The Dirty War: Informers are not necessarily ‘agents’…

Liam Clarke has a useful corrective for those who think agents are the same thing as informers…

Martin McGartland, who infiltrated the IRA in west Belfast, was an agent in the purest sense. He joined the IRA at the request of his handlers and did exactly what he was told; it involved no switch of loyalties.

Several members of the IRA’s internal security team, like Stakeknife, were double-agents. They were trusted by the IRA to frustrate Crown forces, but were ‘doubled’ by the intelligence services to spy on the IRA, instead.

After that, it gets more complicated. It is clear now that many of those who passed information to the authorities believed they were in charge of the relationship and didn’t tell all they knew.

Many ‘worked their passage’ with the police, passing on this and that in return for favours, to settle grudges or to save their life. They may not have thought of themselves as agents at all, especially the loyalists.

This is one reason why a maximal interpretation of the term collusion is problematic… It turns even the most passive contact between security forces and paramilitaries into something much more strategic and active…

It also leads to otherwise unfounded rumours regarding the alleged split loyalties of unnamed figures within the leadership of the IRA… It’s pernicious, unprovable and an all too easy means of distracting from the complex realities of the past…

Weirdly, this is the term preferred by Sinn Fein themselves when dealing with so called collusion between Loyalists and security forces…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty