Willie McGuinness, Eamon Collins And A ‘Bloody Sunday’ Mystery….

I discovered this story on a strange little blog called Crypto-Gentile which has only two articles posted, both in 2008 and both devoted to stories allegedly told by Eamon Collins, the late IRA ‘ex-supergrass’/whistle-blower/penitent, who was murdered in an especially violent way by the South Armagh IRA for his alleged treachery, i.e. giving evidence against ‘Slab’ in a libel case involving The Sunday Times.

Both stories – the other deals with his relationship with an English law lecturer at QUB and left-wing activist/IRA sympathiser – were supposedly left out of ‘Killing Rage’, an account of Collins’ life as told to journalist Mick McGovern, arguably one of the best books, if not the best book on the Provisional IRA yet written.

Eamon Collins - the IRA killed him in 1999

Eamon Collins – the IRA killed him in 1999

This story is set in Crumlin Road jail where Collins was being held on remand before he agreed to become a ‘supergrass’. There he becomes friends with, of all people, Martin McGuinness’ brother Willie who tells him this story about Bloody Sunday in Derry – at least, allegedly.

Is it true? Here are the Saville Inquiries main findings.

SUNDAY, 7 SEPTEMBER 2008

IRA Man Killed on Bloody Sunday?
Was at least one IRA man killed by British troops on Bloody Sunday and secretly buried in the Irish Republic?

Mick McGovern, who co-wrote Killing Rage, the autobiography of IRA supergrass Eamon Collins, tells a story that was left out of the bestselling book in 1997.
Collins feared he might be killed for telling it.
In January 1999 the IRA murdered him anyway.

Mick McGovern was born in London and studied Politics at Leicester University. As co-author, his credits include Killing Rage, Soldier of the Queen, The Dream Solution and Hateland. He’s worked as a reporter on regional and national newspapers, helped produce documentaries for ITV, Channel Four and the BBC, and written features for The Observer and New Statesman. He lives in Berlin, where he works as a translator.

 

When I sat down to help Eamon Collins write his autobiography Killing Rage I knew that as a former officer of both IRA intelligence and British Customs (simultaneously), an ex-member of the Provos’ feared internal security unit (the so-called ‘Nutting Squad’) and, for a short time, a would-be supergrass, he would have many extraordinary tales to tell.

But he warned me from the outset there were several stories which for various reasons, personal and legal, he wouldn’t be putting in the book. And he added there were others he’d be excluding for the simple reason he didn’t want to get killed for telling them.

He didn’t think these gaps really mattered. He felt he could still write about his experiences in a way which might help contribute towards a deeper process of reflection about the causes, and nature, of political violence in Northern Ireland, while at the same time explaining his past to his four children and, it has to be said, settling a few scores with some of what he described as the republican movement’s ‘boneheaded bogtrotters’.

He also felt that – despite inevitable republican displeasure – he could, in the wake of the ceasefires, tell his story and live. He was wrong. In January 1999, less than two years after the book’s publication, his former IRA comrades murdered him in a bestial fashion in a country lane near his Newry home.

In 1995 during the writing of the book, a process which took place partly in County Kerry, not far from Banna Strand, where the Irish rebel Sir Roger Casement disembarked from a German submarine during the First World War to be captured by the Royal Irish Constabulary and later executed by the British for high treason, Eamon told me several stories which astonished me. Most of them ended up in the book.

However, there was one in particular which I wanted to use, but which Eamon wouldn’t allow into print. It was so potentially incendiary, he said, he’d almost certainly be signing his own death warrant if he wrote about it. The Provos would murder him, he said. And he wanted to avoid that fate, if at all possible.

The story concerned Bloody Sunday, that day in January 1972 when paratroopers shot dead 13 people in Derry’s Bogside. As almost everyone knows, the shootings occurred during an illegal march organised by the Derry Civil Rights Association and, as almost everyone also knows, they were instrumental in boosting support for the fledgeling Provisional IRA.

The British Army has always claimed that their troops came under fire first. For nationalists, Bloody Sunday’s enduring importance as a symbol of British misrule – and as a reason why some might turn to violence to oppose it – has depended in part on categorical assurances from republicans that they weren’t involved in aggressive military action on that day.

However, Eamon Collins told me a story that raises questions about the course of events. Most interestingly, he claimed he was only passing on information told to him while on remand in Belfast’s Crumlin Road Prison by the brother of the Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness, the Provos’ commander in Derry at that time.

In the acknowledgements at the back of Killing Rage Eamon thanks the people who helped him rebuild his life. Under the section titled ‘Crumlin Road Prison 1985-7’ he introduces their names by saying: ‘These men treated me as a fellow human being in prison: friendship can transcend politics in a hard place.’

The list contains some of the most notorious terrorists to emerge since 1969, many of them connected to the smaller republican group, the Irish National Liberation Army: Gerard Steenson (known to the tabloids as ‘Dr Death’), Jimmy Brown (who helped found the INLA splinter group, the Irish People’s Liberation Organisation) – both men subsequently murdered in internecine feuds – and Christopher ‘Crip’ McWilliams (who went on to shoot dead ultra-loyalist bogeyman and Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright in the Maze Prison).

Given the bitter history between the Provos and the INLA, Eamon’s friendship with senior figures from the rival republican grouping was in part a symptom of his alienation from his own comrades – the alienation that led ultimately to his writing Killing Rage. He felt that many Provos in the Belfast prison – and especially the leadership – despised him and wanted him dead.

He was right. But their attitude was hardly surprising in the light of Collins’s spectacular betrayal of the organisation he’d served for more than six years. When he’d been arrested following the IRA’s mortar attack on Newry Police Station in 1985 (in which nine police officers died – the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s single biggest loss of life) he’d cracked after five days of interrogation. He told the police everything he knew. As he said later: ‘I gave them the heap’.

And it was some heap. He’d been involved in countless IRA operations in a key border area, often working with senior terrorists from south Armagh, as well as those on the run in Dundalk. He had also been a member both of Sinn Fein and – of great interest to the RUC – of the Provos’ internal security unit dedicated to tracking down informers and agents within the ranks.

This unit, which had given Eamon access to information about IRA units across the North, was known as ‘the Nutting Squad’ – a grisly reference to the fate of those uncovered as traitors, namely, a bullet in the back of the head, a ‘nutting’.

Eamon didn’t to live to see the squad’s deputy Frederico Scappaticci – named as ‘Scap’ in the book – uncovered as ‘Stakeknife’, the fabled high-ranking, long-term agent of British intelligence, with whom Eamon felt a special bond because they both came from families involved in the ice-cream business.

Eamon’s maternal family had owned an ice-cream van. Scap’s extended family had owned an ice-cream parlour. Eamon told me he had once jokingly in Scap’s presence made reference to their shared Cornetto heritage. Scap had looked at him coldly and changed the subject.

Eamon would have been proud to learn that Killing Rage played an important role in leading to the exposure of ‘Stakeknife’. The whistleblowing former British intelligence officer and army Force Research Unit handler Martin Ingram first began seriously to question what the FRU did in Northern Ireland after reading the book.

In his own book, Stakeknife: Britain’s Secret Agents in Ireland, co-written with Greg Harkin, the latter describes how Ingram read in Killing Rage about Scap’s joking to Eamon about his murder of an informer: ‘It left him feeling sick to the pit of his stomach. Ingram knew the ‘Scap’ referred to was Freddie Scappaticci, but more importantly, that Scappaticci was Stakeknife, an agent run by his former friends in the FRU.’

