Inquiries distractions and devices for delay?

The Irish Independent has an inspired headline on an article by Maurice Hayes on the unmasking of Denis Donaldson as an informant – “Paperknife cuts Sinn Féin” – and looks at conlficting views on the importance of informants in policing. While, in The Times, David Sharrock remembers a, perhaps now revealing, quote from Donaldson in 1994 – “For too many people the IRA has become the end in itself and no longer the vehicle to achieve the end for which it fights” – and The Guardian is not tempted by an inquiryMaurice Hayes also points to the role of informants, and the conflicting views of their importance

There is something deep in the Irish psyche that is uncomfortable with the idea of spies and informants.

There is a wider view too that in these days of transparency, police forces should not enlist the services of informants. And yet, criminals rarely give themselves up, crimes are rarely solved by brilliant Sherlock Holmes exercises of deductive logic or solely by forensic science, but because somebody has been induced to talk.

It is not only embarrassing to the Sinn Fein leadership, following Stakeknife, that their inner circles should have been penetrated again. Rumours of further disclosures of even bigger fish to come, probably deliberately started, are designed to foster distrust and create more confusion.

There must be those still of a military tendency who will question the vulnerability, if not the judgment and gullibility of the political leadership. The desire to limit damage internally and among the faithful is one strong reason why Sinn Fein have come out so strongly in an effort to transfer blame to the Brits and the police, to divert attention from internal weaknesses, and to prevent their own members from asking awkward questions.

In the fractured politics of the North, all parties will claim some gains from the episode. Sinn Fein will seek to blame the Brits and the securocrats, and use the occasion to justify having nothing to do with policing until the code of discipline includes a requirement never to arrest anyone, much less question them, never to use covert surveillance or informant or accomplice evidence.

Unionists will use it as an excuse to down tools on power-sharing and the creation of a local Executive.

The Guardian Leader column adds an interesting view on inquiries

It is tempting to call for an inquiry, and there will doubtless be more calls today. Yet it is important to ask of such a call, as of the revelation itself, what its purpose is and who really benefits? Northern Ireland has had many inquiries; some have been unavoidable and useful, others have been distractions and devices for delay. The threat from the spy ring was genuine, not confected, the Northern Ireland police ombudsman confirms, but it is extremely unlikely that an inquiry into Stormontgate will uncover the full truth.

  • slug

    “There is something deep in the Irish psyche that is uncomfortable with the idea of spies and informants.”

    Hmmm. Who is he talking about as “irish” because I’m know a lot of people like to think that the police have got a team of spies in SF. He must mean nationalist/republcian Irish.

  • Crataegus

    The Leader in the Guardian really does not have a handle on this and under plays the seriousness; “the overriding objective in Northern Ireland is to build the politics of the future, not to relive yet again the politics of the past.”

    The problem is you can’t effectively build where there is no trust and where rumours fly about the PSNI, Security Services, HM Gov and a major political party.

    Either there was a SF intelligence gathering ring or there was no substance to the charge, either the PSNI acted on good faith on intelligence they received or they didn’t, either the shadowy men in intelligence attempted to pull some masterful stroke or they have been compromised by others, either the government tried a bit of political engineering or it did not and if it did what on earth was it up to. It would be difficult for this to be more serious. Armed coup perhaps?

  • belfastwhite

    Opponents of power sharing in this country of ours are running out of hurdles for Sinn Fein to jump. Now unionists are saying this will hold back the assembly if the Brits don’t own up! If other enquiries and inquests are anything to go by we may have to wait a very long time.

    Mick have you found any newspapers (other than Daily Ireland)that are taking the Sinn Fein line and saying that Stormont was collapsed by Spooks?

  • heck

    SF want an inquiry, the sdlp want one, the dup and UUP want one.

    I guess there will be no inquiry then.

    is’nt british democracy wonderful?

  • kate

    ‘either the shadowy men in intelligence attempted to pull some masterful stroke or they have been compromised by others’

    Not necessarily. SF as a political party have until very recently had an armed wing. It is not unreasonable to think that while that army was there shadowy men would be keeping a watchful eye on them. Conclusions can be jumped to as to Donaldsons role, especially in international affairs. Did he for instance give up the Colombia 3, and the money they now say is forthcoming from FARC geurillas??

    Inquiries, inquiries and more inquiries. Why should there be one into the spy scandal and no inquiry into 7/7?? I’m inclined to agree with SF on this. What purpose will it serve, although it would be best now I believe for SF to call a public amnesty for all British agents within their ranks to come forward. It would save future embarrassment. Another high level agent in the upper echelons of SF would kill off their already ailing credibility on the streets of nationalist areas.

    As for the Irish psychic being uncomfortable with the idea of spies we seem to be coming to terms with it. ie Mr Donaldson whose home is in Aitnamona,- in the Irish News this morning it claims members of the Donaldson family are returning to Belfast. This is surely a different treatment for two agents,(not forgetting Scap) than it has been for those unfortunate souls found hooded and bound and dead. One particular man mentioned in the Sunday Papers Paddy Flood from Derry, tortured for 7 weeks, and now widely believed to be innocent of informer charges.

  • british democracy

    What an oxymoronic term of use!

  • elfinto


    Donaldson’s family have suffered and will suffer as a result of his nefarious activities of which they were undoubtably unawre. His son-in-law was incarcerated on the same charges. Why should they be forced to move from Belfast?

    As for Scap, well I hope you’re not advocating that he gets ‘put down a hole in the ground’ but it does seem a bit rich that he has been able to get away with it so far. I suspect the SF leadership and the Brits are happy for him to lie low in Italy to enjoy his thirty pieces of silver in the sun. Sooner or later the families of those he executed will start demanding explanations.

  • “Why should they be forced to move from Belfast?”

    They shouldn’t and they will not.

    They are very good upstanding Republican people.

    They have stood shoulder to shoulder with the movement suring the hard times.

    Since this broke I have not heard a single party member or activitist blame any of his family members.

    The entire Republican family feel for them in this difficult time.

  • crow

    I think Mr Donaldson’s family may have some visitors from the republican family popping round to the house to ask some awkward questions.

  • BogExile

    ‘british democracy

    What an oxymoronic term of use! ‘

    Yes, it’s almost as bad as ‘republican integrity’!

  • Reader

    RE: Scap
    elfinto: Sooner or later the families of those he executed will start demanding explanations.
    Didn’t they always? Well – why not?

  • pauldev


    Uoi have got it wrong again. I think you are the one advocating putting Scap down a hole? His work though unsavoury undoubtedly saved a lot of lives. He may be a republican terrorist but at least he was of some use.

  • elfinto


    Wrong about what exactly? Actually I think you are wrong because I am not advocating putting Scap down a hole, although according to the brutal logic which he inflicted on others, he has earned that fate.

    So his work was ‘unsavoury’, eh? He might have been a terrorist but at least he was our terrorist, eh? It seems that you are not adverse to having people put down holes yourself, so long as they are people you do not like.

  • Reader

    elfinto: It seems that you are not adverse to having people put down holes yourself, so long as they are people you do not like.
    It seems that people were going to end up in holes anyway. Thanks to informers, there were fewer than there might have been, and they were more likely to have been from among the bad guys.

  • Shore Road Resident

    I’m surprised that Niall Stanage is still getting work after February’s Paul Murphy debacle. He also messed up an article on the launch of Daily Ireland so badly that the media Guardian had to print a retraction.
    Mr Stanage is a fairly competent polemicist and would make an average columnist but he can hardly be taken seriously as a correspondent.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Maybe Scap survived because no-one was able to dig a hole big enough for him to fit into.

  • Niall

    I am normally very reluctant to get involved in web-based discussions, even on a site as prestigious as Slugger O’Toole.

    However, the post in this thread by “Shore Road Resident” is factually wrong and defamatory. I dispute all of it, but I take particular exception to her/his allegation that I “messed up an article on the launch of Daily Ireland so badly that the media Guardian had to print a retraction.”

    For the sake of accuracy:
    1) I have never written a word about Daily Ireland for the Guardian, its website or any related publication.
    2) Of the handful of articles by me in other publications that have mentioned or alluded to Daily Ireland, none has required a retraction, apology, correction or anything else of that nature. In fact, none has been even mildly controversial so far as I am aware.

    I can only imagine that Shore Road Resident has either confused me with someone else or got her/his wires crossed in some other way.

    I hope this clarifies the matter.

    Since I’m here, let me take the opportunity to wish all Slugger-ites much peace, love and happiness in 2006.

    Best regards to you all.

    Niall Stanage