John McDonagh (JM) interviews the award winning journalist and author Ed Moloney (EM) via telephone about recent news in Ireland that yet another IRA informer is being exposed. Thanks to TPQ transcriber who rushed this through in extra quick time.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
30 January 2016
(begins time stamp ~ 36:30)
JM: Now, the next topic we're going to cover: There's a story that was broke in the Irish News about IRA informers – because that's seems to be that's all there were toward the end when the British literally ran it - and the part that's particularly interesting to me – and we're going to get Ed Moloney on – is that of Denis Donaldson.
Denis Donaldson was sent out by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to work in the United States with Irish-Americans that supported the Republican Movement. They had always had someone out here even from 1916 and before to keep the relationship going. Prior to Denis it was Hugh Feeney, who was working at The Irish People office where I was the editor at The Irish People. One day a female student, or that's was what she told me, came up and she was looking around - she was doing a paper on the Republican Movement - I didn't know at the time she was an FBI agent. She went outside and I guess told her comrades that Hugh Feeney, who was arrested in London for blowing up the Old Bailey and was working with us here in New York, was up there. So as a knock came to the door and I said: Who is it? They said: FBI. I said: Do you have a warrant? That's when they kicked in the door and laughed at me like – yeah – we need warrants.
So they went and arrested Hugh Feeney and took him out. And his replacement was an MI5 agent sent over by Gerry Adams, Denis Donaldson, who worked with us. And I have to say he was a great guy – we used to go out drinking with him – he had stories about going to Lebanon and Syria and trying to get weapons for the IRA and just an unbelievable character. And it just seems that every time something breaks in The North a lot of it centres around trying to protect Denis Donaldson over there. And that was the story that was in this week's Irish News and Ed Moloney has been writing about it on The Broken Elbow - and I always recommend: Go there if you want to really know what's going on behind the scenes Ed has it - author of A Secret History of the IRA. Ed, are you there?
EM: Yes, I am, John.
JM: Yeah – I was just breaking it down about - a lot of this stuff just revolves around – whether it's MI5 (or the secret service over in Ireland) - it's protecting their assets, or their different agents, even to the extent they would allow bombs to go off and people to get killed in order protect a high up agent in the IRA.
EM: Yes, although you know I think it's much more complicated than that and also much more chilling because they could have intercepted that bomb, they could have stopped the bombing operation in a dozen different ways and saved the lives of all those people who died. And don't forget they were just ordinary shoppers...
JM: ...Yeah, you're talking about a bombing on the Shankill Road...
EM: ...a bombing on the Shankill Road which is what this story is all about. The story that appeared in the Irish News this week is saying that intelligence that the IRA gleaned from raiding the Special Branch office in Castlereagh police station back in 2002, which is a story that Denis Donaldson, of course, is involved in, information from that was decrypted and revealed that this bombing was allowed to go ahead by the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) Special Branch; they had a very high-ranking agent inside the IRA in Ardoyne, which is where the bombing team came from.
And according to the story not only did they not do anything to stop the bombing operation from happening they actually suggested the modus operandi of the bombing team. In other words, they suggested the best way to try to bomb, plant the bomb on the Shankill Road. And the bomb was intended to wipe out the leadership of the UDA, the Ulster Defence Association, the largest Loyalist paramilitary group which, under the leadership of a character called Johnny Adair, had embarked on like a killing spree of Catholics, particularly in North and West Belfast, which would intimately affect the IRA in Ardoyne. And this was an attempt to try to stop those killings and kill the people who were largely responsible for it.
The UDA was meeting, or supposed to be meeting, in rooms above a fishmonger's store called Frizzell's on the Shankill, Shankill Road – an office that many journalists would have been - I've been in that office many times meeting UDA people - so it would be very well-known as a meeting place for them. But that day the UDA weren't there. But anyway, getting back to the story, according to the Irish News report it was the agent who suggested a way of bombing the UDA which was to take the bomb into the fishmonger's store and attach it by a hook to the ceiling so it'd blow upwards and kill the UDA leaders as they were meeting upstairs in an upstairs room. Well, what actually happened, of course, was that bomb exploded prematurely. There are now suggestions being made in the media in Ireland that the RUC also sabotaged the bomb or, to use the correct terminology, 'jarked' the bomb, so that it would explode prematurely.
Which meant that really, if all this is true, it means that what was happening here was that the RUC was intent on causing as many deaths as possible.
Now, why did this happen? I don't think it was about protecting an agent at all because they could have protected that agent by not suggesting the bombing in the first place! But … I think myself that you have to look at the bombing in the context of what was happening at the time. And what was happening at the time, this was October, 1993, was that the peace process was moving into a sort of very critical stage. We were about to get the Downing Street Declaration. It would not have something that the IRA Army Council had been looking for and which most IRA grassroots people had been promised would appear in the Downing Street Declaration, which was a promise by the British that at some stage in the future, maybe ten or twenty years hence, they would, they would withdraw. The IRA was prepared to compromise on this demand for withdrawal by saying as long as we get a formal promise from the British that they're going to withdraw at some stage in the future then we will call a ceasefire and we can have interim arrangements.
Well, that wasn't going to happen. The Belfast IRA, brigade, the Belfast Brigade of the IRA, was moving very strongly against the peace process and didn't like which direction which that was going in. And I think myself at that stage the Gerry Adams leadership was really quite threatened because people were beginning to conspire against them. and we know that eventually that resulted in the attempt by people who went on to lead the Real IRA to overthrow the Adams' leadership. That was all percolating away. Well, the effect of this bomb, which was an outrage, I mean it was an atrocity – all these civilians were killed, little babies were killed, the building was collapsed into the middle of the street - was to weaken the militarists inside the IRA. And the other effect, of course, was that the Loyalists went on a killing rampage afterwards – something like fourteen or sixteen people were killed in the week or so afterwards including people in the famous incident in the Greysteel Bar where, Halloween night a gunman came in and said: Trick or Treat - and then opened up with a sub-machine gun and killed six people in that bar.
