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'Bomb the Republic': What British spooks told Brian Nelson

NewsBy Jim McDowell
John McMichael had been planning an attack when he was murdered by IRA
John McMichael had been planning an attack when he was murdered by IRA

British intelligence spooks told Brian Nelson to get the UDA to bomb the Republic.

And they even suggested a strategic economic target – an oil terminal in Cork, thought to be the Whiddy Oil terminal.

Revelations that elements within the British military establishment were advocating bombing raids on a neighbouring state will stun observers.

The cross-border raid was intended to pressurise the Dublin government into rethinking its extradition policy.

The British were constantly thwarted and frustrated in their attempts to bring suspected republican terrorists back from the Republic to stand trial.

It wasn’t the first time the secret hand of British spooks was seen to be guiding loyalist paramilitaries. Security service involvement was always suspected in the Dublin/Monaghan bombings 13 years earlier.

The Nelson files reveal for the first time the lengths to which spymasters were prepared to go to force Dublin’s hand.

And he reveals that were it not for the IRA murder of UDA boss John McMichael in December 1987, the bombing raid would have gone ahead.

The target had been scouted, pictures taken and a plan drawn up – the fruition of a British military plot to bomb Ireland.

In his own words Nelson describes how the plot was first mooted during a routine meeting with handlers at which he was showing off listening devices he had persuaded UDA chiefs to buy with the intention of bugging Sinn Fein offices in west Belfast.

“I had informed BMI [British Military Intelligence] by telephone that I had been given these items of interest and I was instructed to bring them along with me to our next de-briefing,” he writes.

“I was told by Mags [Margaret, one of his handlers] that the Boss would be coming along. During the de-brief all what I had been given... was photographed.”

He said the Boss had been impressed with the UDA use of intelligence fed to them through Nelson by military intelligence.

“After the de-brief proper finished the Boss was chatting to me about the UDA and the personalities at the top of the organisation, when he said to me that the UDA should think about undertaking an economic bombing campaign down South across the border.

 

“He then went on to explain what he meant and the reason.

 

“He put it to me that if the UDA were to conduct a bombing campaign on carefully selected targets that would cause maximum economic damage, because of the present state of Eire’s economy a campaign directed at commercial targets, if they were successful, would put an enormous strain upon an already troubled economy, and would cause the Eire government to have a re-think on their extradition policy.”

It was clear the British had already identified and researched what they thought would be the ideal target.

By his own hand: Brian Nelson describes how spooks asked him to get UDA to bomb the Republic 

When Nelson said he was confident the UDA had the capability to carry out a raid deep inside the Republic, his spymaster replied simply “good”.

“He then told me that the oil terminal outside Cork would be well worth a look at. I said I would have to talk to the right people but I didn’t see any problems.

“The Boss replied: ‘I’ll leave it with you then.’”

“That was that. Shortly after this the Boss left and after finishing the de-brief I was given my customary escort part way back to Belfast. “

Nelson set about planting the idea, broaching the subject with Tucker Lyttle a couple of days later.

But he says he was told to “forget about it and concentrate our efforts this side of the border”.

Behind Lyttle’s back, Nelson a meeting with overall UDA boss John McMichael.

His file on that meeting reads that he met McMichael “in private” in the kitchen of the UDA’s headquarters in Gawn Street in east Belfast.

“Once there I went over what had been put to me by the Boss and included the likely target of the oil terminal at Cork which if done properly with a few supermarkets could produce the desired effect. The cost in compensation would run to millions which would have to be paid by the (Dublin) government.”

There is no mention of possible civilian casualties, even though bombing supermarkets is cited.

“Bearing in mind at that time Eire’s attitude on extradition was a thorny issue that rankled deeply, so therefore I was able to use the Boss’s rational (sic) on the outcome of a successful campaign.”

McMichael, he said, was totally taken with the idea. “When I related to my Handlers that McMichael had undertaken the Eire project, no comment was made.”

Nelson says that weeks later he met McMichael again, and asked him “how he was getting on down south”.

He says McMichael told him he’d had “problems finding someone with the necessary skill to make a bomb that would produce the desired effect with oil tanks, but he reckoned he’d found someone who could do what he required”.

But before McMichael could get the bomb and order the bombing of the Cork oil terminals, he himself was murdered by a Provo boobytrap bomb, in December, 1987.

The Nelson files also reveal that McMichael had sent a male and female couple to Cork to ‘recce’ the terminal target, and take photographs and notes. Nelson made copies, handing them to his handlers.