Killing Haughey

Posted By: July 04, 2018

MI5 couldn’t manage it, though it did try

Joseph de Búrca. Village Magazine. Dublin. Tuesday, July 3,  2018

Last September’s Village described how the intelligence services of the UK conducted a near-decade-long smear campaign during the 1970s designed to prevent Charles Haughey from becoming Taoiseach. One of the more ludicrous smears they put into circulation was that he directed the Provisional IRA to bomb Belfast so he could purchase land on the cheap for development.

Last February I wrote how, during a family holiday in 1981, MI5 helped the loyalist terror group, the Red Hand Commando, in a failed bid to blow up Haughey’s yacht, the Taurima II, in Dingle harbor. The Red Hand Commando was then led by the notorious serial killer and pedophile John McKeague who was an MI5 agent.

Last March I analyzed the 1987 ‘UVF warning letter’ which emerged out of the blue last December from the vaults of the national archives. It had alerted Haughey to yet another plot against his life. According to it, MI5 had asked the UVF to assassinate him in 1985, but they had refused because they did not trust MI5 with whom they had worked previously. Haughey treated the letter as gravely serious. While the letter certainly contains no inaccuracies and subsequent revelations have confirmed much of what it contains, it is still impossible to state with any certainty that it is authentic. One thing, however, is clear: whoever sent it knew a lot about the collusive relationship between MI5 and the UVF.

This month I will examine two events that might have prompted the UVF to send the warning letter to Haughey: (1) the sinking of Haughey’s yacht in 1985, and (2) a UDA plot to assassinate him in 1987. In (3), we will look at an alternative explanation for the existence of the warning letter: that it was sent by moderate elements inside Whitehall to thwart MI5 mavericks who were hell-bent on murdering Haughey.



It will be assumed in the first and second parts of this article that the UVF Warning Letter is genuine for the purpose of continuing this analysis.

One of the revelations in the letter was that an MI5 officer using the pseudonym ‘Alex Jones’ had approached the UVF in 1985 when he had provided them with “photographs and details of [Haughey’s] private yacht.”

Haughey nearly lost his life at sea in September of 1985 when his private yacht, the Taurima II, sank in mysterious circumstances.

The Taurima II

The UVF operated in a grotesque world which revolved around paranoia, murder, and conspiracy. While there is no evidence to suggest that Haughey’s brush with death at sea was anything other than an unfortunate accident, the UVF might have perceived it as an assassination attempt. Then, two years later when Haughey returned to power and details of yet another anti-Haughey murder plot were in circulation, the UVF might have become fearful that if it went ahead, they would be served up as patsies for it by MI5 to protect the real assassins. The 1987 plot was driven by the UDA which was heavily in infiltrated by MI5 agents. The UDA plot will be discussed in Part II of this article.


Haughey owned a 42-foot yacht called the Taurima II which he had purchased in 1977. It was the vessel the RHC under the command of John McKeague had tried to blow up in 1981 while he was an MI5 agent. The RHC plot was aided by a ‘massive’ dossier on Haughey. MI5 and MI6 possessed just such a dossier on Haughey, and it is difficult to conceive of anyone but one of them who could have furnished it to the RHC.

In late September 1985 Haughey, his son Conor and three others were planning to sail the Taurima II from Kerry to Dublin.

The sailing party left for Dublin at night because Haughey was launching a book in Dunquin. “We wouldn’t normally be sailing at this time of night,” Haughey explained later. “We tried to bring the boat back on previous occasions, and we couldn’t make it, with the gales and storms. So, this time we had a good weather forecast, everything looked grand, so we decided to go back this time, one way or another. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be”.

Haughey’s companions sailed on Saturday 29 September from Dingle to Dunquin pier where they picked up Haughey at 5.30 p.m. and sailed towards disaster. By 1.15 a.m. Haughey was asleep unaware that the ship’s radar was malfunctioning. “We were about a mile off course when we hit a rock underneath the Mizen Head Light” at the south-western tip of Ireland. The “ first we knew about it was one of those shuddering crunches.” Haughey leaped up in response to the crash and threw on some clothes while his son Conor sent out a distress call on the ship’s VHF radio.


