Monthly Archives: August 2014

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:


Kincora Scandal: MI5 Agent Was Named In UK Parliament 24 Years Ago; RUC Was Implicated In Cover-Up. Any Chance Of A Subpoena?

The disclosure this week on BBC Northern Ireland from former British Army intelligence officer, Brian Gemmell that the British spy agency, MI5 had in 1975 ordered him to halt a probe into a paedophile ring at the Kincora Boys Home in East Belfast has re-opened this decades long scandal and re-fueled demands for a thorough investigation of the role of British security agencies in covering up the abuse of young boys at the home.

The Kincora Boys Home

The Kincora Boys Home

With the latest allegation from Gemmell, who was a Captain in British military intelligence, MI5 stands accused of complicity in the sexual, physical and mental abuse of an unknown number of children, many of whom were from broken or difficult homes or were orphans. An ordinary citizen accused of such an offence could expect the full weight of the law to bear down upon them but MI5 is likely to try to hide behind its intelligence privileges to evade investigation.

According to Gemmell, who was not answering his phone at his Yorkshire home yesterday, he was summoned to see the MI5 officer and told to end his investigation, based on information he had received from two informers, one of them codenamed ‘Royal Flush’ who was named in the British Parliament in 1990 as Roy Garland, then a disciple of Kincora Housefather, William McGrath. McGrath, an evangelist who headed his own Orange Lodge, created the bizarre Loyalist group, Tara, a ‘doomsday’ outfit from which the post-Gusty Spence UVF evolved. Garland, a columnist with the Irish News, experienced brief notoriety when the Kincora scandal broke when to hide his identity the Irish Times christened him ‘Mr X’, a source who implicated Ian Paisley in the cover up.

Brian Gemmell, now a born-again Christian

Brian Gemmell, now a born-again Christian

McGrath’s links to the extreme edges of Loyalism and to its mainstream were impressive and many Unionist politicians of the 1960’s to the 1980’s had been part of his entourage. His associates included Ian Paisley as well as leading figures in both the DUP and the Official now Ulster Unionist Party. Alongside his paramilitary associations, all this would have made McGrath  an obvious target for British intelligence while his pedophilia and strange sexual behaviour – he was suspected by one associate of having had intercourse with a corpse at one point – would have given British intelligence ample leverage against him.

William McGrath, founded Tara and abused boys at Kincora

William McGrath, founded Tara and abused boys at Kincora

This is what Brian Gemmell told the BBC about his meeting with the MI5 man: “I went up thinking he was going to be pleased with me (but) he bawled me out He was rude and offensive and hostile. He told me not just to stop any investigation into Kincora, but to drop Royal Flush.”

However he gave a much fuller and more colorful account to the British Labour MP and former London mayor Ken Livingstone who said this about his encounter with Gemmell, whom he did not name but called “James”. Gemmell had passed on intelligence about Kincora after meeting Roy Garland to his military superiors:

The Army intelligence officer wrote a report of his meeting with Garland, and sent it to his Army superiors as a matter of routine. He said that it was then passed to MI5—which shared the same building at Army headquarters—and that he was summoned to see the senior MI5 officer. On the “Public Eye” programme, he said of that meeting: I can’t honestly say that I was expecting three gold stars but I went up feeling pretty positive, expecting a normal meeting. Instead I got blown out of his office. He’s rude to me, he tells me that the kind of information that I have submitted is not proper intelligence, that we have nothing—we, as intelligence officers, don’t dabble in homosexual affairs, that these moral matters are nothing to do with us. He vilifies my report, he tells me to cut off the contact. I can remember him saying to me words to the effect ‘get rid of him, break the contact, just get rid’. I’m surprised because we had had a pretty good relationship going up until then. He blows me out of the office. That, surely, is a remarkable position for one of the most senior MI5 officers on operational duty in the north of Ireland: having been told of systematic child abuse by a leading militant Protestant paramilitary, MI5 decided to do nothing about it.

