There are several points I want to make at the outset. Memory is not only fallible but diminishes with time. While there are aspects of these matters of which I have a direct recollection, in other cases I have none at this stage. Moreover, I have always had doubts about the accuracy of memory of events. When I wrote my autobiography I was drawing on documents. Our Civil Service is excellent at documenting events, in my experience certainly — it was the Department of Foreign Affairs I was dealing with. I had documentation from which I could draw, and most of what is in my autobiography derives from documents rather than from memory as I always mistrusted my memory to a degree.
Second, when I was in Government as Minister for Foreign Affairs I was once or twice called to meetings of the security committee. I was not a regular member of it. It was only on a couple of occasions I went to it. Therefore I would not have information that other people who were on that committee would have. I was more limited perhaps than other people. At least I think I was. The security committee, in the nature of things, operates on a confidential basis and does not bring matters to Government except when there is a major political issue involved. Having said that, I will make some comments by way of background because Mr. O'Malley has set a good example here of setting the background and I want to follow that.
First, when these events happened the Opposition was engaged in opposing the Government on the introduction of the Offences Against the State Act. It may seem in retrospect odd that we were so opposed to this measure. I can only say that if one is 16 years in opposition one tends to develop a high sense of the role of opposition in challenging everything. We saw it as our job, and a strong sense of the importance of civil liberties was a factor in my party and in the Opposition parties at that time. We therefore were raising questions about, and indeed were intending at one stage to oppose, this legislation. In retrospect I have to say that, while that may be understandable because it is the role of the Opposition, we carried it a bit far. In retrospect my sympathies are more with Mr. O'Malley perhaps in these matters. As I have always had great respect for his role in protecting the interests of the State, I would not want, in retrospect, to defend all the things that were happening at that time. The then leader of my Party, Mr. Cosgrave had, perhaps, a better instinct than we realised at the time when we were disagreeing with him on these issues. That is the past. I make that as an initial point.
I endorse what Mr. O'Malley has said about the dangers to the State at that time. These dangers have never been greatly appreciated by the public because Governments do not advertise the fact that the State is at risk. As late as 1981 we faced a similar situation, with the Army as a backup to the police in protecting the British Embassy in Ballsbridge. Again the only basis on which the Army could be there was that if attacked and if there was an attempt to disarm its personnel would, if necessary, fire directly on those attacking them, although the rule was that an individual soldier had to be authorised by an officer to shoot and shoot at a particular person attacking him rather than firing wildly.
After the first attempt to attack the embassy we discussed this in Government. We were taken aback. We had not realised just what was involved. Having discussed it we found there was nothing else we could do. We could not withdraw the police from protecting the embassy until the following Saturday, and we could not tell the Army not to defend itself if attacked. What one did do was suggest that the Garda would mass in Serpentine Avenue and take the IRA supporters attacking the police in the rear, which was done. It was extraordinarily fortunate that the police, with great courage, withstood the attack on the first Saturday. The IRA supporters from the North had come down with long staves to hit the ankles of the police beneath the shield, special tactics they had developed, and the gardaí just managed to withstand that attack. If they had not done so and the IRA people had reached the British Embassy and the Army had been called into action it would have been a pretty disastrous situation.
Something similar ensued when the British Embassy in Merrion Square was attacked and the mob then turned its attention to Leinster House. I do not think that the protection the Army had provided for Leinster House would have withstood them. I have always felt the IRA represented a greater danger to this State than to the British state and Northern Ireland. They could blow up buildings in Britain but they could not put the state itself at risk. That is by way of general background.
Coming to particular issues, let me first mention the Littlejohn affair because it has a kind of background relevance to this. In fact it was not all heldin camera. The opening session was held in public to the point where the prosecution asked if the case could be held in camera in order that the director of security, or some name of that kind, could give evidence. This was not published by the BBC. It was not published in British papers. It only appeared in The Irish Times. I found that strange at the time.
