Monthly Archives: March 2017

Was Martin McGuinness A British Agent? – Toby Harnden Asks The Question

This article was originally published in The Sunday Times (Irish Edition) and reprinted in Real Clear Politics. Enjoy:

McGuinness: The Slippery Shadow in Irish Dirty War

By Toby Harnden
March 31, 2017

Towards the end of my time as a reporter in Northern Ireland I had a dream in which I was opening an envelope. In it, I had been told, was a list of all the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries who had been secret agents for the British intelligence services.

Even in the dream it felt as if all my senses were tingling in anticipation of being given the key to unlocking the greatest mysteries and contradictions of the Irish Troubles. But when I took the piece of paper out and unfolded it, it was blank.

That was in the late 1990s. I had a similar sense of anticlimax when — nearly 18 years on — the death of Martin McGuinness at the age of 66 was announced last week.

There were the inevitable salutes, cloaked in a green mist, to his status as a sainted Irish revolutionary hero. And of course the equally predictable condemnations of him as a blood-soaked terrorist who should rot in hell.

Between these extremes was the comfortable narrative of the type beloved by western liberals that here was a man of violence who laid down his gun and instead took up the cause of peace and democracy in a Damascene conversion.

None of this contributed much more to any greater understanding of what happened in the Troubles than the blank piece of paper in my dream.

Irish republicans never underwent a moral transformation. Their pursuit of a united Ireland involved both slaughter and negotiation.

In fact the two things were always inextricably linked. The “Tuas” doctrine drawn up after the 1994 ceasefire stood for “tactical use of the armed struggle” and not — as some naive British officials hoped — “totally unarmed strategy”.

Neither the brickbats nor the bouquets did much justice to the immense complexity of McGuinness’s career. He graduated from being a butcher’s apprentice in Derry to a fearless IRA fighter before becoming a de facto commander who occupied every senior IRA position.

Ultimately he became the chief negotiator for the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Fein, playing a central role in brokering the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which ushered in a flawed peace. Perhaps most remarkably he struck up a genuine rapport with Ian Paisley, Ulster’s erstwhile “Dr No”, as the unlikely duo — dubbed the “Chuckle Brothers” — co-governed the province’s six counties.

That’s not all. Just as most news reports of McGuinness’s passing omitted the fact that he had been part of the IRA army council that ordered the 1996 South Quay bombing in London’s Docklands, they also ignored one of the central questions about him.

Put bluntly, if that piece of paper in my dream had not been blank, would the name Martin McGuinness have been on it?

On the face of it the very notion is preposterous. As leader of the IRA’s Derry Brigade after Bloody Sunday in 1972, McGuinness had almost certainly killed dozens of British soldiers and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers.

While Gerry Adams’s operational experience as an IRA volunteer had been minimal, McGuinness was a military man, respected and feared in equal measure.

The case that McGuinness was a British agent — opinion is divided as to whether it was MI5 or MI6 — is mainly circumstantial but has been longstanding and propounded by a variety of diverse figures. Over the past 15 years it has become clear that the Provisionals were thoroughly infiltrated by the British state.

In 2003 Alfredo Scappaticci, known as Freddie or “Scap” and head of the IRA’s infamous “nutting squad” that interrogated and murdered informers, was himself unmasked as an informer. Codenamed “Stakeknife”, he had been in the pay of the British since 1978.

A little over two years later, it was the turn of Denis Donaldson, a senior Sinn Fein aide and confidant of Adams who had worked for the RUC and MI5 for two decades. He was shot dead by the IRA at a farmhouse in Co Donegal a few months later.

Since the 1999 publication of my book Bandit Country: The IRA and South Armagh, I have received confirmation that the April 1997 arrest by the SAS of an IRA sniper team was based on information provided by an informer that led to listening devices being planted at a remote farm.

The arrest operation at the farm was a pivotal event in undermining the IRA’s military campaign and boosting the case being made by Adams and McGuinnese that political talks were the way ahead.

Any doubt that men at the heart of the republican movement responsible for continued murder and mayhem could have been British agents had vanished.

Despite his military record McGuinness had long been a proponent of negotiations. Sean MacStiofain, the Provisional IRA’s first chief of staff, claimed to Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA man who served 18 years in jail, that McGuinness was lobbying for a ceasefire as far back as 1972.

A declassified British military document carried an account of a meeting in May 1973 between two of the most senior British Army officers involved in the Troubles during which the existence of a source, apparently named “Brocolli”.

General Sir Frank King, who commanded British troops in Northern Ireland from February 1973 and August 1975 and General Sir David Fraser, Vice Chief of the General Staff, were apparently concerned about “the problem” of the source’s protection.

Brian Keenan, the veteran IRA leader who died of cancer in 2008, suspected that McGuinness had set him up for arrest at a roadblock in 1979. Keenan was wanted at the time and was suspicious that McGuinness had flagged him down shortly beforehand, alerting the security forces to the car he was in.

In his powerful book A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, a veteran journalist with unrivalled Provisional contacts, laid out details of the charmed life that McGuinness led while he promoted men suspected of being informers and IRA operations that he oversaw were infiltrated.

Eight IRA men were killed in an SAS ambush at Loughgall, Co Armagh, in 1987, the biggest death toll for the organisation in any single incident since 1921. Those who perished were regarded as being among the most militant members of the IRA, whose East Tyrone Brigade was adamantly opposed to the talks strategy being drawn up by Adams and McGuinness.

