Every time a new story comes out of the spy woodwork it is like a walk 0n the weird side. What was interesting about last night’s Spotlight was how calmly it was received on social media. You quickly get to understand why everyone chooses to believe the version they want to hear.
I still struggle to believe that Alan McQuillan didn’t know his cops would turn up in force that day, or that Hugh Orde (a politicians cop if ever there was one) left the final say to one of his deputies. Peppering the story too are cases that according to the official version, were abandoned.
Consider not simply the subsequent events which came to pass after Stormont slowly imploded (and I thoroughly recommend reading Slugger’s archive from start to end of the month of October 2002 to get a genuine sense how it occurred), but on the 1st Robert McMillan observed:
It’s clear from the archives that, just as stated in last night’s programme, both the Irish and British governments were planning to cut the UUP and the SDLP loose as the lead parties in the new settlement. If the outing of the spy ring looked anti-SF there’s no doubt they became ultimate beneficiaries.
Without going into the individual cases mentioned, and talking to some of the participants involved, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. The other question that always comes up is why did the agent concerned choose to speak out now?
One of Dan Gillmor’s golden rules for good journalism is to never to deal in or with anonymous sources. The overall effect is to leave everyone to their own biased reading of events that none of the main players are willing or able to play ball on.
The Donaldson episode makes for a water tight case that agents, particularly as prominent as this one purports to be should stay anonymous. Any ambiguity about a tout’s status has been squeezed out after his killing on a lonely Donegal mountain.
The whole episode once again leaves the long-time leader of the Republican movement denying allegations of responsibility. But as one wit pointed out on Twitter this morning, that hardly matters when he’s on record of approving of it in principle:
Gerry Adams believes touting is punishable by death. Gerry was in the same buidling at the same time. Gerry 'knows nothing'. #SpotlightNI
— Alex Sloan (@alexdsloan) September 21, 2016
Mr Adams is not the only one who can be plausibly accused of lying about their role in the dirty war. The files Denis Bradley refers to, and which he says should never be opened suggests that as a society NI cannot handle the truth about the past.
The British know a lot more than they can or ever will tell: despite the fact they have the written records that apparently the Provisionals and the Loyalists don’t.
The nature of the settlement (those poisonous foundations) required many compromises between old enemies which mean that much of the public narrative around dealing with the past is itself utterly fake.
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