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North's terrorists were state employees in balaclavas


Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams wrote a blog post last week in response to Monday's powerful RTE documentary about collusion between state forces in the North and loyalist paramilitaries. In it, he lambasted Britain's purportedly "shameful record on human rights" and criticised the police and army in Northern Ireland for helping what he called "terrorists" to commit murder.

The Sinn Fein President, together with other members of his party, repeated the comments in the Dail on Wednesday, demanding that the Irish Government take a tougher line with London over what its agents had done.

It was interesting that, in the course of doing so, SF representatives made only passing mention of a recent BBC Spotlight programme which made similarly damaging allegations about the infiltration of the republican movement by these same agents of the state, which suggested that the British may have been running far more informers in the IRA than was ever previously imagined, and that IRA members may have been allowed to get away with many murders to preserve their cover.

If anything, those allegations were even more dramatic than the ones laid out on RTE. The passing of information to loyalist paramilitaries has been well documented. The full extent of republican entwinement with the Crown forces is only now coming to light. In order to understand one, it means pulling back the lid on the other, because they're both aspects of the same phenomenon.

In a "my enemy's enemy is my friend" strategy, the British, at various levels yet to be determined, passed details on to loyalists in a bid to have certain individuals dealt with extra-judicially. At the same time, as part of an information-gathering, policy-shaping operation, the British ran an equally extensive network of spies inside SF/IRA.

In this dirty war, many innocents died. "That's what happens in wars" tends to be Adams' take on such events when it's his own side which bears responsibility; but he is as wrong about that as anyone who seeks to downplay crimes green-lighted by the British would be now. Some boundaries should not be crossed by civilised societies, and many things done by the British in Northern Ireland were unforgivable. Too many innocent lives were sacrificed to political expediency.

Ultimately, though, the aim was the same - to win the war against the IRA. Loyalists were every bit as ruthless, frequently more so, than their republican counterparts, but they presented no threat to the state. The IRA did, so it had to be dealt with. And it was.

In a few decades, the British neutralised the threat from the "deadliest and most efficient" terrorist group in Western Europe, and, by covertly influencing SF strategy behind the scenes, brought them to a settlement in which they accepted Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK until a majority of the people decided otherwise - a settlement which nationalist Ireland eventually applauded, and for which, ironically, SF/IRA has been seeking the bulk of credit ever since. Ethically, the strategy was a cesspit. Politically, it was a triumph.

SF seems to believe that it can control the process of uncovering the filth beneath that crust of the Troubles. That it can continue to shine a self-righteous searchlight on collusion on one side, hypocritically deciding who is and isn't a "terrorist" (hint: it's never them), whilst containing the inevitable damage when intimate republican collusion with the state starts to receive the same attention.

Once names are named, there's no going back to the old rhetorical tactic of lauding SF/IRA as an instrument of national and social justice whilst ignoring the fact much of its inner core may have been compromised. Who were the real men behind the wire - good Irish republican eggs, or paid lackeys of the state? They can't have it both ways.

Increasingly, it looks as if the latter description might be the more accurate, which makes the row about the forthcoming Victims Pension Bill, which is intended to provide payments to hundreds of people left unable to work as a result of violence in the North, look ever more surreal.

Those whose lives were shattered by violence are rightly offended that their attackers, who chose to become involved in illegal actions, will potentially qualify for weekly payments of £150 (€207) under the scheme, at the same time as those injured by bombs in England won't receive a penny; but perhaps this is simply the final acknowledgement of the true nature of the dirty war.

Terrorism was once seen as the ultimate private sector profession. It was traditionally left to freelancers or those operating in small cells. SMEs, one might say. Now it appears that they were working for a bloated public sector all along. They were civil servants in balaclavas. Middle managers with Kalashnikovs. Having been well looked after by their handlers whilst still active, they can now look forward to a reward in retirement too.

SF actually threatens not to support the scheme at all unless IRA members get to benefit from Her Majesty's largesse. They'd rather real victims got nothing than allow those who may have been playing simultaneously for both teams in the ultimate political betting scam to be debarred from cashing in their dockets after the final whistle.

Let them have their money. They worked for it. In return, hold the entire sordid business up to public scrutiny. Open the books. Tell us exactly who was doing what, and for whom, and for how much. Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear, right?

Sunday Independent