Monday, June 1, 2015

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Killing For — And By — The State

In a piece written just ahead of the Panorama documentary on British state terrorism Pete Trumbore discussed the complicity of the British state in the phenomenon. Dr Peter Trumbore blogs @ Observations/Research/Diversions.

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This was a dirty little war* fought with calculated brutality on all sides.

I always knew this about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, but for a long time, and until relatively recently as a mostly casual observer, I largely dismissed the accusations that the British government had a direct hand in facilitating if not orchestrating Loyalist paramilitary murder and mayhem.

I was aware of the accusations but had accepted the official denials that were reinforced in the academic work on the subject that I was reading. For example, Steve Bruce argued in his otherwise excellent work on Loyalist paramilitaries that there was a key distinction between the Loyalists and the government death squads killing political opponents with impunity in places like El Salvador and Guatemala.  The UVF, UDA, and Red Hand Commando were “for the state” but not “of the state” like their Latin American counterparts. Any ties between the Loyalist paramilitaries and the state were unofficial, informal, and unsanctioned.

Paul Larkin’s 2003 book A Very British Jihad was the first to get me to challenge that convenient (for the British) narrative.

A bright spotlight will again be turned on these charges in an investigative report to be broadcast tonight on BBC’s Panorama program in which Northern Ireland’s former police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan claims that “hundreds and hundreds” of people died with the complicity of undercover state operatives. Panorama explored this territory before, in a two-part investigation aired in 2002, but the scale of collusion depicted in those reports is dwarfed by what is apparently to be revealed in the new story. Official damage control is already under way, with the PSNI’s chief constable preemptively casting doubt on the claims to be made.

Near as I can tell from the pre-broadcast reporting, there is one topic that looks like it will receive much less scrutiny than it ought to, the role of British operatives on the Republican side of the conflict. And that is a serious problem given what is already known about the IRA double agent known as Stakeknife, who as head of the IRA’s internal security unit, the “Nutting Squad,” is said to have been involved in up to 40 murders while under the protection of his British handlers.

In short, a full accounting of collusion in Northern Ireland cannot only focus on state involvement with Loyalist paramilitaries. It must also include coming clean on what remain extremely sensitive topics: the use of informers within the Nationalist community and the ranks of the IRA, responsibility for the fate of informers whose activities were discovered (one of the nagging unknowns in the tragic murder of Jean McConville), the involvement of informers and state agents in IRA killings and other acts of terrorism, and the extent of the penetration of the Republican Movement by agents of the state, especially at the highest levels.

The mural is right. Collusion is state murder, and it matters not whether the gunmen on the payroll were Loyalist or Republican.

*As an aside, I take great pains to explain to audiences on my side of the Atlantic that this was a “little” war only if we remove the raw numbers of casualties from the context of Northern Ireland’s tiny population base. As a proportion of the population affected, the roughly 3,300 killed and 40,000 injured over the 30-year course of the conflict would be the equivalent of more than a half million dead and nearly 7 million wounded had the war been fought in the United States during the same period.


AM said...


I think the British collusion with the republican side will not be able to escape just so easily either. I think Denis Bradly was alluding to that possibility during Panorama. A few years ago I listened to one of those I believe to have been colluding on radio saying there had been no colluding between the Brits and republicans: it was a peculiarly British-loyalist relationship. I was not at all persuaded.

DaithiD said...

Is this collusion as distinct from the British exerting pressure on touts to do their bidding? I thought the difference between collusion and touting was that collusion involved a the state outsourcing their criminal enterprises, to those who shared their strategic objective and acted voluntarily.
Its hard to see what shared objective Republicans and the British state would have, and the bind was primarily one based on coercion/blackmail.

AM said...

DaithiD, that is a very politically loaded application of the term. I don't think it is invalid to use it in the manner that you do but it is moulded for certain ends not necessarily consonant with a just outcome. In short it does not come without its tendentiousness. In my view the British colluded with non state actors to kill Irish citizens. A dictionary definition is the "secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others". I don't conform to the what the dictionary dictators demand of me but it is how I would understand collusion. I think republicans took the term and tried to give it a very ideological inflection which I don't believe survives scrutiny. What purpose would there be in demanding a full scale open inquiry into collusion but exclude the deaths of many people who were killed by people sporting the republican label but in collusion with the British? And ultimately, the question of what the republican leadership and agents of influence within it were doing in terms of furthering British strategic objectives. Was power sharing, partition, a six county veto over unity, republican support for the British police, the British judiciary, the British Public Prosecution Service, the British right to jail republicans, the consent principle, not all the 'voluntarily sharing of British state objectives?

DaithiD said...

Was power sharing, partition, a six county veto over unity, republican support for the British police, the British judiciary, the British Public Prosecution Service, the British right to jail republicans, the consent principle, not all the 'voluntarily sharing of British state objectives?
You yourself say the British solution to the North was to include Republicans, but exclude Republicanism. What ever name is given to what SF do, it isn't Republicanism, if Republicanism is to have any meaningful definition. Im sold on your 'ice sweepers' concept of agents clearing the path for the leadership to take the constitutional course, I presume that meant human obstacles getting put in a hole. But its not serving a synergy of Republican and State objectives, its serving one to the detriment of the other.
My definition of collusion and touting maybe imprecise, but even with yours I cant see how its different to touting.
Forgive me for labouring the point, I worry if collusion becomes a general term applied to all sides in conflict.

AM said...

What ever name is given to what SF do, it isn't Republicanism, if Republicanism is to have any meaningful definition.

But that is not germane to the point being made. The British manoeuvred the Provos into the position they wanted them to be in. Part of that was through collusion. There is no compelling reason to think that collusion is only applicable if it amounts to the synergy of Republican and State objectives. We can imagine a situation in which such a synergy could occur but it would require a major shift in British state strategy which has not been forthcoming and which would not in and of itself require collusion.

We don't need to labour the point as to whether touting is collusion - but there is no doubt that the British had agents in the Republican camp who did more than touting: who killed at the behest of the British and who spread ideas at the behest of the British. It would be hard to stand up in court if you did any of that and said you were not colluding with the British, you were only touting and that somehow makes you different and not guilty of collusion.