Somehow the IRA plan to blow up an RUC station had been completely compromised, although it’s possible that it was electronic surveillance rather than treachery that led to the SAS operation.

The previous year, the IRA’s Northern Command had been given the power to vet planned attacks to avoid them conflicting with Sinn Fein’s political plans. The head of Northern Command was none other than McGuinness.

One of the most notorious atrocities of the Troubles was the “human bomb” attack on the Coshquin checkpoint in 1990. Patsy Gillespie, 42, a Catholic canteen worker at Fort George army base, was abducted at his home in Derry and ordered to drive a lorry loaded with explosives to the checkpoint.

Rather than allowing Gillespie time to escape, as had been previous IRA practice, the bomb was detonated by remote control as he reached the checkpoint. Five soldiers were killed and the largest part of Gillespie’s body to be recovered was part of his hand.

In an IRA statement authorised by McGuinness, who had approved the operation, Gillespie was described as having deserved death because he had been “a part of the British war machine”.

In 2006 a former British soldier using the pseudonym Martin Ingram, who had been an informant handler in the army’s Force Research Unit (FRU), produced the transcript of a tape that he said was an intercepted conversation between McGuinness — codenamed J118 — and “G”, an MI6 officer.

During their conversation the two men talked about the upcoming Coshquin attack, which appeared to be the MI6 officer’s idea.

The murder of Gillespie caused an entirely predictable uproar even among Catholics normally supportive of the IRA. The attack had been approved by McGuinness and the IRA leadership.

“One thing can be said with certainty,” Moloney wrote. “The human bomb tactic fortified the peace camp within the Provisionals and weakened the militarists.”

Could MI6 really have colluded in the slaughter of five British soldiers in order to nudge the IRA towards peace? It seems far-fetched. But the Troubles were not described as “the dirty war” for nothing.

Certainly on occasion the British authorities were prepared to arrange murders for what was judged to be a greater good.

During research Bandit Country I established that the IRA bomb maker Paddy Flood, who was nicknamed “warhead” and was killed as an informer by the IRA in 1990, had been set up by the British to protect another informer, Martin Hogan, a senior Derry IRA man.

Flood, subjected to a brutal interrogation in a south Armagh barn, had given a false confession. His body was found dumped in a bin bag on the border.

A year later Hogan was spirited away from Derry by his handlers and given a new identity abroad.

The Coshquin attack effectively marked the end of the road for the IRA in Derry— the five soldiers who died that day were its last military victims.

Derry’s IRA brigade had been riddled with informers. Among them was Frank Hegarty, shot dead in 1986 after being lured home by McGuinness with a promise of immunity. The more suspicious in the brigade noted Hegarty had been promoted by McGuinness though there had been rumours he might have been a British agent.

It was notable, moreover, that the IRA was effectively shut down in Derry long before it was neutralised elsewhere — and that the senior commander there was McGuinness.

Raymond Gilmour was a Derry IRA informer who fled the city in 1982 and died of apparent natural causes at the age of 56 in Kent last year. He once used to wake up screaming after nightmares that McGuinness was about to shoot him but later concluded that the future Sinn Fein chief negotiator was, like him, a British agent.

Adams and McGuinness seemed to have calculated as early as the 1980s that the Irish war was destined to be a stalemate

“I could never understand how I was allowed to run so long and do so much damage,” he said in 2006. “Now I can see McGuinness was looking out for me.”

Around the same time, a former RUC Special Branch officer told The Sunday Times that McGuinness had been an informer codenamed “Fisherman”.

What could have motivated McGuinness to betray the IRA? Adams was always openly hostile towards me, a journalist with the pro-unionist, conservative Daily Telegraph. The first words he spoke to me when I challenged him on his assertion that he had no idea what the IRA was thinking were the distinctly menacing: “Who are you?”

Officially The Daily Telegraph did not talk to Sinn Fein in those days — though I regularly met IRA members as part of my book research in south Armagh — and Sinn Fein would speak to the British government but not The Daily Telegraph.

McGuinness and I would exchange glances and he would nod at me, as if to acknowledge that he knew the way things were. Years later we met at a St Patrick’s Day event in Washington and he shook my hand warmly. He was enjoying his role as deputy first minister — a minister of the British
crown — and was full of bonhomie.

One intriguing nugget in the late Liam Clarke’s definitive biography Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government, a biography he co-wrote with his wife, Kathryn Johnston, was that McGuinness was “prone to attacks of depression, which were sometimes severe . . . they were followed by fits of elation”.

Such a vulnerability — or others we may not have known about — could have provided the intelligence agencies with leverage.

The most plausible theory perhaps is that while he was never in the pay of the British, he — along with Adams — was regarded as an “agent of influence” by MI5 and MI6, a force for encouraging the Provisionals to move towards politics.

After all, the pair had been involved in political talks with British officials and MI6 at Cheyne Walk, in London’s Chelsea, in 1972. As the Troubles wore on, it seemed increasingly that they were being protected by the British government for fear of them being supplanted by more militaristic figures.

Detective Superintendent Ian Phoenix, head of the RUC’s surveillance unit, who was killed in the 1994 Chinook helicopter crash at Mull of Kintyre, wrote in his diaries that surveillance of McGuinness and other Sinn Fein leaders was curtailed in 1993, a decision he viewed to be a result of political pressure.

If the political will had been there, a criminal conviction on charges of directing terrorism would have been a virtual inevitability.

