Thursday 13 December 2018

Wilson held power 'over life and death of IRA volunteers if they transgressed'

FEARED: IRA enforcer Padraic Wilson
FEARED: IRA enforcer Padraic Wilson

Alan Murray

Padraic Wilson - one of the men alleged to have sat on the kangaroo court which dealt with Paudie McGahon's case - is no stranger to disciplining errant IRA members. As head of the IRA's 'Civil Administration' unit in Belfast in the 1980s he was well versed in the brutal control systems used by the terrorist group to keep both members and civilians in check.

Special Branch agent Martin McGartland tells the story of how he was summoned to Connolly House, the Sinn Fein HQ in Belfast, by Wilson in 1991, only to discover upon arrival that Wilson wasn't there but a reception party of IRA abductors was, to carry him off to a flat for interrogation.

He escaped by jumping 40 ft. from a window to be rescued by police and soldiers alerted to his abduction who had swamped the area.

Wilson was effectively the IRA Belfast Brigade's enforcer in the city until his arrest in 1991 when he was caught in possession of a bomb and sentenced to 24 years' imprisonment.

As 'Officer Commanding' of IRA prisoners in the Maze Prison he was the republican figurehead who met the then British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam in a symbolic encounter when she spoke to republican prisoners in the Maze in 1998 at a crucial point in the peace process.

Since his release the following year, Wilson has carried out immensely important tasks for the IRA. He met Canadian General John de Chastelain in December 1999 in Dundalk to initiate negotiations to effect the decommissioning of most of the IRA's major armaments.

But it was on the mean streets of Belfast that Wilson cut his teeth as a paramilitary in the 1980s. Martin McGartland described Wilson as the IRA's head of intelligence and civil administration in the city until his imprisonment in 1991.

Wilson is a close friend of Gerry Adams' cousin, David Adams, who was arrested in a foiled attempt to kill a senior RUC detective, and, according to McGartland, Wilson held the power "over life and death" for IRA volunteers and civilians alike if they transgressed in the eyes of the organisation - a formidable and feared IRA enforcer.

Over the last decade and more, the evidence clearly suggests that Wilson is the IRA's 'go to' man when serious internal issues arise involving sexual offences or murder.

In court hearings prior to the dropping of IRA membership charges against Wilson and alleged Mairia Cahill rapist Martin Morris, the court heard that Wilson had stated at one meeting with Ms Cahill "I'm not from the Belfast Brigade, I'm not from Northern Command. I'm not from GHQ (General Headquarters Staff), I'm from the top of the top. I'm from the Army Council".

That statement would explain, despite his denials, why Wilson would have been in County Louth to hear Paudie McGahon's allegations of rape against a Belfast- based senior IRA figure. In other words, Wilson's remit, then as a member of the IRA's 'Army Council', was island wide.

In 2014 a Belfast court heard that the sisters of murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney were told at a meeting with Wilson that he would like to see the killers "get a bullet in the head".

Three IRA members were expelled from the organisation as a direct result of Wilson's internal investigation into the murder and a number of Sinn Fein members were dismissed from the party.

In July last year Wilson and south Armagh man Sean Gerard Hughes were returned for trial to face counts of belonging to a proscribed organisation and addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA.

Those charges are understood to relate to meetings members the McCartney family held with two members of the IRA in 2005.

'If you were called in a third time you left the country'

There are primarily three levels of IRA 'kangaroo courts' convened by the organisation.

The lowest formal level is often initiated when an operation goes wrong or is compromised or there is a rare complaint about a volunteer from a member of the nationalist community, a supporter or a member of Sinn Fein. In that instance, all volunteers involved are usually brought to a house owned by a member or sympathiser and put into different rooms with a pen and paper and told to write out every detail about the botched event or incident.

Those written details are then studied by the local IRA OC (officer commanding), who will attempt to pinpoint either an operational flaw or a leak of information or a possible surveillance operation by security agencies.

One former IRA volunteer, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "I remember one instance where the operation went wrong and men were arrested and when the OC read the accounts from the remaining six or seven volunteers he said 'Were youse on the same f****** operation?'

"If major players were lost or operation after operation went pear shaped, then you were at the next level, which went beyond statements. If, after they made their assessments, people like Padraic Wilson in Belfast or John Joe Magee suspected that there was clearly an informer within the ranks then that became very serious.

"People were summoned to west Belfast usually or a safe house in south Armagh and put in rooms with their faces turned to the walls and one or two men would come into the room and ask question after question. If you were called back a second time you were definitely under suspicion. If you survived that and were called in a third time you left the country," the former volunteer said.

When he set up home in the Muirhevnamorarea of Dundalk, Magee - the now deceased former head of IRA internal security - would conduct initial informal meetings to discuss botched operations in his own house. Other meetings were held at Hackballscross and in other safe houses in Louth and Meath.

"If you heard that John Joe or Scap (Freddie Scappaticci) or Padraic Wilson was involved then you knew it was serious. The third level of meeting was literally court martial and maybe a bullet in the head. Those took place usually in the border area in south Armagh where volunteers could squeal their heads off and nobody would hear them. Some guys like Paddy Flood were held for weeks and battered before being shot dead and their bodies dumped across the border in the Republic to make the police investigations more difficult," the former IRA member said.

"These weren't anything like proper courts, you didn't have anyone to help you, it was 'Do as you're f****** told, answer questions or else'.

"Some things involving civilians were sorted out at Sinn Fein offices, but you were taking a risk hoping to get a fair hearing against a volunteer if you weren't a member of the 'Ra (IRA) or the party.

"Over 40 members of the organisation were shot dead after third-level interrogations, many other informants like Scappaticci survived to the end - they were lucky because the internal security unit was made up of very hard ruthless men," said the source.

 

Sunday Independent

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