Peter Trumbore said...

Malachi O'Doherty has a long piece on this very topic at the Belfast Telegraph.

DaithiD said...

An article on Republican "collusion" :

AM said...


I see the point he wishes to make although I would want to read it again as at th9s point I am not persuaded it invalidates the way DaithiD defines collusion.

Seán Ó Maoilearca said...

In todays world it’s common knowledge that a British / PIRA back channel to (secret) negotiations had been in place from 1973 to the early 1990s prior to the publicised so called peace process negotiations that were later held under the Labour government and while these (secret) negotiations were taking place IRA ASU’s on the ground had no inkling that while they were risking their lives daily on the streets the IRA’s campaign was secretly being run down by a two faced leadership under the influence of MI6.

The key word in all this is “secret’ and secretiveness is the key fundamental ingredient in the act of collusion. In my mind colluding with ones enemy at a time of war and being in agreement with your colluder(s) to activity reduce your own sides capacity to wage war for an indefinite period without ones objective(s) being met or even on the table for discussion is a clear act of treason.

In an interview in the mid 1980s Martin McGuinness said this on camera…

Martin McGuinness recently publicly stated that he was due to have a meeting with MI6 in 1993 on the very day of the Warrington bomb which tragically killed two young kids but was cancelled due to the events that unfolded.

Derry businessman Brendan Duddy stated in a interview that Martin McGuinness had a meeting with him and M16 agent Michael Oatley (the mountain climber) in 1991 which was (shockingly) held in a house in Derry’s Bogside.

How many of these secret meetings took place while active service volunteers were on the front line? With hindsight a deceleration of withdrawal from the British army wasn’t on the table but the IRA’s declaration of surrender.

Also in Derry in 1991 an IRA Volunteer and highly sufficient bomb maker named Paddy Flood was taken away and executed for allegedly being an informer after it was alleged in court that a bomb which he allegedly made was discovered to contain no batteries when it was being defused by the army. His fate was to be strung-up and interrogated by Scap’s nutting squad for at least six weeks prior to his body being dumped by the side of a country road.

Was Paddy Flood genuinely informing and colluding or was the whole batteries story manufactured by British intelligence playing dirty tricks and essentially inducing the IRA to create an own goal?
I believe in the latter now that it’s clear the Brits were managing the nutting squad.

Even if Flood was colluding and informing there were clearly double standards at play within the IRA’s leadership in Derry in 1991 and it would be interesting to know who was the IRA Army Council member that passed judgement and sentence of death on Flood? was it McGuinness perhaps?

Simon said...

No matter what way you define collusion, whether a common sense definition, a dictionary definition, the British government's legal definition regarding the Troubles or the Irish government's wider definiton one factor that is needed apart from there being two or more actors is common purpose.

One point that we have to remember is that British infiltration of Loyalists tended to aid, assist and procure. Whether that came from shared intelligence, manpower or turning a blind eye or thwarting justice by scuppering trials or handing back guns.

British infiltration of Republicans was the opposite. It was not to aid, assist and procure as the state and Republicans had opposing ideologies, purpose, goals etc. Collusion with Loyalists on a corporate level was natural and was always known about. The State and Loyalists shared an enemy and a reason d-etre.

The British state also colluded with Republican informers but this is not the same with saying the IRA or the INLA colluded with the state. Informers represent who they worked for- the state. The State worked with 'Republican' informers as they shared a common purpose and goal- to thwart and scupper the IRA. The IRA weren't 'in the know'. They didn't collude as by definition you need a common purpose.

The State colluded with Loyalists to aid, abet, assist and procure Loyalist action. It has always been known that the State allowed informers to kill or bomb. Otherwise they wouldn't be of any use. Whether on the Republican side or Loyalist side.

Collusion with Loyalists has to be contrasted with running informers in Loyalism. There is a grey area with Loyalists but not so with Republicanism.

I am sure there were some in the State who wanted to stop Loyalism in its tracks. Not those who sent Brian Nelson and who knows who else in to direct killings, not those who gave photo montages of people who were merely suspects to the Loyalists, not those who said they were going to get Loyalists to kill Pat Finucane. I can't remember any Glenanne style gang of RUC men colluding with the IRA to kill fellow RUC.

On the Republican side informers were allowed to commit crimes. This is nothing new and as it was to fulfill a further objective which was to put a spanner in the cogs of the IRA's war machine it doesn't qualify as collusion.

Of course there is grey areas such as handing guns back to Loyalists or Republican informers after being deactivated to cover their tracks. Whether this was to aid the Loyalist project like the gun captured during arrest and then given back to the organisation or to scupper like deactivated weapons or doctored bullets like the ones used in the attempt on Gerry Adams' life we can be sure on the Republican side any guns given back were to cover an informer who in turn would cause more problems for Republicanism.

It is sensible to separate organisational collusion such as that which occurred with Loyalism to that which occurred both within Loyalism and Republicanism regarding collusion with informers. One was agreed and the other, which was to thwart, wasn't.

If you use an all-encompassing definition then everyone colluded with everyone else. From the Loyalists who set up Lenny Murphy or John McMichael you could say Loyalists colluded with the IRA. As for the peace process the definition has to be changed yet again and would cover any co-operation from any negotiations to the ceasefires of the 1970s.

DaithiD said...

Sean with such a broad definition of collusion, fine Republicans such as Ivor Bell or Daithi O Conaill would fall foul of it because of their 1972 meeting with Whitelaw in London (Cheyne Walk). No Republican objectives could ever be advanced by adopting British proposals, therefore I dispute whether Republicans ever could of colluded. Certainly some individuals did structure their activity according to British objectives, but at all times it was their own agenda and the British agenda they were promoting, not a Republican one.

PS Yes they removed a limpet mine from Adams car : it demonstrates my point, collusion didnt advance Republican objectives.

