Me, Peter Taylor And The Provos

Readers of this blog will, I hope, forgive me if I repeat a story I first made public in the introduction to Bob White’s biography of the late IRA leader Ruairi O Bradaigh.

It was the publicity surrounding Peter Taylor’s recent documentary on the IRA, and his admission that he would have enlisted in the Provos’ ranks in the wake of Bloody Sunday had he been a Bogsider, that has prompted me to recall the story.

And that was because what happened to me in my dealings with the Provos also happened to him, though I doubt he ever knew it. If he had known I wonder whether he would have been as quick to admit his post Bloody Sunday sympathies.

Peter Taylor

One of my first assignments as a wet behind the ears reporter for Magill magazine back in 1980 was a lengthy piece on the takeover of the IRA by Gerry Adams and his friends and the threat this posed to the leadership of Sinn Fein, then still in the hands of Ruairi O Bradaigh.

It was, needless to say, a controversial piece because it rehearsed the bitter struggle between the two camps and the role played in it by the 1975 IRA ceasefire crafted by the then leadership, symbolised by O Bradaigh and Daithi O Conaill.

The accusation leveled by the Adams camp was that the O Bradaigh/O Conaill camp had been hoodwinked by the British who had used the ceasefire, not to prepare the way for withdrawal, but to build a brand new prison which would house the victims of a tough new criminalisation policy aimed at extirpating the IRA.

Many years later O Bradaigh told me that the appearance of that edition of Magill was the cause of a particularly rowdy meeting of the Sinn Fein ard-comhairle at which the Adams camp was accused by the O Bradaigh camp of inspiring the Magill article and being its principal source.

The outcome of that meeting, he told me, was an agreement by the Adams’ camp never to speak to me again and, in conjunction with everyone else in Sinn Fein, to shun me and my journalistic endeavours.

I cannot say that I noticed any difference at all in my dealings afterwards with the Provos. That was because I was based in Belfast and the Northern Provos with whom I met carried on as before, as if the ard comhairle edict had never been issued.

It was only when I attended SF events in Dublin, such as the ard-fheis, that I noticed the change. Whenever I made an attempt to speak to O Bradaigh or O Conaill they would turn on their heels and speed away.

Many years later I told this story to a member of the IRA Army Council and he responded with the following. But first a bit of background. The Army Council then was divided into two types. Those who held dual membership of Sinn Fein and those who did not. The latter had next to no time for political activity; they were soldiers first and last.

Anyway at a particular Army Council meeting the subject of Peter Tayor came up raised by, shall we say, elements sympathetic to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, people who held dual membership of both the political and military wings.

The Council’s politicians had a warning to give their soldier colleagues. Peter Taylor’s job at the BBC was just a cover for his real role, which was as a spy for MI5, the British intelligence agency, they announced. No-one should have any dealings with him.

I cannot say with certainty how the Council’s politicians responded but I’d bet the mortgage they behaved exactly like their counterparts on the ard-comhairle had behaved towards me, i.e. they completely ignored the warning and continued to deal with the BBC man, while the soldiers rigorously obeyed the warning and shunned him religiously.

Nor can I say whether Peter Taylor ever learned of this episode or whether he continued to try to speak to the Army Council’s soldiers. I know that in my case normal relations with the other wing of Sinn Fein were eventually restored and I’d like to think that was because my journalism was seen to be even-handed.

But the two episodes do give a revealing insight into the devious ways of that section of the Sinn Fein and IRA leadership which eventually steered both organisations into the peace process.

19 responses to “Me, Peter Taylor And The Provos

  1. He also told a tale in the documentary of being driven to South Armagh in the back of a car with a hood to be played a recording of three suspected informers confessing, similar to your own experience.

  2. Would the edict not to speak to Taylor have come before or after he made his documentary in the Maze? If it was before, how could the leadership justify letting Raymond McCartney speak to him in an official capacity as OC? Is this edict why Peter Taylor got more cooperation from the original Provo Leadership (Mckee, Mac Stiofain, and O’Bradaigh) when he made his Docu Series on the Provos?

  3. Also interesting that he reiterates his belief that one of the killed Loughgall men was the informer who betrayed the unit, something you don’t seem convinced by.

  4. No, I get that, I was just wondering how they could justify letting McCartney talk to those soldiers on the AC who they had lied too.

    What is your take on Taylor’s claim that one of the Loughall dead was the informer who betrayed the operation?

    • No idea about Loughgall except the british would need to have kept that one a secret from all their other agents, for obvious reasons! So I would be a bit doubtful, but who knows….

    • see previous answer on loughgall – equally how could they justify talking to me when others were barred? don’t know except they would just deny it. in the jail they could do something similar, blame ignorance on part of prisoners, etc. Danny Morrison was the most skilled liar I have ever met. Had this uncanny ability when confronted by embarrassing truth to worm his way out… could lie on his feet like danny.

  5. There was said to be more than one source on the Provo’s side at Loughgall.

    A few weeks after the ambush at Loughgall a car driven by someone who was said to be the leading figure in a Co Tyrone unit of the IRA and the brother of one of those killed in the attack, was stopped by the RUC with a women in the back seat covered by a blanket. The women in question was subsequently taken into protective custody and flown to England. The chances of the RUC stumbling across this car would have been slim, which suggests either panic button or some other means of notify handlers of the impending abduction.

    The women in question was said to have agreed a safe passage home in return for not testify against her two IRA abductors.

    People can make what they want of the above.

    In terms of the make up of the ambushers, the SAS were indeed there in numbers but E4A made up a greater percentage of the actual shooters than has been acknowledged

    • You’re about 2 years out with that story. It didnt happen a few after the ambush at all.

      John Corr and Brian Arthurs were stopped by the RUC when they had Collete O’Neill in their car in 1989.

      O’Neill was obviously working for the security forces as an informant.

      I did read somewhere that members of the Loughgall attack team had seen a man in a phonebox close to where the safehouse was. We can assume now that this man formed part of the SAS surveillance operation against the unit. Also, wasnt the Hiace van yet to be reported stolen but the security services already knew the make, model etc of the van, so presumably they also watched them hijack it in order to let the operation run as planned. Plenty of time to effect an arrest or arrests. Plus the explosive ordnance was kept under surveillance too. Just my 2ps worth.

      • Apologies about the dates. My bad.

        I think it’s safe to say that Loughall was a sitting duck ambush and a text book example of intelligence gathering. That number of SAS/E4A/Det would not have been deployed if the information wasn’t 100% correct. It would perhaps be easier to list what the British didn’t know about the ASU’s members and their intentions.

        I also read that the some of the ASU shot a member of the UDR just prior to Loughgall. This happened under the eyes of the spooks who obviously wanted to wipe all members of the gang in one easy sitting. That is disturbing on some many levels.

  6. That photo of the cake still makes me angry, but now I can understand why they did it.

  7. Pingback: Me, Peter Taylor And The Provos | The Broken Elbow – seachranaidhe1

  8. I was interested to see in Peter Taylor’s most recent film that he interviewed the PIRA O/C in Derry at the time of ‘Bloody Sunday’, but still feels obliged to disguise this man’s identity. It can surely only be that this man is still alive and able to block (by some means) his indentity on TV. I can’t think of who he might be – someone with a low profile but plenty of money/ influence ?

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