In 1998 Mickey Donnelly, a veteran Derry republican who had been critical of the Good Friday agreement, was subjected to a vicious beating as punishment for his dissent. Donnelly’s wife, Martina, confronted McGuinness on his doorstep, telling him he was a “traitor” to the cause of Irish unity.

Donnelly commented: “It shows that McGuinness and some of his henchmen are a protected species: they are safe from arrest as long as they do not attack the British forces or the loyalists.”

In 2009 McGuinness himself referred to dissident republicans as “traitors to the island of Ireland” for the murder of Stephen Carroll, a Catholic police officer shot dead by the Real IRA in Co Armagh. It was the type of IRA operation he would have considered routine 20 years earlier.

Adams and McGuinness seemed to have calculated as early as the 1980s that the Irish war was destined to be a stalemate. The IRA was too compromised and contained to achieve victory but its capacity to bomb England meant the British were prepared to make huge concessions.

By persuading the British that the cure for the disease — the Troubles — was disengagement, they might actually bring about what the disease itself could not. That, at least, is what supporters of Adams and McGuinness believe.

The alternative is that one or both of them were co-opted, even recruited, by the British state to subvert the IRA’s aims. If so, then some of those now condemning McGuinness as an unrepentant terrorist might have to revise their opinions. Irish republicans would regard him as a figure of infamy.

But the likelihood is that the paper in that dreamt-of envelope will always remain blank, or at least incomplete.

Asked about McGuinness’s death last week, Gillespie’s widow, Kathleen, said she had always wanted answers but she feared “the truth died” when the Sinn Fein leader took his final breath.

Truth was always an elusive concept during the Troubles, and McGuinness doubtless took many of its darkest secrets to his grave.

Toby Harnden is the Washington bureau chief of The Sunday Times. You can follow him on Twitter here.

This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times. It is reprinted here with permission.

Toby Harnden is the Washington bureau chief of The Sunday Times. You can follow him on Twitter here.
This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times. It is reprinted here with permission.

The Paisley-McGuinness Movie Trailer

If you buy popcorn on the way in, you’ll probably need a zinc bucket as well. This is what happens when Hollywood meets history. A comic version of what actually happened. Utterly beyond words! Cynically released by IFC Films now because of McGuinness’ death I suspect, otherwise it was destined to bomb spectacularly, if you’ll forgive the phrase.

Donald Trump’s Fiendishly Clever Climate Plan Is Unveiled

Thanks to CM for this:

Danny Morrison

In case anyone thinks Peter Sefton is making this up, here a copy of the telegram…..

seftonblog

In December 1988, a telex was sent to Our Man in Brussels.

The subject was Danny Morrison. It was a briefing for the Ambassador.

The writer invited the Ambassador to “draw on the following background on Danny”….

It contained the following information.

“Morrison was interned between 27 November 1972 and 21 December 1973,..he was editor of An Phoblacht [Republican News] in the late 1970s [mouthpiece for IRA and Sinn Fein]…currently director of publicity for Sinn Fein-postion held since early 80s…member of Art Comhairle [Sinn Fein National Executive] for several years…in 1981 he made the infamous quote ballot box /armalite unquote speech at the Ard Fheis [Sinn Fein Annual Conference]…in January 1982 was charged with entering the US illegally and deported to Canada….known to be a quote hawk unquote rather than a quote dove unquote….involved in recent talks with SDLP …vigourous in defending ‘armed struggle’ and publicly   dismissing talk of…

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Some Final Thoughts About The IRA’s ‘Human Bomb’ Tactic

A couple of thoughts on the ‘Human Bomb’ tactic which the IRA employed in 1990.

The first is that its use, in three places (Derry, Newry and Omagh), in three different counties (Derry, Down and Tyrone) on the same day (October 24th, 1990) is consistent with the tactic being ordered and co-ordinated at a leadership level in the IRA.

That means that the plan must have been approved and maybe even devised at Northern Command level. And since Martin McGuinness was OC of Northern Command at this time it is impossible not to conclude that at the very least he gave the plan his approval, even if he and his staff did not come up with the idea.

The other unavoidable aspect of the tactic comes in the form of two questions: Why did the IRA adopt a tactic so barbaric that it was bound to be roundly criticised and condemned not just by the British and the Unionists – and the world at large – but by the community from which the IRA derived its support and succour.

More to the point why did Martin McGuinness, an intelligent and well-informed individual, give the go-ahead to the tactic? He, of all people, must have known how his own people would have greeted a tactic which involved tying a humble short-order cook to the driver’s seat of a van packed with deadly explosives and wired to detonate if, as he did, Patsy Gillespie managed to free himself and open the driver’s door.

In my book ‘A Secret History of the History’, I devoted a chapter to the aftermath of the human bomb tactic in Derry. I called the chapter ‘The Derry Experiment’ and in it, I argued that the wave of condemnation which greeted Patsy Gillespie’s death – for example, The Derry Journal compared Catholic anger in the city to the atmosphere after Bloody Sunday – created conditions which led to the secret implementation of de-escalatory measures mutually agreed by the IRA in the city and the British Army.

The facts are clear. The five soldiers killed along with Patsy Gillespie that autumn dawn in 1990 were the last British troops to die in the Troubles in Derry. IRA violence declined dramatically in the years after Coshquin. For instance between 1986 and 1989, the Derry Brigade had, on average, accounted for 13 per cent of all IRA operations in the North; between 1990 and 1993 that fell to 5 per cent, a drop of sixty per cent.

The value of what became know in British circles as ‘the Derry experiment’ was that it provided a blueprint for de-escalation when the larger ceasefire was called in 1994.

