British spy agency MI5 investigated Irish construction workers in England during the 1970s through a bogus consulting company and had them blacklisted with major employers as a result, it has emerged.
The British Information Commissioner David Clancy told the House of Commons on Tuesday that a front organization called “the Consulting Association” was almost certainly an MI5 front with the specific task of blacklisting Irish workers in Britain.
An investigation began into the organisation in 2008 on the back of allegations in the Guardian newspaper. Mr Clancy said that some of the older files held by the Consulting Association resembled intelligence records.
Irish workers in Britain were being monitored more closely by agencies such as MI5 during the 1970s at the height of the conflict. Construction firms seeking to avoid workers with left-wing tendencies routinely paid for information on prospective employees.
Unions were also involved in helping to screen Irish workers. One union sent names of Irish members to the MI5 organisation “to screen out extremist elements operating without official union sanction.”
The information held on British and Irish workers was “highly personal”, Mr Clancy told MPs, including details about their political leanings, their spouses, education, even the cars that they drove.
Just one in 20 of the files seized was fully inspected by the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO) investigators after the raid, which led Mr Clancy to admit that it is “impossible to say” what else might have been uncovered if they had been.
Some of the major British construction companies were involved in the subsequent blacklisting, including Laing and McAlpine, who had many Irish workers seeking employment.
The Deputy British information commissioner David Smith said his office had decided not to investigate further. None of the construction companies or unions would be prosecuted, he said.