Haughey’s yacht sank within 10 to 15 minutes. It was later discovered resting at a depth of 15 meters just below Mizen Head Lighthouse. What saved the party was their preparedness: they were carrying a rubber dinghy which had been inflated and lashed to the deck as well as a life raft and had a radio that worked perfectly.

Haughey, who had recently celebrated his 60th birthday, and three of his party, jumped into the dinghy in the midst of dense fog. His son Conor took to the life raft which was linked to the dinghy by a towrope. Conor rowed the boats around the edge of the Mizen and into a pocket underneath the cliffs which towered 160 feet above them. They spent nearly three hours sheltering under the cliffs with the ever-present danger that if the dinghy drifted over to the rocks, it was likely the edge of one of them would rupture it.

The Mizen Lighthouse is located on a rocky promontory and is reached by a bridge across a gorge. A courageous lighthouse keeper called Richard Foran from Valentia Island was lowered down the side of the lighthouse to await and guide the Baltimore lifeboat to the rescue of the men in the boats directly beneath him. He was able to assist them him by shining a light down into the cleft and also keep their spirits up by advising them of the progress of the life-boat which was motoring towards the Mizen. While he waited, Foran became fearful that the dinghy would strike the rocks. He was apprehensive about the prospect of having to lower rope ladders the full length of the 160-foot cliff. To make matters worse, he was getting a strong smell of diesel fuel. He realized that in a rocking life raft, the smell of the diesel could bring on seasickness and seasick people could hardly be expected to ascend a cliff on a primitive rope ladder.

In the event, Conor Haughey managed to keep the dinghy off the rocks for approximately three hours until the Baltimore lifeboat arrived. Christy Collins, the pilot of the lifeboat, said later, “They were in a very bad spot and in real danger. I would say that they are lucky to be alive”.

Haughey on board the Taurima II

A press conference in Bushes’ pub in Baltimore took place the following day. Before Haughey appeared, a punch jangling with ice was dished out to the assembled press corps. It was promptly dubbed “Haughey on the Rocks.” Haughey himself made light of the disaster. When asked later by a Garda at Leinster House how he had managed to survive, he lent forward and whispered sotto voce, “I walked on water.”


The UVF faction that sent the Warning Letter (which we are still assuming for the purpose of analysis to be authentic) might not have shared Haughey’s light-hearted response. Instead, they might have concluded that the radar had been sabotaged, especially if they chanced upon a story written by Frank Doherty in the Phoenix magazine which was published on 11 October 1985. It reported that while Haughey had been “paddling about in a rubber dinghy, the seas around were bristling with naval vessels from all the large powers, engaged in what is now their annual mock jousts off Ireland. Among them was HMS Hermione, a British frigate which is a radar decoy ship. Fitted with a system called “Guardian,” HMS Hermione can, according to the makers of Guardian (Thorn-EMI), “not only jam and decoy the radar fitted in missiles like Exocet, but it can also seduce the missile away from its target. It also jams both the surveillance and guidance radars in the missile-launching aircraft.

“Now it may be that [Haughey’s] radar was afflicted by a natural malfunction,” the Phoenix article continued. “But wasn’t it a coincidence that the mysterious forces in the Triangle should have been active at a time when our Great Statesman had embarked on his epic and ill-fated odyssey?”.

Haughey himself had said, “We have no idea what caused the problems with the yacht’s radar. We seemed to be a mile out in direction”.


The sinking of the Taurima II was not Haughey’s only brush with death during September 1985. The twin-engine Cessna which had flown him from Dublin to Farranfore Airport in Kerry shortly before his doomed sea voyage suffered a burst tire as it landed on the runway at Farranfore. Happily, no one was injured. The incident was reported in the press after the sinking of his yacht. Interestingly, the ‘UVF’ Warning Letter referred to the possibility of launching an assault against Haughey at Farranfore airport. Again, while the burst tire was probably nothing more than just another piece of bad luck, it might have been perceived as a further indication of a murder plot by the UVF.

In addition, the UVF could hardly have failed to notice the most explosive story of the summer of 1985: the detonation of a bomb by the French Secret Service on board the Greenpeace agship, the Rainbow Warrior, in New Zealand during which Fernando Pereira, a Portuguese photo-journalist, was murdered. The French Government was engulfed by scandal and ultimately admitted responsibility for the outrage.

Moreover, by the time the Warning Letter was posted in 1987, another high profile political assassination had taken place on Western European soil: on 28 February 1986, Olfe Palme, the PM of Sweden, was shot on the street in Stockholm after emerging from the cinema with his wife.

The combination of all of these strange events may have unnerved the UVF and prompted them to alert Haughey in case a further plot was in the works for which they might be blamed. And, as it happens, another Loyalist anti-Haughey plot was indeed in the works. This was something that the UVF knew about because the anti-Haughey UDA plotters had asked the UVF in east Belfast for certain heavy-duty weaponry they required for the assault they were planning against Haughey.



Michael Stone, the RHC and UDA terrorist who revealed the RHC plot against Haughey in Dingle Harbour in 1981, also exposed the 1987 UDA assassination plot in his book ‘None Shall Divide Us.’ His account tears along with all the verve of ‘The Day of the Jackal.’ The assassin on this occasion was someone Stone described only as “Ken T.” Stone recounts that the “Anglo-Irish Agreement, the political process that pushed Loyalists and Unionists to the brink, was already in place [and] there was speculation that Haughey would make a guest appearance at [Stormont] Castle Buildings and meet the Secretary of State. Ken said the visit was wrong. He said he did not welcome a foreign politician interfering in the affairs of his country”.

A most disturbing part of Stone’s account is a passage where he reveals the complicity of a military ‘contact’. He describes how Ken “harnessed all his contacts to gather intelligence for this operation.” One of these was “a military contact [he had] at RAF Aldergrove.” This individual gave him the “ flight plan the Wessex would follow as it made its approach over Belfast.” Within a week Ken was handed a map with the clear overlay showing a variety of multicolored routes. He was shown one marked “green” and told this was the route the Wessex would take. The color was symbolic: green for Ireland and green for “all systems go.”

Ken’s contact told him the Wessex, “would make a convoluted journey. It would fly over Orangefield playing fields and Shandon golf course, both green field sites which provided a safe passage for the craft. It would do a horse-shoe over Castlereagh Hills and fly between two blocks of flats, Ardcarn and Tullycarnet. It would continue over the civil service playing fields and hover at the front of Castle Buildings before coming into land. Ken was told that the Wessex would fly at thirty to fifty meters, and he knew he could strike the plane at that height”.

Farranfore Airport

Ken knew what type of weapons he required, “He had an automatic rifle and several thousand rounds of ammunition, but he needed a machine gun with a high rate of fire to have any chance of bringing the chopper down. Ken was given a box of one thousand.762 belt clips. All he needed was a GIMPY, a general-purpose machine gun. He knew the Woodvale Defence Association had one and south-east Antrim had two Bren. 303 guns”.

Ken’s “military contact told him that the floor of the Wessex was fitted with steel plates and the best way of bringing the helicopter down was through the exhaust ducts or the nose. He knew the pilots would be carrying 9 mm weapons and [RUC] Special Branch would be on board, but he had planned for this with the machine gun. None of them would survive the automatic gun fire”.


Ken’s brigadier gave his blessing to the plan and brought it to the UDA’s Inner Council (IC) for approval a “week later” where he “told the assembled members about the operation.” The IC was also informed that ‘Ken’ wanted to borrow munitions from them for the task.

It is now an accepted fact that Tommy Lyttle, the UDA brigadier of West Belfast who sat on the IC, was an MI5 agent. Indeed, he would eventually confess as much to his colleagues. Hence, his behavior during the discussion about this operation merits scrutiny. He was “handled” by RUC Special Branch officers who in turn reported to MI5. The Special Branch officers must have been alarmed by the plot because it involved shooting at RUC personnel.

According to Stone, “Tommy Lyttle, Jim Craig and the Brigadier from east Belfast made the first contribution, saying the operation should not go ahead. Other brigadiers on the Inner Council agreed it was a good operation and gave it their backing. A week later Ken was told the UDA would sanction the operation but wasn’t in a position to supply weapons. Ken’s brigadier insisted the operation needed at least two more weapons”.

