Clifford Smyth Asks The Question: Who Was Ian Paisley?

Amongst the many Loyalist zealots who allied themselves with Ian Paisley over the decades only to be discarded when their value to the Big Man had been drained and exhausted – think Major Bunting, the Rev Billy Beattie, Ernie Baird – few ever attempted afterwards to assess the man who had courted, used and then ditched them. Clifford Smyth is an exception.

Clifford Smyth, standing as a DUP election candidate for a Sunningdale Assembly seat in North Antrim, Ian Paisley's bailiwick, 1973.

Clifford Smyth, standing as a DUP election candidate for a Sunningdale Assembly seat in North Antrim, Ian Paisley’s bailiwick, 1973.

In the early to mid-1970’s he was one of Paisley’s closest confidantes, first failing to win but then inheriting a seat in the ill-fated Sunningdale Assembly of 1974,  getting elected to its successor, the NI Convention and becoming secretary to the powerful United Unionist Coalition, a brief experiment in Unionist unity which, with Paisley as a leading member, was a living contradiction in terms.

In 1976 he fell out with Paisley and was expelled from the DUP in circumstances that yet have to be fully explained and which followed a kangaroo court presided over by Paisley and his then new favorite, Peter Robinson, the only deputy to the Big Man wily and ruthless enough to survive the experience and to eventually wield and plunge the assassin’s dagger himself.

Clifford Smyth, a history teacher by trade, then joined the Ulster Unionists but after a couple of failed attempts to get elected to Westminster his political interest switched to Orange history and he embraced the cause of the political integration of Northern Ireland with Britain, an objective that has over time won the support of luminaries like Edward Carson and Enoch Powell but never caught fire amongst the Unionist grassroots. In 1988 he published a study of Paisley, “Ian Paisley: Voice of Protestant Ulster”.

I have known and have considered Clifford Smyth a friend since the mid-1960’s when we were members of the same political science tutorial group at Queen’s University, Belfast. Here, in a guest posting, is his take on the late Ian Paisley:

Death has transformed Lord Bannside, Ian Paisley to you and me, from a political colossus into a ‘family man’. This assessment of Ian Paisley underlines the enigma that is Paisley.

His political career reaches back to the 1960s when a tall, gangling , youthful preacher on the fundamentalist wing of Ulster Protestantism began to make a name for himself on the fringes of Northern Ireland’s stable and peaceful society. Contemporaneously, Irish Republicans were reflecting on why the IRA campaign waged between 1956 and ’62, had failed, and how a reshaped strategy might succeed.

Paisley’s trajectory would carry him through a succession of opportunistic political adventures, any one of which could have ended in ignominious failure, to emerge six decades later as First Minister of a power-sharing devolved assembly at Stormont. And with whom did Paisley and his DUP party share-power , but none other than the loyalist and unionist population’s arch enemies Sinn Fein, led by Martin McGuinness, formerly the Provisional IRA’s commander in Derry. This reconciliation took place between polar opposites, Sinn Fein articulating Irish Republican demands, and the DUP, voice of Ulster’s Protestant and unionist heartlands.

These conflicting forces didn’t exactly inherit the kingdom. The small geographical area of Northern Ireland contrasts markedly with the horrendous scale and intensity of the civil disturbances, that held the Province in their grip for nearly forty years. Against this background, the reconciliation achieved between opposing forces was, by any stretch of the imagination, remarkable.

In the moments after Ian Paisley’s death was announced, the eulogies started to flow. Eamon Mallie described these new arrangements for the governance of Northern Ireland as ‘miraculous’; though Paisley’s pragmatic manoeuvrings had previously delayed a resolution of the conflict. There were though, to be few challenges to the themes of peace and reconciliation.