I was in opposition in January of 1973 and when I came into Government I asked the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs to let me see the papers on this, which he did. It subsequently transpired, in August, when, I think, the prosecution took place here, a difficulty arose because Mr. Lynch had forgotten that he had seen these papers. When he mentioned this the Attorney General backed him up strongly and during the weekend on radio and television kept saying that Mr. Lynch knew nothing about it. I was very disturbed by this. I was on holidays in Donegal at the time. I felt Mr. Lynch was being put in a very false position, and I had great respect for him as a distinguished former Taoiseach and a man who did a great service to our State. I packed up and came home with my family, went in to the ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked the Secretary to telephone Mr. Lynch and remind him that he had the documents. I left the room while that conversation took place. The Secretary then told me that Mr. Lynch had said that the papers should be sent out immediately to the Attorney General by Army motor cycle. Mr. Lynch then made a statement admitting that he had forgotten and, I thought unfortunately, going on to say that in view of his lapse of memory he might have to consider his position as Taoiseach, which greatly weakened him in the couple of years that followed. I was very unhappy about that.
What actually happened was, curiously, that Mr. Lynch was going to America and he passed the papers to Mr. O'Malley. Mr. O'Malley passed them on to the Attorney General and the Attorney General six weeks later passed them to Foreign Affairs. The Attorney General, who was busy asserting that Mr. Lynch knew nothing about it, was the very person who had the papers and sent them back. Everybody forgot. I myself forgot because at the end of that conversation with the Secretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs when I asked could I see the papers he said, "Minister, you saw them in May when I gave them to you". I had forgotten that too. I just want to explain the fallibility of memory. Under the pressure of events in Government one does forget things and Mr. Lynch, the Attorney General and myself all forgot on that occasion aspects of the Littlejohn affair.
I had inquired into the Littlejohn affair because it was obvious from what I am calling the director of security that there was some involvement of the British Government in the affair. That is why I wanted it pursued, and it remained very much in my mind. While the Littlejohns claimed they were told to rob banks here, the British said, "Well, no, we did not say that to them, actually." There was, naturally, a divergence of recollection but the whole affair certainly was one that I found worrying at the time and it remained in my mind afterwards.
May I mention the Crinnion affair? I was sent a copy of a statement by Mr. Crinnion, by him I suppose, I cannot say exactly when. It has always remained in my mind because it was in bright blue typing which is an unusual form of typing, it is usually black. Mr. Crinnion, in his statement, who seemed to exonerate himself, said he had, in fact, been the police agent in contact with Mr. Seán MacStiofáin who was giving information to the gardaí at the time. I found that very puzzling but, of course, I have read recently an explanation of that, that MacStiofáin and Joe Cahill were at loggerheads and MacStiofáin was informing the gardaí about what he was asked to do with Cahill. I never understood until the last couple of weeks why that happened so the Crinnion affair was a bit more complex than appears on the surface, but again it involved British involvement in our affairs of an inappropriate kind, which was disturbing.
The third thing I want to mention because it is part of the background to a discussion I, apparently, had with the ambassador is that I do not recall the conversation with the ambassador which is recorded in the British account and which is in the report. I have no direct recollection of it but, of course, when I read it I can see how it would have happened. The reason I mentioned some matters to him was at a certain point in a salient of the Republic, attached to the Republic by 150 yards of a river with no bridge across it, where Monaghan is surrounded by Northern Ireland, the British Army arrived at this house and it was reported to us that they had, in fact, come to the Irish side of the Border and I took the matter up with the ambassador. It was an odd case because the house was divided diagonally by the Border. The front door on the south was in Northern Ireland and the back door on the north was in the Republic. One can forgive the British for being a bit confused about this. They apparently went to the door in Northern Ireland but got no answer. They went around to the other door, banged on it, and then, foolishly, got into their jeep and, instead of going back the way they came, drove on the way they were going and stopped the police and asked them the way home.
I took the matter up with the British ambassador and I had a series of interviews with him, at each of which he came with a different story. First, that they had not gone to the southern side of the house. They had not been there at all, sorry. They were doing roadblocks. They had one torch, hardly ever to do with roadblocks. Then, the second day he came back, he said they did go to the house. They went to the house but they only went to the Northern Ireland side of the house. I said, sorry, could you go back again. The third time he came back and said, well, yes, they did actually knock on the door on the Republic side of the house. I thought it was important to pursue this matter. It was trivial in itself but it meant that I was able to say to him, "You will understand, ambassador, how I will have a difficulty in the future, perhaps, in accepting statements by your army as to what they did or did not do".
I thought it important to get that established to give me a card to play. It appears that I did, in fact, play that card in discussions I had with him later on, about which I have no memory, relating to another matter, but I am trying to explain the background to that. So these are just some background points. I am quite happy to assist but I am afraid I will not be able to add anything to what is in the report here but I am happy to help in any way I can.