Celtic League Military Monitoring

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This article sets out the inception of the campaign in Mannin and its adoption as policy of the League. It continues with a summary of the main successes achieved and includes reference points in various issues of CARN which are available online at our website https://www.celticleague.net/carn/

Celtic League Military Monitoring was initially a Mannin Branch initiative. It grew out of a Manx domestic organisation The Anti-Militarist Alliance (AMA, comprising the Western Branch of Mec Vannin and the Celtic League Mannin Branch). It subsequently became a Manx League Branch campaign and was eventually extended to all the Celtic League through a resolution adopted at the AGM which was held in Dublin in 1982. (See Carn 39 Page 18 AGM resolutions).

The Manx Branch initiative was prompted by three issues. Primarily the use of the British army at its base facility in Jurby to support its operations in the North of Ireland, the environmental impact of military exercises, and the operation of the Jurby sea bombing range (separate from the Army facility) which was used mainly by the USAF/NATO. AMA and then the Mannin branch had some success in relation to the range issue and in 1980 the UK MOD had to drop a plan to expand the facility to incorporate a much greater area offshore. The area over the Isle of Man was also proscribed for low flying below 2,000’. It is the only area of the UK and Isle of Man where such a proscription applies, and I was told just a few months ago by a former RAF military jet pilot that the prescription is still in place 40 years later and adhered to. The AMA period spanned 1976-79 and in that period the organisation produced a newsletter, the Celtic League and AMA News, copies of all issues are deposited with the Library of Manx National Heritage.

At the Dublin 1982 AGM, I was appointed Assistant General Secretary and set about implementing the Military Monitoring resolution adopted by the conference.

Our primary focus was on:

  • All British military activity in the North of Ireland (both land and sea-based)
  • Bases in all the Celtic countries
  • Environmental issues such as munitions dumping etc.
  • Low flying training over the Celtic countries
  • Submarine activity focused on the Naval bases at Faslane and Holy Loch
  • The military ranges in SW Scotland, mid-Wales, and the Western Isles

It was more difficult, but we also tried to incorporate Breizh into the overall programme although this was a problem due to logistics and of course the limited means for communication, compared to today. It may be mentioned however that the Irish and Breton branches assisted Secours Populaire Interceltique, who sent a trawler full of relief supplies for refugees from the North after the Loyalist pogroms in 1969. In recent years, the CL supported the Bugaled Breizh campaign by relatives seeking answers about the sinking of the vessel and to bring closure, see below.

I should say at this point that AGMs of the League had taken decisions over military issues impacting on our countries prior to the formal military monitoring programme. In 1971 at an AGM in Glasgow, the League announced the setting up by the Irish Branch of a campaign to persuade Welsh and Scottish troops sent to the North of Ireland to desert, and assistance was promised. This achieved considerable publicity in the Scottish media. In 1979 the AGM in Cymru had opposed the recruitment and use of troops from Celtic countries in the six counties. Additionally, an AGM in Breizh had opposed conscription.

The methods used to apply some focus to the Military Monitoring campaign involved building a network of contacts in newspapers and with other groups. In the latter category Irish CND and the Faslane Peace Camp spring out as examples. Also developing media contacts, particularly with regional media in the Celtic countries. For example, in Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Dublin. We achieved a fair amount of coverage although strangely the major breakthrough came via an English newspaper, The Liverpool Daily Post, which did a two-page centre spread on our campaigns focused on the submarine related accidents involving Motor Fishing Vessels (MFVs).

Picture above: George Foulkes, Scottish Labour MP supported the Campaign over submarine activity and pollution around military bases.

The campaign also relied on support from political figures and notable among these were George Foulkes MP, Scotland (UK Labour), Hugh Byrne TD, Wexford (Fianna Fáil), Dafydd Wigley, and Dafydd Elis-Thomas MP (Plaid Cymru). The campaigns could be protracted or enjoy swift success. For example, the submarine monitoring campaign did achieve success fairly swiftly (see below). 

