Recently released British/Northern Ireland Office (NIO) State Papers have caused considerable interest and have given further insight into how the British Embassy spied on Irish-Americans.

The papers were released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and cover the period 1980 to 1989. They were released under the “30/20 rule”— the phased release of official documents that were previously secret for 30 years, but are to be released after 20 years. They can be accessed here

Fr. Sean McManus, President of the Capitol Hill-based Irish National Caucus, said: “This time the papers are of particular interest for a two-fold reason: (1) they reveal how deeply worried the British Government was about our Mac Bride Principles campaign (which they accurately state is ‘largely instigated by the Irish National Caucus’; and (2) the Papers reveal how the British Embassy penetrated and spied on Irish-American organizations.”

One of their reports consists of a document dated October 10, 1985, by the British Embassy to the Head of the Civil Service in Northern Ireland, Ken Bloomfield.

The paper gives a report on the Irish American Unity Conference meeting in Philadelphia, August 23-25, 1985, and explains how one of those present, Steve Ryan who was monitoring the meeting, was apparently spying for the British Embassy. The report lists a number of those present at the meeting, several members of Irish Northern Aid, and others, including Bob Linnon who would become the president of the IAUC (1987-1995), and a Ms. Patricia O’Hagan, Chairperson of the New York IAUC.

The Report states that Ms. O’Hagan “declared she ‘hated’ McManus.”

When asked to comment, Fr. McManus said: “I have a life-long policy of not responding to personal attacks. But I have to make an exception in this case as it is not really a personal attack but one gloried in, and recorded by the British Embassy. It is sad and pathetic that at the height of the Mac Bride Principles campaign — which I initiated with Sean Mc Bride’s personal consent and which I launched on November 5, 1984 — that the Brits could report that another Irish organization was spending its time in attacking me.”

It also must not be forgotten that Denis Donaldson, a British Agent, was placed in a senior position at the Irish Northern Aid Office in New York City in the late 1990s. So, for a crucial period a British Agent was telling members of Irish Northern Aid and other Irish organizations what to believe and what to do.

Fr. Mc Manus concluded: “However, in all of this pathetic stuff, the central issue is: By what right and under what law is the British Embassy — or, indeed, the Irish Embassy — entitled to spy on Americans who are exercising their Constitutional rights? What has the State Department to say about this? What if the Soviet/Russian or Chinese embassies were spying and recruiting spies in the United States, would the State Department be silent?”

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Fr. Seán McManusIrish Echo