This week’s news about one more supposed British agent at work in the ranks of the informer infested IRA (now we can better understand the chant I-I-IRA) is only news in a certain milieu – one where people seemingly restrict themselves to getting news from the papers.
In the mean streets, a real world away from the newsroom, allegations that yet another leader of the Provisional IRA’s North Belfast squad had been at his work for the British were doing the rounds for almost a year, even to the point of his code name, AA, being placed in the public domain.
Whether Agent AA "planned the Shankill bombing ... was a police informant who had told his handlers of the plan to blow-up Frizzell's fish shop in 1993," is a moot point. PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton insists he was 100% convinced that the RUC, as his force used to be called, "had no knowledge of the Shankill bombing that could have prevented it".
Because the Castlereagh break-in did not happen in 2001, nor was AA a blanket protest prisoner, it doesn’t follow that the rest of the article by Alison Morris is equally wide off the mark. Besides, while these are the type of minor inaccuracies that might cause the attuned eye to twitch or annoy the pedant, they don’t detract from the substance of the narrative. Morris set out a plausible stall. Which account, her own or Hamilton’s, will ultimately prevail, time will tell.
Nevertheless, past form would tend towards the balance of probability favoring the cop rather than the journalist being the more reliable of the two. Which might help explain the weak intensity of wider media focus on the story. Judged against the explosion of interest in the Stakeknife revelations 13 years ago, the AA story, despite much initial promise, is something of a damp squib.
Yet the Irish News article flags up the existence of a collusive cover-up. The Provisionals have long accused the British state of chronic concealment in relation to the activities of its security services's murderous role in the Northern conflict. If the Irish News charges are true that the Provisional IRA managed to decipher the files its members liberated from Castlereagh PSNI station in 2002, then it too has been up to its neck in covering for the nefarious activity of British operatives in Ireland.
British state activity is inseparable from the behaviour of its agents in the organisations penetrated.
The Provisional IRA would appear to have in its possession documents that demonstrate British state culpability in the fate of Irish citizens, yet is withholding the information to protect its own reputation. Whether collusion or a convergence of interests, the difference is negligible.
One effect of all of this is that iconic books like Lost Lives, a literary headstone to the conflict dead, are coming to acquire the character of the anachronistic. Not because of any shoddiness on the part of the authors but because with new information increasingly coming to light, the once assumedly straightforward task of assigning responsibility to various entities, state or otherwise, now becomes much more complicated. Assigning specific culpability in circumstances of joint enterprise defies neat categorisation.
Decades on from today, with common sense -- as Gramsci understood it to be, embedded, incoherent and spontaneous beliefs and assumptions -- taking root, the Northern conflict might be hazily looked back upon as entirely incomprehensible. Just like something out of George Orwell’s 1984, where the citizenry could never rest assured whether Oceania was really locked in perpetual war with Eurasia, or in permanent alliance.
Perhaps a new misunderstanding will form the episteme, determining in uncomplicated fashion that many of the North’s killings were carried out by some shadowy body known as the Britishional IRA.