In the succeeding forty-eight hours the term ‘ colossus’ became so over- worked that more reasoned assessments languished in its shadow. Paisley was a ‘faithful preacher’, and a ‘man of deep faith’, who, it appeared, had almost single-handedly launched Northern Ireland on the road to peace. Questions about the destruction of the middle ground in Northern Ireland’s sectarian landscape were never asked, while the unsettling reality that the current power-sharing assembly is in a state of stasis wasn’t even aired.

Meanwhile, the Paisley family announced, to the astonishment of many onlookers, that the funeral arrangements were strictly private and that Dr. Paisley would be interred in a discreet burial ground in rural County Down. The contrast between Paisley’s death and his life couldn’t have been more pronounced. This was a larger- than- life personality whose adult career appeared, at times, to consist of one publicity stunt after another.

Ian Paisley’s death left so many major questions unanswered. Here was a life that had made a formidable impact on Northern Ireland’s Roman Catholic and Protestant population. Everyone had an opinion of the man, for good or ill, but the task of arriving at a fair and balanced understanding was proving elusive.

The most immediate of these questions turns on why the unionist leader, indelibly marked with saying ‘No!’, reinforcing the finality of that word with a declamatory ‘never,never,never’, found it expedient to ultimately say,’Yes!’

And so it came about that the street orator, who had so antagonised and demeaned his Roman Catholic neighbours, ended his career by driving a wedge between himself and the Free Presbyterian Church, which had grown over the years until most of Ulster’s towns and villages had their very own ‘Free Church’. These churches played an unseen, but vital, role in Paisley’s rise to prominence. On election day church buses, mission halls, telephones, and even the congregations, were all mobilised to get the voters to the polls.

Feeling betrayed by ‘the Big Man’s’ compromise with Sinn Fein, ministers and congregations of the Free Presbyterian Church, were deeply alienated. These Free Presbyterians were not alone. Their ranks were swollen by the humble and unsophisticated loyalist followers of Paisley who had vociferously identified with his traditional unionist campaigns.

Some commentators said that Paisley had had an ‘epiphany’, a moment of spiritual insight, in which he had recognized the need to make peace with the public representatives of a terrorist organisation that had entered into a process to decommission its extensive armoury. Others though – and this is where cynicism and realism become bedfellows – held to the opinion that a politician shaped by a heady mixture of ruthlessness and pragmatism, was coming under irresistible pressure from the British, Irish and American governments to do the deal. And the prize of ‘ First Minister’ held its own temptations for a man driven by the need to be top dog.

Other questions arise and call for answers if a more complete understanding of the man is to be achieved. The most penetrating of these is how Ian Paisley succeeded in smashing the hegemony of the Ulster Unionist Party which had dominated Northern Ireland’s politics since the inception of the state in 1921? Not only did Paisley destroy Ulster Unionism as a credible political movement, but he succeeded in mobilising a phalanx of newcomers, who entered the political fray winning seats in local , Westminster and even the European parliament.

The answer is that Paisley almost single-handedly, built his own power structures which mimicked, and soon supplanted, those of the organizations which he set out to rival. His main targets were the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Orange Order. Paisley created his own, ‘Free’ Church, his own party, the Protestant Unionists and the sash- wearing Ulster Protestant Volunteers. Onlookers would have dismissed these movements as comical or of no consequence, but they proved to be a battering ram that opened the gates to much greater things. Paisley didn’t hesitate to jettison elements that had served their purpose. Neither the Protestant Unionist Party nor the UPV lasted, but out of them emerged a party shorn of religious zealotry, the Democratic Unionist Party, that would appeal to a much wider electorate.

The structures that Paisley forged were tightly disciplined, lacking in transparency, energetic and unscrupulous. There were many casualties on Paisley’s drive for power: internal dissent was not tolerated, and a degree of loyalty demanded from followers that fringed on idol worship. Paisley used the tactic of ‘coalitions’ with those who shared similar aims, to undermine them and grab their supporters.

Paisley’s divisive approach to unionist politics would eventually ensure his triumph but his methods guaranteed that a fractured unionism would never negotiate from strength but only from weakness because, try as he might, Paisley could never capture the affections and support of all the unionist electorate.