More than 30 people had been arrested as a result of Eamon’s information in 1985. Several of them ended up serving long sentences because of statements they signed in custody. Eamon agreed to become a supergrass, but the IRA got word to him that if he retracted his evidence he would not be harmed: he could come and live with his fellow IRA men in the wings set aside for them in Crumlin Road Prison. All would be forgiven.

Eamon retracted his evidence against others, but he had already signed statements implicating himself. He was charged with five murders and 45 other serious offences. In fact, Eamon told me that, if the truth be known, he could have been charged with at least five other murders.

He said – though not for publication because he feared prosecution – he’d provided the intelligence that enabled the IRA both to shoot dead a customs man (and part-time member of the Crown forces) in Armagh City and – in May 1985 while he was in prison – to blow to pieces four RUC officers at Killeen on the border.

He spent just under two years on remand before his own trial in 1987. Then, in a remarkable twist, he walked free from a looming 30-year sentence after Judge Higgins said he could not be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the admissions Eamon made to the police had not been induced by inhuman or degrading treatment.

Eight years later he could write about his deeds because he couldn’t be charged again with crimes of which he’d been acquitted. These included the murder of his boss in the Customs and Excise, a major in the part-time Ulster Defence Regiment. Understandably, Customs had sacked Eamon after his arrest. But following his acquittal he sued for wrongful dismissal at an Industrial Tribunal. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tom King intervened personally to stop the case proceeding.

Eamon’s nickname could have been ‘chutzpah’, the yiddish word for shameless audacity. While in the IRA he’d blown up Newry Customs Station, then as trade union shop steward negotiated a pay bonus and time-off for the customs officers on account of the poor working conditions following the explosion.

He’d also dreamed of blowing up the Royal Albert Hall in London shortly before the annual ‘Last Night of the Proms’. As he told me, though not for the book: ‘That was going to be one night when they wouldn’t be singing “Rule Britannia”.’

Although Eamon never gave evidence in court against his comrades, his admissions had still done a lot of damage, if only by outlining the divisions, frictions and power struggles within the republican movement.

He had been asked by his RUC interrogator what would be the best way to destroy the IRA. He had replied: ‘Support, encourage and make possible at every turn the development of Sinn Fein.’

Eamon had seen clearly that, despite the republican movement’s so-called ‘ballot-box and the Armalite’ dual strategy, parliamentarism and armed struggle could not co-exist together indefinitely. The ballot box would in the end decommission the Armalite.

This was not then what the republican ultras, especially those from south Armagh, wanted to hear. So Eamon’s two years in Crumlin Road Prison were spent under a cloud of barely-disguised hostility.

Not suprisingly, many of his closest friendships in that environment were with the INLA prisoners. He was more at home with them, both politically and intellectually. With Gerard ‘Dr Death’ Steenson – his nickname came from an incident in which he’d donned a doctor’s white coat to shoot someone in hospital – Eamon would spend hours discussing ninenteeth century English literature.

Eamon’s favourite reading was the Bronte sisters, especially Emily’s Wuthering Heights. ‘Dr Death’ was an admirer of the work of Thomas Hardy, especially his later poetry and the novel Jude the Obscure.

Several IRA men in Crumlin Road Prison were, however, kind to Eamon, treating him, as he says in the book’s acknowledgements, as ‘a fellow human being’. He was gratified, especially, by the friendship of William McGuinness, whom he names.

The fact that William was the brother of the revered, and feared, republican leader, Martin McGuinness, made Eamon feel that true republicans could genuinely forgive him for his act of betrayal. Eamon spoke to me of William with great fondness. He didn’t want to write about him in the book’s main text: he thought this might cause him embarrassment – something he wished to avoid because of his gratitude for William’s earlier kindness and decency towards him.

However, he occasionally talked about William, whom he regarded as a good and honorable man. He said William spoke only with admiration of his brother Martin. William had once said: ‘My brother’s twice the man I am’. William wouldn’t hear a bad word said against him.

Another time Eamon mischievously mentioned some gossip he’d heard about a furniture deal in which Martin had allegedly involved himself some years earlier. There was no evidence of wrongdoing on Martin’s part, but William had said angrily: ‘Who was the wee bastard who said that?’

William also told Eamon that once Martin rose to prominence in Derry some people started making snide remarks about how well-dressed the McGuinness siblings now were, implying they were benefitting financially from Martin’s position in the republican movement. William told Eamon that from then on the siblings had started wearing ‘rags’.

Eamon also said that William had joked about his own Christian name, not one usually given to Catholic children in Northern Ireland, where ‘William’ is the archetypal Protestant forename, passed down the generations in memory of King William of Orange, who defeated the Catholics at the still-celebrated (among Ulster Loyalists, at least) battle of the Boyne in 1690.

William said his mother had so christened him in order to give him a good start in life. She had felt that, in a Protestant-dominated society rife with anti-Catholic discrimination, her little boy would fare best if his name could help him pass as a Protestant. This was because ‘McGuinness’ was potentially a neutral surname, one shared by Catholics and Protestants. Usually only their forenames marked McGuinnesses unmistakeably out as being from the one or the other tradition.

In writing Killing Rage Eamon was keen to detail everything in his past that had shaped him and led him to join the Provos.

A significant incident happened in 1974 when he and his family, including his father and invalid mother, were brutalised by paratroopers who raided their farm in the mistaken belief that their car had been ferrying explosives.

A paratrooper had stuck the muzzle of his rifle in Eamon’s mouth, chipping a tooth, and said: ‘I’d blow your brains out for tuppence, you rotten Irish cunt.’ Earlier that day a sniffer dog at a checkpoint had detected traces of something in the car’s boot. Only later did forensic tests prove the substance was creosote.

Two years earlier, Bloody Sunday had also undermined Eamon’s opposition to political violence. He wrote: ‘Like almost every other Irish Catholic, I was enraged by Bloody Sunday.’

It was during our conversations about Bloody Sunday, and its aftermath, that Eamon told me what William McGuinness had once said to him in Crumlin Road. He said that one day, while they were discussing the civil rights movement and Bloody Sunday, William had shocked him with something he had mentioned almost in passing.

According to Eamon, William said that, despite denials over the years, IRA men had been wounded by gunfire on Bloody Sunday. He said that the casualties had been taken across the border to the Irish Republic to have their injuries tended. There, one of the wounded IRA men had subsequently died – and been secretly buried.

Eamon said that William had not given him the impression of having been personally involved: he’d simply been telling a story that he’d been told later on good authority. Eamon said that William had also not indicated whether the wounded IRA men had been engaged in exchanges of fire with the army or whether they had been unarmed marchers caught up by chance in the melee.

I asked Eamon if he believed the story to be true. He shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know. He had a similar attitude to another story that did end up in the book – the disposal of kidnapped SAS officer Robert Nairac’s body through a mincer in a Dundalk meat-processing factory in May 1977.

As reported in Killing Rage, Nairac’s supposed fate was little more than gossip and hearsay among Provos, but republicans have never denied Eamon’s account. Its untruth could have been demonstrated by their indicating where the remains might be found. Yet they’ve failed to do this, even as a conciliatory gesture during the ‘peace process’.

The fact that the Bloody Sunday story had come from William, whose brother Martin had
been the Provos’ commander in Derry at the time, gave it in Eamon’s eyes a credibility it would not otherwise have had.

By this stage in Eamon’s life he was extremely cynical about the IRA, although they could still do things which surprised him. Of course, when he told me this story in the summer of 1995 the IRA had not yet admitted publicly that they had over the years murdered and secretly buried several people. The so-called ‘disappeared’ included some of their own members who had been executed as informers or agents.

