must be uncomfortable for those Sinn Fein members
given to thinking outside the loop. Unlike the drones,
they are normally stoical when dealing with the
criticism frequently thrown their party's way. But
even their stoicism evaporates to be replaced by
blushes when opposition criticism gives way to vocal
and public ridicule.
magazine, in its predictions for 2006, carries a
photograph of the two foremost Sinn Fein leaders
alongside a beaming British prime minister. The
caption reads: 'Blair, Adams and McGuinness: two
secret agents meet the boss.' Even in jest the barb
is not that long ago that few would have dared incur
the wrath of Sinn Fein by ridiculing it. Being pistol
whipped on stage in front of a packed West Belfast
drinking club was enough to deter most. Punishment
for the ridiculer, a warning for the audience: a
twin objective had been secured.
days, even touts take Sinn Fein for fools. The party
is fruit for any monkey that comes along after its
leaders sought to pretend that Freddie Scappaticci
was a victim of securocrats and had only gone off
to warmer climes for nothing more sinister than
to study the Italian pizza process.
Donaldson, a man always on the look out for a few
quid, knew an opportunity when he saw one. According
to disgruntled Sinn Fein members, on the day the
spy of two decades visited party premises at Sevastopol
Street and declared his agent status, he first walked
into a downstairs office and took receipt of his
£300 expenses cheque before making his way
up to meet the Sinn Fein duo tasked with recording
the outing of Denis Donaldson, 'penetrated' has
become something of a Sinn Fein brand mark. But
agent infiltration is par for the course. Just over
five years ago, the late journalist Jack Holland
sat in my living room while he and I conversed on
his book Hope Against History. I expressed the view
that his was one of the few narratives to puncture
the peace process myth that the Provisional IRA
had settled for an honourable compromise. Without
equivocation, he had written that the organisation
had been defeated. Even if the template intellectually
underpinning the Good Friday Agreement had always
been considered a victory for the British and a
defeat for republicans, it was easier to pretend
in 2000 that the achievement of an all-island Republic
remained a work in progress. By 2006 no amount of
shifting goalposts can conceal the paucity of such
to know why I agreed with his assessment, Holland
pressed me to detail my thoughts on the reasons
behind the IRA defeat. I explained that the array
of forces ranged against it was too strong and the
leadership was forced to settle up on terms devised
by the British state as far back as 1973. It had
more of the failure about it than a sell-out. He
time earlier he had co-authored the book Phoenix.
It was a biographical account of Ian Phoenix, a
RUC superintendent killed in the 1994 Mull of Kintyre
helicopter crash. Having accessed the personal notebook
of Ian Phoenix, Holland rapidly immersed himself
in the detail of IRA susceptibility to penetration.
It quickly emerged that a central player in Belfast
who met at least one or another senior republican
leader on a daily basis was in the pay of Ian Phoenix.
The RUC had extensive knowledge in advance of the
bulk of the IRA's Belfast operations. Those they
decided not to thwart, they allowed proceed in order
to protect their agent. In Holland's view it was
impossible for the IRA to avoid defeat if penetrated
at that level.
the IRA sussed out many agents in its ranks. But
few seem to have occupied positions of leadership.
Who today would say with certainty that any of those
foot soldiers put to death for informing were in
fact guilty? The IRA's word on the matter can no
longer mean anything, the lie having come to define
republicanism in its current form. The families
of those 'executed' for alleged informing carried
the mark of Cain within republican communities.
Yet their loved ones may have been sent to walk
the plank by senior figures who hoisted the Jolly
Roger rather than the tricolour.
with any sense of justice should demand a cold case
review. Many killed as informers may have gone to
their grave as loyal comrades while some of those
who had them killed were certainly not.