Sunday 23 November 2014

The forgotten man caught in the crossfire

Published 18/05/2003 | 00:11

THE Stakeknife revelations have added weight to the belief that a highly-placed IRA informer was able to cover his tracks by ordering the murder of an innocent farmer, Tom Oliver in 1991.

After Tom Oliver was abducted, tortured and murdered by the same IRA internal security unit which is now the subject of intense speculation that it was effectively run by a British army informant, the republican newspaper An Phoblacht published a list of allegations against Mr Oliver. It blamed Mr Oliver, a father of seven young children who had no republican connections at all, for a series of arms finds and arrests against the IRA in the Dundalk-Cooley-south Armagh area.

These allegations have, unfortunately for the Oliver family, come to be accepted fact by some sections of the media and were repeated alongside the Stakeknife stories in the past week.

However, senior Garda sources supported by republican sources, hold the view that the litany of charges made against Mr Oliver were, in fact, a cover used by a highly-placed and presumably well-paid informant within the IRA. In effect, Mr Oliver was sacrificed to cover the identity of the informant within the IRA's own ranks. Most people in Cooley also believe the murder had the twin purpose of terrorising the Cooley Peninsula's law-abiding population.

What did happen was that two years before his murder, Mr Oliver was having drainage work done on his farm when a JCB uncovered a barrel containing IRA guns hidden on his farm without his knowledge. He reported the discovery of the barrel - not knowing its contents - to the gardai.

Two of those arrested by gardai and released after questioning about the arms were Michael McDonald and Declan Rafferty, both then members of the IRA. Both are believed to have left the IRA to join the Real IRA and were arrested during a Real IRA arms smuggling operation in Slovakia in 2001. Rafferty, 43, and McDonald, 44, were extradited to Britain and last year sentenced to 30 years imprisonment along with another man from the Cooley area.

Between 1986 and the time of Tom Oliver's murder there were other Garda successes in arms finds in the Cooley area and a number of arrests and seizures of arms just across the Border. The IRA informant responsible was almost certainly nervous to divert attention away from his activities and, according to Garda sources, Tom Oliver became a scapegoat. His act of good citizenship in reporting the suspicious discovery on his farm was turned into an excuse for murder.

The An Phoblacht article in the 'War News' section of July 25, 1991 was headlined: 'IRA Executes Informer'. It stated: "The IRA has a duty to protect its organisation, its volunteers and the back-up provided by its supporters. Tom Oliver's death was due to his willingness to act as an agent for the Dublin Government's special Branch . . . "

The IRA later managed to plant a story that it had bugged a public telephone near the Oliver farm and said it had tapes of Tom Oliver relaying information to a Special Branch detective in Dundalk Garda Station. This spurious claim was subsequently reported in a number of newspapers and when the story of Tom Oliver's murder arose again last week in connection with Stakeknife, the story was repeated as if fact. The Oliver family were appalled and refused to talk to journalists who approached them seeking to know if they had any views to express on the suggestion that a high-ranking member of the IRA's internal security unit was working for the British.

The people of Cooley disagreed with the IRA's claims at the time of his death and mounted one of the largest-ever anti-IRA rallies on the Sunday after the murder. The IRA slunk back into the background and never gained a stranglehold over Cooley in the way it had in south Armagh and other Catholic areas of Northern Ireland.

In a strange act of detachment

which left many people from Cooley bewildered and angry, no Government representative attended either the funeral or subsequent public rally in 1991. The Government of the day apparently felt little obligation to mark the murder of an upright and innocent man who had been killed by a terrorist organisation for doing his duty as a citizen of the Republic. It was not known at the time and it emerged only four years later that by 1991 the Government had already opened up secret talks with the IRA leadership and that the British Government was doing the same through intermediaries at meetings with Martin McGuinness.

THE murder of Tom Oliver was, conveniently for those involved in the Northern "peace process", quashed as an issue. His family's desire for answers were never really met. Local gardai did all they could and kept the family abreast of their investigations. But Mrs Bridie Oliver and her children were basically ignored by the State, the stigma of "informer" left to hang over their dead father's reputation.

There were also no calls then or now from political parties or civil rights groups for an inquiry into the murder even though the murder clearly falls into the same category of the murders of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

The figures who were suspected of being behind the ordering and organising of the murder include the man who subsequently became the head of the Real IRA and was directly involved in planning the Omagh bombing. Another man, who stayed in the Provisional IRA, was recently elevated to its "Army Council".

Another figure almost certainly involved at the centre of the conspiracy was John Joe Magee, the deputy head of the IRA internal security squad, who fled Belfast and moved to the Green Acres area of Dundalk after he evaded arrest by the RUC in January 1990.

Magee had been involved in the abduction and torture of an IRA man, Alexander "Sandy" Lynch in Andersonstown in west Belfast. During the imprisonment of Lynch the RUC received information about what was happening and where he was being held. They mounted a surveillance operation outside the house and waited until Danny Morrison, the Sinn Fein spokesman, arrived at the house. The police then moved in and arrested Morrison, who subsequently received a six-year sentence for false imprisonment. Morrison denied he was at the house to pass a death sentence on Lynch but to mount a press conference. Scappaticci was named during the trial as having been present when Lynch was being questioned and tortured. However, the charges against him were dropped for, it was said, lack of evidence. Magee fled across the border.

In hindsight, a number of republicans have noted, it might have seemed strange that the RUC was able to pinpoint a house in the heart of Catholic west Belfast where the IRA was conducting an important interrogation. The number of people who could have known about the location should have been limited to only the few people involved in the internal security squad. Yet such was the power of the squad, that apparently none of its members came under suspicion themselves.

MAGEE, who died two years ago, was certainly in the Dundalk area when Tom Oliver was murdered and would have overseen his violent interrogation and "execution". Could he have been Stakeknife? The head of the internal security squad at the time subsequently moved to another wing of the IRA and is currently in prison abroad. It is thought unlikely he was Stakeknife. Alfredo Scappaticci, who lived in Dundalk for several years until 2001, denied last week that he was Stakeknife.

Or was, as now seems more likely, Stakeknife more than one person and that there were several (some say as many as 10) senior figures in the IRA working as RUC or British Army as agents?

There has been a 14-year investigation, headed by Sir John Stevens, into allegations of security force collusion with loyalists in the North; inquiries including the ?150 million-plus Bloody Sunday Inquiry, the Dublin-Monaghan bomb inquiry and calls for public inquiries into the murders of solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson. Yet both Governments are yet to launch or even countenance any inquiry into IRA killings or security force collusion with republicans. In all the public pronouncements about the Stakeknife affair last week there was, yet again, no mention of Tom Oliver or any suggestion that there was a need to inquire into the suggestion that leading figures in the IRA who were working hand-in-hand with the British Army murdered an innocent citizen of the Irish Republic.

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