Meanwhile Northern Ireland had entered ever more deeply into the nightmare years of ‘The Troubles’. And had not Paisley warned us all that these things would come to pass, that the ‘B’ Specials, Ulster’s locally recruited part-time constabulary to back up the RUC, would ‘go’ and that even Stormont would fall.

The term’ colossus’ has its roots in this Paisley phenomenon, the sense that here was a man who came out of nowhere and seized his destiny to be leader of Ulster whether people liked it or not. And to validate this destiny, all that was necessary was to top the poll in the European elections. And Paisley did that, with heaps of votes to spare!

Among the many tributes paid to Dr Paisley, the warmest came from a close religious colleague, the Rev. David McIlveen. The Rev. McIlveen stressed Ian Paisley’s ‘walk with God’ and asserted that this was ‘a man of Faith’, who read his Bible at every opportunity and prayed without ceasing. Sitting next to David McIlveen in the BBC radio studio, as the Irish writer Ruth Dudley Edwards launched a relentless verbal attack on Paisley, you could see the shock, sadness and grief well up in the minister’s face as he attempted to come to terms with such fierce criticism. Were there actually two Ian Paisleys?

One of the most startling and unsettling aspects of Paisley’s DUP is the party’s addiction to ‘spin’. Given the origins of the DUP, with its historic links through the ‘Free Church’ and the Protestant Unionists, it comes as a surprise to find that the Party is skilled in the use of all of the black arts associated with contemporary media management. Nor has the party modified the methods of control that shaped it: tight discipline and a code of silence.

Northern Ireland is riven by a series of sectarian fault lines, and this beautiful place, at the edge of British Isles, carries within it a parochial mindset that often finds expression in unusual ways. Graffiti on a gable end in a republican estate near Newry used to read: ’local informers will be shot!’ Presumably informers in some other locality weren’t their problem.

Given the divisions over religion, politics, culture, education and even sport, people have to ask themselves whether they can learn to live together as neighbours despite being beset by such differences or whether, as in so many instances in Ulster’s turbulent past it is only a matter of time until violence emerges from the pit once again.

Ian Paisley had a choice to strive for political dominance or to become a preacher of world renown. Paisley chose politics at a time when Northern Ireland needed to hear the greater message: ‘love thy neighbour’.

Why Scotland Will Never Vote For Independence

This, or rather its absence, is the reason why Scotland will always be tied to England. It explains why Wales is Wales and why the Irish are different from them all. Simple really…….

On The Runs: The Revenge Of The Neocons

You would not have noticed this if you were a regular subscriber to the Irish Times or Irish News (both of which newspapers managed entirely to ignore the story)or if you expected Sinn Fein to respond to alarming setbacks to that party’s peace strategy – but last week the Cameron government reneged on a small but symbolically important part of the peace accords negotiated in the two decades since the first IRA ceasefire and by so doing have arguably set a precedent that should set the tocsins ringing in Nationalist Ireland.

Theresa Villiers

Theresa Villiers

The formal announcement by NI Secretary Theresa Villiers that the letters of comfort given by the Blair government to some 200 IRA fugitives – so-called ‘On The Run’s’ – guaranteeing that they would not face prosecution are now not worth the paper they were written on and that fugitives who once thought they were safe now could be prosecuted, amounts to the first major retreat by the British from assurances given during the peace diplomacy.

The backpedaling is all the more significant since the assurances to the IRA fugitives were well known about at the time they were given and attempts by opponents to now justify their withdrawal on the grounds that these were secret promises held back from other participants in the process are simply bunkum.

It would not be going too far to say that Villiers’ action is just what it seems to be, a blatant appeasement of hardline Unionism and, arguably, a return to the mindset of war (on the basis that the British fought their war against the IRA primarily by prosecuting its members in court).

And nor would it be presumptive to suggest that taken in combination with other happenings – for instance David Cameron’s cozying up to the DUP for electoral reasons and the increasing clamor to return welfare powers to the Westminster parliament – that more defaults and withdrawals from the Good Friday Agreement and its associated arrangements are unlikely to happen.

The significance of the Villiers’ retreat lies in two directions. Firstly, she has broken the ice by choosing an unpopular concession to revoke – unpopular in these days of ISIS beheadings with her own party, the British media and probably British public opinion as well. As precedent settings go this was a sure thing.

And secondly the lack of protest and fightback from Nationalist Ireland – symbolised by the silence on the issue from major Irish media outlets – can only encourage those, especially in the DUP, to press for more backtracking from London.

It is no secret that large swathes of the DUP were only persuaded in the first place to accept power sharing with Sinn Fein because they were assured that it would be temporary and replaced by some form of majority rule when conditions allowed. If the Villiers move is a precedent then its import in Unionist eyes may lie in the hope or belief that it is the first of a thousand cuts whose combined effect will be to end or fundamentally alter a system they detest at heart.

Nowhere has this Nationalist silence been more profound than in the leadership of Sinn Fein, in sharp and complete contrast to the warm welcome given by Unionists, not least among them Martin McGuinness’ partner in government Peter Robinson.

I deliberately refrained from writing this commentary for the best part of week in case it took that long for the party to put its protest together. Even though Villiers retracted a solemn promise given by the Blair government and by so doing set a precedent for other similar actions, there has not been one word of criticism from Sinn Fein and it doesn’t look as if there will be.

On one level that is understandable simply because there is really nothing Sinn Fein can do, short of tearing up the Good Friday Agreement, to reverse the British move. The truth is that Villier’s reneging exposes a fatal flaw in the Sinn Fein peace strategy which until now no British government was ready to exploit.

The strategy was based on the idea that Sinn Fein would trade away the political, ideological and physical ingredients of the IRA’s war machine (the principle of consent, the Mitchell Principles, IRA decommissioning, accepting the PSNI and so on) for political concessions that would on the one hand make the whole business less unpalatable to the republican base – the ‘On The Run’ letters of comfort fell into that category – and on the other enable Sinn Fein to dominate Northern Nationalist politics and become a force to be reckoned with south of the Border. The British would go along with this trading because every concession they made weakened the IRA and diminished the potency of armed struggle while transforming Sinn Fein into a respectable and dependable political party.

It worked but there would always come a day when the Provisionals had no more to trade with the British and the IRA had been fully defanged, so reduced politically and militarily that it posed no threat worthy of the name. At that point, having achieved the defeat of the IRA and with the dissidents going nowhere, the British could have put the machine into reverse gear. That they didn’t is down to a combination of factors, including lingering Blairism, self-interest, common sense and Cameron’s indifference.

But events are moving ahead. A British general election beckons, the UKIP is challenging Cameron’s right flank and the prospect of Scottish independence is a spanner that may do untold damage to the political system. The Liberal Democrats will not be a partner in another coalition with Cameron and to retain power it is not beyond possibility that the Tories may look to the DUP phalanx in the House of Commons for support, hence those cozy soirees at Number Ten.

And Cameron has rediscovered the electoral potency of terrorism, of the Islamic variety that is, along with the lure of an aggressive policy on Ukraine, so aggressive in fact that Cameron has outflanked Obama on Russia and emerged as the leader of the war party in NATO.

The truth is that Cameron’s party and cabinet are choc full of neoconservatives, members of or fellow travelers with the Henry Jackson Society, so-named after the hawkish Democrat Senator for Washington state widely regarded as a founding father of modern American neoconservatism.

Pursuing jihadists in Syria, meddling in Libya, threatening war with Russia are all favorite neocon themes – and so too is the conviction that government must never, ever make deals with terrorists, least of deals that launch them into government. That is why the neocon core of Cameron’s Tories never had any appetite for the NI peace process and energetically peddled the notion that the Sinn Fein strategy was trickery, designed to weaken British resolve and aimed at relaunching the IRA’s military offensive from a position of strength.