AM said...


that seems a very laboured approach to the question. Your definition of collusion is specific and focused but hardly the only way of seeing it. If the British government are writing army council speeches and cooperating with leadership figures behind the backs of the membership to secure a number of shared objectives is that not common purpose and therefor collusion by your definition?

The best working definition of collusion is that the British worked with people non state organisations in order to secure the ends the British wanted. Sometimes people negotiated with the British and got bested, that is not collusion. Other times the British worked with people towards agreed ends which were the distancing the republican project from both its objectives and means of securing them.

I think a very strong can be made for strategic collusion between the British state and the Sinn Fein leadership.

AM said...


collusion was not meant to advance republican objectives or loyalist for that matter in order to be collusion: it merely had to advance British state objectives.

DaithiD said...

I hope it doesnt appear I am arguing over the semantics of it, I realise the end results are probably indestinguishable from eachother,but even if the objectives are different (Loyalists wanted to kill Catholics,the British to remove 'undesirables') there needed to be some mutuality in the engagement, even if it was only the British who understood the full implications of the engagement.

Simon said...

Yes, I suppose Jonathan Powell writing the IRA statement was collusion and a strange one at that. Surely Powell could now be arrested for such now that there is an added fervency to arrest individuals for pre-GFA actions. We even have his confession.

However, since this was to further the aims of the peace process and not in the persecution of a war it was perfectly legal and not unlike joint communiques in the first ceasefire of the 1970s.

Did people cry collusion when it happened and ask for justice? Ask for an inquiry or prosecutions? It was part of the strange and bizarre workings of the peace process. Perhaps only Republicans cried foul and that is understandable. I am sure the average rank and file were annoyed about it.

I never bought the argument about IRA volunteers being duped into continued fighting after a ceasefire was contemplated. Surely since 1973 the idea of an eventual ceasefire was a potential outcome and since Gerry Adams publicly asked the British for talks in 1992 surely a ceasefire was a probable outcome? After the first ceasefire broke down a second was in the cards too. Not necessarily certain but probable. Was everyone duped? They would need to be naive to think a ceasefire wasn't on the horizon.

On the front page of the UK Independent newspaper the day before the ceasefire Paisley might have been warning of civil war. Possibly wishful thinking as the Hume Adams process was known about and a ceasefire was likely.

Hume/Adams had input into the Downing Street Declaration or the Framework document. Was that collusion too? Maybe. The same beast that people are trying to understand and investigate for illegality,immorality and unethical practice? I don't think so.

AM said...


why would there have to be?

Is it not maybe a case of it needing to be in order to allow you to hold on to your definition of collusion?

Simon said...

AM, "collusion was not meant to advance republican objectives or loyalist for that matter in order to be collusion: it merely had to advance British state objectives."

I disagree- you need some sort of joint enterprise to collude, some sort of mutual goal or purpose. You need an intention to collude you can't do it accidentally. The joint enterprise factor goes to the very heart of any definition of collusion. Otherwise it is something else altogether.

AM said...


perfectly legal for sure but that does little to gainsay the idea of a leadership not in the slightest bothered by the concept of illegality willing to collude with the British in order to secure long standing British state, not republican, objectives.

No, people did not cry collusion and ask for justice. But that is not evidence of no collusion. If it is then the fact that people today are crying collusion and asking for justice is evidence of collusion.

I have too many experiences of being told I was deranged for arguing there would be a ceasefire. I knew from 86 there would be one but not many others seemed to appreciate it. Pat Sheehan was ridiculed in jail for arguing it was the only way forward. The same with decommissioning. It was as clear as day there would be but to the average vol not a round not an ounce. Morrison said not even by the year 3000. I was labelled a heretic in the Andytown News for saying decommissioning would happen. So they were duped for sure. How they allowed themselves to be is perhaps a more important question. I remember driving to Dublin with a leading SF member in 1993 and telling him a ceasefire was wholly inevitable and would need to come shortly otherwise SF would find itself marooned as a result of its own discourse. He told me my logic was wrong: Gerry was only out flanking the opposition. The same guy also told me a few years later at a public meeting that there would never be anything like power-sharing. We are talking about people who followed rather than thought.

The Downing Street Declaration was a clear example of strategic collusion. The clear assertion of a non republican outcome and the leadership had to pretend they needed it clarified. What was unclear about it? Who were they hiding it from? Not the British. They knew exactly what the DSD amounted to. And of course for pointing it all out I was enhancing my own persona non grata status! But there we go. Collusion was no illusion but a delusion for more than a few.

AM said...


again, even applying the dictionary definition, there is no need whatsoever for joint enterprise apart from the act of joint participation, without which collusion is not possible. Someone is always needed for collusion. The British are guilty of collusion by virtue of what they did. They colluded with people in loyalist organisations to secure certain ends and did the same with people in republican organisations. Those in each who indulged were guilty of collusion: those on the British side were also guilty of collusion.

AM said...

I think the only way to avoid concluding that the British colluded with people from both sets is to give collusion such a one sided inflection as to make it unrecognisable from what it actually means. That might serve a political purpose but it does little to add to clarity. If the question is asked did the British collude with people in the IRA to e=secure certain ends how could we honestly answer no?

Simon said...

Maybe the rank and file couldn't see the wood for the trees? I know as a schoolboy I saw a potential ceasefire years in advance. Gerry asking for open talks with the British state in 1992 was the clue.

A ceasefire would come before, during or after talks. But every war ends, eventually.

No end is concrete until there is no going back. Before any end of any war people will have to fight. That is why the end comes, well, at the end. After all the fighting. Nothing starts to end and finishes to end at the exact same moment in war. People will always risk life and limb after an end is contemplated. It is unfortunately the nature of things.

I agree there was collusion in the peace process to wind things up. Both parties had the same objective and worked together for that. But as you say collusion is different from being duped. How far did the duplicity Go?

But with every definition of collusion joint enterprise is required. It goes to the whole essence of the word.

Simon said...

AM, could you give me a link to your dictionary definition of collusion?

AM said...

it's up the page in one of the comments Simon

DaithiD said...