After the scaling down of our monitoring campaign at the end of the cold war and my retirement as General Secretary, I lodged many boxes of files with the Manx National Heritage (MNH) Library. These files have been a source on several occasions for both researchers and journalists. For example, in the 1990s we cooperated with a Japanese researcher on a formal project for the Diet (Japanese parliament). We also cooperated with US/Japanese researchers and TV crews such as the French Channel TV5 Monde.

A detailed history of Celtic League military monitoring would fill a book. Several summaries of work as it was in progress are in various issues of CARN, some of which are referenced in this report. There is also a very considerable number of good summaries in the News archive on the Celtic League website, particularly in the older pdf files. However, sadly a lot of documented material from 2000-2009, which was on our Yahoo Newsgroup, was lost when Yahoo unilaterally cleared the pages. The hard copy period from 1976 – 82 in Mannin is well documented in the files we lodged at MNH. The period from 1982 – 2007 of correspondence is also well documented and secured by the deposit of records with MNH.

In addition to correspondence (and it was copious) with the UK and other agencies, I also deposited between 30-40 books of news cuttings which indicates the scope of publicity achieved. It is fair to say that we got coverage for the monitoring campaign in papers as diverse as the Galloway Gazette and the Los Angeles Times. TV and radio coverage was also extensive, and we had feature items on radio and TV in countries as diverse as Japan and Norway.

The Celtic League Military Monitoring was a tremendous success, not least because we turned back the carpet on several issues that the military wished to keep hidden. The campaign in terms of time and effort was very consuming and although it continues it is at a very reduced tempo as the level of military activity from the end of the Cold war until about four years ago was also very much reduced. However, recent events show that the impact of military activity and its detrimental impact on the environment and people of the Celtic countries has not gone away and will not change for the foreseeable future. Our main partners for cooperation now are PANA (Peace and Neutrality), Ireland, and Forces Watch UK

Main Campaigns achieved:

  • Low flying Isle of Man – achieved the land overflight proscription and stopped plans to expand the sea bombing range.
  • Jurby Sea –Bombing range. The campaign against this only ended when it closed but, as indicated above the low flying proscription still pertains over Mannin.
  •  British Army activity IOM A campaign to halt Army military exercises in Mann had swift success initially with the ban on their use of eco-sensitive areas and finally a complete cessation. (Note: Although worryingly some political figures in Mann are still sympathetic to the UK military and it was only swift action in 2019 that halted a possible military exercise on the Langness peninsula in the South of the Island).
  • Submarine/MFV incidents – some of the key examples are given below and the effect of the League campaign.

HMS Porpoise 1 inset-min

Picture above: HMS Porpoise photographed just hours before it sank the Irish MFV Sheralga off Co Louth. The photograph was taken by Dee Moffatt (inset) who was also involved in other aspects of the Military Monitoring campaign for many decades.

  • The sinking of the MFV Sheralga. The Royal Navy denied a submarine of theirs was responsible. This was exposed however by a photograph of H.M.S. Porpoise west of the Isle of Man just hours before it sank the Sheralga off Co Louth. The fishermen were fortunately saved by other trawlers and the admission led to the RN paying compensation. 
  • The sinking of the Breton trawler Cite d’Aleth with the loss of ten lives, so quickly that only a partial May Day message got out. Relatives paid for the examination of the wreck and rejected official spurious explanations.
  • Oriel an Irish trawler, had to cut its nets to escape being pulled down. Many sightings of submarines in the Irish sea and near fishing areas.
  • First USS Nathanial Greene incident. We highlighted the USN nuclear submarine accident in the Irish Sea. Many years later it was admitted the USS Nathanial Greene was irreparably damaged and subsequently had to be decommissioned.
  • Mystery of the disappearance of MFV Mhari L and the DOT video of the wreck (see Carn 52). So-called evidence was rejected by a meeting of Fishermen in Peel.
  • A chart of submarine – MFV incidents was produced which would grow to identify approx. 170 incidents. The continuous campaign, correspondence, and activity led the Irish Department of the Marine to request copies of the files and data on the sinkings and incidents. These were delivered by the then Irish Branch Secretary, Cathal Ó Luain. The Irish Government raised the matter at the International Maritime Organisation and a Resolution was adopted. Resolutions A599 (Nov. 1987), later superseded by A709.17 (Nov. 1991), to address the issue. This resolution is the International standard governing interaction between submarines and motor fishing vessels. In addition, the RN adopted a system of Notice to Mariners (NOTAM) and a Code of Practice 