’Ken’ was ultimately left to his own devices to acquire the equipment required for the hit. “Ken tried to do swaps, short guns for long and managed to obtain two weapons for seven guns from the UVF in East Belfast. He had a contact who worked as a caretaker in the two blocks of flats, and he supplied keys to the skylights. Ken and a back-up man would be in position in Ardcarn and the second gunman would take up position in Tullycarnet. They would perform a cross fire operation as the Wessex flew between the blocks, but the operation had to be aborted. Ken couldn’t get the munitions he needed”.


On the day of the proposed visit “Ken watched the main evening news. Top of the schedule was the story of the meeting at Castle Buildings. There was footage of the Wessex approaching the building and landing on the front lawn. Charles Haughey didn’t emerge from the craft, but his Justice Minister, Gerard Collins, did”.

Stone believes that Lyttle, “informed his [RUC] Special Branch handlers about the operation. Ken also found out that the security forces were waiting at the Ardcarn and Tullycarnet Flats to shoot on sight the active-service unit”. Stone blamed Tucker who he felt “couldn’t cope with the size of the operation or the implications of it, so he told everything to his handlers.”

Stone’s assessment has much to commend it. If MI5 had been planning to shoot Haughey out of the air, they would surely have preferred to execute the task somewhere like Farranfore in faraway Kerry, not on their own turf. In Kerry, moreover, there would have been no question of collateral damage to RUC security personnel. Still, it is disconcerting to note that MI5 did not do a lot more to suppress the conspiracy. The preservation of Tommy Lyttle’s cover – not to mention that of other UDA agents such as Brian Nelson – would account for MI5’s failure to round up the shooters who – it should be stressed – merely required some suitable ammunition and they would have been ready to have attacked the helicopter. Equally disturbing, the “military contact at RAF Aldergrove” was never prosecuted.

The man who alerted MI5 to the 1987 UDA Haughey

 murder plot, Tommy ‘Turner’ Little of the UDA’s Inner Council



Last month Village described the blood-soaked careers of the men who commanded MI5 during the late 1970s and early-to-mid-1980s: Directors-General Sir Howard Smith, Sir John Jones, and Sir Antony Duff. In addition, Harold ‘Hal’ Doyne-Ditmas of MI5 served as Director and Co-coordinator of Intelligence (DCI) in NI, i.e., the most senior intelligence officer in NI. He served from at least early 1981 until some stage after 1985, when he returned to London, and his career continued to flourish under Thatcher.

Duff retired in 1987 and was replaced by Sir Patrick Walker who held the reins until 1992. Unfortunately, Walker sailed by the same dark compass as that of his predecessors. He maintained the MI5-FRU death squads in the field until they ventured beyond the Pale – even by the lawless standards of MI5 – in 1989 by murdering Patrick Finucane, a lawyer who was subsequently misrepresented as a member of the IRA by RUC and MI5 nudges and winks. Meanwhile, Freddie Scappaticci continued his murderous escapades for MI5 while a member of the IRA.


While MI5 and MI6 co-operated with each other in respect of many operations in Ireland, they also engaged in occasional bouts of internecine feuding. Many of the sophisticates in MI6 (attached to the élitist Foreign Office) believed that their thuggish social inferiors in MI5 (attached to the Home Office) were spinning out of control, something the Peter Wright-Spycatcher affair had brought sharply into focus in 1987, with stories about MI5 plots against British politicians including Harold Wilson. (See Village July and August 2017).