‘The upshot was that when we started discussing various de-escalatory measures (throughout Northern Ireland), it was possible to say that we have already done that in Derry’, a senior British military commander told me.

The mutual de-escalation plan was modeled on Cold War diplomacy intended to reduce the possibility of nuclear war and the proposal was put forward by two English-born Quakers, John and Diana Lampen, who were associated with a branch of the 1976 Peace People in Derry, called the Peace and Reconciliation Group.

Through their work with children and others in the community, the Lampens had got to know Martin McGuinness and Mitchel McLaughlin well. The pair became the Lampen’s point of contact with the IRA, while they also liaised with the British military.

At one point John Lampen presented a detailed programme for de-escalation to both the Provos and the British side, eleven moves that the British could take and ten that the IRA could implement. The full programme is reproduced in ‘A Secret History….’, pp 368-369 in the 2nd edition.

The list was compiled after discussions involving the Northern Ireland Office, the British Army’s Western Brigade commander, the RUC divisional commander – and Sinn Fein.

The IRA never officially responded to Lampen’s proposal but events on the ground showed that many of the measures were in fact implemented. The British side also implemented many of the Lampen suggestions. The details were all published in ‘A Secret History….’ (see Chapter Thirteen).

Both Martin McGuinness and Mitchel McLaughlin angrily denied the existence of the Lampen’s diplomacy when I met them in the Sinn Fein centre in the Bogside to discuss the Quaker couple’s activity, about which at that point I was not fully aware.

Initially, and to my regret, I believed them. Subsequently I learned the truth, which was that yes, the Lampens were active, more active than I had imagined, and there was a de-escalatory plan in Derry which had been inspired by the Lampens and discussed with McGuinness and McLaughlin – but the approval and consent of the Army Council had never been sought.

From thereon I could never believe anything either McGuinness or McLaughlin said. It wasn’t that I was shocked at being lied to but the realisation that these people, and others like them, could rarely tell the truth about anything, given the business they were in at the time.

It was a secret mini-peace process, hidden like a Russian doll, inside a wider process and concealed from all the IRA’s leaders bar, I venture, one figure, about whom the late John Kelly once commented: ‘Not even a sparrow falls from a tree but he knows about it’.

As their relationship with McGuinness and McLaughlin turned to tatters, the Lampens left Derry to take up work on behalf of the Quakers elsewhere. Now retired or near retirement, their small but crucial part in the Irish peace process has at least been immortalised in the pages of my book.

But what of Martin McGuinness’ motives in authorising the ‘human bombs’? That, alas, is an enigma that may never be unraveled.

The Patsy Gillespie Slaying – The Intriguing Aftermath & A McGuinness Connection

A final word on Martin McGuinness with this piece on the aftermath of the death of Derry man Patsy Gillespie, killed in the first of the IRA’s human bomb attacks in October 1990. Thanks to ‘J’ for bringing the following articles to my attention.

The first piece is from Wikipedia and describes what happened to Patsy Gillespie in some detail during the first of the three ‘human bomb’ attacks launched on October 24th. It took place at the Coshquin British Army Border post and resulted in the deaths of Gillespie and five British soldiers.

Patsy Gillespie, a cook at a British Army base, pictured with his wife, Kathleen

The other two attacks were at the Clohoge Border post outside Newry, where the driver escaped death but a soldier was killed. The third attack was in Omagh, near Lisanelly barracks where the bomb failed to explode.

In all three attacks the drivers were chosen because the IRA had accused them of collaborating with British security forces. Patsy Gillespie was a cook at a military base and had been warned by the IRA to stop working there. They were strapped into the driver’s seat of their vehicles and told to drive to their targets. The bombs were wired to detonate both by remote control and when the driver’s door was opened.

The aftermath of the ‘human bomb’ attack at the Coshquin checkpoint

The articles that follow the Wikipedia excerpt come from The Derry Journal, The Irish Times and The Irish Echo respectively. The Echo is published in New York.

According to which account you read, either the Times‘ or the Echo’s, Martin McGuinness’ brother Willie, who was forty-four years old at the time and from Lecky Road, Derry, was arrested by Irish police in the Co. Donegal village of Burt along with Anthony Heaney (45) from Casteldawson, Co Derry.

The Times says merely that the arrests were in connection with a bombing in October 1990 but the Echo gives more detail:

Heaney and McGuinness were arrested in October 1990 following an explosion at a Derry checkpoint being operated by the British Army and the RUC. Five soldiers and a civilian were killed and a number of other soldiers were killed.

Willie McGuinness, Martin’s younger brother (photo taken from Liam Clarke’s book ‘From Guns to Government’). He was arrested by Gardai shortly after the Coshquin attack. The photo is dated 1982.

Gardai in Donegal raided a house four miles from the blast a day later. They found seven men inside, including the owner and the applicants. They also found gloves, balaclavas and other clothing.

Both men refused to answer questions and in 1991 were sentenced to six months for failing to account for their movements. They were acquitted of charges of being members of an illegal organisation.

Willie McGuinness and Heaney appealed their conviction on constitutional grounds, saying that the obligation to account for their movement conflicted with their right to silence. The two men took their case to Europe where the Court of Human Rights. There were awarded £4,000 in damages and costs totalling over £20,000. The Irish government was obliged to foot the bill.