Unfortunately, some later sinkings/snaggings showed that this protocol for submarine behaviour in fishing areas or near fishing vessels was not adhered to.

  • The Welsh MFV Inspire was capsized (5th September 1988) by the wash of a submarine travelling at speed in a semi-submerged state off the coast of mid-Wales. One of the two-man crew drowned. The evidence of the other (survivor) was enough to have an inquest return a verdict of unlawful killing although the submarine was not identified, and the MOD denied responsibility. 
  • In Autumn 1989 the Irish MFV Contester was towed backward for a mile before freeing itself. The Royal Navy sub did not stop nor render assistance. Following positive identification of the sub as British, the Irish Government lodged a formal protest. Shortly after this, a small Scottish MFV Irene was lost with two crew off the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. Denial again from M. O.D. but NATO submarine exercises were underway (See Carn 68 Winter 1989 – ‘Royal Navy Assurances Worthless’, which referred to an earlier CL statement ‘Sink Them and Leave Them’ as being glaringly true.)
  • The Scottish MFV Antares was sunk on the Clyde on 22nd November 1990 within seconds by HMS Trenchant. Again, the submarine did not alert shore-based rescuers and only surfaced and notified a possible snagging after one hour. All the crew of Antares drowned. In 2011 a report by the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch placed the blame squarely on the Trenchant’s command team. See https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/submarine-crew-blamed-sinking-antares-1532324.html
  • A well-attended Seminar ‘The Military and Nuclear Threat Around the Irish Sea’ was organised by the Irish Branch in Dublin in 1991 (Carn 74, Summer 1991) at which I outlined the CL campaign. Speakers from Irish CND and Greenpeace also participated.
  • After the snagging of the Irish fishing vessel Karen in 2015 and the belated admission after 4 months by the UK that one of its submarines was responsible the DoI of the League, Bernard Moffatt wrote to the IOM several times. He called on the Secretary General to use the good offices of the organisation to prevail on all submarine operating powers to ensure full compliance with IMO A709.17.
  • Bugaled Breizh, a Breton trawler, was sunk in January 2004 with the loss of all the crew (during a NATO exercise). The CL supported the Bugaled Breizh campaign by relatives seeking answers about the sinking of the vessel and to help bring closure. The vessel was recovered from the seabed and despite the large dinge in the hull, the French Navy inquiry claimed it had struck a sandbank, a conclusion not accepted by the families. As the sinking had happened off the coast of Cornwall and the bodies of two crew came ashore there, a Coroner’s Inquiry later took place. In a long letter to the Coroner of Cornwall in July 2015, Bernard Moffatt outlined the Celtic League monitoring of sinkings of MFVs, listing some key cases, and supplied details of the IMO resolutions. After a Coroner’s hearing in Cornwall, the issue was referred to the Central Criminal Court in London where it is expected a full hearing will be held in October.
  • Low Flying Wales and Scotland – led to the introduction of the ‘Sky Guard’ mobile radar monitoring system to police this issue.
  • British military communications via the Twenty-Six Counties of Ireland – In 1983 we exposed the microwave link system from Bishop’s Court radar using commercial links through the 26 Counties. This later led to the revelation that the British were abusing this ‘courtesy’ to tap ‘all communications’ between Ireland and Britain using a specially constructed facility at Capenhurst in Cheshire. See Carn 105 Spring 1999 – Report on visit to South Armagh by the GS where a roadside gathering of several thousand was addressed on the Military Monitoring campaign concerning the border installations. See also Carn 106 Summer 1999 – Concerns over electronic surveillance devices in the border areas of the six counties.
  • Environment- Dumping of Munitions- We exposed the extent of military dumping in ‘Operation Sandcastle’ in the mid-1950s and related operations at 22 sea dump sites around these Islands particularly in the Beaufort Dyke in the North Channel, which contains 1,000,000 tonnes of munitions. See Carn 88 Winter 1994 – The sea dumps of Operation Sandcastle. The strength, diligence, and reliability of the campaign is also illustrated by the file compiled and the extent of correspondence engaged in. See Carn 82 Summer 1993 – Munitions dumps Irish Sea (see also Carn 84).
  • Ground pollution around military sites was exposed. See Carn 90 Summer 1995 – Pollution from military air crashes and RAF Post Crash Management, a paper by the Celtic League. This exposure led directly to the then UK Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo, ordering that Land Quality Assessments be carried out – over six hundred were eventually conducted. The British Army agreed to discontinue the use of eco-sensitive sites in Mann after League publicity. 
  • UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment) – we were one of many organisations who campaigned against this ‘regiment of the British Army’ – it was eventually disbanded. As part of the campaign, I sent a leaflet prepared by the League to all US Congressmen. The text of this may be seen in Carn 51. We also highlighted that the Isle of Man (Jurby) base was being used as a ‘secure’ training base for the UDR and military facilities in Kernow. See also Carn 87 Autumn 1994 – ‘The British Helicopter Force in Ulster’ (this complements an article in an earlier edition of Carn on the strength and disposition of the British army across the six counties).