AM, there is much confusion about collusion.

AM said...


a damning indictment but I agree. A schoolboy could see what the vols couldn't.

Let us accept for the sake of discussion that joint enterprise was the necessary condition of collusion, how do we describe the joint enterprises between all the agents and the British state?

Collusion as a specifically loyalist/Brit thing is a SF discursive strategy to create the illusion that the Brits were doing something else other than colluding when they were working hand in hand with people in republican organisations. The Brits both ran Scap and colluded with him in a joint enterprise.

AM said...

I am not confused by it DaithiD. Seems pretty clear to me. The more the Brits colluded the more they were culpable. Who they colluded with is secondary to their culpability

AM said...

That's it for the night Quillers - I am off to bed with a belly full of rum to send me on my way

Simon said...

Anthony, the definition above specifies "cooperation" or "conspiracy". Surely both those terms necessitate joint enterprise?

I don't want to get bogged down in semantics either but find it impossible not to question your position that collusion can be one sided. The dictionary definition above is about collusion. One party can't collude alone. Both sides conspire or cooperate. Otherwise it is a one party act. If one party conspires without the other it is hardly collusion. It can't be Republicans colluding with the British if the former have no part in the conspiracy.

That scenario is simply a British conspiracy.

Simon said...

AM, I agree the British colluded with Republican informers but not with the organisations those informers were part of. That is the whole definition of an informer. They alone colluded with the British. Their loyalties rested with the British not with those they were sending to deaths, prisons etc. Informers weren't Republicans. Not just ideologically but practically weren't Republicans. Even if we agree they were Republicans their actions didn't have sanction from the organisations they infiltrated.

Ideologically and practically there was collusion between loyalist organisations and the State. Informers were also run to thwart those organisations but they don't seem to be the norm.

I distinguished above between those ran to thwart and scupper loyalism from those who were controlled to meet mutual ends. Brian Nelson, those who killed Pat Finucane etc.

Loyalism sanctioned collusion. It helped them. Republicanism did not sanction collusion. I agree with your point that it happened during the peace process but by extension that means it happened during all cooperation.

Seán Ó Maoilearca said...


The IRA delegation who participated in those 1972 talks did so with the full knowledge and support of the IRA’s seven man Army Council, not only that they went there demanding a British declaration of intent to withdraw, they did not participate to put the Brits in a more favourable position.
The same can’t be said for what was happening with McGuinness and his meetings with MI6, while some members of the Army council where well aware of what he was doing including Adams, there where others on the Council who were oblivious so there could not have been an agreement nor full support in what was going on and to me that spells conspiracy and collusion. Derry became a test case for all other nationalist areas where British intelligence had a level of influence as to how the IRA’s campaign continued, an example of this is that drogue bombs were eventually no longer used or supplied to ASU’s in the city and it essentially became the beginning of the end to the IRA’s campaign.
I’ll bet any money the ASU’s at that time weren’t aware of the real reason why their supply of drogue bombs dried up. Thanks to McGuinness working hand in glove with British intelligence the IRA was eventually killed off.
Collusion? Absolutely!

DaithiD said...

Simon , I agree totally with your comments. Shame he went to bed before we had the bastard (Hehehe)!

AM said...


which sort of brings your argument to the point of collusion being systemic within loyalism but not within republicanism. We are then discussing degree rather than kind. Because once you agree that the British colluded with republican informers (and the issue of it being systemic or at least endemic becomes more pertinent the greater the amount of informers) you inescapably introduce a broader definition of collusion than you seem to want to allow for.

The issue of informers alone colluding with the British is something that needs further probing. Because there is a view that informers were allowed to carry on within the IRA by both the IRA leadership (some) and the British because their role was working towards the joint enterprise of a British outcome to the conflict. The security department was structured not for security to be enhanced but for it to be undermined. If key informers were kept in place by certain IRA leaders (which I am absolutely certain was the case) then the demarcation line you draw becomes blurred. We really need to know the extent to which the British ran IRA and SF leaders before we can be more firm in our judgement. If the figures are as high as being suggested there is a serious problem for the defence you mount in opposition to collusion being something that republican bodies were not part of. How did the British, as one of their own side put it, manage to have the Titanic turned in a bathtub without the collusion or cooperation of key republican personal?

My point about strategic collusion has a parallel with your own point about informers not being republicans: the purpose of strategic collusion was to ensure even those republicans who were not informers would end up not being republicans either, in anything but name. They would be stripped of everything that made them republicans and they would be brought to occupy a position which when taken by others prior to their own arrival on it, they had labelled traitors: the position of supporting the very principle of partition - unity by consent of the Northern population; calling for information on republicans to be made available to the British police, for republicans to be jailed by the British and and so on. The purpose of this collusion as I have often expressed it was to defeat republicanism by including republicans but excluding republicanism.

So at the heel of the hunt your position seems best summed up as the British colluded with whomever would collude with them for their own strategic ends. Republicans did not sanction that collusion but loyalism did. Collusion nonetheless.

All cooperation cannot be defined as collusion. It becomes collusion when one side gets the other to push its agenda and not its own. You could argue this is co-option rather than collusion, but collusion would then need to be tied down much more specifically and be contextualised within the peculiarities of the Northern conflict, and not a concept meant to resemble the dictionary definition, but one that had its own meaning and understood as such by all. But that is being contested by this very discussion. There is nothing about the peace process that resembles the republican struggle. There is everything about it that resembles the British state objectives. Cooperation, back channels, pipelines, negotiations - they are not by definition collusion. They are made so by intent. In 1972 the IRA leadership by meeting the British was not colluding. By the 1990s and post GFA years that is not an argument that can be asserted with any degree of confidence.

AM said...