 

Martin McGuinness Coverage

A number of people have asked me to post articles that I wrote recently on the late Martin McGuinness. So here they are. Enjoy:

Martin McGuinness’s violent past made peace in Northern Ireland possible

Only McGuinness’s credibility as an ‘operator’ enabled Gerry Adams to lead the IRA into a ceasefire and the Good Friday agreement
Martin McGuinness with Gerry Adams, 2014
‘Adams turned to McGuinness to play the part of guarantor.’ Martin McGuinness with Gerry Adams, 2014. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

For reasons that are entirely understandable, Martin McGuinness’s role in the latter years of the peace process – his emollient time as deputy first minister at Stormont, his unlikely friendship with Ian Paisley, his willingness to charm and delight the Queen – have figured most prominently in the commentary that has followed his expected yet terribly sudden death.

Almost forgotten in all this is the real part played by McGuinness in steering the IRA out of war, a role that made him, arguably, the more significant partner in the collaboration with Gerry Adams. While Adams was undoubtedly the intellectual force behind the IRA’s eventual exit, he simply could not have done it without McGuinness by his side.

Adams was the IRA and Sinn Féin’s supreme strategist, but he was never trusted by the IRA rank and file. The organisation always judged and valued its members on the basis of their willingness to, as they say, “do the business” and Adams simply had never done “the business”. In all my years reporting on the IRA, I have yet to meet someone who was on an IRA operation with Adams or who saw him fire a shot in anger. He was the general who rarely visited the trenches.

McGuinness, by contrast, went out on operations, was a man of action and inspired fellow activists by his example. In his report on Bloody Sunday, Lord Saville concluded that as McGuinness wandered through the Bogside that day, he was “probably” armed with a Thompson machine gun and “possibly” fired a shot at British troops. It is inconceivable that Adams would have done the same.

McGuinness was also, plausibly, one of the most successful IRA chiefs of staff during the Troubles. He took over the job in early 1978 at a low point in the IRA’s fortunes. The organisation had been decimated by a lengthy and futile ceasefire, its members were being imprisoned at record rates and he was charged with overseeing a radical reorganisation.

Defeat stared the IRA in the face but under McGuinness’s leadership it revived and its killing rate slowly rose, never returning to the levels of the early 1970s but reaching a sufficiently significant level to restore the Provisionals as weighty players on the Northern Ireland chessboard. As the IRA’s military commander, it was McGuinness’s job to give the final approval to operations and it was in that capacity that he gave the go-ahead for two operations that internally sealed his status as a military leader.

On the morning of 27 August 1979 an IRA bomb exploded on a boat near Sligo , killing Lord Mountbatten, the Queen’s cousin, two members of his family and a local boatman. Later that day, in an intricate ambush near Warrenpoint in County Down, IRA bombs killed 18 soldiers, 16 of them members of the Parachute Regiment, a unit of the British army loathed by many nationalists for their role on Bloody Sunday.

It was a horrific, devastating, violent day – and the worst loss of life suffered by the British army during the Troubles – but a spectacular success for the IRA and for McGuinness (doubtless adding an awkward poignancy to his subsequent encounters with the Queen). It meant also that McGuinness was now a major player whose approval and participation in future Provisional IRA strategy was vital.

Just three years after that dreadful August day in 1979 and barely months after the last IRA hunger striker to die in the H Blocks of Long Kesh was laid to rest, Gerry Adams began the slow, secret diplomacy that nearly two decades later would produce the Good Friday agreement.

Adams’ initiative suffered from two significant deficits. One was that the inner logic of the stratagem pointed to a rundown of the IRA and an acceptance of Northern Ireland as a constitutional entity – both of which were heresies at the time.

The other was that lingering lack of trust in him from the IRA rank and file. Not only did Adams not have a name as an “operator” but he was widely suspected of harbouring ambitions to be a politician, a dirty word in hardline Republican circles.

And so Adams turned to McGuinness to play the part of guarantor, to assure the IRA volunteers that the initiative was not a prelude to a sellout, that it simply could not be because McGuinness, the trusted soldier, the man who killed Mountbatten and planned Warrenpoint, would not be part of it, if it was.

When a stable power-sharing government eventually convened at Stormont, McGuinness took to it like a duck to water, first as an assiduously immersed education minister and then as a soothing deputy first minister, first under Ian Paisley, then Peter Robinson and finally Arlene Foster. Few bothered to ask the obvious question. Why hadn’t the party leader, Gerry Adams, taken the top job at Stormont? Was it because Stormont was synonymous with partition, or that as deputy prime minister he would have to shake hands with the Queen, or don white tie and tails for those Windsor Castle banquets?

Joining the establishment eroded McGuinness’s status in the eyes of many of his former IRA comrades, although he remained enormously popular with ordinary Catholics. The Martin McGuinness of 2016 could not have delivered the IRA of 1994 into a ceasefire. But by then, it didn’t matter.

So, the big question is this: was McGuinness genuine about seeking peace or was it forced upon him by a growing awareness of his own mortality and the numbing futility of endless, increasingly pointless violence? Or was the reason more prosaic and urgent, that British intelligence had a death grip on the IRA and had so heavily infiltrated its ranks that a miserable defeat was just a matter of time? Common sense suggests that it was probably a mix of all the above. Only the man himself could answer those questions but one thing I am sure about: he would never do that.