The name of the MI5 officer has been known for nearly a quarter century and he was named in the British House of Commons in June 1990 by Labour MP’s Tam Dalyell and Ken Livingstone as Ian Cameron, MI5’s military liaison officer in Northern Ireland. The striking aspect of Livingstone’s account of Brian Gemmell’s story is Cameron’s given reason for insisting that he drop his probe, not that it would endanger an ongoing intelligence operation but that matters such as pedophilia were of no concern to MI5 – in a home run by one of the North’s most extreme and well connected Loyalists? Striking since the involvement of NIO officials in the ring was alleged to this reporter by a source who investigated the home in the 1970’s.

Britain's internal spy agency, MI5 covered up and thereby facilitated the rape of children at a home in East Belfast during the 1970's.

Britain’s internal spy agency, MI5 covered up and thereby facilitated the rape of children at a home in East Belfast during the 1970’s.

 Powerbase claims that Cameron held a senior position in British intelligence in Berlin in the early 1970’s but was then transferred to Northern Ireland where from 1974 onwards he served as intelligence controller at Thiepval barracks, the British Army HQ and was involved in the power struggle for intelligence supremacy in Northern Ireland with MI6, a battle won by MI5.

An intriguing side effect of Gemmell’s disclosure is that it is helping to bestow a new credibility on whistle-blowing former security personnel such as Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd, figures that the British establishment, aided by not a few in the media, were keen to discredit.

Tam Dalyell’s contribution to that 1990 House of Commons debate is below but what is starkly clear from his and Ken Livngstone’s contribution is that the salient details of MI5’s role in the Kincora cover up were well known nearly twenty-five years ago but nothing was done.



(A note about language. Throughout those 1981/82 Irish Times reports all the journalists involved referred to the scandal as being a “homosexual” one whereas the correct term would and should have been “pedophile”, since we were implying that all homosexuals were or could be pedophiles when that was palpably not true. Put that down to the times that were in it and our own immature attitudes. It wouldn’t happen now, that’s for sure.)

The Convictions:

The three members of staff at Kincora appear in court on December 10th, 1981 charged with offences connected to sexual assault of boys. Only one, William McGrath pleaded not guilty and was ready to argue that he had been framed by the UVF with whose leaders he had fallen out. He later changed his plea to guilty apparently because of family fears of what courts disclosures would reveal.

The three members of staff at Kincora appear in court on December 10th, 1981 charged with offences connected to sexual assault of boys. Only one, William McGrath pleaded not guilty and was ready to argue that he had been framed by the UVF with whose leaders he had fallen out. He later changed his plea to guilty apparently because of family fears of what courts disclosures would reveal.


So Who Knew?o_0768ad48e2ad395e_001

Irish Times - December 17th, 1981; McKittrick's report reveals that the British Army knew all about Kincora Housefather, William McGrath and that he was of intelligence interest to the military.

Irish Times – December 17th, 1981; McKittrick’s report reveals that the British Army knew all about Kincora Housefather, William McGrath and that he was of intelligence interest to the military.





And the Unionist establishment knew. After all WIlliam McGrath was one of their own. Irish Times, December 17th, 1981

And the Unionist establishment knew. After all WIlliam McGrath was one of their own. Irish Times, December 17th, 1981


And so did the RUC, which covered up its own officers' probe into the affair. So what is the PSNI going to do now? The force's commitment to uncovering historical crime is on record and it would be hard to imagine a more bestial crime than covering up the rape of children. So a criminal investigation, not an public inquiry is called for in the wake of Brian Gemmell's allegations. Here's a good starting point PSNI: reach down into the drawer marked 'blank subpoena forms', fill one out and send it off to the head of MI5 asking for him to trawl through his records of that time for evidence of a cover up and hand it all over. After all everyone else has to.

And so did the RUC, which covered up its own officers’ probe into the affair – Irish Times, January 12th, 1982. So what is the PSNI going to do now? The force’s commitment to uncovering historical crime is on record and it would be hard to imagine a more bestial crime than covering up the rape of children. So a criminal investigation, not a public inquiry is called for in the wake of Brian Gemmell’s allegations. Here’s a good starting point PSNI: reach down into the drawer marked ‘blank subpoena forms’, fill one out and send it off to the head of MI5 asking for him to trawl through his records of that time for evidence of a cover up and hand it all over. After all everyone else has to.