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30 July 2009 Edition

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Remembering the Past

 

 

 

 

IRA shoots ‘G’ man in Drumcondra


BY MÍCHEÁLMac DONNCHA

AS the months passed in 1919, it became clear that the British Government had no intention of recognising the Declaration of Independence adopted by the First Dáil Éireann in January. Armed conflict between the Irish people and the British Government had become inevitable and in that war intelligence would be vital.
IRA leader Ernie O’Malley wrote that the RIC “functioned as an espionage corps, which for years had methodically watched and as methodically reported on every rebel or potential rebel in their district”. In the capital, the equivalent was the Dublin Metropolitan Police, whose ‘G’ Division was “a specially-trained branch who knew the city area thoroughly, its Volunteer officers and important separatists” (Ernie O’Malley in Dublin’s Fighting Story). In addition, the British Secret Service was based in Dublin Castle.
While this system was formidable, it was not properly co-ordinated and had not adapted to the new situation in Ireland so the IRA was soon able to exploit its weaknesses. That process began in 1919. Many of the Dublin Metropolitan Police ‘G’ men were known to the IRA because they ‘shadowed’ activists through the streets of the city. In the aftermath of 1916, it was ‘G’ men who picked out 150 republicans from among the prisoners for trial by courts-martial, leading to execution for some.
‘G’ Division was fatally undermined when one of its officers, Eamonn Broy, started to pass on information to the IRA. Michael Collins was developing IRA counter-intelligence and received this information. In April 1919, he was even smuggled into ‘G’ Division headquarters (now Pearse Street Garda station) by Broy to examine files in the dead of night. The IRA began to target the ‘G’ men, at first warning them to cease their activities or suffer the consequences. Some heeded the warnings but others persisted.
One of the most diligent ‘G’ men was Detective Sergeant Patrick Smith, known as ‘The Dog’. The IRA’s Intelligence Department under Collins had an Active Service Unit known as ‘The Squad’ and they now targeted Smith. On the night of 30 July they were waiting for him near his home at Millmount Avenue, Drumcondra. He was shot several times and collapsed at the scene. He died in hospital on 8 September.
This was the beginning of the end of ‘G’ Division as an effective force and, as the British intelligence system broke down in the following months, the British were forced to bring in officers from England, leading to another phase in the intelligence war.
‘G’ man Smith was shot in Drumcondra on 30 July 1919, 90 years ago this week.

• Some of the members of the IRA’s Active Service Unit known as ‘The Squad’ 

 

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