Michael Collins and the Organisation of Irish Intelligence, 1917-21

Michael Collins and the Organisation of Irish Intelligence, 1917-21


On April 9th, a new and bloodier phase of the intelligence war began. Acting on Collins' orders, a number of 'G' men were warned by the Volunteers against an excess of zeal. 'G' men who did not comply would pay with their lives.

The Squad

&ldquoI am a builder, not a destroyer. I get rid of people only when they hinder my work.”- Michael Collins to Ned Broy

Collins set up 'the Squad', a small band of Dublin Volunteers attached to the Intelligence Department, in July 1919. It was a full-time assassination team, made up of clerks, tradesmen, and general workers, who were paid £4.10 a week. According to Bill Stapleton, one of its members-

&ldquoOur chief function was the extermination of British spies and individuals.”

Strict rules were laid down for Squad shootings. Assassinations were a last resort, coming after repeated warnings to the target. Once the order to shoot was given, the Squad would study the locale carefully and work out where and when the shooting would take place. After a job the guns would be dropped in the pockets of 'the Black Man', a former boxer who perpetually walked the streets of Dublin.

On July 30th, Detective Sergeant Smith of the 'G' Division was shot dead by the Squad on the authority of Dail Eireann. On September 12th, Sergeant Daniel Hoey was shot dead outside of Police Headquarters at Brunswick Street. Both Smith and Hoey had disregarded several warnings from Volunteers. As a result of these killings, political detectives became less inclined to go beyond the letter of their duty, or taking any risks in its execution. Collins explained his strategy in 1922-

&ldquoWithout her spies England was helpless…

Spies are not so ready to step into the shoes of their departed confederates as are soldiers to fill up the front line in honourable battle. And, even when the new spy stepped into the shoes of the old one, he could not step into the old one's knowledge…

We struck at individuals, and by doing so we cut their lines of communication, and we shook their morale.”

The other main result of these killings, and Volunteer activity in Munster, was the banning of Sinn Fein and Dail Eireann. This created a fertile climate for Collins' extremist tactics, allowing him to assassinate more British police and agents without being restrained by moderates.

Following the suppression of Dail Eireann, the Dail and the Volunteers (by now popularly known as the IRA) agreed that the IRA should intensify its campaign. With the demise of the DMP in Dublin, the British authorities decided to bring down Mr. William C. Forbes Redmond from Belfast to reorganise the detective force. But his assistant in Dublin Castle was one of Collins' agents. Redmond was identified and his movements were recorded. On January 20th 1920, Redmond was shot dead by members of the Squad as he returned to his suite in the Standard Hotel in Harcourt Street. According to a Squad member, Joe Dolan-

&ldquoWe knew he had a bullet-proof waistcoat, so we shot him in the head.”

Following Redmond's death, his own undercover detectives pulled out and returned to Belfast, and thereafter 'G' Division &ldquoceased to affect the situation”, according to British military intelligence. By the following month, a Secret Service Branch of the RIC no longer existed.

It may be wondered how Collins and his intelligence officers went about seemingly unhindered during this time. The remaining DMP men were generally too afraid to go after Collins, even though many of them were able to identify him. The twin evils of spies and raids remained however. Many of Collins' office and hiding places, dotted throughout Dublin city, were turned over during the War of Independence. He usually got forewarning from one of his agents and was able to be elsewhere. It also helped when one of his 'friendly' detectives was leading the raiding party. In November 1919 Collins' financial offices on Harcourt Street were raided. Nothing important was discovered because the detective in charge of the search simply didn't bother looking. What he actually did was-

&ldquoI went upstairs and counted the roses on the wallpaper until the raid was over.”

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