Frank Steele

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MI6 officer who opened contacts with the IRA in the early 1970s.

When Stormont collapsed [in 1972] a diverse collection of home civil servants, diplomats and spooks was sent out to try and make sense of the place. One of these was a remarkable Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officer, Frank Steele, a former colonial officer and travelling companion to the explorer Wilfred Thesiger.
Steele made it his job to get out into Catholic ghettos like the Falls Road in Belfast and the Bogside in Derry and to make contacts at all levels. Eventually he was able to get in touch with Provisional IRA leaders and suggest they come to London to see Willie Whitelaw [the first Northern Ireland secretary] in 1972. Steele was the first British official to meet the IRA.[1]
While in Kenya, he had had to engage in dialogue with Jomo Kenyatta, considered a terrorist, and did not see much difference in talking to the Republicans. As well as arranging the Whitelaw meeting, Steele was able to use his contacts to prevent a bloodbath occurring when, in Operation Motorman, the British Army retook the no-go areas in Derry immediately after the meeting with Whitelaw. The IRA were advised of the situation and withdrew their weapons and ammunition, making no attempt to wage a pitched battle with the army.[2]
From 1971 to 1972, primacy appeared to be with MI6 under Frank Steele. In May 1972, the Director General of MI5 and the Head of MI6 agreed to establish an Irish Joint Section (IJS) for the purpose of co-ordinating the operations and intelligence distribution of both bodies.[3]


Michael Oatley


  1. Talking to the enemy: the secret intermediaries who contacted the IRA, The Guardian, 18 March 2008.
  2. Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, by Jonathan Powell, The Bodley Head, 2008, p67.
  3. Interim Report on the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings of 1974 (December 2003), Appendix E: The Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, p37