Sir Antony Duff

Although Peter Wright had retired from MI5 in 1976, many of his ultra-right wing colleagues (the ‘Ultras’) were still in place in the mid-1980s. Indeed, Doyne-Ditmas had been one of Wright’s acolytes. It is inconceivable that the men operating under his command in NI carried out all of the following dirty-trick operations behind his back:

  • Ran the murderous operations of Freddie Scappaticci, MI5’s most valuable agent inside the Provisional IRA;
  • Organised the MI5-FRU and the RUC’s SSU death squads;
  • Covered-up MI5’s involvement in the pedophile ring which revolved around Kincora and other children’s homes. Even the Hart Report (which viewed MI5 through rose-tinted glasses) stated this about MI5’s behaviour while Doyne-Ditmas was DCI and the RUC was investigating Kincora: “MI5 consistently obstructed a proper line of [RUC] enquiry by their refusal to allow the RUC to interview a retired MI5 officer, [Ian Cameron] and by their refusal to authorize [Cameron] to provide a written statement to the RUC answering 30 questions the RUC wished to ask him. We consider these questions were proper and relevant questions to the inquiry being conducted by [RUC] D/Supt Caskey at that time’;
  • Directed MI5 agents in the INLA to assassinate John McKeague, the leader of the Red Hand Commando. (For more about the assassination of McKeague see Village February 2018.)

Moreover, Doyne-Ditmas would also have known that Colin Wallace, the former British Army PSYOPS officer, and Kincora/MI5 dirty tricks whistle-blower, had been framed for manslaughter, yet let him languish in prison between 1981 and 1987.

Bearing all of the preceding in mind, we can place Walker, Doyne-Ditmas, and their MI5 subordinates among those who became cold-blooded political killers. In 1987 Anthony Cavendish, who had served in both MI5 and MI6, described how as “the years go by, the lies take over from the truth and morality accepts the other demands which are made on an [intelligence] officer to get the job done.” Cavendish also revealed that “theft, deception, lies, mutilation and even murder are considered if and when necessary.”

The moderates in Whitehall certainly knew that the Ultras in MI5 was capable of trying to murder Haughey again. Yet the moderates had well-laid plans to secure Haughey’s support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA) of 1985 by way of flattery and diplomacy. Haughey had opposed the AIA when it had first been signed. They intended to seduce him by focusing on the fact that it was he – not his opponent Garret FitzGerald – who had started the AIA ball rolling back in 1981. An official at the NIO, Peter Bell, had written to Tom King, NI Secretary, on 12 December 1986, describing Haughey as a ‘highly pragmatic and astute’ politician. According to Bell, the AIA had, in fact, stemmed `’from initiatives taken [by] Mr. Haughey`’. In 1987 the NIO prepared three papers about “handling” Haughey, two of them before his return to power in February 1987. They were entitled: “Handling Mr. Haughey,” “Handling Mr. Haughey II” and “Handling Mr. Haughey on Northern Ireland – Tactics.”

In addition, David Goodall, Thatcher’s Cabinet Intelligence Co-ordinator, had engaged in internal Whitehall correspondence entitled “Doing Business with Mr. Haughey.” Goodall and Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong had led the British negotiation team that had secured the AIA. Goodall had an Irish background and was appalled at the ignorance Margaret Thatcher displayed during conversations with him about Ireland. Goodall was one of the more senior Whitehall moderates and made many friends in Dublin as a result of the AIA.

Hence, one possible explanation for the UVF Warning Letter is that Goodall and his associates directed MI6, then led by Christopher Curwen, to forge the letter, to thwart MI5’s scheme to kill Haughey. This interpretation is distinctly chilling nonetheless because they would hardly have taken such a drastic step unless they had a very compelling reason to believe that criminal elements inside MI5 were planning to use Loyalist frontmen as proxy assassins in a plot against Haughey.

As is invariably the case when analyzing the activities of British subterfuge in Ireland, it is necessary to resort to some speculation. Bearing this in mind, the following sequence of events may have taken place:

  • After Haughey was re-elected in February 1987, a visit to Stormont was on the cards;
  • Tommy ‘Tucker’ Lyttle, Brian Nelson and other MI5 agents in the UDA learned of ‘Ken’s’ plot and informed their RUC Special Branch handlers who told MI5 and the officials at the NIO who in turn relayed the information to Whitehall;
  • There were two dynamics at play: some hard-line mavericks inside MI5 may have encouraged or permitted a military “contact” at the RAF base to furnish the UDA with Haughey’s helicopter flight plan; meanwhile, the Whitehall moderates became determined to halt the assassination, and it was the moderates who eventually prevailed;
  • It was also the moderates who dispatched the security forces who Michael Stone describes in his book as having waited “at the Ardcarn and Tullycarnet Flats to shoot on sight the [UDA] active-service unit,” should it turn up after all;
  • To make sure nothing like this could happen again, the moderates may have sent the ‘UVF’ Warning Letter to Haughey and let the Mavericks know what they had done. MI5’s contacts in Garda Intelligence would have alerted MI5 in London to the receipt of the ‘UVF’ letter within hours of its arrival in Dublin. Indeed, Garda-MI5 relations had reached a high point in 1987 under Garda Commissioner Larry Wren and his intelligence chief Stephen Fannin. Hence, the MI5 mavericks would have realized as a result of communications from the Gardai that they would be first in the ring line if a further bid was made to assassinate Haughey and consequently they had to back down.

As it transpired, Haughey came around to support the AIA. If any of the plots against him had succeeded, Irish history would have taken a dramatically different turn. In the first instance, Haughey would not have been around to instruct his tenacious NI adviser Marin Mansergh to open up a line of communication with the IRA through Fr Alex Reid; a process that began the peace process. His likely successor then would have been Albert Reynolds (who ultimately took over from him in 1992). Reynolds was a talented negotiator and would make an enormous contribution to the peace process after he became Taoiseach. However, if Reynolds had succeeded Haughey in 1987 in the wake of the assassination, it is inconceivable he would have been able to initiate any sort of a peace process amid the chaos of Haughey’s death. Moreover, the murderous elements inside MI5 would have moved quickly to exploit the resulting uproar by launching an all-out assault on the IRA in tandem with their Loyalist paramilitary allies and puppets.


David Goodall was a close friend of the ex-MI5 and MI6 officer David Cornwell, better known as the celebrated spy author John Le Carré. The pair had been friends since the 1960s when both had served at the Bonn Embassy together. Goodall’s house had featured in one of Le Carré’s books, ‘The Little Drummer Girl,’ during which it had been the fictitiously destroyed, much to the amusement of Le Carré who had stayed at it while writing the novel.

Le Carré maintained many of his connections with the British intelligence community. He had a relationship of sorts with Sir Maurice Oldfield, the former Chief of MI6, among others in MI5 and MI6. Indeed, Le Carré was able to arrange a lunch with Oldfield for Alec Guinness while Guinness was preparing to play the role of George Smiley and the BBC’s acclaimed version of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy.’

David Goodall (on the right) at a meeting in Dublin in 2015 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Also in the picture are Michael Lillis, Sean Donlon, Noel Dorr, Tony Brennan (seated), Ld Robert Armstrong, Robert Andrews and David Goodall

It is admittedly fanciful and far-fetched yet diverting to speculate that Goodall might have consulted Le Carré for a few tips while the moderates were cooking up the UVF letter; a contribution to fiction for which Le Carré will never claim any credit. It may be the only occasion on which he deigned to write anything about the Troubles.



Haughey purchased a new vessel, the Celtic Mist after the Taurima II sank. It endured a few clashes of its own with the Royal Navy in the early 1990s. While these incidents soured Anglo-Irish relations, there is no question that they presented any threat to Haughey’s life, but they merit a mention in this story nonetheless.

The first incident occurred on 22 July 1990 while the Celtic Mist was sailing around Carlingford Lough. She was halted and boarded by ‘abusive’ Royal Marines from a minesweeper and searched for illegal weapons. At the time of the intrusion, Haughey was serving as Taoiseach and faraway on dry land. None of his family was on board either. Instead, it was Haughey’s friend, Brian Stafford, who was skipper that day, and who had to face the ‘abusive’ marines. When he learned of what had happened, Haughey became incensed and ordered the Irish Navy patrol ship Orla to the Lough to protect Irish boats until further notice.

The Royal Navy refused to disclose the name of minesweeper to the inquiring press afterward. Ironically, Haughey ordered his officials to raise a complaint at the Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference Secretariat at May field which had been created by the AIA.

There were other altercations between the Haughey family and the Royal Navy, again involving the Celtic Mist. On 20 June 1992 – a few months after Haughey had retired as Taoiseach – he was enjoy