Ed Moloney: He was savagely cruel, but only McGuinness could end the terror

A young Martin McGuinness

A young Martin McGuinness

In McGuinness’ case, he was the IRA leader who had conducted an orchestra of death and destruction for most of his republican career but became the man of peace who helped end decades of strife and violent death – or at least that is how much of the media greeted his passing in Derry on Tuesday morning. Not everyone joined in. Norman Tebbit, the British cabinet minister whose wife was permanently disabled in the 1984 IRA bombing of the Tory Party conference in Brighton, said the world was ‘a cleaner and sweeter place’ without him.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness outside No10 Downing Street before meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair for peace talks in 1997

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness outside No10 Downing Street before meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair for peace talks in 1997

There’s no doubt however, that the bulk of the media by far preferred ‘the Chuckle Brothers’ angle to the story. It played handily into a Biblical metaphor. On the day of his death, I almost lost count of the number of times that journalists asked if I could pinpoint Martin McGuinness’ Damascene moment, the point in his life when he turned away from violence and embraced the path of peace to sit on the staircase at Stormont grinning alongside Ian Paisley.

I replied that I couldn’t because I didn’t think there was one.
I had in my mind as I fumbled for an answer the story of Caroline Moreland, a 34 year old single mother of three from West Belfast who had betrayed an arms dump containing, I believe, just a single IRA rifle. The IRA discovered her treachery in the summer of 1994 as the first ceasefire of the peace process approached.

Given the political delicacy of the moment, her fate was debated at a meeting in July of the IRA’s seven man (no women) Army Council whose chairman at the time was Martin McGuinness.

Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley during their time as deputy first minister and first minister at Stormont

Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley during their time as deputy first minister and first minister at Stormont

There was no disagreement about her fate. She would die for her moment of weakness because to let her go would send the wrong message to an IRA grassroots already uneasy about the talk of ceasefires and sellouts.

The real debate was about what to do with her body afterwards. Most wanted to do what the IRA mostly always did, which was to leave it in a public place as a warning to others. But, my sources told me, McGuinness argued that she should be ‘disappeared’, her remains hidden in a secret grave so no-one, not least those in government and the media sceptical about the IRA’s peaceful bona fides, would know that she had been killed.

McGuinness lost the argument, Caroline Moreland was shot dead and her body dumped near Rosslea in Co Fermanagh. A few weeks later the IRA ceasefire was called. In the euphoria over the cessation poor Caroline Moreland was forgotten, except by her grieving children.

So how does this square with the ‘Martin McGuinness as the man of peace’ narrative? I don’t think it does. While some would argue that Caroline Moreland’s violent death helped settle grassroots IRA nerves and was a necessary sacrifice to keep the rank and file on board for the larger peace process enterprise further down the road, that argument dissolves if her body was dumped in a secret hole in the ground and no-one knew what had happened to her. Instead it becomes an act of callous, selfish cruelty.

Prime Minister Theresa May pictured with then deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle, Belfast, during her first official visit to Northern Ireland back in July

Prime Minister Theresa May pictured with then deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle, Belfast, during her first official visit to Northern Ireland back in July

Martin McGuinness’ life is replete with examples of similar savagery, some of which he had a direct hand in. Leave aside for the moment that he gave the orders to kill Mountbatten and the ambush at Warrenpoint, which can be explained, if not excused, as acts of war. But what about Patrick Duffy, a 37 year old father of seven, shot dead as an informer and his body ‘disappeared’ in a Co. Donegal bog in August 1973 when McGuinness was the local IRA commander? Outrage on the part of neighbours and even fellow IRA members forced McGuinness to arrange the return of his lime covered corpse. Otherwise Pat Duffy would have been lost to his loved ones perhaps for ever.

Or Patsy Gillespie, a lowly worker in a Derry army base, forced to drive a van packed with explosives to a military checkpoint where it exploded, killing Gillespie and five soldiers. The attack, dubbed ‘a human bomb’, was approved by McGuinness in his capacity as IRA Northern commander and was the first of several such attacks.

 Or, Frank Hegarty, an IRA informer who fled to England when an arms dump under his control was raided by Irish police, blowing his cover. He took refuge in a safe house provided by the authorities but was persuaded to return to Derry by his mother who had in turn been assured he’d be safe by McGuinness. According to one account the IRA’s then Northern Commander promised Hegarty’s mother ‘on bended knee’ that her son would be safe to return to Ireland.

Within hours of his return his bullet-riddled body was found near Castlederg in Co Tyrone. A correspondent to my blog, thebrokenelbow.com, recently commented about the Hegarty killing: ‘In the annals or armed republican history, I think this event is almost uniquely evil – to make a mother unwittingly complicit in the killing of her son.’

Thousands of people attended the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Londonderry

Thousands of people attended the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Londonderry

Or James and Ellen Sefton, killed when a booby trap bomb exploded under their car in North Belfast in June 1990. James Sefton had quit the RUC Reserve four years earlier after an IRA mortar bomb attack on a police station in West Belfast had killed a colleague and injured him. He was living quietly in retirement with his wife when their lives were taken. James had long ceased to be part of the Crown forces and his wife’s only crime was to married to an ex-cop. The attack was approved by McGuinness as Northern Commander of the IRA.

Martin McGuinness also lied repeatedly about his life in the IRA, lied more, perhaps, than Gerry Adams. The Sinn Fein president has repeatedly denied ever being in the IRA whereas McGuinness maintained that while he was a member in the early 1970’s he quit the organisation in 1974.

That’s one more lie than Gerry Adams has told about his life; first that he left the IRA, which he never did, and that thereafter he was never a member. Not only he did not quit in 1974 but at that time Martin McGuinness’ IRA career was really only beginning.