Stuff and nonsense of course but the point is that reneging on aspects of the peace process diplomacy is something that would be meat and drink for many in Cameron’s ranks. We will see if there is more to come.



Tony Catney: Some Musings On The Irish Peace Process

The recent untimely death of the former leading Provisional activist Tony Catney – known everywhere as ‘TC’ – brought in its wake valuable lessons from the Troubles’ past and less certain pointers to the future of republican resistance to the 1998 peace accords.

The event that hit the headlines, with the usual predictable howls of Unionist outrage and media hype, was of course the volley of shots fired over an improvised shrine to Catney’s memory by masked men a few days after his funeral. Styling themselves ‘the IRA’, a dissident group which the dead man appeared to have been associated with in some way, the gunmen were signaling a) that they still had access to modern weapons and b) were willing to use them, even if the only living beings at danger from their efforts would be passing seagulls.

The second was the emergence of parts of an interview that Catney had given to Dr Peter Trumbore, an American academic political scientist from Oakland University in Michigan and reprinted on the Pensive Quill website. The interview was notable for a number reasons, one of which was a question that immediately jumped into my mind: why aren’t Irish academics, why aren’t Irish historians doing interviews like this? Why do American academics have to do the work that Irish ones should be doing but aren’t, or won’t? Where on earth, for instance, is Diarmaid Ferriter, Ireland’s ‘historian laureate’ and a man who is quick to criticise others who research the IRA but whose own record in this regard is lamentably lacking? We all know the answer.

Guardian correspondent Henry McDonald brought up another issue raised tangentially by Catney’s interview, the future of armed struggle as a response to the Sinn Fein-led peace process. McDonald saw in Catney’s remarks dissident doubts about the viability of the tactic although others, myself included, read it the other way.

Tony Catney

Tony Catney

The section of the interview that jumped out at me, not least because I covered the same area with him in conversations before I left Belfast, I reproduce below with the kind permission of Dr Trumbore:

So the fork in the road for me was the 31st of August 1994 when as an IRA volunteer I was summoned to be given the briefing as to why there would be a ceasefire at 12:00 that night. And the guy doing it gave me the reasons why, and then foolishly enough asked for people’s opinions.

So he asked my opinion and since I’m not usually very quiet, I wasn’t that particular evening. So he said, “Well, what’s your opinion?” and I said, “Well, I mean what is it you’re asking me for? Do you want my honest opinion about this or do you want me to say whether or not I support an army line?”

He says, “No, it’s not about an army line, I want your opinion,” and I said, “My opinion is this is all bollocks.” And I said:

“You sat in February of this year and sent IRA volunteers out on operations that have resulted in them lying in the H-blocks of Long Kesh at this moment in time on the basis that all of the talk about cease fires was mischievous and that it was being put out by the Brits. You denied whenever you were asked that the mini cease fire in May for the Americans was a dummy run for what is happening now, and this hasn’t been done from a position of strength by the IRA it has been done as an admission of weakness and that’s my honest opinion on it.”

And he says, “If you ever repeat that outside of this room,” that I’d be charged with treason. I said, “Right, so it wasn’t really my honest opinion you were after, you just really wanted me to agree with you.”

“No, no, no, I’m not saying that,” and I said, “Well then how can you say it’s fucking treasonous?”

It was a stupid row what was or what wasn’t treason, but at that point then I was earmarked as someone who wasn’t on board with the leadership strategy.

Those readers of who are familiar with my book on the IRA and the peace process, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ will know that I believed that the strategy that led to the IRA ceasefires and ultimately to the Good Friday Agreement and IRA decommissioning had certain unique features, which were: it was devised and implemented in great secrecy by a very small team of people grouped around Gerry Adams; the vast bulk of IRA activists and Sinn Fein members, and much of the IRA leadership, were in almost total ignorance of the developing strategy, and lastly, that lying and dissembling were the principal tools used to still and quieten doubts amongst the grassroots – and of course threats of the sort that Tony Catney received.