Picture above: Bessbrook British Army base in South Armagh. Sited at an old Mill complex Bessbrook was the busiest Army Air Corps base in the North of Ireland supporting operations along the border. At one time it was described as ‘the busiest heliport in Europe’ the Celtic League highlighted accidents involving AAC and RAF helicopters

  • Depleted Uranium – We highlighted the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions in live firing at ranges in SW Scotland and Cumbria – the use of DU has now banned these sites. 
  • British Army Murder Gangs – We highlighted the operation of ‘pseudo gangs’ by the British army in the border areas. The death of Seamus Ludlow and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. See also Carn 71 Autumn 1990 – Clandestine operations Border area British Army Air Corps (See also Carn 64 – Page 16).
  • The deployment and use of CR Gas in the North of Ireland in the 1970s, Operation Pagoda – used in both public order situations and we exposed the use of CR gas on inmates at the Maze Prison as part of this operation The Irish government promised to raise the issue at the British-Irish intergovernmental meeting, however, it is unclear if they gave effect to this and as of 2021, some Operation Pagoda files remain sealed.
  • Aberporth Missile Range- We campaigned about the loss of Aer Lingus flight EI 712 over the range in 1968 See Carn 77 Spring 1992 – ‘Aer Lingus Flight 712 and Aberporth missile range’ and Carn 101 Summer 1998 – Pressured for a new inquiry into the crash. In this instance, we worked alongside relatives. In 2000 Minister Mary O’Rourke set up a new inquiry into the issue. This report was not accepted by those who felt the plane was downed by a drone or a missile from Aberporth, which was operating at the time. A commemoration was organised 50 years after the event and was attended by Cathal Ó Luain, League Convenor, and Patricia Bridson, International Secretary. 

Picture above: Bernard Moffatt GS/DOI explaining a point to a TV reporter from TV5 Monde as a documentary film was being shot in 2005 at Manx National Heritage Library where a substantial number of box files on the Military Monitoring campaign are held.

Bernard Moffatt