I have never said the British colluded in a one sided venture. Why you suggest that is best left for you to explain. It seems axiomatic that collusion without partners is like the sound of one hand clapping. My argument is exceedingly simple: did the British collude with substantial numbers of people in republican organisations? It seems they did. You say the British colluded with them but it is somehow not collusion. It fails to compute.


you are of course free to agree with Simon regardless of my take even though I succumbed to the rum. There are no gurus here precious about their own opinion. But I am no more persuaded by your argument than his and ultimately I think collusion will come to be understood much more broadly than it is at present. We can already see how the boundaries of the term are being pushed. The IRA will of course claim it did not collude and its defences will be battered by claims that it did not carry out the Northern Bank, kill Joe O'Connor, break in to Castlereagh ad infinitum. People will come to their own collusions !!!

DaithiD said...


...The IRA delegation who participated in those 1972 talks did so with the full knowledge and support of the IRA’s seven man Army Council...

But McGuinness claims this is also true of his meetings with Oatley in the early 90's, he says the IRA leadership mandated him to do so (Which could only mean AC). Additionally there was face to face meetings with Oatley/Steele and O Bradaigh,O Conaill, Seamum Twomey at Brendan Duddy's house in 1975, all completely secret. You can of course maintain that defination of collusion, but in its present form would smear the best of all Republicans.

DaithiD said...

Sure AM,its a great comments section this one, refining the flabby bits of ones own arguements, ready to be unleashed in some debates in the future.

AM said...


which is really what we see the comments facility for: the refining of thinking. Some like to use it to abuse others and spout nonsense but that contributes nothing to understanding.

Simon said...

AM, the reason I suggested you said that collusion was a one sided venture was because you said to DaithiD "collusion was not meant to advance republican objectives or loyalist for that matter in order to be collusion: it merely had to advance British state objectives."

We go back to all definitions of collusion including your own dictionary definition which necessitates conspiracy between the parties or cooperation especially but not necessarily to deceive others. No dictionary definition, not even the British or Irish governments definitions match your own personal definition of collusion which doesn't necessitate both sides intending to do something. Your definition excludes joint enterprise and I am laboring the point here but what you exclude is the very essence of the word.

If traitors are the only ones in an organisation to collude as informers then unless they were given the all clear to put people in prison, send people to their deaths, jeopardise arms shipments etc.that isn't collusion with the British by the organisations.

It has always been known informers were allowed to carry out crimes on behalf of illegal armed groups in the North. If this is collusion then it is nothing new. Running informers worldwide always carries the same modus operandi - they are allowed to commit crimes. That is penetration and is I hear, frowned upon in some circles. Collusion is not frowned upon it is welcomed with open arms. Hence the cooperation or conspiracy.

AM said...


as the logic becomes more convoluted there is really less to discuss. The readership will have to reach its own conclusion.

Simon said...

AM, yes it is becoming convoluted. I think we have discussed it as far as we can.

Seán Ó Maoilearca said...


If what you say is true and I don't believe him, after the first MI6 meeting there couldn't have been another because an agreement of the declaration of consent would have put both parties at loggerheads, so to continue the IRA had to fold and 'Folding' did not have the backing of everyone so a conspiracy had to exist in collusion.

sean bres said...

The IRA did not collude with the British state, Britain infiltrated the IRA leadership which is a wholly different thing, as Simon has been trying to say. If the IRA were knowingly carrying out operations to further the British agenda then that would be collusion. They did not do so. There is an essential difference here which should not be hidden within a broadened definition of collusion, that only serves the Brit narrative. Plainly Britain knew this was coming out so what we're seeing here is a clever ruse. Control the narrative as far as possible to deflect, create a narrative where the Brits were involved in a situation between two warring factions, collusion relegated to a process to control conflict rather than wage war. These people are smarter and more forward thinking than any of us can imagine

Seán Ó Maoilearca said...

I believe you are missing an angle on collusion which myself and AM can clearly see.

If for example, at least one member at leadership level was compromised and he was under the directive of his handlers to sway the others into rethinking their present strategy with the aim of persuading them to abort the armed struggle and go down the path of constitutional politics, then there’s no doubt that individual would have been colluding with his foe with the aim of altering his own side which would be favourable to them, And it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine how easy his job would have been if there were others at leadership level also compromised.

A conservative MP in Thatcher’s cabinet was interviewed in a documentary sometime after the fall of Thatcher and he explained how an individual had been implicated in five murders but was never charged and was used to their advantage, he never gave a name but revealed that same individual is now working in Stormont.

Simon said...

Sean Bres, I think your comment supports both my and Anthony's separate views on the matter. I think your comment is a natural logical outcome of the debate rather than a paradox. It seems to be contradictory by supporting my view that collusion is different than running informers and Anthony's point that Republicanism was colluding with the British.

If infiltration was to a sufficient degree then the IRA would have been in your words "knowingly carrying out operations to further the British agenda" and therefore "that would be collusion."

If Britain "infiltrated the IRA leadership" to a sufficient extent to affect the direction of the IRA and its methods and operations that would probability be collusion.

I disagree with most people on this site about the degree of infiltration within the IRA although I am only judging through common sense and from what I have read and followed through the years on the news. I accept the IRA was heavily infiltrated but not to the extent where those working for the British had the power to decommission and call a ceasefire.

As I said before on this site calling the leadership collectively British agents or implying they are all compromised whether Sinn Fein or IRA people in a derogatory and politicized fashion might be good as a sound-bite but takes away from peoples' arguments.

I am not saying Sean did this but I have seen it being implied and expressed. It takes away from the debate and if you think about it if you take an anti-Sinn Fein stance today surely it is a more powerful message that people who are Republicans acted this way rather than spies.

The ceasefires and decommissioning were the correct ways to deal with the end to conflict. Whether the outcome 20 years later is laudable may be a connected argument but in itself calling an end to the conflict made sense. Too many people dying and going to prison. The outcome wasn't worth dying for but it was worth calling peace for.

AM said...

The issue here seems a simple one of definition: Each perspective can hold its own depending on how it defines collusion. Where the irreconcilability emerges is when a more narrow definition is insisted upon - which in my view unjustifiably so and for reasons more political than substantive that - which refuses to allow the wider definition to come into place. Collusion is such a toxic term that there is a tendency to throw it some other way.