Tony Catney’s account to Dr Rumbore is a public acknowledgement of all this. But it is more than that. Tony Catney was not typical of rank and file republicans. He was a valuable and skilled political worker for Sinn Fein and the IRA and at one point was the party’s Director of Elections, a post he held with considerable distinction. He was a senior party apparatchik, partly responsible for Sinn Fein’s growing electoral successes in the early 1990’s, a confidante of and advisor to the party’s top echelon, yet even he was kept outside the circle of knowledge. That much is evident by the anger he expresses in his exchange with his IRA briefer about the lies told about the growing momentum towards the August 1994 ceasefire, the denials from leadership figures, the comrades imprisoned in pursuit of an armed campaign that had already been secretly abandoned by the organisation’s navigators.

It is part of human nature, I believe, to seek refuge in self-denial and self-deception when a person realises that they have been lied to and made a fool of, especially when hindsight shows how mistaken or even gullible they really were. In relation to the peace process this took various forms, the most pathetic of which was to cling to the belief that ‘Gerry has got something up his sleeve’ as inexorably Sinn Fein travelled towards constitutionalism and the IRA to oblivion. I wish I had a fiver for every time I heard that in Belfast circa 1993-2001, when I finally left. The truth was that the only thing up Gerry’s sleeve was air.

I had occasion to debate all this with Tony Catney before I left and he stubbornly adhered to the line he gave Dr Trumbore. Explaining to his IRA ceasefire briefer why the accusation that he wasn’t on board with the leadership strategy was baseless, he told the American academic:

Nothing could be further from the truth, for one simple reason. I could neither be on board or off board because I had absolutely no idea what the leadership strategy was. Because the leadership had no idea what their strategy was.

I have to say that I formed the conclusion both when we last spoke and on re-reading his views in this interview that to believe that there was no leadership strategy was his way of saying “I wasn’t really fooled because they didn’t know what they were doing”. In fact the evidence of a clear and thought out strategy is there in black and white and I reproduced it in the second edition of “A Secret History…” in 2007. It is the letter written to Charles Haughey by Gerry Adams’ peace process interlocutor, Fr Alex Reid in May 1987, just days after the Loughgall massacre, setting out the ways by which the Provos would and could end their war. It is the Rosetta Stone of the peace process.It happened more or less exactly as Charles Haughey was told it would.

That Tony Catney refused to acknowledge its existence and accept its relevance makes his life and death that little bit sadder.

The REAL ISSUE Behind The Ferguson, Missouri Police Response


Protest Is Treated As Terrorism In America Today

Washington Post writer Radley Balko is the leading expert on militarization of police in America.  Balko has testified to Congress and written books on the subject.

Balko said today that the real issue behind the Ferguson, Missouri police response wasn’t the militarized police response – or the minor incidences of looting, rock-throwing and possibly Molotov cocktails by a handful of protesters – but a crackdown by government on all protest:

What we’re seeing in Ferguson, this is not a local issue, really. I mean, this is something that’s been driven by national policies, by policies that Congress has approved of and has oversight of, and could end tomorrow, if they wanted to.


The idea that when we take domestic police officers and we train them like soldiers and we give them military gear and we dress them up like soldiers and we tell them they’re fighting a war—you know, war on crime or war on terror—they’re going to start to see themselves as soldiers. And that’s just a mindset that’s not—that really isn’t appropriate for domestic policing. And I think you saw that in the way that they responded to protests—not just in Ferguson, but also, you know, a lot of the crackdowns on the Occupy protesters, on the crackdowns at the political conventions over the years. I mean, this has become our default response to protest in the U.S., and it’s something that, you know, I think could be very antagonistic toward the very idea of free speech and the First Amendment.


