By Dr Declan Hayes
Ireland’s failure to differentiate her informers from Perfidious Albion’s far more insidious agents of influence is a historical constant. Though the late Denis Donaldson, for example, was an agent of influence, whose grooming emasculated militant Republicanism far more effectively than did Eamon Collins, Sean O’Callaghan or Stakeknife, those four were but the latest in an almost endless procession of agents and informers stretching back to the Nine Years’ War, where Hugh O’Neill, the main Ulster protagonist, was married, in an Anglican ceremony no less, to Mabel, sister of Sir Henry Bagenal, marshal of Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Irish Army.
Though O’Neill’s demands varied from one year to the next, one constant was his ultimately futile request for the English to treat the mercurial Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne, whose domain bordered Dublin, leniently. Although O’Byrne and many others like him were ultimately betrayed by informers, agents of influence, who could get tribes to switch alliances, were much more decisive in dooming O’Neill, O’Byrne and the intransigent O’Donnell.
The same was true of the Irish Civil War where the British Special Branch had the London and Belfast IRAs thoroughly infiltrated, of the O’Higgins and O’Brien murders and of Jim O’Donovan’s 1930s’ English bombing campaign, where Peter Barnes and James McCormack, semi-literates both, swung for the Coventry bike bombing that Joby Sullivan and Dominic Adams, Gerry Adams’ uncle, perpetrated.
The Coventry bombing is instructive as Harry White, Adams and Sullivan had their escape routes well-planned, whereas hundreds of others, who were not so well-connected, were sacrificed to the hangman’s rope and the prison cell as expendables, forerunners to the Provos’ own expendables.
As his confrères faced the hangmen and the firing squads, Dominic Adams settled down to a suburban life in 105 Sutton Park, just behind Kilbarrack Graveyard, where notorious informer and agent of influence Francis Higgins, the Sham Squire, was buried.
In Booterstown, at the far side of Dublin Bay, Archie Doyle, Timothy Coughlin and Bill Gannon gunned down agent of influence Justice Minister Kevin O’Higgins on 10 July 1927 in an unsuccessful attempt to get the Cosgrave government to outlaw Fianna Fáil, which was on the brink of power following their triumphant general election showing of a month earlier.
Doyle also orchestrated the 9 September 1942 murder of (the unarmed) Detective Sergeant Dinny O’Brien, which understandably greatly intensified the authorities’ crackdown on the IRA both inside and outside the prisons. Although Doyle, like O’Callaghan and Collins in our own time, wanted to be an agent of change, his only tangible legacy is that he forced De Valera to hang, shoot and imprison those of his IRA contemporaries, who drew the short straw.
That short straw is the key to understanding not only Archie Doyle but Joe Cahill, Dominic Adams, Harry White, Gerry Adams Snr and their Belfast contemporaries, who learned those hard lessons of earlier years and who felt life, rather than their own considerable short comings, had dealt them a bad hand.
When the Troubles erupted in the 1970s, these characters found themselves in the same situation Dan Breen did before 1919 where the RIC “knew even what you were thinking, even knew what you had for breakfast”. In the case of Gerry Adams Snr, Liam Adams, Billy Reid and other heavy hitters, that included child rape.
Although thousands of Volunteers swarmed into PIRA’s ranks, the RUC very much had the measure of those families, who were at the heart of Republican Belfast as they groomed them to move from the margins of society to its centre, from field hands to very compromised house slaves, if you will.
As the late Ruairí Ó Brádaigh said in his prophetic 1986 Ard Fheis speech, immediately after Gerry Adams tapped him on the shoulder, the road the Adams family chose was to take the road their enemies’ had prepared over the previous 65 years for them.
The New Year (2022) will see the Adams clan a staggering 24 years into milking the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) cow, the never-ending Peace in Our Time deal that disgraced politicians Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and their flunkeys negotiated as window dressing to their regimes’ ongoing wars of conquest elsewhere.
Although the GFA is held up as an Irish version of the Treaty of Westphalia, the Versailles Treaty or, heaven preserve us, the Congress of Vienna, locally it is only a tool for Ulster’s agents of influence to enrich themselves at the expense of the general public, as well as of their own expendables.
While John Hume and David Trimble were awarded Nobel medals and Nobel money for supposedly brokering this deal, the role Ireland’s other informers and agents of influence played in this ongoing soapie should also be recognised and, as they say themselves, further rewarded if their sell by date has not, however belatedly, passed.
(Dr Declan Hayes is a Dublin-based retired Finance Professor. Although his Declanito.com site focuses mostly on his humanitarian work in government-held Syria, he has also been active on Republican prisoner-related issues since the introduction of internment on 9th August, 1971)