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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The Conveyer Belt of Informants

Informers are universally despised, even by those who recruit them and pay for their services. Even if an informant is fortunate enough to survive a career of betrayal and treachery, he or she is compelled to live a precarious and miserable existence throughout their retirement years, forever fearful that their treacherous past may come back to haunt them.

Wal Hannington's Unemployed Struggles: 1919-1936 details the case of a man named Johnstone, a paid informant, recruited by Scotland Yard to provide information about the internal activities of the National Unemployed Workers' Movement. When exposed as an informant Johnstone fled to Southend-on-Sea. There on 14th June 1927 he was found dead on the beach, after committing suicide by drinking a bottle of disinfectant. Hannington was convinced that 'all militant movements in conflict with state power are subject to the treachery of the unprincipled wretch who worms his way into the movement and secures its confidence only to betray those who trusted him'.

United Irishmen

From its inception in 1791, the efforts of the United Irishmen were continually frustrated and undermined by informants. The names of Thomas Reynolds, Leonard McNally, Samuel Toner, Fredrick Dutton, and Captain Armstrong are mentioned in many of the accounts of this period. They were all notorious informers. However, there were many others less well known. Informers are frowned upon as weak and vulnerable people. They are easy prey for ruthless spymasters who are only too ready to use and abuse them to suit their own ends. Informers betray their comrades and wrecks the lives of their victim's family. Even their own families are not spared from stress and trauma. Weak and selfish to the end, they are indifferent to those they betray and hurt. Their motivation is usually financial self-interest. But sometimes their nefarious actions can be driven by a desire to avoid imprisonment.


In Ireland over the past 30 years many informers have been exposed and have lost their lives while working as agents for the "security forces". In fact several informants lost their lives at the hands of other informants. In many instances British Military Intelligence was the final arbiter in relation to which informant would live and who would meet their death. Some of those who were exposed and killed had outlived their usefulness. Their lives were eliminated at the behest of their former paymasters in the British state. They were sacrificed to protect a better placed informant, like pawns in a game of chess.

Some of the better known informants like Eamon Collins from Newry met with a violent death when he became expendable. It is widely believed that Tom Oliver was a Garda informant and that he was killed to prevent the exposure of another informant believed to be "Stakeknife". Billy Stobie was killed long before he ever appeared in a Belfast Court Room, where he would have been in a position to publicly identify the members of the "security forces" who had ordered the killing of Pat Finucane.

Brian Nelson, the FRU's UDA agent, was widely believed to have been responsible for as many as 29 murders. Exposed by the Stevens inquiry and of no further value to his FRU handlers, Nelson eventually ended up with a short prison sentence as part of a deal designed to prevent him becoming a 'whistle-blower'. At this time it is unclear if he is alive or dead. His paymasters have recently reported that he died from natural causes while under protective custody following his release from prison. However, it seems that Nelson's family are not convinced and are calling on the British government to produce his death certificate. Former British soldier Kevin Fulton who befriended republican activists and gained their confidence while continually passing informing to his British 'handlers' is now also 'surplus to requirements'. For the moment he is still alive and on the run from the IRA and his former paymasters in MI5. Martin Ingram, another exposed agent, is in a similar position to Fulton.

Sean O Callaghan

In the mid 1980's the IRA informer Sean O'Callaghan, who according to himself, arranged the murder of John Corcoran, another IRA "informer" from Cork. O'Callaghan has previously stated that he informed the Gardai where John Corcoran was being held and therefore expected the Gardai to intervene and save Corcoran's life. But the Gardai did nothing. They allowed the murder to proceed, lest the identity of their most valuable informer [O'Callaghan] be compromised.


The latest startling exposure in the intelligence world is that of the informer codenamed "Stakeknife". The most bizarre aspect of this revelation is the number of other double agents who are coming out of the woodwork to point the finger at the individual alleged to be "Stakeknife". Some say he is "Stakeknife". Others including himself reject the allegation. But to the discerning eye there is a more sinister agenda behind this latest MI5 exposure.

The individual accused of being "Stakeknife" has applied to the Belfast High Court for a judicial review in order to force a British minister to confirm that he is not "Stakeknife". However it is doubtful if the British will comment in relation to the identity of the British Army's top spy over the past 20 years. In fact the court action will confuse the issue further rather than resolve who "Stakeknife" actually is. Speculation in relation to "Stakeknife's" real identity will continue for years to come.

The end game

Some informers are lucky enough to remain alive after they have been exposed. However their lives are irrevocably transformed. They are provided with a new identity and a new place of residence. The informant may be permanently disguised by having their features altered by plastic surgery. The informant will be promised that at all times their family will be under the protection of vigilant police officers. However, one breach in these protective arrangements and the informant is doomed. In many instances the promise of a happy and prosperous new life abroad is a deceit. When the agent becomes worthless, paymasters simply discard their previously 'valuable intelligence asset' and move on.

One only has to look at the recent fate of the British agent Martin McGartland. He was given a new identity and home which in his own words was a "damp flat in England". His whereabouts eventually became known to the IRA and he was seriously wounded during an attempt on his life. In the final analysis, informants are pawns in a dirty intelligence war. Once they have outlived their usefulness they are removed and replaced by another more willing traitor.

What is ignored throughout this shadowy world of informing and double-dealing is the devastation and tragedy left behind by agents, their handlers, their bosses and ultimately the Governments to whom they are responsible. In the never ending war of intelligence gathering, the faceless paymasters who direct the activities of informers remain continually on the look out for a more willing and treacherous recruit. Once identified, their latest 'catch' takes his or her place on the never ending conveyer belt of informants, all the time hoping that they can evade detection by their colleagues or sacrifice by their paymasters.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



I have spent
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Index: Current Articles

12 June 2003


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Crippling Critique
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Joy or Death
Aine Fox


Telling it like it is

Anna Livia FM, Transcript


The Conveyer Belt of Informers



World Exclusive!
Jimmy Sands


Connolly and Republican Socialist Organisational Strategy
Liam O Ruairc


9 June 2003


Money's Worth
Terry O'Neill


Connolly: National Liberation, Socialism and Partition
Liam O Ruairc


Pauperizing the Periphery
M. Shahid Alam


Democracy, eh?

Davy Carlin


Polluting People's Lives

Barbara Muldoon


The Gags of Prejudice
Anthony McIntyre




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