The FBI treated the peaceful protesters at the Occupy protests – who were protesting too big to fail banks, and who were predominately white –  as terrorists. More here, here and here.

Highly-militarized, federally-coordinated police used such brutal violence to break up the Occupy protests – see this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this – that the Egyptian military used the crack down on Occupy as justification for the murder of protesters in Tahir Square, Egypt.  (Despite media portrayals, the Occupy protesters were not violent.)

Violence was also been unleashed against peaceful protesters outside of Republican and and Democratic conventions. And reporter Amy Goodman was arrested at the Republican convention for documenting violence against protestors.

The real issues are that:

Boston College And Me

This article first appeared on the website ‘Off The Record’:

The Boys From Berlin: The MI5 Officers Who Covered Up Kincora

Reprinted from Spinwatch:


Tuesday, 12 August 2014 10:08

Recent months have seen repeated calls for the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry to look at events at the Kincora Boys Home in the mid-1970s (see Spinwatch reports here and here). A key development took place last week when a former Army intelligence officer spoke publicly for the first time about MI5’s role in suppressing knowledge of abuse at the home.

Liam Clarke reported:

Brian Gemmell, a former captain in military intelligence, confirmed that he had passed on information from three men – James Miller, Roy Garland and Jim McCormick – to a senior MI5 officer named Ian Cameron. All three information sources were completely opposed to the abuse and wanted it ended…

…His first move was to report it to Cameron, an MI5 veteran who was working under the cover of a political adviser in the Northern Ireland Office.

“Ian Cameron was very much a father figure to me at the time,” Mr Gemmell said.

“I was in my mid-20s and he was in his early 60s. He was normally a very nice chap, but he reacted very strongly.

“He told me that MI5 did not concern itself with what homosexuals did and he ordered me to stop using an agent I had within Tara, who we had codenamed Royal Flush.”

Clarke notes that Cameron was a veteran of Cold War Berlin, an aspect of his background which casts a significant light on his connections within MI5.

 Before being posted to Belfast, Cameron served in a little-known unit called the British Services Security Organisation, responsible since the 1950s for the security of British forces in Germany. In 1968, a section of BSSO involved in debriefing defectors was hived off into the British Services intelligence Unit, which became an MI6 fiefdom. The remainder of the BSSO came under the leadership of an officer seconded from MI5, which had sought greater influence over the organisation for the best part of a decade.

Intelligence historian Richard Aldrich wrote of this period:

In the autumn of 1968, as part of these changes, the Chiefs of Staff had asked for the remainder of BSSO (G) to be re-organised under the command of a seconded officer from MI5 in London. By early 1969 this MI5 officer had initiated a number of reforms, most importantly an effort to beef up the Berlin Branch of BSSO (G), which involved reorganisation, more staff and better equipment particularly for interception. However, despite increased resources, the Berlin Branch found themselves struggling.  (Battleground Western Europe: Intelligence Operations in Germany and the Netherlands in the Twentieth Century pp.134-135)

Aldrich does not name the MI5 officer concerned, but Thomas Hennessey and Claire Thomas state that it was John Jones. I do not know their source for this as I only have access to Google snippets of their book. Nevertheless, I am inclined to accept this conclusion, as it explains references to Jones that appear in Ian Cameron’s correspondence from 1971.

Cameron was at that time the head of the Berlin branch of the BSSO, in which capacity he wrote to Edward Jackson, the political advisor to the British Military Government, complaining that a Russian attempt to post more diplomats in the west of the city would create an impossible task for BSSO’s locally recruited surveillance operators.

Cameron made a point of copying this correspondence to John Jones, which would make sense if Jones was his immediate boss, the MI5 officer running BSSO, whose most significant reform, beefing up the Berlin branch, was Cameron’s direct responsibility.

Such a close working relationship at this time is particularly intriguing in the light of the two men’s later careers in MI5.

In 1972, Jones became the head of F Branch, MI5’s counter-subversion wing, which was rapidly taking over from counter-espionage as MI5’s highest priority.

