Irish Republican leader Gerry Adams was rumoured to have set up a notorious terrorist gang for ambush, according to newly released files from Irish National Archives.
Eight members of the Provisional IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade were shot dead in May 1987 after they loaded a 200lb bomb on to a stolen digger and smashed through the gates of police barracks in Loughgall, Co Armagh.
The resulting explosion destroyed half the building. The gang had also planned to murder three off-duty police officers who were due to leave the station at that time.
British Army Special Forces were lying in wait and killed them all: in terms of the number of terrorists neutralised this was the most successful operation of its kind to be carried out by the security services during ‘the Troubles’.
Declassified documents released through the National Archives in Dublin revealed that ballistic tests on weapons found on the dead were used in 40-50 murders.
Three civilian contractors had been murdered in the counties that year along with officers in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the British Army's Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).
The rumour about Mr Adams was passed on to Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs by respected priest Fr Denis Faul about three months after the Loughgall operation, who had attended school in Dungannon with Padraig McKearney, one of the IRA gang, said the theory doing the rounds was that 'the IRA team were set up by Gerry Adams himself'.
Fr Faul, a school teacher and chaplain in Long Kesh prison, where terrorists were incarcerated during the Troubles, said the rumour was that two of the gang - Jim Lynagh, a councillor in Monaghan, and McKearney - 'had threatened to execute Adams shortly before the Loughgall event'.
It was being claimed that Lynagh and McKearney 'disliked Adams' political policy' and that they were leaning towards Republican Sinn Fein.
Three days after the operation, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Lenihan wrote to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Tom King urging him not to triumph over the killings.
Mr King wrote back over a week later and revealed: 'My advice is that that group had at least 40-50 murders to their score over the years.'
Notes from briefings by the British Government to Irish officials in London revealed the security forces claimed the IRA fired first; that the gun battle lasted two to three minutes; that the SAS fired 'no more rounds than were necessary' and that every IRA weapon had been fired.
This particular operation has long been associated with speculation about an informer having tipped off the RUC and British Army.
The 1987 archives offer some indication as to why such suspicions might fall on Adams, generally accepted to have been head of the Army Council of the Provisional IRA. Files also suggest that Adam privately believed the IRA's campaign would not succeed, and that terrorism was hampering his own personal ambitions and attempts to win support for the party at the ballot box.
The revelation was passed on to a diplomat by senior Catholic cleric Bishop Cahal Daly who commented on Mr Adams' 'deviousness and fundamental untrustworthiness’.
The report said: 'The Bishop has picked up a rumour that Gerry Adams is currently trying to put together a set of proposals which would enable the Provisional IRA to call a halt to their paramilitary campaign. 'He has reached the view that the 'armed struggle' is getting nowhere, that it has become a political liability to Sinn Fein both North and South and that, as long as it continues there is little chance that he will be able to realise his own political ambitions.'
If the suggestions do in fact have a basis in fact, Adams would not be the first IRA leader to fall under suspicion. In July 2015, the Belfast Telegraph reported on claims made by a former British Army agent that Adams confidant and fellow IRA Army Council member Martin McGuinness was himself an informer with the codename ‘J118’.
McGuiness is believed to have fired the first shots, with a Thompson sub-machine gun, that sparked off violence at a demonstration in Londonderry on January 30th 1972 that led to 14 deaths.