Was there collusion between the IRA and the British state? I think strategic collusion, yes, to divert republicanism away from its aims and methods, and not just methods as I think is implied by Simon. Was there collusion between the IRA and the British outside of strategic collusion? That would depend on the degree of penetration and infiltration and the height to which it went. I think the case is not proven there that the IRA colluded with the British but the British certainly colluded with people in the IRA if we work with the broadened definition of collusion.

As to the degree of penetration, it is a contentious point. The former head of Special Branch in Belfast seemed to convey to me that the penetration was considerable although rejected figures suggesting that SB Belfast had 500 agents. He said it was not even half that. And he was not then talking exclusively about the IRA. When Ingram claimed one in four I considered the figure much too high. Why would they need so many? Earlier figures of around 1 in 12 seemed a more realistic take. But since then I have developed what I consider solid grounds for believing it was even higher than 1 in 4. That is only my belief and as I am unwilling at this point to provide anything that might back that up people are free to completely disregard it. And time might yet prove my belief unfounded. But all these things feed into how our think is shaped on the matter.

Were people working to a Brit agenda unconsciously and spreading Brit ideas? For sure. But they can hardly be accused of anything when they thought they were doing the republican thing. Were there others spreading Brit ideas at the behest of the Brits so that today's outcome could be secured? I think so.

I once listened to a person I believe to be a British agent arguing on radio that collusion could not be applied to republicans only loyalists. I found this self serving because it came at a time when there was a growing demand for an inquiry into collusion and it was put to him that the remit of any inquiry should be extended to cover republicans which he objected to. In my view such an inquiry might have exposed him and other people like him. The definition of collusion and an inquiry into it therefore had to be restricted to the British and the loyalists. And I think that type of discourse has helped shape a view that collusion is a British/loyalist thing.

It will be quite some time I think before a more settled conclusion is reached. There is quite a bit more to come before that happens.

Peter said...

If we consider collusion then for me the most interesting case is the demise of the East Tyrone brigade. From what I can gather a senior commander was brought in to 'neutralise the threat' and within 5 years 24 'players' were down holes. Clearly the SAS and UVF were both used but were did the info come from? The ET brigade were as much a threat to Adam's quest for the total control needed to take the organisation in the direction he desired as to the British's strategic objectives in the north. It may be too much of a leap to suggest that the Adams Cabal were involved directly but after Stakeknife and Donaldson nothing would surprise me. If they were involved then that would be a clear case of Brit/ IRA collusion.

sean bres said...

Simon, my own thinking is close to your own, I don't subscribe to the view the British had so thoroughly compromised the IRA they were able to decide on its direction. The Republican Movement had the power to decide these matters for themselves and did so. It might make us feel better to blame everything on the compromised leadership but we have to take responsibility for our own actions, many of us agreed to back the leadership line or were suitably influenced to do so. Regardless of the power of the circle around Adams, local command structures brought this down the pipeline and as uncomfortable as that may be today we have to face reality.

For me there is no contradiction in asserting the Provisional IRA has served its purpose and what is now required of republicans, given the campaign already ended and the failure of the Sinn Fein peace strategy to move the situation towards a United Ireland, is a radically new project, what was spoken of but never delivered, with due consideration paid to the desire of the Irish people to live in peace where possible. We must build on the legacy of the Provisional movement, since gone, to achieve the aims and objectives Irish republicans have sought and campaigned for over the past two hundred years, themselves to be found in a 32-county sovereign and democratic republic. That remains our task and we must find the path.

Getting back to collusion, in my view unless the IRA - not any element within it unknownst to the wider movement - was consciously working with the British on an agreed strategy to prosecute armed actions then collusion is not the right word, its use in such a context undermining the narrative regards utilising death squads to pursue state aims. The men on the trigger did not pull the strings, loyalist killings were often orchestrated by the state to serve a political purpose in a conscious relationship between both parties at a systemic and organisational level. I don't believe the same applies to republicans.

I see a deliberate effort by the British state to make collusion about more than the relationship between Britain and the proxy gangs. By making it a case that collusion involved all paramilitary organisations it allows Britain to say, 'we were responding to a situation not of our making and trying to bring both sides under control. Yes bad things happened but it was a difficult situation that we could not manage any other way'. The truth though is different, collusion with loyalists was not about bringing those involved under control but utilising them for the purposes of war. Collusion doesn't translate to the IRA when you look at it that way, at least not for me

DaithiD said...

AM, more than one 1 in 4 is a shameful number for the Irish.Would that imply an operation like the Brighton bombing is something close to a coup d'etat by the security services ?

And were ASU's always static in membership (in so far as the members were not caught etc) ? With a rotating membership, you could give a probability based estimate on who the tout was.

Simon said...

Anthony, "I think strategic collusion, yes, to divert republicanism away from its aims and methods, and not just methods as I think is implied by Simon."

I think you must have misunderstood me. I include strategy as well as logistical interference and violent action. There was certainly collusion with people like Donaldson to move Republicans away from violence. Collusion in the military side of things also would have been designed to thwart and scupper the Republican agenda.

"Were there others spreading Brit ideas at the behest of the Brits so that today's outcome could be secured? I think so." That was definitely the case just as informers thwarted the IRA in its operational manner.

Was the level of infiltration high enough to steer the whole ship or was there as I argue a decision collectively and consciously by Republicans to end it. Sure there were always people against the ceasefires and others against the political direction of Republicanism. Through fatigue, lack of movement, hope, mutual damage, and a desire and opportunity to work things out politically people opted for peace. The direction after peace wasn't purely a Republican one but it was a popular one generally.

Does this mean collusion? Surely there has to be some joint enterprise in a negotiation or to work together in a peaceful situation? There has to be a consensual relationship and as I said above saying Republicans rather than agents agreed and participated in this is a more powerful argument in opposition to the status quo.

There has to be agreement and through that of course British state ideas got sufficient weight to mold the direction. That is what a compromise is all about. But Republicans agreed to compromise rather than a sufficient number of agents. Along with informers thwarting methods the argument about sufficient numbers to amount to collusion applies equally to strategy or agenda.

