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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
How Stakeknife paved way to defeat for IRA

Anthony McIntyre • May 11, 2003

For young people growing up in the Markets and adjacent Lower Ormeau area in the early 1970s Freddie Scappaticci was a household name. A well known and respected local republican he twice found himself interned without trial. Few then could have imagined that three decades later his locally revered name would assume national prominence as a consequence of having become embroiled in one of the major controversies to emerge from the British state’s dirty war in Ireland - which has led to fierce media allegations identifying him as the supposed top British agent within the IRA, Stakeknife.

The republican writer Danny Morrison today urged caution in relation to such reports, flagging up other instances where a frenzy of media activity ultimately proved groundless. It is the type of advice seasoned commentators would disregard at their peril. Morrison, however, does admit that the IRA had on occasion been penetrated by the British state.

While in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh in 1986 I expressed the view to Brendan Hughes that it would make strategic sense for the British to place an agent in the upper echelons of the IRA’s internal security department. In doing that they would secure a long term agent who, unlike those in the operational IRA who habitually risk imprisonment, would serve them as a permanent human listening device.

Whatever the truth of Stakeknife’s identity, the allegations that the IRA’s internal security had been seriously compromised by the British over such a prolonged period, while unlikely to shatter present republican strategy, does help explain how such a loser’s strategy took hold.

Some speculative but dubious journalism which took root after the existence of ‘Stakeknife’ was made public, implied that a sinister hand either in or close to the Sinn Fein leadership was directly working for the British and influencing the peace process. More prudent journalism dismissed such unmediated causality, opting instead to show how a seriously compromised IRA campaign would reinforce a peace lobby within republicanism. Arguably, this is where the role of Stakeknife became crucial.

There is no route more direct through the fog of IRA mystique and secrecy than that of seniority within the internal security department. Those who manage it know most of what is worth knowing. Stakeknife, if one of its senior operatives, may not have been aware in advance of IRA operations, but would most certainly have known the identity of all key operators. His continuing debriefing of volunteers after arrest or as part of the incessant inquiries that characterise the IRA, was made workable only by an extensive knowledge of the background. The organisation’s weaknesses and strengths, the unquestioning or critical approaches to leadership of its volunteers, the fighters and the shirkers would all have been known to Stakeknife. More importantly, British placed informers within the IRA could have been protected by Stakeknife, while more committed volunteers may have been set up for arrest or assassinaton.

Given that his information did not remain the coveted prize of his military handlers and was passed to the desks of various British prime ministers, the British Government was optimally positioned to encourage the peace lobby within the republican camp - punish the enemy of that lobby and reward its friends. It knew the military strength or weakness behind every republican position and could readjust accordingly. The ultimate aim was to secure republican acceptance of the British state’s alternative to republicanism - ultimately made manifest in the internal solution known as the Good Friday Agreement.

Stakeknife damaged the IRA irreparably and helped pave the way for its defeat. The suggestion that Sinn Fein leaders were conscious British agents as yet remains unfounded. But there is little room for doubt that the hand of the British state was on the tiller of the peace process which the Sinn Fein leadership came to wholeheartedly embrace. And its grip was made all the firmer by Stakeknife serrating away at IRA capacity.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Times on 12/5/2003



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



I have spent
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Index: Current Articles

15 May 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Who Knew - Who Knows - Who Will Tell?
Anthony McIntyre


'Stakeknife' cuts both ways
Brendan O'Neill


Be neither shocked nor awed

Mick Finnegan


Stake Knife Logo
Brian Mór


SAS Stake Knife
Brian Mór


Super Stake Knife
Brian Mór


How Stakeknife paved way to defeat for IRA
Anthony McIntyre


'Palestine: It's hell'
IPSC Event


11 May 2003


Stakeknife - Shock and Awe.
Anthony McIntyre


In the name of womanhood

Michael Youlton


Brendan Hughes


Death Threats and Harassment by the RUC/PSNI
Joe Dillon


Election Delay Shows Dubious Democracy
Eamon Lynch




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