And the atmosphere in Belfast at that time, I can tell you, was terrifying. People were very, very worried. The idea that this could really get out of control and could lead to goodness knows what sort of violence was very credible at that stage. And the yearning for an end to it, a peaceful end, was almost tangible. So the bombing served two things, it served two purposes: It weakened the militarists inside the Belfast Brigade in particularly because this was a stupid operation. You know, Saturday afternoon in the middle of a busy shopping street, planting a bomb in the ceiling of a fishmonger's shop and expecting not to kill civilians? You know like how stupid can you get? That was number one; so it weakened them.
And secondly, it strengthened the sort of sentiment, particularly in the Catholic population, for an end to the violence and for peace etc and in a sense strengthened the peace camp in Sinn Féin. So that I think, I don't know what the motivation was but if I was pressed, and I've written this so I'm not saying anything new, that you have to look at the context to understand a possible reason or a motive for the bombing. And saving, protecting an informer was the least of it. This was a classic example of using intelligence in a counter-intelligence way to weaken your adversary and push them in a direction that you wanted them to go to - and if that was the aim it succeeded.
JM: Ed, one of the other things that's coming out: Suzanne Breen also wrote during the week that based on the intelligence that the IRA got that there was over two dozen other IRA informers. And there's been no reaction from Sinn Féin. And then how these new informers that we just found out – how they're treated as compared to other people that were treated for far less than what's being reported right now.
EM: Well, the full story of the level of British penetration of the IRA, and penetration by all three branches of British intelligence – because you had the RUC Special Branch, you had MI5 and then you had military intelligence, the Force Research Unit (FRU), the people who brought us Brian Nelson and the death of Pat Finucane - the full story of that has not as yet been told. But I think when it is told it's going to curl some hairs in Ireland because I think it will reveal that the extent of penetration, the extent of informers working for the British towards the end was such it's legitimate to ask the question: Who was really running , who was really running the IRA at the end, you know?
JM: And also Ed, Sinn Féin's response to all of this - normally they hold press conferences or they'll denounce it and they'll talk about dark forces working behind the scenes and this is all nonsense...
EM: ...Securocrats would be the ...
JM: ...Yeah, that was McGuinness' thing: everything was securocrats. But there hasn't been much of a response and one of the people that's named in – well, he not actually named in the Irish News but everyone seems to know him – that he's living out in the open and he's working for Sinn Féin and he's attending the funerals and handing flags and everything over to the families – I mean it's just a...
EM: ...Yeah, I mean everyone knows. This story apparently, this is not the first time that it's been told. I mean apparently a year ago almost exactly this guy's name was being painted on the walls in Ardoyne. People in that area knew the story very well apparently. Apparently, during, as a result of that bombing on the Shankill Road one of the IRA bombers was killed and apparently his father confronted this guy about a year or so ago. So it's like a matter of common gossip in Ardoyne and I'd presume within Republican circles generally.
But it's also very, very embarrassing for the Provo leadership because you see it does raise this question, a very fundamental question about who was running the IRA at this time? Was it the Army Council? Was it the Sinn Féin leadership together with the Army Council? Or was it the British Army, MI5 and RUC Special Branch? Or some combination of both? You know, it raises these very dark and for the IRA must be, for the Sinn Féin leadership, must be quite worrying questions to have debated. which I suspect is why, which is why they're keeping quiet about it. But at the same time the puzzling aspect of it in a sense is that this story bears all the hallmarks of an official leak from the Provo machine. In other words, that it's someone within their organisation has given the story to the Irish News with the approval of the usual people. and we know who the usual people are.
So why have they done this given that that it's potentially, not just potentially embarrassing, it is actually embarrassing for them. And the only explanation that I can possibly think of is that it may be a shot across the bows of the British by the Provos in the context of an argument that they're having with the British about how to deal with the past because this is the one issue that has not been resolved. I mean they got over the continued existence of the IRA, they got together another deal, they got their welfare cuts and so on and so forth but this issue of dealing with the past was not resolved. Is this the IRA saying to, or the Sinn Féin leadership saying to the British: This is just a sample of what we have against you. If you don't come to your senses and do a deal with us on the past then there's going to be more of this. Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine.
JM: Well Ed, one can only hope that at some stage somebody can write the companion to your book A Secret History of the IRA - something like The Secret History of MI5 in Ireland or the RUC Special Branch – and that they lay out exactly what their strategy was and how they brought Sinn Féin and the IRA to the peace table and how they infiltrated...
EM: ...Oh, I don't think there's any doubt, John, that the security forces actively intervened in the peace process in order to assist the side that they wanted to win which is the Sinn Féin side. I remembered a former, I won't give his rank, but a very, very senior member of the Special Branch in Belfast told me once that during this time the IRA was holding conventions, very critical conventions, one of which, for example, very nearly toppled the Adams' leadership. And there were other very critical conventions. And he said what we would do quite regularly, he said, we would find who were going to these conventions, who were the delegates and we would arrest those people who we thought were the hardliners and put them out of action so they missed it - in a sense rigging the convention by determining who would get to the convention and who would not. So if they did that then it's quite possible and indeed likely that they were intervening in other ways in order to assist the side that they wanted to win in the internal debate within the Provos.
JM: Well listen Ed, thanks for coming on and giving us the latest update on some of the unresolved issues that are going on in The Six Counties.
(ends time stamp ~ 52:55)