Simon said...

Sean Bres,"By making it a case that collusion involved all paramilitary organisations it allows Britain to say, 'we were responding to a situation not of our making and trying to bring both sides under control."

That hits the nail on the head. That is part of the strategy to depict a purely sectarian fight. Anyone who voices support for sectarian killing is supporting the British agenda. Sectarianism has no part in Republicanism and although that is true for purely ideological reasons it is true also for strategic reasons.

The whole "Honest Broker" argument turns my stomach. The collusion on the loyalist side was cooperation and conspiracy for a mutual end in a military situation.

The cooperation and conspiracy with Republicans was part of peace negotiations and the people making decisions on the Republican side consciously did so. To further the direction in a peaceful way. Because there was deception doesn't mean agents. It is common practice in negotiating on behalf of a people to keep things secret and deceive. Otherwise the rank and file would object to some degree on every compromise.

That is a rule of negotiation. Total honesty with your support is impractical in negotiations. The extent of disagreement in the end result is the crucial thing.

Saying that agents obviously played a role but a sufficient one to call it collusion? I doubt it.

AM said...


the issue you raise is of a somewhat different order. And it begs the further question of how could anybody who endorsed such a strategy credibly claim to be now offering an alternative to it? I think this issue might be a switch off factor in the minds of many seeking an alternative. Not only having dropped the ball, but kicking it into our own goal time after time, will make people doubt that we could never be trusted to handle any strategy.

There is also the issue of how the brigades came to support the strategy. A lot of it was down to manipulation, pressure, intimidation, cooption from leadership. So when you say The Republican Movement had the power to decide these matters for themselves and did so it suggests it was all neat, tidy, based on the free flow of information when in fact it was anything but. While you acknowledge this in your comment of being suitably influenced to do so I am unsure you grasp the full significance of where the influence was emanating from.

What purpose did the PIRA campaign serve if it ended so far short of its goals? I am not sure what you mean by that. It resulted in the long preferred British outcome and not the republican one. The legacy of the Provisional Movement that you ask to be built on was one of failure not to mention the entire fraud that the leadership inflicted on society through it.

in my view unless the IRA - not any element within it unknownst to the wider movement - was consciously working with the British on an agreed strategy to prosecute armed actions then collusion is not the right word

I think this shows a tension in your perspective. If the locals willingly acquiesced in what the leadership did, then the whole lot is either culpable or not culpable.

Do you think it fair to term what the leadership did as strategic collusion for the purpose of reaching an outcome that was more British in content than republican?

Your definition of collusion while restrictive works in a certain way as does Simon's. But there is nothing in it which precludes a definition of collusion that is broader and which has been put forward here which is that collusion does not have to be a joint enterprise that is both symmetrical and systemic throughout. My point is that the Brits are guilty of collusion as long as it can be established that they had someone to collude with and were colluding. It did not have to be the type of symmetrical joint enterprise postulated by you and Simon: It can be that but should not in view be restricted to that. If the British cooperated with Stakeknife to ensure the deaths of Irish citizen is it wrong to call that cooperation British collusion? It would be wrong to call it IRA collusion but that is not the point I am seeking to make about collusion. But maybe you nor Simon can see the difference or the purpose and think it is all dancing on the head of a pin!

AM said...


on this point, my understanding is that during the earlier feeling out process a key element in the Provisional leadership conveyed to the Brits that the leadership would broker a deal but that two problem areas existed: East Tyrone and South Armagh. We may draw what conclusions we will.

Simon said...

Anthony, "It would be wrong to call it IRA collusion but that is not the point I am seeking to make about collusion."

I have consistently stated that there was collusion through agents but not collusion between the IRA and the Brutish. Ho Ho. I think I will leave that typo there.

If Stakeknife is who people say he was that is definitely collusion. But between Stakeknife and the British not between the IRA and the British. There were others. Was there a sufficient number of agents to run and direct the peace process? That remains to be seen but seems unlikely.

Whether operational or strategic there doesn't seem to be any basis for accepting it as collusion no matter how wide the definition.

Anthony, you had a foresight that only a few had regarding the direction of the peace process. It shows a formidable prescience. However, claiming collusion in the agenda takes away from the fact that Republicans were at the steering wheel. That is a better, more useful lesson.

That Republicans made those decisions rather than agents.

AM said...


Sean Bres,"By making it a case that collusion involved all paramilitary organisations it allows Britain to say, 'we were responding to a situation not of our making and trying to bring both sides under control."

Which amounts to zilch when they are confronted with the allegation that they were an equal opportunities colluder and murdered those on either side of so called sectarian divide to secure peace. I doubt that is going to be much of a defence.

The GFA provides the bedrock for the honest broker perspective to stand. The GFA is the logical outcome not to an anti-partition/anti-imperialist/national liberation struggle, but to a conflict that was internal by definition. This is one of the reasons offered by some republicans for their opposition to it.

The whole "Honest Broker" argument turns my stomach. The collusion on the loyalist side was cooperation and conspiracy for a mutual end in a military situation.

The cooperation and conspiracy with Republicans was part of peace negotiations and the people making decisions on the Republican side consciously did so.

Peace negotiations towards what end? Not a republican one because the republican objective was never on the agenda. We pointed this out in public as it was happening. The Provisional leadership ended up where they planned to be, not somewhere else about which they could do nothing about were just outmanoeuvred in negotiations.

Because there was deception doesn't mean agents.

True. But it involved agents. That you seem to be endorsing the deception is another argument about which nothing needs to be said now for the purpose of hand.

Saying that agents obviously played a role but a sufficient one to call it collusion? I doubt it.

Not even British collusion? Why not?

AM said...


There was certainly collusion with people like Donaldson to move Republicans away from violence. Collusion in the military side of things also would have been designed to thwart and scupper the Republican agenda.

Which is basically the one point I have been making throughout this thread. The British colluded with people in republican organisations. It is British collusion I am focussing on here.

Was the level of infiltration high enough to steer the whole ship

We don't know but we can't prove it. Perhaps a more important question is whether there were enough strategically placed agents available to the Brits like Denis Donaldson who would facilitate leadership ideas that the Brits wanted facilitated and would marginalise dissent?

Again we don't know but it is worth pondering.

was there as I argue a decision collectively and consciously by Republicans to end it.

It was leadership led, and imposed. The membership collectively acquiesced rather than decided what it was they were actually acquiescing in.

Does this mean collusion? Surely there has to be some joint enterprise in a negotiation or to work together in a peaceful situation?

Yes. But towards what end? If the shared end is the defeat of the republican project where republicans become everything they opposed in my view that is a very asymmetrical joint enterprise.

There has to be a consensual relationship

In which the republican side consented to a British outcome.

There has to be agreement and through that of course British state ideas got sufficient weight to mold the direction. That is what a compromise is all about.

Is it? I would imagine what you think is compromise more republicans are coming to see as collapse. A compromise would have been joint authority, a collapse was the entrenchment of partition.

Simon said...

AM, "Not even British collusion? Why not?"

It was certainly collusion with a number of agents in exactly the same way as agents disrupted events on an operational level. But why say it amounted to anything else? And if it was anything else what was it?

Was it an agent led process? I think there are more valid arguments than saying the leadership were doing the bidding of the British.

I am not endorsing the deception purely explaining that you cannot have an open negotiation process on behalf of a movement without it being almost wholly secret. As soon as one major compromise got air time the whole project would be jeopardised. Before any agreement was reached.

This isn't a voice of support for that method but points to the truism that negotiations are almost impossible to carry out without secrecy. Secrecy is an indispensable factor when negotiating on behalf of a wider populace.

Whether the content of those negotiations were laudable is a different matter entirely. I was only pointing out the necessity of a closed process. That secrecy didn't necessitate the outcome or content and certainly doesn't point to an agent led process.

The secrecy is a normal method of negotiation for purely practical reasons. The content is something else.

sean bres said...

Anthony, in my opinion it's wrong to describe it as collusion with the IRA and that's the point being made here. As far as this relates to the IRA it's rather the case the British infilitrated leading elements within it - i.e. Freddie Scapattici in this particular instance. On the wider argument, of course there was manipulation and deceit from the leadership but nevertheless it was agreed to by the parties concerned - 'the locals' have to face their share of responsibility as people like myself often took our lead from them (which itself is a further failing on our own part). How that relates to future republican strategy as intimated, i.e. how can those who went along with the leadership be trusted in future, is definitely a matter for consideration.

In terms of legacy my view is the legacy of the Provisionals, and all who contributed to their struggle, remains intact, there to be taken up by those who would still commit to the guiding principles on which the campaign itself was built - and indeed brought to an end. There was nothing wrong with the politics, we don't need to look at fancy solutions from outside our own movement, we just need to get back to republicanism and work from there. Implicit here must be a recognition not that the decision to end the military campaign and develop an unarmed political strategy was wrong but that any such strategy should have defined itself by republican thinking and remained consistent with the principles that defined and continue to define us as Irish republicans

Simon said...

"Which is basically the one point I have been making throughout this thread." Anthony I have been making that exact same point since my first post and all the way through the debate. We have all been focusing on British collusion and I have always stated there was British collusion with agents but not the IRA which is what you seemed to be suggesting.

AM said...


I have consistently stated that there was collusion through agents but not collusion between the IRA and the Brutish.

Which I never found clear in your arguments otherwise I would not have wasted my time trying to persuade you that there was collusion of that type, given that you already felt there was.

It shows a formidable prescience.

It didn't. It showed more of an ability to avoid the cultic. There was so much in our history to show us where it was going. Most of us choose to ignore our own experience.

Republicans made those decisions rather than agents.

Now, there's an interesting point because it invites us to consider can people collude without being agents in the pay of the British? I have never thought Adams/McGuinness were agents. But both they and the British came to share a joint objective which did not resemble the republican struggle but the British means of defeating it.

My own view is that Adams and McGuinness both colluded with the British to deliver the non-republican outcome that we have. It was strategic collusion.

sean bres said...

The dominant thinking among ourselves at the time, and a narrative deliberately impressed on the community by the opinion-shapers locally, whether they themselves were influenced from above or not, was that 'if it's good enough for those who fought the war it's good enough for me'. I have heard that so many times over the years and it's still trotted out even to this day. The thing about it now is it no longer holds true, many of those who fought the war, asides from the in-club in their well-paid positions, are agnostic on Sinn Fein's strategy at best, diametrically opposed to it at worst. Look at those in leadership positions who formed the Provisional movement and at how many of those are still online with this strategy, it tells its own story

AM said...


I found your opening gambit on the matter contradictory and referred to it as laboured. I was not making the case that the IRA as a structure (outside of strategic collusion) was colluding with the British in the same way that the loyalists were. But there is no point in us flogging the point to death.


the same applies. My argument is that their collusion was not restricted to the loyalist side of the house.

I don't think that is the legacy of the Provisionals at all. What you think they bequeathed us is really what they disinherited us of.

AM said...


I think the real story it tells is that for a decisive number of people republicanism as we applied it does not work. It can neither reform the state nor abolish it and is forever condemned to walk the treadmill to destination nowhere. But I am going to plead exhaustion at this point and take time out.

sean bres said...

Sound job, it's all food for thought. Thanks for the discussion

Peter said...

AM makes a salient point, republicanism cannot end partition. In fact I would go as far as to say that republicanism is a bar to ending partition. If there is ever a UI it will be because of an historic compromise between these islands' peoples not because of republican "struggle".

Henry JoY said...

" ... republicanism as we applied it does not work. It can neither reform the state nor abolish it and is forever condemned to walk the treadmill to destination nowhere."

Bravo, bravissimo AM.
Painful, honest and an eventually unavoidable appraisal and conclusion ... well said sir.

Michael Craig said...

This is probably the most powerful statement ever to be uttered by a republican, especially important from someone who sacrificed so much.

I was never good at remembering quotes, but this is one I'll not forget in a hurry.