I asked Eamon if he wanted to put William McGuinness’s story in the book. He looked at me as if I were mad. He said that doing the book was risky enough in itself: sticking in that story would definitely get him killed. He said: ‘It’s not going in any book of mine.’ Anyway, he said, it was simply a story told to him second-hand. He had no personal knowledge that could enable him to vouch for its truth.

And he didn’t want to get murdered for something like that.

Could The RUC Special Branch Really Have Killed Civilians? Go Ask John Stalker…..

Intelligence wars are by definition callous, brutal affairs full of deception, betrayal, lies and death. And often the deaths suffered are those of innocent non-combatants.

But even so, many people, myself included, will find it hard to believe that the RUC Special Branch could have conspired with their agent in the Ardoyne IRA, a character apparently code-named ‘AA’, to allow the October 1993, Shankill Road fishmonger’s bombing to go ahead, as has been alleged by The Irish News in the last week or so.

Even though it is possible to construct a perfectly coherent justification in intelligence, political and even humanitarian terms to green light the operation, it is still difficult to get one’s head around the accusation/assertion that the police were complicit in the deaths of children and innocent civilians.

The bombing may well have rescued the peace process from failure and in the long term saved many more lives than were lost on that terrible afternoon, but nonetheless……..

Would your skepticism be tempered, however, by the knowledge that this is not the first time that the RUC Special Branch has been accused of allowing innocents to perish in the interests of the intelligence war it was waging against the IRA? Not just innocents, but their own colleagues in the RUC.

Back in October 1982, on the 27th day of that month to be precise, three ordinary members of the RUC in the Craigavon area of Co. Armagh were given permission by their superiors to drive their patrol car along a stretch of road that previously the Special Branch had declared too dangerous for the security forces.

The men’s patrol car drove into a trap. A massive landmine was detonated under their vehicle which was tossed into the air like a cardboard box, instantly killing the occupants and creating a massive crater in the road.

The landmine had been placed there by the IRA in North Armagh and the carnage that day was the trigger for a series of reprisal-like killings by specially trained police squads whose actions came to be known as ‘Shoot To Kill’.

Amid Nationalist anger and Irish government protests, Manchester police chief, John Stalker was dispatched to investigate the shooting deaths of three IRA members, two INLA activists and a civilian teenager in the weeks following the landmine explosion. He was removed from the probe when he was on the verge of obtaining a final, vital piece of evidence.

Eight years later Yorkshire TV told the startling story of Stalker and the ‘Shoot To Kill’ investigation in a 3 hour drama-documentary that surely ranks as one of the best ever pieces of reportage about the Troubles and a tribute to the sort of long form British television journalism that, alas, is no more.

I am sure there are many readers of this blog who are either too young to know anything about the Stalker inquiry or whose memories of it have faded with age. I won’t spoil the story for you by going into any detail and I couldn’t tell it any better than Yorkshire did anyway. It is long, three hours plus a discussion afterwards, but well worth the effort.

(Incidentally there was only one legal comeback as a result of the programme. The then RUC Chief Constable, Sir John ‘Jack’ Hermon sued Yorkshire for libel. Not for alleging he had been part of a cover up of Special Branch murder but because one scene showed him swigging a extra large glass of whiskey!)

Enjoy:

How 1916 Celebrations Have Mirrored Divisions In Irish Society

You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice how divisive the coming 1916 Easter Rising centenary commemorations are in modern-day Ireland.

Not only do interpretations of the meaning and appreciation of the event clash, sometimes violently, but there is no real agreement on how best to acknowledge the occasion; for instance some want to remember the British soldiers who died during that Easter week while others shriek in horror at the idea. (See this story for more examples.)

In this important article taken from The Irish Story website, John Dorney examines how the Rising was remembered in the first two decades of the new Irish state and argues that ownership of the commemoration was most enthusiastically claimed by those who had made the fewest political compromises in the years following the civil war, while those who had taken a compromising approach to the new dispensation were often more than happy to distance themselves from the celebration.

Arguably, it is this division which we now see reflected in the preparations for the centenary festivities at the end of March.

 Commemorating the Easter Rising Part I, 1917-1934

 

How was the insurrection of 1916 commemorated? The first part of a two part article by John Dorney

The Easter Rising of 1916, perhaps the most dramatic event of modern Irish history, was over after just five days of fighting. The shadow cast by the insurrection however, however, lingers until the present.

The Rising launched on April 24th 1916 was the first credible Irish Republican insurrection since 1798. The first since then that could not, like the abortive Young Ireland uprising of 1848 or the Fenian rebellion of 1867, be laughed off by its enemies as a fiasco. The rebel fighters of 1916, were, retrospectively if not at the time, hailed as heroes, its executed leaders venerated as martyrs.

From the example of Easter Week, Irish Republicans could draw inspiration; from the bravery and self-sacrifice of those who took part of course, but also from the fact that the bold example of the Rising had apparently transformed Irish public opinion.

For this to happen though and for the Rising to remain such as potent symbol it had to be commemorated.

The First anniversary, Easter 1917

The first question was when to commemorate the events of 1916. The Rising had broken out on April 24thand Pearse had surrendered on April 29th of that year. However the Rising had also been deliberately timed to coincide with the Christian festival of Easter, which of course changes dates every year, being tied to the lunar calendar.

In 1917, in Lewes prison in England, where some of the Rising’s surviving leaders were still interned, the prisoners chose April 29th, the anniversary of the surrender as their day of memorial.

Paul Galligan who had led the rebellion in County Wexford wrote to his brother that on April 29th, they held a memorial service for the Volunteers who had died in Easter week, “those noble souls, the purest and best of Irish manhood and although we feel lonely and sad for such comrades yet we cannot regret them, they have led a noble life and died a glorious death”.[1] The prisoners also organised Irish language and Irish history classes.

In Dublin though, activists chose instead Easter Sunday which fell on April 9th that year. According to Helena Moloney;

‘We decided to have a demonstration to commemorate the rebellion – “The Republic still lives. A Republic has been declared, has been fought for; and is still alive”. We had a lot of discussions. There were concerts arranged, but what I was concerned with most was our decision to be-flag all the positions that had been occupied in the 1916 Rising. We intended to run up the flags again in all these positions and to get out the proclamation, and proclaim it again, and to try to establish the position that the fight was not over and that the Republic still lives.’[1]

And so, almost a year on from the Rising, on April 9th, 1917, Dublin commemorated the insurrection with a riot. A republican tricolour was hoisted over the ruined GPO and another over Nelson’s pillar, the spiralling monument that overlooked it. ‘That was the signal’, the Irish Times reported, ‘for an outburst of cheering and various other demonstrations of approval on a wide scale’.

When the police, after some effort sawed own the temporary flagpole, they were stoned by inner-city youths, who used as missiles the debris of the building work that was re-building O’Connell Street. The police had temporarily to retire from the north inner city as what the Irish Times sniffily called ‘young toughs’, looted shops, damaged a Methodist Church and overturned several trams.[2]

Elsewhere in the country too it seems the first Easter Sunday after the Rising was the occasion for display of defiance by local separatists.

Jerome Buckley of Mourne Abbey, County Cork, recalled that the Rising’s first anniversary was the first ‘happening’ in his area, in which he and other local youths flew tricolour flags from, ‘from two of the highest points in the district … a high tree in Analeentha, [and] Mourneabbey Castle.[3]

Similarly, Henry O’Keefe in Waterford said that, ‘Our first hint of defiance occurred at Easter, 1917, when we placed the Tricolour on tops of trees, chimneys of houses, and telegraph poles to celebrate the anniversary of the 1916 Rising.’ [4]

The flying of the illegal republican tricolour seems to have taken place around the country, forcing the RIC to try to take them down, as O’Keefe remembered ‘with difficulty in many places’.Joe Lawless in Fingal, North County Dublin had a run in with ‘Sergeant O’Reilly of Swords’ who arrived on a bicycle to complain about the tricolour flying on Lawless’s lawn.

