bombing campaign, though there were grounds for thinking that the Germans in Dublin...had made approached to the IRA leaders as to the possibility of cooperation in the event of war between Nazi Germany and England. They were inclined to regard the danger of Germany organising sabotage with the assistance of IRA terrorists as a very serious one." 
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