When Adams and other leaders were released from Long Kesh in the mid and late 1970’s they had a plan to restructure and revive an IRA that was on the edge of defeat. A new Northern Command was created and McGuinness was made its first commander.

But in early 1978, Adams was arrested in the wake of the La Mon atrocity and McGuinness took his place as IRA Chief of Staff, the organisation’s military commander, a role he played for the next four violent years.

In 1982 he stood down to be a Sinn Fein candidate in elections to the Prior Assembly but a couple of years later, when the first consignments of Libyan weaponry arrived in Ireland, the IRA leadership was restructured and McGuinness was made Northern Commander again, the second time in his career.

The years of his stewardship of the IRA would see the organisation’s fortunes transformed. From the verge of defeat in the mid-1970’s the IRA recovered to once again be a player in Northern Ireland politics. It was never again the force it was in the early 1970’s but thanks in no small part to McGuinness’ efforts nor could it be ignored.

That and the arrival of Libyan weapons, especially the explosive Semtex, made the peace process viable. As long as the IRA held those stocks of arms the British had a reason to seek a deal.

McGuinness would remain as Northern Commander, overseeing and directing all IRA violence on the Northern side of the Border for the next fourteen years, until 1996 when he stood down in preparation for the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of a government at Stormont.

From thereon his principal role was as the IRA’s chief diplomat. As chairman of the Army Council he represented the organisation in all contacts with outside bodies and individuals, a role that grew in importance as the pace of the peace process accelerated.

Martin McGuinness’ history as an IRA leader, twice as Northern Commander and once as Chief of Staff, would prove immensely valuable to his alter ego Gerry Adams. Not only did his record outshine Adams’ but he was trusted, believed and liked more than the Belfast man. He had also ‘done the business’, participating in IRA operations, whereas Adams never did.

By himself it is doubtful whether Gerry Adams could have delivered the IRA into the peace process but with McGuinness by his side it became possible.

A measure of his value to the process came at a special IRA Convention, or delegate conference held in 1996, a few months after the breakdown of the 1994 ceasefire. Dissident opponents of the peace process were on the offensive, determined to torpedo the initiative, and for a while it looked as if they would succeed, isolating and defeating Adams and his allies.

As the delegates swayed towards revolt, and the fate of the peace process hung in the balance, Martin McGuinness got to his feet to speak. This is what I wrote about what happened next in ‘A Secret History of the IRA’:

‘The old Army Council, (McGuinness) declared, had no intention of entering talks that would lead nowhere and had already decided there would not be a second ceasefire, and it would advise the incoming Council accordingly. It was as close as any leader came that night to declaring the peace process dead, and it swung the meeting.’

And so, the Adams leadership survived and with it the peace process. McGuinness had lied of course. The Provos would re-enter talks and there would be a second ceasefire but the delegates believed him because….well because he was Martin McGuinness, the man who had killed Mountbatten and approved Warrenpoint, who wanted to bury Pat Duffy and Caroline Moreland in secret graves, who had sent Patsy Gillespie and the Seftons to horrible deaths and lied to Frank Hegarty’s aging mother.

Had Gerry Adams made the same speech the IRA might well still be at war.

Would any of this have been possible had Martin McGuinness not been the savage, duplicitous person that he was?

So back then to that philosopher’s hat and the question I posed at the start of this article. Should Martin McGuinness’ many sins be overlooked because, thanks to those sins, his life ended in almost complete contradiction to how it was lived, in a Northern Ireland that is more at peace than for many decades?

What, dear reader, do you think?

• Ed Moloney is author ‘A Secret History of the IRA”, ‘Voices From The Grave’ and ‘Paisley – From Demagogue to Democrat?’

 

Gerry Adams at the funeral of Martin McGuinness on Thursday in Derry Pic: RollingNews.ie

Martin McGuinness’s untimely death means that Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams will never be the same again

“He’s a very cold person”, remembered Freddie Scappaticci of Martin McGuinness. “He doesn’t have friends in the IRA. He has what he calls ‘comrades’”.

Freddie Scappaticci is probably better known to the world outside the IRA as ‘Steaknife’, perhaps the most valuable double agent in the pay of British Intelligence during the Troubles.

At the time he made those remarks, ‘Scap’, as he was better known to his republican colleagues, had been stood down from his senior post in the Internal Security Unit, the IRA’s feared spy-catchers, and was instead secretly helping Central Television’s ‘Cook Report’ research a planned programme on the Derry IRA leader.

The conversation from which those remarks were plucked took place in the car park of the Culloden Hotel, near Holywood, Co Down, a plush area known as ‘the gold coast’ because of the wealth of many of its residents. The exchange was covertly taped by the TV team, then hidden away for many years at the request of the RUC but eventually published on YouTube.

Although some three years had passed since Scappaticci had been at the centre of the IRA, he still kept in touch. And as a senior figure in the ‘nutting squad’, as the security unit was sometimes called, he had had many dealings with McGuinness and knew him well.

There was an obvious follow-up question but it wasn’t put to him: into which category did Gerry Adams fall? Was he a friend or a comrade? Adams himself, in his funeral oration at the republican plot in Derry’s City cemetery on Thursday, covered both bases, mourning the loss ‘of a dear friend and comrade’. But then he would.

Whatever the truth, Martin McGuinness’ untimely death means that Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams will never be quite the same again, and that a new urgency has been injected into Adams’ political ambitions in the South.

