The killing of John Francis Green
BY LAURA FRIEL
At a remote mountainside farmhouse one bleak January night, the body of a young man, shot dead and lying in a pool of blood, was discovered by a farmer returning home after milking a neighbour's cow. The farm was south of the border, on the slopes of Mullyash Mountain, County Monaghan. The dead man was a prominent IRA leader, John Francis Green, OC 2nd Battalion North Armagh Óglaigh na hÉireann, who had escaped from Long Kesh three years earlier. It was 10 January 1975 and less than three weeks prior to the shooting, the Republican Movement, engaged in peace talks with a group of Protestant clergymen, had announced a ceasefire.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most controversial killings in the current phase of the struggle. Even at the time, events leading up to the IRA man's death indicated the killing was the work of a British assassination squad. Weeks prior to the shooting and despite the fact that the farmhouse was located over a mile south of the border, it had been a target of intense crown force activity.
"On a sad sullen January day, the faceless men in British pay, came to murder brave John Francis Green..."
When a squad of armed British soldiers invaded the 26 Counties and raided the farmhouse of a citizen of the Irish state, the Gardaí responded by politely escorting the soldiers back across border. Incursions by a British Army helicopter, which circled the farmhouse several times, evoked little response from a compliant Dublin government. But the controversy which surrounded the killing at the time paled beside the revelations which were to follow almost a decade later.
A series of articles by British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell published in the New Statesman in 1984 exposed Britain's `dirty war' in Ireland. According to Campbell, 1975 had been a time of bitter rivalry between different parts of the British counter insurgency apparatus in the North of Ireland. When Fred Holroyd, a key player in Britain's covert activity, fell foul of that rivalry, he emerged as a whistle blower.
According to Holroyd, during a routine meeting with covert British Military Intelligence operative Robert Nairac in Portadown, Nairac claimed that he had killed John Francis Green. To support his claim, Nairac had produced a colour Polaroid photograph of the dead IRA man taken soon after his death. According to Campbell, a Garda photographic team travelled up from Dublin the morning after the killing and took pictures using standard black and white film. A senior Garda source said no Garda officer in the area had the equipment to take a Polaroid photograph.
Nairac also detailed the killing, describing how he and two other men had crossed the border, driven down a country lane and waited until the farmer had left Green alone in the house.
Nairac described two of them watching Green through an uncurtained window, before kicking down the door and repeatedly shooting Green, emptying one gun into his body as he lay dying. A Garda investigation into the killing later confirmed many aspects of Nairac's account. Forensic reports established two guns were used, one a Spanish made Star automatic pistol. The Star pistol was later linked to four sectarian murders carried out between 1973 and 1976, including the Miami Showband massacre.
In July 1987, the story of Nairac's involvement in the Green killing dramatically surfaced again, when British Labour MP Ken Livingstone used his maiden speech in the House of Commons to expose aspects of Britain's dirty war. A counter offensive began almost immediately. Within days of the Livingstone speech a number of journalists were approached by the Cabinet Office and, off the record, warned Holroyd and Wallace were unreliable. In late July, Chris Ryder, a former Belfast correspondent who had fled to England after a story he wrote alleging IRA embezzlement was exposed as British propaganda, offered the Sunday Times a scoop.
A Polaroid photograph of Green, allegedly the same photograph passed to Holroyd from Nairac, was offered to the Sunday Times. The photograph, Ryder claimed, was taken by the Gardai and proved Holroyd's account was unreliable. The Sunday Times refused to run the story believing it to be ``black propaganda''. The photograph story surfaced again a few months later, this time in the London-based Independent via their Shankill-born correspondent David McKittrick.
McKittrick claimed the Polaroid photograph which had connected Nairac to the Green killing had in fact been taken by the Gardaí and a copy sent to the RUC. The message was clear; the possession of such a photograph did not implicate Nairac or British Military Intelligence in covert assassinations south of the border. In a full page exposé, McKittrick attempted to undermine Holroyd's credibility. In the short term, McKittrick's article succeeded, but the story of Green's assassination just wouldn't die with him.
More recently, revelations by former RUC officer John Weir have identified Green's murders as UVF members in Portadown. According to Weir, the killers were Robin Jackson, the notorious loyalist killer known as the Jackal, Robert McConnell, a UDR soldier later executed by the IRA, and Harris Boyle, a UVF man who blew himself up during the Miami Showband murders.
According to Weir, the loyalist death squad was part of a covert murder conspiracy initiated by the British SAS and other undercover units. In an article by Liam Clarke appearing in the Sunday Times in February 1999, Weir claims that Green had not been the intended target. It was the farmer, Gerry Carville, who had been selected for assassination. The death squad believed that another UDR man, James Elliot, shot dead in April 1972, had been held at the farm prior to his execution by the IRA. Shortly after Weir's account appeared in the media, a former girlfriend of Robert Nairac reiterated the claim that the British SAS man had indeed been Green's killer.
A quarter of a century after the killing of John Francis Green, a married man with three young children at the time of his death, his family and friends still do not know the truth behind his death. Despite the peace process and the establishment of victims commissions led by British minister Adam Ingram and Dublin TD John Wilson, requests by the family for an inquiry have been ignored.
After Nairac's death, during the 1977 trial of his alleged killers, Niarac's commanding officer told the Dublin court that a ``personal pistol'' apart from his official issue Browning automatic, had been found in Nairac's room after his death. It has never been established whether the weapon referred to in court was the same as the weapon used in the Green killing. It is not known if Nairac fired the fatal rounds himself or merely provided the weapon to a notorious loyalist/UDR gang operating at the time and closely associated with Nairac.