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McEntee pledges to release ‘as appropriate’ records on 1970 arms trial

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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has pledged to review and release “as appropriate” any relevant records that may exist in her department in relation to the 1970 arms trial.

She said, however, it would not be appropriate for her as Minister to “speculate with regard to matters of that time”.

She was speaking in the Dáil on the 50th anniversary of the arms trial, which along with the related scandal engulfed the State in the early years of the Troubles and came to be known as the arms crisis.

She told Fianna Fáil TD Sean Haughey that “it is difficult to see how different accounts can be validated, or adjudicated on at this remove, particularly for most of those who are involved are no longer in a position to defend themselves”.

Mr Haughey called on the Minister to confirm that Sean Mac Stiofáin, a member of the IRA army council, was the informer who told the Special Branch about guns being flown into Dublin Airport that foreshadowed the arms crisis.

He said Ms McEntee should “declassify all files relating to the information he provided to the Special Branch”.

The Dáil was told a version of events which purported to explain how the State had discovered information about the arms to be imported, he said.

“It was claimed that the scheduled flight had been discovered by accident by civil servants who are concerned about certain paperwork issues.”

However, it was an incorrect version that had remained on the record for the past 50 years, he said.

Mr Haughey acknowledged that some files were sensitive, but “these files could be looked at, perhaps by a high court judge”, he suggested.

He said that “crucially the Dáil record can only be set straight if the State confirms that the tip-off about the flight came from Mac Stiofáin”.

Sean Haughey: Dublin Bay North TD is a son of late former taoiseach Charlie Haughey, who was one of the four defendants accused of assisting a plan to illegally import arms for the IRA. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Sean Haughey: Dublin Bay North TD is a son of late former taoiseach Charlie Haughey, who was one of the four defendants accused of assisting a plan to illegally import arms for the IRA. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Mr Haughey said “the continued concealment of Mac Stiofáin’s tales as an informer is tantamount to endorsing and perpetuating his agenda, which was to disrupt and undermine democracy and assist the role of the Provisional IRA”.

He said this was “perpetuating the deception of this House and belittling and defaming the memory of Captain James Kelly, an honourable soldier who should have never been put on trial”, and of Col Michael Hefferon, director of military intelligence at the time.

Government minister

The Dublin Bay North TD is a son of late former taoiseach Charlie Haughey, who as a government minister at the time was one of the four defendants, also including Captain Kelly, Col Hefferon and then cabinet member Neil Blaney, accused in the trial of assisting a plan to illegally import arms for the IRA.

There were no convictions, but Mr Haughey and Mr Blaney were sacked over the crisis.

Ms McEntee said the trial “was an important time in our history, repercussions of which continue to reverberate to this day”.

She said it was one of the most significant political controversies in the history of the State.

Many of the records related to the arms trial were released to the National Archives in 2000.

Some of the records could not be released because they contain sensitive reports or potentially defamatory information. “It should be noted that these files are subject to periodic review, including as to whether or not they should be released.”

Mr Haughey said Sean Mac Stiofáin had been identified in a new book to be published on Wednesday – Deception and Lies, the Hidden History of the Arms Trial, by David Burke.

“The author reveals that Mac Stiofáin exploited his position to create mischief for his arch rival, Cathal Goulding.”

He said an incorrect version of events has “remained on the record of this House ever since. It is not satisfactory that the official record of any event, let alone one as important as this, should be misleading.”

Ms McEntee said it would not be appropriate for her to speculate, but she promised that “ if any records do exist that can be released and reviewed”, that would be done and they “will be released as appropriate”.

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