‘He told me that the presence of this flag had been reported to the authorities and that he had been ordered to remove it. Anticipating my refusal to allow its removal, he went on to say that his mission had nothing to do with his personal feelings in the matter. ‘[5]

The first Easter Sunday after the Rising began a Republican tradition of commemoration on that day.

However it seems that in the years that followed, first with public assemblies forbidden under the Defence of the Realm Act and then in the escalating violence of the War of Independence, it was too dangerous to have large public parades in remembrance of the Rising.

The first year where Republicans were again able to parade openly in the streets was the Easter Sunday of 1922, which fell on April 23rd. By this time the political context was very different from 1916 or 17. Now after the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the British were leaving what was now the Irish Free State’s capital but the IRA had split. Only ten days earlier an IRA force opposed to the Treaty had occupied the Four Courts in central Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Irish government. Civil War was in the air.

The Easter commemorations seem to have involved only the anti-Treaty faction and in contrast to more long established events such as the Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, seem to have been fairly low key.

The Irish Times reported on a ‘Procession to Glasnevin Cemetery’, which started from Church Street and featured a ‘Large body of men and women wearing the uniform of Cumman na mBan, headed by St James Band, Irish Citizens Army pipers and the St Laurence O’Toole band.’ They wound their way from Church Street over to Westmoreland Street and then through the north city centre to Glasnevin, where they, ‘ Played the Soldiers Song’ (now better known by its Irish title Amhran na bhFiann’), and then returned to the city.

Post Civil War Commemorations

The Civil War of 1922-23 to paraphrase Yeats, ‘changed utterly’ the context in which the Rising of 1916 would be seen and commemorated.

The Republicans of 1917-21 saw the 1916 insurrection as being vindicated by the subsequent swing in public opinion behind the separatists of Sinn Fein in the election of 1918. The Irish Republic declared at the GPO could, retrospectively be seen having been democratically endorsed.

The Civil War changed all this. The pro-Treatyites, many of them – such as WT Cosgrave, Richard Mulcahy, Desmond Fitzgerald and others, veterans of the Rising – now claimed that they had upheld ‘the will of the people’ against the unrepresentative extremists in the ranks of the ‘Irregulars’ or anti-Treatyites. As a result, 1916 and all it stood for in terms of celebrating armed action by a radical minority, was suddenly a rather uncomfortable legacy to celebrate.

Thus the early Free State commemorations tended to be quite low key affairs.

In 1924, just after the Civil War, they held a ceremony at Arbour Hill on the eighth anniversary of executions of Pearse, Connolly, Clarke and the other leaders at Arbour Hill. Mass was said by a Reverend Piggot to a congregation that included the Free State Cabinet and the National Army command. A party of National Army troops marched to graveside, fired volleys and played last post. And that was all.[6]

This set the tone for the rather restrained Free State commemorations of the Rising. In fact the pro-Treatyites mounted much larger military displays outside the Dail every August 11th, the anniversary of Arthur Griffith’s death, in honour of him and pro-Treaty martyr Michael Collins.[7]

So the anti-Treaty Civil War faction or Republicans were able to make the Easter Commemorations their own to a large degree. They could argue that, like the rebels of 1916, they were a minority, but that they alone stood for the full independence of all of Ireland.

In April 1925, by which time the last Civil War prisoners had finally been released, the Republicans mounted demonstrations all over the country in ceremonies that combined remembrance of the Rising and the death of anti-Treaty IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch in April 1923.

Eamon De Valera addressed about 4,000 followers at the Liam Lynch memorial in the Galtee Mountains and told them that the ‘Republic cannot be achieved by force of arms’. But Lynch like the dead of Easter Week ‘Had not died in vain’. ‘We will not be slaves’.

In Dublin there was again a Republican procession to Glasnevin to mark 9thanniversary of 1916. The Irish Times reported that ‘Forces of military and police were on duty to preserve order.’ No volleys fired over the graves of the Republican dead. There was also a procession in Nenagh of over 2,000 people ‘for all the North Tipperary Volunteers who had died since 1916’. In Dundalk meanwhile, a march was told by Frank Aiken that they ‘would never recognise a six county nor a 26 county state’.

The following year, the tenth anniversary of 1916, was similar story. The official Free State commemorations were confined to the mass and military ceremony at Arbour Hill, whereas the Republican opposition, coordinated by the ‘Easter Week Commemoration Committee’ held marches across the country.

There was the now annual march to Glasnevin which now featured Republican TDS Eamon de Valera, Sean Lemass, Tom Derrig, Mary MacSwiney, music by Eamon Kent Band and Workers’ Union Band. Also present were Cumann na mBan and the Fianna led by Constance Markievizc, along with James Larkin’s Workers Union of Ireland with a flag ‘Remember Black ‘47’ and ‘section of unemployed’, Grocers Association and ‘Republican Volunteers’.

At the cemetery they were addressed by Eamon de Valera himself who said;

‘Ten Years ago victorious Empire was so sure of itself, that it dared to assume the role of champions of small nations and challenged all who were still in bonds to make manifest their will for freedom. Ireland still had a Clarke, a Pearse and a Connolly, men as courageous as they were wise and the challenge was not allowed to pass. They answered…in deeds. They proclaimed Ireland’s right and Ireland’s will by proclaiming the Republic and they made sure of an Irish Ireland by dying for it.’

‘But our homage and appreciation is not enough whilst the task to which they devoted themselves remains unfinished. The Ireland they set out to deliver is still unfree. … thousands still mourn. We pledge ourselves to the watching spirits of those who lie buried here that they shall not have given their lives in vain.’ [8]

Parades were also held in Cork, Nenagh and Tipperary town.

At this point therefore, the Easter Rising commemorations acquired a somewhat subversive character. Yes, the Irish state traced its lineage back to the Proclamation of the Republic in 1916, but it was vulnerable from the start to the charge that it had betrayed the memory of the Ester rebels with its faint hearted compromises (or at least so they could be portrayed) on the unity and independence of Ireland.

1932 a new departure

This changed to a large degree with accession to power of de Valera’s Fianna Fail in 1932. Now with the anti-Treatyites of 1922 in power, there was much more unabashed celebration of the Rising by those who ran the Irish state.

Frances Flanagan notes, ‘In April 1932, posters of the 1916 Proclamation were plastered over Dublin and official military commemorations were instigated in Dublin and Cork’.

The new government also re-opened Kilmainham Gaol, where the 1916 executions had take place, as a memorial and commissioned bronze cast of the mythical hero Cuchullain, which still sits in the 1916 rebel headquarters of the GPO. WT Cosgrave the leader of pro-Treaty Cumann na nGaedheal, refused to attend any of the new functions. [9]

Fianna Fail still retained something of the rebel sprit though. In 1934 ‘Irish Republican Army Parades’ in Dublin assembled at Parnell Square, led by Oscar Traynor and Seamus Robinson and marched to Arbour Hill where they were addressed by Eamon de Valera. The parade paused at the GPO (rebel headquarters in 1916), for a minute’s silence and playing of the last post but then, rather significantly headed down the Dublin quays, and halted again at the Four Courts, for another minute’s silence.

The symbolism was obvious, while the Four Courts had been occupied by the insurgents in 1916, it was also where the Civil War had started in 1922 when the Republicans occupying it had been bombarded by pro-Treaty forces. The anti-Treayites of 1922 were now formally claiming the Easter Rising as their own.

