Smithwick and the murky outline of British counterinsurgency tactics…

As Brian Rowan said on Sunday Sequence last Sunday, the British counterinsurgency campaign was a dirty war. Richard Dowling reinforces that view, though also points out that it is and never was as black or white as we are often led to believe by some of the chief protagonists. In the case of British Peter Keeley (aka Kevin Fulton), he notes:

In later years he worked for CID and the customs service. He told his handlers about planned IRA operations including fundraising crimes. He took part in many of these as he had at this stage officially been given ‘participant status’.

That allows agents to break the law as long as they provide information to their handlers who were employed to uphold the law. It never is, and never was, a question of morals.

It’s just a question of returns. Will the information gleaned from the crime justify the crime in the first place?


One thing is clear arising from the evidence of Peter Keeley. Nothing was or is straightforward regarding the dirty war during The Troubles. There’s very little black and white – it’s mostly shades of grey. Whether it’s darker or lighter grey depends on your own perspective.

The judge’s problem will lie in sorting out the meagre objective evidence in any of these matters… What’s at the heart of this an other inquiries which put state institutions at the heart of their investigations is their respective ‘counter insurgency’ strategies, and identifying where lines were crossed that should not have been.

The assertion that many lives were saved is much harder to quantify that counting the bodies of those who died. But there ought to be a question lodged at least as to why after the killing frenzy from late 1971 until 1975 suddenly tails off so dramatically from 1975 onwards.

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