Germans thought Stuart lacked courage for action
MARK HENNESSY, London Editor

IRISH AUTHOR Francis Stuart “lacked the necessary courage and temperament” for “revolutionary or sabotage operations”, a senior German military intelligence agent declared in a post-second World War interrogation, British security service files reveal.

The file on Abwehr agent Kurt Haller, from an interrogation in 1946 after he was captured by the British army, is but one of a number of security service documents released today by the British national archives in Kew, London.

Describing him as “one of the key men in charge of Irish affairs”, the file holds Haller’s opinions on Stuart, along with the IRA’s chief of staff, Seán Russell, and Jim O’Donovan and Frank Ryan, who led Irish volunteers fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

The Germans, Haller told British army of the Rhine interrogators, had hoped to use the services of Stuart, who spent most of the second World War in Berlin, “much more than they did, because of his rabidly anti-British attitude”.

However, Stuart, who died in 2000, was “not a member of the IRA and seems to have lacked the necessary courage and temperament to associate himself with revolutionary or sabotage operations”, the interrogators reported.

Expressing frustration with its relations with the IRA and its ability to recruit Irish agents, Haller is reported as saying that they “were willing to betray Great Britain and each other [but] were judged too unreliable to be sent”.

Following early contacts in early 1938, the Abwehr contacted O’Donovan in January 1939, though the British interrogators judged that the Abwehr was too willing to take “the fantastic day-dreams of the IRA at face value”.

O’Donovan travelled to Hamburg in May 1939, but “he emphasised from the beginning that while the IRA would welcome German assistance, they would consider themselves only as temporary allies of Germany and reserved unconditionally their freedom of action”.

However, Haller displays considerable German irritation with the IRA, saying they had encouraged Russell to take Ryan with him on his return to Ireland because Russell “had shown considerable reticence towards the Germans and plainly did not regard himself as a German agent”.

“By sending Ryan [the Abwehr] felt that their own interests would be better safeguarded as Ryan more easily accepted his position as a German agent,” said the file, though it added Ryan did not enjoy “the same measure of support”.

O’Donovan, who orchestrated the IRA’s bombing campaign in England in 1939, then told his Abwehr contacts that the IRA would “not be prepared to place IRA volunteers at German disposal for sabotage”.

Saying that O’Donovan was given British £5 notes worth 30,000 reichmarks before he returned to Ireland, the file goes on: “O’Donovan further stressed that the IRA’s one and only aim was the conquest of Northern Ireland. It had little interest in other military or political operations.”

By August, 1939, relations between the two sides had improved.

In April 1940, a Dublin iron merchant, Stephen Held, whose father’s family was German, met Abwehr agents when he broke off from a business trip to Brussels to travel to Germany on the IRA’s behalf.

Proposing “Operation Kathleen” – a joint IRA/German invasion of Northern Ireland, Held said German flying boats could land troops in Carlingford Lough, while “it was anticipated” that members of the Irish Army “would make common cause with the IRA”.

However, by then, the German foreign office and the Abwehr wanted to maintain Irish neutrality “at all costs”, so the proposal passed on by Held was “received with dismay”, since it showed the IRA “as unpractical dreamers with an obstinate single-mindedness”.


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