Oscar Traynor, one-time head of the IRA Dublin Brigade but now a Fianna Fail TD told the assembled crowd at the graveside at Arbour Hill: ‘Eighteen years since maimed bodies and broken hearts that lay within graves pulsed with hope for the new life they believed their sacrifice would recreate for our tyrant ridden land. ‘

‘It might be asked what did their sacrifice secure for the nation? Did it secure the liberty for which they yearned? Did it make their nation a power among powers?…It did not but it gave a unity of purpose which their long suffering nation had not known for centuries.’

He finished with a ‘Plea for unity’ in ‘Holy cause of free and unfettered Ireland’. ‘Here in close communion with our Holy dead’. ‘We promise that their hope shall be realised and their dreams made into a reality’. … ‘A completely free Ireland such as they visualised’.

However, Fianna Fail were already considered traitors by those who remained with the IRA.

A rival IRA rally at Glasnevin, appealed for recruits into IRA, and Sean Russell told his listeners, a crowd of ‘several thousand people’ that, ‘Constitutionalism has failed in Ireland, so has coercion’, condemning the government’s ‘coercion act’. He condemned ‘national insults’ asking IRA to hand in its weapons and de Valera’s creating of teh Volunteer Reserve, an ‘adjunct of Free State army’ to replace the IRA. The IRA was banned by Fianna Fail shortly afterwards, having been legalised in 1932. The Blueshirts, the pro-Treatyite militant group, another possible rival claimant of the 1916 legacy had been banned earlier that year.

Interesting also that year for the first time, Republicans in Northern Ireland defied the ban there on commemorating the Rising. About 500 people attended a rally at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, before being dispersed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There were also marches at Newry and Derry in spite of the ban. [10]

By 1936, the 20th anniversary of the Rising the Easter Commemorations had become well established as the most important event in the Republican commemorative calendar. But by this time they were already a highly contentious and contested series of events. Remembering the Rising of 1916 could be a means of bolstering the southern Irish state, but also ,even after Fianna Fail’s electoral victories, of undermining it too.

There were already those who would never recognise the ‘partitionist’’ Free State’ and who considered its appropriation of 1916 as a sham. In Northern Ireland, too where commemorating the Rising was illegal, the Easter Commemorations had by 1936, become a means of consolidating and encouraging an anti-state Republican message. The Proclamation of 1916 had declared, ‘The Irish Republic is entitled and hereby claims the allegiance of every Irishman and Irish woman.’ Even twenty years later, the legacy of this sentiment was still bitterly divisive, in Ireland north and south.

References

[1] Paul Galligan to Monsignor Eugene Galligan, 4 May 1917, My thanks to Kevin Galligan for access.

[1] Helena Moloney BMH

[2] Padraig Yeates , A City in Wartime, Dublin 1914-1918, p191-192 , Irish Times, April 10 1917

[3] Jerome Buckley BMH WS 1023

[4] Henry O’Keefe BMH 1123

[5] Joseph Lawless BMH 1023

[6] Irish Times May 9th 1924

[7] Anne Dolan, Commemorating the Irish Civil War, p 17-19.

[8] Irish Times April 5 1926

[9] Frances Flanagan, Remembering the Irish Revolution p36

[10] Irish Times April 2 1934

An American Reporter Visits Belfast……..

It was April, 1986 and Northern Ireland was in turmoil. Six months earlier the British and Irish governments had signed the Hillsborough Agreement, giving the Dublin government a consultative say in the running of the North – and Unionism had exploded in rage.

A protest rally outside Belfast City Hall in November, 1985 had attracted a huge crowd, a significant section of which was comprised of middle-class, respectable Protestants who normally eschewed political activity.

Unionist leaders address a huge protest rally against the Hillsborough deal outside Belfast City Hall

Unionist leaders address a huge protest rally against the Hillsborough deal outside Belfast City Hall

Unionists had withdrawn from councils around the North, including Belfast, bringing local government to a halt. Unionist MP’s had resigned en masse from Westminster to force by-elections so that opposition to the Hillsborough deal could be measured.

In March, there had been a one-day strike which led to widespread rioting, especially in Portadown, regarded as Orangeism’s citadel. Intimidation of RUC officers was widespread and there were indications that some policemen were reluctant to face rioters in Loyalist areas.

The situation was deteriorating and Unionists seemed unwilling to even consider the only mechanism which could remove the Anglo-Irish-Agreement: a power-sharing deal with the SDLP. The two then leaders of Unionism, Ian Paisley and James Molyneaux had floated the idea of opening talks but hardliners had forced them to retreat.

The hardest of hard-liners was believed to be Paisley’s deputy, the East Belfast MP, Peter Robinson, who later that year would be arrested at Clontibret in Co. Monaghan during an incursion by a new Loyalist paramilitary group called Ulster Resistance, composed largely of the most intractable elements in Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party.

Peter Robinson leads an Ulster Resistance march in Portadown, Co Armagh

Peter Robinson leads an Ulster Resistance march in Portadown, Co Armagh

That would happen in August, but in April that same year into this worsening and increasingly violent story arrives an American reporter who manages to secure an interview with Robinson and, in the context of the time, a scoop.

Robinson tells him, (or is it a her?), that he is prepared, albeit reluctantly, to enter into negotiations to secure a deal to replace the Hillsborough accord. This represents a major break from the Unionist consensus and a very good story for the American reporter.

So what does the reporter do? If your answer is that he, or she, makes a dash for a typewriter (this is 1986!) to draft an interesting story for his/her newsdesk then go to the bottom of the class.

No, the reporter goes straight to the British government to tell them of the news. In fact he or she goes to the British the day after the interview with Robinson.

His/her interlocutor, one J Alford, from the Northern Ireland Office’s Political Affairs Division, then drafts a report of the conversation which is circulated widely and to the very top of the NIO. You can read it in full below; it is part of a cache of documents recently released by the British.

Unlike the American reporter, J Alford protects his/her source by not naming him or her, even though the note of the conversation is being shared at the highest levels of the NIO.

So we don’t know who the reporter was or which newspaper in the US he or she wrote for. But the conclusion is seemingly unavoidable: there are higher ethical standards in the British government!

proni

A Look Back At The Raid On Castlereagh’s RUC Special Branch Office

The article below, dealing at some length with the break-in at the Special Branch office at Castlereagh RUC station in March 2002 – on a Sunday evening during the St Patrick’s Day holiday weekend – is from The Guardian’s archive and was written by the paper’s then Ireland correspondent, Rosie Cowan.

The break in and theft of Special Branch documents from Castlereagh has once again hit the headlines following claims last week that the IRA was behind the raid and that decrypted files from the stolen cache have revealed that the RUC allowed one of the worst bombings of the Troubles to go ahead even though an IRA double agent in the unit responsible, had told them of the plan.

Castlereagh RUC station

Castlereagh RUC station

Nine people died in the blast, six locals, two children and the IRA bomber, when a bomb, attached to the ceiling of Frizzel’s fishmongers on the Shankill Road in the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon shopping day, exploded prematurely.

The IRA believed that the UDA leadership was meeting in rooms above the shop and that their number included the local commander, Johnny Adair, suspected of inciting an increasingly bloody campaign of murder of Belfast Catholics. But, for whatever reason, neither Adair nor his colleagues were there.

The allegation that the authorities in Belfast allowed the bombing to happen, that in effect the British state sanctioned murder, has added controversy to an increasingly ill-tempered debate about how to deal with Northern Ireland’s violent past.

Rosie Cowan’s report, filed a week or so after the event, raises as many questions as it answers, in particular about the allegiance of the thieves. For example, the lone policeman in the Special Branch office, trussed up and tied to a chair, heard ‘snatches of an English accent’ before headphones from a Walkman were slipped over his ears and loud music drowned out further noise.

