Vincent Browne responds to British ambassador 'concerns'.
In British official 1976 documents released now under the 30-year secrecy rule, the acting British ambassador in Ireland in September 1976, John Hickman, complained to a senior Irish diplomat about the nature of Vincent Browne's alleged links with the Provisional IRA.
Vincent Browne, who is now editor of Village, was a journalist with The Sunday Independent in 1976, having previously been northern new editor of The Irish Press group from 1970 to 1972.According to a note written by Hickman after a meeting on 21 September 1976 with Sean Donlon, then with responsibility for Anglo-Irish relations at the Department of Foreign Affairs, he (Hickman) said: "Browne might be a good deal more than a willing channel for Provisional views".
He went on to note: "(the British) had heard rumours that he (Browne) had, or claimed to have, inside knowledge of past Provisional actions which he should have made available to the Irish authorities". Hickman noted that "Donlon did not challenge this", choosing instead to tell "a number of stories of Browne's activities as the Irish Press correspondent in Belfast in the early '70s, which confirmed that he had co-operated with the Provisionals to a degree which went well beyond the legitimate contacts of a journalist". When Hickman then suggested that it would be "appropriate" for Browne to be questioned in forthright terms by the Garda to "discover whether he had any unpublished information of interest", Donlon did not respond.
According to Hickman's account of the conversation Donlon stated that "the Provisionals invariably use Browne when they wish to make a major public impact in the southern press". In a response written for publication in The Sunday Business Post on 31 December 2006, Vincent Browne stated:“I never had any information about the IRA which I should have make available to the authorities, I was never “used” by the IRA, as far as I am aware, nor did I co-operate with the IRA to a degree which went beyond the legitimate contacts of a journalists, other than what I cite below.“I did at times have information which I felt I should relay to the authorities and when this occurred I did that”.Browne then goes on to reveal how he became aware of an IRA plot to kill the then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Conor Cruise O'Brien in 1974 or 1975 and how he informed O'Brien of the plot.
Also of two other occasions in which he became aware of IRA plans to kill someone and how he reported this to the authorities.He writes: “Of course there was much else I knew as a journalist that the authorities would have been interested in. I did not tell them for the same reason that all (or nearly all) journalists refuse to communicate information to police authorities”. On the alleged incidents in Belfast in the early 1970's, to which Sean Donlon alluded, Browne writes one concerned the arrest in his flat of a member of the old Stormont Parliament, Paddy Kennedy, and of his role in brining a gun to the British army at the request of the British army. He writes: “I was
contacted by an IRA person I knew and asked to visit a house in Anderson.
On getting there I was shown what was said to be a machine gun, which, the IRA man, claimed, was one of thousands that had been manufactured in an engineering works in Belfast for distribution to loyalist paramilitaries. I arranged for a photograph to be taken of the gun and then contacted by British army press office at Lisburn and spoke to the then head of the press office, Colin Wallace, who has had a controversial career since. I told him what had happened and what I had been told. I asked was it likely this was a machine gun and was it likely that these could be manufactured in an engineering words in Belfast.
He phoned me later to say he had discussed the issue with some technical experts in the British army and their view was that this indeed could be a machine gun and could have been manufactured in Belfast. He asked if I could get this gun from the IRA. I said I would enquire. I asked the IRA if they would give me one of the guns to bring to the British army and after a day ro so they came back and said yes.In the meantime I had written about this in The Sunday Press and a photograph of the gun was also published. Other journalists in Belfast contacted me about it and asked could they see the gun. I told them I would be bringing the gun to the British army a day ro so later and I would let two of them see it in a bedroom in the Europa Hotel en route.
I was given the gun in a bar on the Falls Rd and walked down to the Europa Hotel with the gun under my jacket. When I got to the Europa there was a phalanx of journalists and TV crews there for my “press conference” I was arrested immediately by the RUC and the arrest was captured by the TV cameras and broadcast later that evening….“ I was technically guilty of unlawfully being in possession of a machine gun and was fined £20. A few hours ,later I met the judge who had convicted and fined me, Martin McBirney. He expressed regret at having to convict and fine me for he appreciated I was not up to anything nefarious”.
As for the IRA using him to make a “major splash” in the southern press, he writes: “ I do not recall ever being offered a story of an interview with the IRA. I certainly sought stories from the IRA and sought interviews and got, from time to time, stories and interviews, but, as far as I recall, always at my initiative.