For best part of three decades, certainly since he swung the critical 1986 ard-fheis for Adams, persuading Sinn Fein delegates to drop Dail abstentionism with a speech that shrieked of unyielding IRA ferocity, the names Adams and McGuinness have gone together in the public mind like Lennon and McCartney or Morecambe and Wise. Take John Lennon or Eric Morecambe away and things are never quite the same again. Now it’s just Gerry Adams.

As the media went into overdrive last week praising Martin McGuinness the peacemaker, it was impossible not to wonder what Gerry Adams made of it all. After all, he was the real architect of the IRA’s peace strategy, the one who conceived it and launched it and here was McGuinness being lauded for his work. To be sure, McGuinness helped calm IRA nerves long enough to deliver two ceasefires and IRA decommissioning, but it would be Adams that the dissidents would come gunning for first.

Nor could it have escaped Gerry Adams’ attention that McGuinness was well-liked and popular in a way he never was nor could ever be. Everyone up at Stormont, Unionists, Nationalists, government officials, doormen, they all called him ‘Marty’, like he was their favourite uncle. It is just not conceivable to imagine Gerry Adams on the receiving end of such endearment.

And while Adams’ IRA past was constantly excavated by media and political enemies, McGuinness was mostly given or a bye ball, his excursion into the 2011 presidential election notwithstanding.

While Adams was excoriated for claiming he had never been in the IRA, McGuinness was praised for admitting his membership. The fact that the Derry man actually lied outrageously, claiming that he had left the IRA in 1974 when he didn’t, was largely overlooked by the media as was the easily checked truth that in the mid to late 1970’s his IRA career, as Chief of Staff and Northern Commander, was really only beginning, not ending.

Adams was constantly disparaged for his alleged role in IRA atrocities, from the disappearances of Jean McConville and others to the most recent war of words over the IRA murder of prison warder Brian Stack. But not McGuinness.

The Derry man’s past was as murky as Adams’ if not more so. He too had been directly involved in disappearing an alleged informer, a Derry man called Pat Duffy, a 37 year old father of seven, who was shot dead on McGuinness’ orders and his body buried in a Co Donegal bog in 1973. Only when his neighbours and some of McGuinness’ IRA comrades protested was Duffy’s lime-covered corpse returned to his family. Yet who has heard of Pat Duffy?

Or Frank Hegarty, a Derry informer who fled to England but was lured back to an assassin’s bullet when McGuinness, on bended knee according to one account, persuaded his mother to tell him that he would be safe if he returned to Ireland. A recent correspondent remarked about this killing: ‘In the annals or armed republican history, I think this event is almost uniquely evil – to make a mother unwittingly complicit in the killing of her son.’

But it was only when McGuinness ventured southwards to run in the 2011 Presidential election that he got a taste of the vilification that Adams experiences on a regular basis. Vying with the DUP for power in Belfast bothered no-one in Dublin but threatening to disrupt a long established and comfortable power structure in Dail Eireann was an entirely different proposition.

The Sinn Fein strategy south of the Border seemed to be a clever one. While McGuinness would look after the North, Adams would move South at the opportune moment and steer the party into power, riding the party’s peace process popularity into government. If all went to plan, Sinn Fein rear ends would soon be resting on seats around Cabinet tables on both sides of the Border. Not quite Irish unity but a massive achievement nonetheless.

Except it hasn’t quite worked out like that. The DUP without the new Paisley has become like the DUP with the old Paisley, giving Sinn Fein little choice but to provoke a crisis and leave government. Martin McGuinness is now no more, his replacement is hardly in the same league and there seems little prospect of Stormont being repaired any time soon.

Nor has the Southern strategy worked to plan, or rather it has not worked as quickly or effectively as Adams and his advisers would have wished. Growth has been steady but hardly dramatic. Five Dail seats in 2002, four in 2007, fourteen in 2011 and 23 in 2016; the collapse in the Fianna Fail vote post the 2008 crash, from 41.6 per cent share in 2007 to 17.4 in 2011 did not translate into proportionate Sinn Fein gains. And under Micheal Martin, FF has gradually recovered lost ground, disappointing those who predicted the party would be swallowed by Sinn Fein.

Meanwhile time passes and time is not on Gerry Adams’ side. This October he will be 69 years old, thirty-five of them spent at the head of Sinn Fein and still not a day spent at a ministerial desk. Martin McGuinness’ sudden departure has to be an uncomfortable reminder of his own mortality and his failure, so far, to make a lasting mark on Southern politics.

Ironically some of the auguries are encouraging. Sinn Fein’s electoral performance in the recent Northern election could translate into a bounce further South, especially if Adams, who is leading his party negotiations in Belfast to restore Stormont, can stabilise the peace process and repair relations with Arlene Foster. There’s nothing like a bit of statesmanship to polish the image.

The Brexit vote in the UK and the likely damage it could cause in both parts of Ireland has kindled anti-British sentiment on both sides of the Border, creating fertile conditions for Sinn Fein should Enda Kenny’s anticipated departure force a general election. Not coincidentally the recent outburst of united Ireland sentiment is remarkable for the fact that so much of it is emanating from south of the Border. A good sign for SF.

And Sinn Fein has lowered its expectations accordingly, signaling to potential partners that it will now be happy to enter government as a minority partner. Better to be deputy to the Taoiseach than nothing at all.

Gerry Adams badly needs to get into government in Dublin. That will be his mark on history. Martin McGuinness’ premature departure is a blunt reminder to the Sinn Fein president that opportunities knock rarely at anyone’s door. When they do, they should be grasped, quickly and firmly.