David Leigh wrote of this era:

New names from the world of the ‘industrial desk’, John Jones, David Ransom, John Woodruffe began to rise to prominence. MI5 fought – and beat – MI6 for control of intelligence in Northern Ireland, under a succession of ‘DCIs’ on two-year tours to this new, uninhibited career posting – Ian Cameron, Jack Credock, John Parker. (The Wilson Plot, p.209).

In fact, Cameron may not have been the Director and Coordinator of Intelligence (DCI), but one of his subordinates. Numerous inquiries have given us a basic outline of MI5’s structure in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The DCI was based at the Northern Ireland Office, and had representatives working with the RUC and at the Army’s HQNI. Cameron, working at Lisburn, would have filled the latter role.

Agent-handling was run separately by an MI5/MI6 Irish Joint Section (IJS) reporting to London. F Branch would have been responsible for the MI5 end of the IJS, which became F8 section when MI6 dropped out completely in the mid-1980s.

Christopher Andrew states that as head of F Branch from 1972 to 1974, Jones ‘showed no desire to expand the Service’s role in Northern Ireland’ (The Defence of the Realm, 2009, p.621).

Although Andrew would probably not acknowledge it, this picture fits all too well with Colin Wallace’s account of Operation Clockwork Orange, a propaganda campaign ostensibly aimed against the IRA, but which in reality focused on domestic British counter-subversion.

According to Paul Foot’s book Who Framed Colin Wallace?, Clockwork Orange was initiated by the DCI Denis Payne (1990, p.41). As Payne’s representative at Lisburn, Cameron would have been well-placed to observe the dissemination of propaganda through the Army press office. The London-based MI5 officers who provided Wallace with much of this material would probably also have come from F Branch.

F Branch’s Northern Ireland responsibilities had a particular focus on loyalism, because police special branches retained primacy with regard to republicanism until the 1990s. (Given the BSSO connection, it might be interesting to examine whether the British Army of the Rhine was a recruiting ground for MI5 agents within loyalism).

If Kincora housefather William McGrath had an MI5 handler as many suspect, this would probably have been an F Branch officer. Likewise the London-based MI5 officers who asked Brian Gemmell whether loyalist John McKeague could be blackmailed would probably have come from F Branch.

Given these links, MI5’s stonewalling of a Kincora inquiry may have been more than the usual bureaucratic cover-up. According to Liam Clarke, RUC officers led by Superintendent George Caskey were not even allowed to meet Cameron in the 1980s:

The Caskey team were allowed to submit a series of written question to him asking why no action was taken to investigate Mr Gemmell’s allegations, why Mr Gemmell was told to drop the issue of Kincora, and whether MI5 had been prepared to let the abuses continue.The questions were never answered. We don’t know if Mr Cameron even received them.

These enquiries were part of the Terry Inquiry which took place in 1982 and 1983. During that period the Director-General of MI5 was Cameron’s former close colleague Sir John Jones. MI5’s silence in relation to the Caskey team raises the question whether Jones did not have a profound conflict of interest.

If William McGrath was an MI5 agent between 1972 and 1974, Jones as head of F Branch would have been closer to the operational chain of responsibility than Cameron. Equally, as head of MI5’s counter-subversion wing at the time of Operation Clockwork Orange, he would have had serious questions to answer if Colin Wallace’s version of events had been accepted.

MI5 still refuses to face that appalling vista to this day, but given the evidence of Colin Wallace, Roy Garland, the late James Miller, Major-General Peter Leng and now Brian Gemmell, its denials are looking thinner than ever.

Tom Griffin

Tom Griffin is a freelance journalist and researcher. He is a former editor of the Irish World newspaper, and is currently undertaking a Ph.D at the University of Bath. He was a contributor to Fight Back! OpenDemocracy’s book on the 2010 student protests, and a co-author of the Spinwatch pamphlet The Cold War on British Muslims. His website is at: