National Archives - State gets tough on bid to free IRA prisoners

Phil Flynn acted as negotiator with Herrema kidnappers, writes Ryle Dwyer.

AT ABOUT 8.15am on October 3, 1975 a car owned by Tiede Herrema, managing director of Ferenka Ltd, was discovered by the roadside a few hundred yards from his home in Limerick.

The driver’s door was open, the keys were in the ignition and Mr Herrema’s briefcase was in the car.

At about 11.30am a woman telephoned the Netherlands embassy, in Dublin, to state that he had been kidnapped and would be “executed” within 48 hours unless demands were met for the immediate release from jail of three IRA prisoners; James Hyland, Kevin Mallon and Rose Dugdale. The kidnappers also demanded that the Ferenka factory should be closed for 24 hours as an act of faith.

Phil Flynn, the Assistant Secretary General of the Local Government and Public Service Union, who was known to have strong Sinn Féin ties, was appointed to negotiate with the kidnappers.

The Dutch government had heard that Mr Flynn was seriously considering pulling out of his role as a go-between as he had “insufficient freedom” of action, and was being tailed by the gardaí.

“This aspect might obtain disproportionate emphasis if Mr Flynn would fail in his effort as an intermediary and the affair would take an unfortunate end,” threatened their ambassador, Felix Van Raelte.

The gardaí arrested a suspected member of the kidnap gang in midwest, but he refused to talk to his Special Branch interrogators and was transferred to a Dublin prison.

“On the way, the car stopped,” according to Conor Cruise O’Brien, Minister of Posts and Telegraphs at the time.

“The Special Branch escort started asking the man questions. When, at first, he refused to answer they beat the s**t out of him. Then he talked.”

As a result, others were arrested and gardaí learned that Herrema was being held in a house in Monasterevin by a couple of the kidnappers. The ring leader was Eddie Gallagher, Rose Dugdale’s boyfriend and father of her child. He was assisted by Marion Coyle, the girlfriend of Kevin Mallon, another of the three people whose release the kidnappers had demanded. Gardaí surrounded the house and thus began a 16-day-siege.

British archives released today show strict secrecy was to surround a garda request for assistance with the siege from Scotland Yard.

The British Home Office approved of the request but insisted that it should have the approval of the Irish Government and on a limited number of unarmed officers in plain clothes.

During the siege the Taoiseach continued to received amateur advice on how to rescue Dr Herrema. “Try either to envelope the house where he is held hostage in a cloud of anaesthetic or better still pump some sort of anaesthetic into the house so that everyone inside is put into a deep sleep,” a woman from Argyle wrote. “If these methods did not result in immediate anaesthesia perhaps the anaesthetic could be convey by a bomb dropped on the house, or by darts shot at the principal offenders.”

Otto Kanold wrote from Berlin advising Mr Cosgrave to give the kidnappers 36-hour-ultimatum to release Dr Herrema. If they refused, then he should kill one of the three gangsters whom they wanted set free from prison.

Fortunately this did not become necessary. The kidnappers surrendered at the end of the 16-day siege.

The Taoiseach received a congratulatory letter from Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the British Opposition.

“Your firm handling of the situation has brought applause and international respect. I hope your example will be followed by other countries in their dealings with terrorism,” she wrote.

“We all admire the courageous action which you and your Government took to uphold the rule of law.”

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