Did that mean the IRA was not behind the raid, that perhaps disgruntled British security personnel were responsible? Possibly, but then the IRA does have people with English accents in its ranks. I know personally one senior IRA figure from an impeccably Home Counties family, who gave up a promising student career at one of Oxford’s best colleges in the 1970’s to join the IRA. He is still there, as far as I know.

If the operation was, as many believe, organised by the same figure who planned the Northern Bank raid, he would know that few could get through Castlereagh’s security checks easier than an Englishman.

Anyway, here is Rosie Cowan’s fascinating account of the Castlereagh break-in. Enjoy:

How three sharply dressed robbers walked into Belfast’s intelligence hub

Sundays are always quiet at the heavily fortified Castlereagh police barracks, but the St Patrick’s Day bank holiday weekend meant last Sunday was quieter than most.

During the week hundreds of police officers come and go from the complex every day. But as last weekend drew to a close there were only about 20 staff scattered throughout the building.

As Northern Ireland’s main terrorist interrogation centre during the Troubles, the fortress-like Castlereagh complex, in predominantly Protestant east Belfast, struck fear into the hearts of unionists and republicans alike. Times have changed, but the 20ft high metal fence, bristling with razor wire and surveillance equipment still encircles what is now the hub of the city’s policing operation.

Belfast special branch, CID and traffic all have a number of offices in the Ladas Drive premises, although the intelligence unit’s main base is in police headquarters, a couple of miles away at Knock. Army intelligence also has a small room in Castlereagh, known as the “green hut”.

At 10.15pm, a car drew up to the main entrance, a swing barrier manned around the clock. The vehicle’s occupants, three men in smart suits, flashed army identification at the officer on guard and he waved them through.

The men walked into the building, and were again waved on as they showed their ID to the officer on duty. From there, they could move fairly freely, as although many unoccupied offices were locked, the corridors were not.

“These men just strolled in unmasked as if they had every right to be there,” said a police source. “If they were paramilitaries, they were taking a huge risk that someone might have recognised them. We don’t know if the ID was fake, but it was obviously convincing.”

Once past the front desk the trio quickly made their way upstairs to the first floor, and along several corridors to the door of a small, anonymous office, which special branch had moved into temporarily only a week before because of renovations elsewhere in the building.

The special branch operation, known by its former telephone extension number, 220, is the 24-hour nerve centre of Belfast’s intelligence network, where dozens of informers rang in to make contact with police, army and MI5 handlers to pass on details of terrorist activity and the private lives of paramilitaries and politicians. No case files or investigation records are kept permanently in the office, but there are a number of documents in filing cabinets and desks, giving contact numbers and information on current surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations.

There, a lone detective constable was writing up notes as he waited for calls. The only person on the corridor that night, he was not expecting visitors, but when he heard the knock on the unlocked door he got up to open it, assuming it must be another police officer.

Instantly one of the gang punched him once in the face, then a hood was slipped over his head, his mouth taped and he was tied to a chair with rope and tape.

The men did not speak to him but he heard snatches of an English accent before they put a Walkman blaring loud music over his ears. They used keys lying on the desk to unlock drawers and filing cabinets and rifled through these in a systematic fashion for the next 20 minutes. At regular intervals they returned to their captive to check his pulse and ensure he was not bound too tightly.

“Paramilitaries wouldn’t have given a damn about beating him senseless,” a police source said. “Why so careful? It looks like textbook secret agent stuff to me.”

Alarm

About 10.45pm the officer wriggled free and raised the alarm. The men were gone. So too was his Filofax, a bundle of handwritten notebooks and some other documents containing telephone numbers and coded details of current assignations in Belfast involving intelligence operatives and their sources.

Vehicles do not leave the base by the entrance gate, and there are several different exits, so the trio made their getaway unimpeded. “On the one hand, it was a crude robbery. But it was also incredibly proficient, so slick that detectives suspect it was previously timed and perhaps partly rehearsed,” a source said.

Sources in Belfast were sceptical that there was any paramilitary involvement, but British intelligence sources suspect that the provisional IRA might have had something to do with the theft, one possible motive being to discredit the local special branch.

The burgled office was sealed off and forensic experts moved in immediately. By dawn, the whole complex was a hive of activity, with police photographers and fingertip search teams everywhere.

Every locker, drawer and rubbish bin was pulled apart over the next couple of days in the hope that thieves had stashed the missing papers somewhere, but nothing was found.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief constable, was furious. Twelve days before his retirement, and with the ombudsman’s scathing criticism of the Omagh bomb inquiry still ringing in his ears, this was the last thing he needed. Rumours flew but he vehemently denied the thieves had got away with any documents concerning Omagh.

He called together the assistant chief constable, Raymond White, head of the newly amalgamated CID and special branch, Belfast special branch boss Bill Lowry, and Chief Superintendent Phil Wright, the city’s most senior detective, whom he put in charge of the criminal investigation.

As Northern Ireland’s web of informers feared for their lives, the province buzzed with speculation that it was some sort of inside job by disaffected cops or rogue army or MI5 agents.

“Maybe they have a grudge against Sir Ronnie or special branch, or perhaps they want to find something out or cover something up,” a police source said. “They could try and use these documents for blackmail or as some sort of bargaining chip.

“But the information in these papers was replicated elsewhere and they would probably know they would not benefit much from merely destroying them. They are mostly in code, so it would be hard to get full value unless you were very familiar with these things.”

Already people were drawing comparisons with a mysterious fire in 1990, at the offices of John Stevens, the Metropolitan police commissioner investigating alleged collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. One of the targets of such claims, the shadowy army intelligence organisation known as force research unit, was blamed for the blaze, which gutted the locked offices in a police base in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim. Phone wires were cut and fire alarms deactivated before the fire started.

The Stevens team is jittery, but Belfast police insisted that Sunday’s theft was nothing to do with the team’s current inquiry into the 1989 murder of the solicitor Pat Finucane.

John Reid, the Northern Ireland secretary, was stunned by the gravity of the situation and on Tuesday announced that a “distinguished figure” would head an independent inquiry into the break-in and the implications for national security.

On Wednesday, as Sir Ronnie held talks with the policing board in Belfast, Dr Reid revealed that Sir John Chilcot, a former Northern Ireland Office civil servant heavily involved in the Thatcher government’s secret peace talks with the IRA in the early 1990s and now a Whitehall counsellor for disgruntled members of the security services, would lead it.

Meanwhile, Nuala O’Loan, the police ombudsman, decided she could not investigate the Castlereagh incident as some of those involved could be outside her remit, which is confined to alleged wrongdoing by police officers.

“The criminal investigation is in full swing but motive is a big factor and that is still not clear,” a source said. “How will these documents be used? Could they turn up in the public domain?

“Many of Sir John Chilcot’s findings might not be made public and, like so much in Northern Ireland, the whole story might never come out.”

The Shankill Bomb Scandal – Some Thoughts On Media Coverage

A couple of articles arrived in my email inbox this morning dealing with the fallout from The Irish News’ story on the Shankill bomb of 1993 which grabbed my attention.

As regular readers of this blog will know, the story claimed that the RUC Special Branch had an agent within the Ardoyne IRA who told them all about the plan to bomb the UDA leadership to pieces as they met above a Shankill Road fishmonger’s store on a Saturday afternoon in December that year.

Instead the bomb exploded prematurely, collapsing the building and killing nine people, six innocent civilians, two children and the IRA bomber. Loyalist paramilitaries reacted predictably and went on a killing rampage that claimed the lives up up to sixteen people, mostly Catholics in the following week.

The story has slowly taken off, despite frantic PSNI denials, partly because the level of detail is both credible and indicates that it was leaked from a high level within the Provisional IRA; and partly because the cynical, war-weary people of Northern Ireland suspect in their gut that this sort of thing could and did happen.

The two pieces were provocative and interesting but rather like a Chinese takeaway, I came away unsatisfied and looking for more.

One was written by Newton Emerson, a weekly columnist in The Irish News and the second by The Irish Times’ regular, Eamonn McCann. I reproduce both articles at the bottom of this post for the benefit of those who cannot access them by the usual route.

Newton Emerson’s theme is that the bombing happened because none of the intelligence agencies at work in the North in those days – the RUC Special Branch, MI5 and the British Army’s Force Research Unit – had any rules and procedures in place for running agents.

He writes:

The 2012 De Silva report into the murder of Pat Finucane found that in regards to agent handling, RUC Special Branch had “no workable guidelines”, MI5 had “no effective external guidance”, the army’s guidelines were “contradictory” and there was a “wilful and abject failure” by government to provide a “clear policy and legal framework.”

These findings are replicated in reports by Stevens, Judge Peter Cory and former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan.

Responding to O’Loan’s criticism last year that the RUC broke the rules, chief constable George Hamilton observed this was technically impossible as “there were no rules”

And his conclusion? The Shankill bomb happened and nine people died – six innocent civilians, two children and the IRA bomber – because of ‘bureaucratic inertia’:

Without rules, agents were run as their individual handlers saw fit and the agenda of someone who has spent years cultivating a source will rarely be to cash that source in.

None of this exonerates the security forces – far from it. It raises the grotesque prospect that hundreds of people were allowed to be murdered for no better reason than bureaucratic inertia.

Eamonn McCann’s article is comprehensive examination of the British state’s cover up of its involvement in procuring murder, via both IRA and Loyalist agents run by its intelligence agencies. And he goes on to point out that MI5, the agency at the top of this apex of murder and cover-up, has been guaranteed immunity under the terms of the post-1998 dispensation.

He writes:

The point is the British authorities have known for years of its forces’ deep involvement in lethal criminality and appear to have intervened only to orchestrate cover-ups which continue to this day. Far from being brought to heel, MI5 now occupies a more central role in the North than ever. In 2007, MI5 was given “primacy” over all matters touching on “national security.”

Despite the devolution of policing and justice, and pledges of “transparency” hailed as hugely significant at the time of the handover in 2006, neither the Policing Board nor the department of justice has any function in relation to police matters with a “security dimension”. The documents stipulate that any doubt about the applicability of this provision to a particular matter is to be referred to MI5 or the British government for determination.

The first problem I have with Newton Emerson’s take is that the absence of rules and procedures is hardly accidental. When there are no rules, no limits, nothing forbidden, then all things are possible, including mass murder.

This is not ‘bureaucratic inertia’ but deliberate policy, an omission that allowed murder to happen, facilitated by the cover up’s that have despoiled the story of the NI conflict since 1968. If the rules don’t say you can’t do something, they are in effecting saying you can. A stroke of a pen in Whitehall could have rectified this but that never happened.

The other, more serious reservation with his article can be summed up in the question he poses towards the end of his piece: “…..what was the purpose of running informers, if it was not to prevent mass murder?”

Actually, preventing ‘mass murder’ is not the purpose of running agents, although occasionally that can be a positive by-product. The real purpose of recruiting and running agents is to defeat your enemy – in the case of MI5 et al, the enemy was the Provisional IRA – and sometimes that can mean allowing ‘mass murder’ to happen.

Now an enemy can be defeated in several ways. One is to acquire intelligence so sensitive and damaging that it enables conventional forces to deliver a deadly, crippling military blow to the enemy.

Another is to use agent-provided intelligence to demoralise and divide the enemy, stimulate opposition to it within the ranks of its support base or help foster circumstances which strengthen a section or individual in the enemy camp who is moving, or wants to move in a direction which is to the benefit of the intelligence agency and the government on whose behalf it plots and conspires.

There is a very strong argument to suggest that the Shankill bomb belongs in the latter category.

That is because it happened at a crucial moment in a peace process that was, at that time, hanging in the balance. If The Irish News story is correct, and the RUC deliberately facilitated carnage, then the search must begin for as motive. The obvious motive, arguably, was to help the peace process.

In the autumn of 1993, the British and Irish governments were putting the final touches to the Downing Street Declaration, knowing that any failure to give a date for eventual British disengagement from the North – the basis on which the IRA Army Council had signed up to the process – could fatally weaken the Sinn Fein peace camp.

At the same time opposition to the peace process was growing within the IRA; the bulk of the Belfast Brigade’s command sided against Gerry Adams and had begun to conspire with elements elsewhere in Ireland. If they prevailed the process would be history. (Gerry Adams and his allies would not be entirely safe until the 1996 IRA Convention, where they prevailed by a hairbreadth.)

The Shankill bomb turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for the Belfast militarists who were blamed for the carnage and for devising a manifestly risky and stupid operation. Critics of the armed struggle strategy were strengthened while the internal forces opposing Gerry Adams and his peace process allies were weaker after the bomb than before.

(Incidentally, if The Irish News‘ story is correct, questions must also be asked about whether the detonation device was tampered with or ‘jarked’ so as to maximise the possibility of civilian casualties. Again, the story has its own remorseful logic.)

The bomb’s other consequence, a surge in Loyalist reprisals, was utterly foreseeable – more than a dozen people were killed in the following week by  UDA and UVF gunmen – as was the unprecedented wave of terror and fear, as well as yearning for peace, that engulfed the Catholic community.

But that was also good for the peace process. If you have any doubts about the impact of the post-Shankill slaughter on Catholics, just access television archive of the funerals of the eight people killed in the Greysteel massacre, when UDA gunmen fired indiscriminately on a crowd celebrating Hallowe’en. If you don’t shed a tear then you were born without a heart.

When the Downing Street Declaration was published, minus not just a date for British withdrawal but any indication such a thing could ever happen, the Army Council rejected it but on Adams’ urging kept that key decision a secret.

Had their decision been made public there could be no going back and the process would have been dead in the water.

Would the IRA’s leadership have been so amenable if the Shankill bombing had not weakened the militarists?

That decision set the tone for what followed: concessions to the Provos’ political wing to oil the process. A visa for Adams to visit America was followed by the scrapping of the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein in the South. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein launched a long, ennervating but essentially bogus process of ‘clarifying’ the Downing Street Declaration that inch by predictable inch led to the ceasefire of August 1994.

All made more possible by the Shankill bomb? One for the historians to answer but arguably, yes.

So, context is everything in these matters and that is the problem I have with Eamonn McCann’s piece. He makes a very good job of describing what happened in terms of the misbehaviour of British intelligence agencies but, at least in the case of the Shankill disaster, not why. The 500 pound elephant in the room goes unacknowledged.

The reasons for that are understandable: if the RUC Special Branch deliberately dispatched nine human beings to their maker in the rubble of Frizzel’s fish shop, as The Irish News suggests, the odds are they did so to strengthen pro-peace elements in Sinn Fein.

They and Sinn Fein were effectively undeclared, de facto allies, sharing the same goal if very little else. That is the controversial and, to many, unacceptable logic of The Irish News’ story.

A striking feature of the media coverage since the story broke has been the complete silence from Sinn Fein on the matter – but significantly, no denials either – which is especially puzzling since the widespread assumption has been that this was an authorised, leadership-approved leak to The Irish News.

So why the silence? Embarrassment at the level of Branch penetration or discomfort at the implications described in the preceding paragraphs? Or is there a god almighty row raging with the British in the background over how to deal with the past and The Irish News’ story is an opening and warning shot from the Provos.

If so, then there could be more to come.

28 January, 2016 01:00
Shankill bomb informer claims raises grotesque prospect

By Newton Emerson

Newton Emerson

Newton Emerson

THE claim that an RUC informant planned the Shankill bomb has apparently been made by the IRA.

It is hard to see what the republican movement gains from this admission.

As recently as four months ago, Gerry Adams was insisting the IRA no longer exists.

Republicans benefit from a perception that they kept no records and hence are not amenable to truth recovery.

Yet now the IRA is setting out a detailed tale of paperwork and logistics dating back 23 years.

Allowing an informant to commit murder is collusion at its most “extreme”, to quote Lord Stevens, who compiled three reports on the issue.

Although the republican movement needs to manage perceptions of being infiltrated right to the top, it would suit its long-term agenda to conflate all IRA murders of civilians with collusion, until Britain was responsible for everything and the IRA was a victim of itself.

But why rush into this now, weeks before a decisive southern election, with an example as appalling as the Shankill bomb and with information the IRA has apparently known since 2002?

Most Sinn Fein supporters already see Britain as responsible for everything, while the new voters the party wants in the republic are put off by any mention of the Troubles.

Something is clearly up and what it looks like is a warning shot, possibly over dealing with the past, or at least over some matter from the past that has arisen.

“Don’t think we won’t embarrass ourselves to embarrass you” is one signal the IRA might be sending.

Sinn Fein has an active strategy of unnerving the unionist population – former party chair Mitchel McLaughlin admitted as much to the BBC in 2006.

However, it is implausible that this would take urgent priority over the southern electoral strategy.

In any case, unionist narrative certainties are not so much undermined by this week’s revelations as cast back 30 years, when the response of all ‘decent people’ to an atrocity like the Shankill bomb was to wonder why the terrorists were not simply arrested.

It is not as if the identities of our paramilitary godfathers and their foot-soldiers were unknown.

Charlie Butler, who lost three family members in the Shankill bomb, says the names of those who planned and planted the device were common knowledge within hours.

In general, throughout the Troubles, people were mystified by the apparent uselessness of the state’s evident resources.

Super-grass trials had brought home to even the most determinedly oblivious that informants existed and the criminal justice system could get results by cashing them in. Everyone believed – correctly, as it turned out – that surveillance and bugging were carried out on an industrial scale.

Public support for paramilitaries seemed limited, beyond certain areas.

So why were the legendary ‘few hundred people ruining it for the rest of us’ not taken out of circulation?

The question that follows from that is the same question raised this week – what was the purpose of running informers, if it was not to prevent mass murder?

For republicans and many unionists, the explanation then and now is British scheming either for or against a united Ireland.

There may well be such an agenda in Whitehall or the intelligence services but Lord Stevens and everyone else who has authoritatively examined collusion has never found evidence of an overall policy being conveyed down to the handlers who would have had to enact it.

Instead, they have found constant requests upwards for policy direction, which were rebuffed by officials desperate to keep their hands clean.

The 2012 De Silva report into the murder of Pat Finucane found that in regards to agent handling, RUC Special Branch had “no workable guidelines”, MI5 had “no effective external guidance”, the army’s guidelines were “contradictory” and there was a “wilful and abject failure” by government to provide a “clear policy and legal framework.”

These findings are replicated in reports by Stevens, Judge Peter Cory and former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan.

Responding to O’Loan’s criticism last year that the RUC broke the rules, chief constable George Hamilton observed this was technically impossible as “there were no rules”.

Without rules, agents were run as their individual handlers saw fit and the agenda of someone who has spent years cultivating a source will rarely be to cash that source in.

None of this exonerates the security forces – far from it. It raises the grotesque prospect that hundreds of people were allowed to be murdered for no better reason than bureaucratic inertia.

Eamonn McCann: State role in IRA killings changes everything

Last Updated: Thursday, January 28, 2016, 11:28

The question arising from this week’s revelations in the Irish News of the extent of British security service involvement in IRA killings is: What was that all about?

Collusion between MI5, the police Special Branch and military intelligence on the one hand, and the UDA and the UVF on the other, has been well documented. But the focus of the piece by Alison Morris was on the infiltration of the Provisional IRA by state agents and the role the agents appear to have played in IRA atrocities, including the bombing of Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road in 1993 in which nine people died, including two children and one of the bombers.

Former republican prisoner Dixie Elliot put the question plainly on Monday: “Were the Brits running both sides?” And if they were to any significant degree, what justification can be offered now for the armed conflict which saw almost 4,000 killed, tens of thousands maimed in mind or body and bereaved families still distraught as their search for truth is thwarted at every turn?

‘Preposterous’ excuses

Also on Monday, a judge investigating 56 stalled Troubles-related inquests, some going back to the early 1970s, was scathing about the failure of the ministry of defence and the PSNI to disclose potentially crucial documents. Lord Justice Weir described their excuses as “preposterous.” And, he added, “They don’t improve with repetition”.

“Preposterous” might be applied also to the response of PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton to a BBC Panorama programme last May detailing a series of paramilitary killings that state agents had helped plan and then cover up. Among these were the loyalist murder of Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan in 2001, the massacre of five men in a bookie’s on the Lower Ormeau Road in 1992 and the IRA slaughter of 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmills in 1996. Former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan told the programme the state agencies had “operated outside the rules . . . Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people died because those people . . . were not stopped in their tracks. Many of them were killers and some of them were serial killers.”

Responding to the reference to operating outside the rules, Hamilton explained: “There were no rules. There was no regulatory framework for handling of informants at that time.”

He did not explain how a “regulatory framework” might have stayed the hands of men intent on procuring murder and confident they’d get away with it.

In 2003 Cambridgeshire deputy chief constable John Stephens published a report on British intelligence and army collusion. His conclusions included that “the conflict in Northern Ireland was needlessly intensified and prolonged by the ‘disastrous’ activities of a core of army and police officers who colluded with the terrorists.” This “core” had “actively and deliberately helped a loyalist paramilitary group to kill Catholics”.

His investigation, he recounted, “faced obstruction from its very first day from members of the security forces”.

In relation to the 1989 UDA murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, Stephens said the killers had been “guided to him” by an agent of both MI5 and a British army undercover group, the Force Reaction Unit (FRU).

Orchestrating cover-ups

The point is the British authorities have known for years of its forces’ deep involvement in lethal criminality and appear to have intervened only to orchestrate cover-ups which continue to this day. Far from being brought to heel, MI5 now occupies a more central role in the North than ever. In 2007, MI5 was given “primacy” over all matters touching on “national security.” Documents obtained in 2012 under freedom of Information by the Committee on the Administration of Justice give an insight into the implication.

Despite the devolution of policing and justice, and pledges of “transparency” hailed as hugely significant at the time of the handover in 2006, neither the Policing Board nor the department of justice has any function in relation to police matters with a “security dimension”. The documents stipulate that any doubt about the applicability of this provision to a particular matter is to be referred to MI5 or the British government for determination.

Nor does the FRU appear to have suffered any loss of approval on account of its part in the Finucane and other murders. In 2007 the Daily Telegraph reported it had been deployed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Its agents “are trained to turn hardened terrorists into coalition spies using methods developed on the mean streets of Ulster” and was now “running dozens of Iraqi double agents”.

The British authorities were unperturbed by the murder spree committed in its name to the extent of exporting the modus operandi.

Whether anything will change as a result of this week’s revelations is greatly to be doubted. It isn’t rogue officers we deal with here, but a rogue state.

 

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