There’s a fine line to be walked in judging the influence of largely unaccountable state actors and historic corollaries. Both Mark Devenport and Jen O’Leary today ask the question of whether state agents of influence were critical factors in moving the IRA to peace.
The question is easier to ask than to answer. Devenport cites two conflicting academic sources which take opposite views on the matter. He quotes Bew and Frampton and Gurruchaga saying “the role of state actors, intelligence agencies, hard power and the wider democratic process”.
He then quotes another academic source…
“…the majority of evidence … suggests that informers and agents did not influence the IRA or Sinn Féin towards ceasefires to any great extent during the conflict”.
Both views contain some truth. From what we know of the use of informers (which is not a huge amount) most of the focus on was on containing the military efforts of both insurgents and counter-insurgents. That may have created political pressure, but likely only in a secondary sense.
There were already political pressures acting upon the Provisionals, beyond their simple ability to effectively prosecute their war. These pressures came both externally and internally. Adams’ move towards a peace settlement pre-dated the ceasefires by a number of years.
The Donaldson story as relayed to O’Leary shows too that even a high-level informer wasn’t telling their handlers everything. Something that’s rarely taken into account within those fake public narratives I mentioned yesterday.
Running informants does not, as so often claimed by some very high ups within NI’s new establishment, amount to full on state collusion. The idea of the Provisionals as uber-marionettes of British Military intelligence doesn’t stack up, because they had to be working part of the daily machine.
As also noted yesterday, the half-light in which these matters come to arise makes it very difficult to see what actually happened. The assertion, widely reported, that Gerry Adams ordered the killing is not supported by the material in the documentary.
It may be that the leadership of the Provisionals sanctioned it as suggested (rather than asserted) by ‘Martin’, but there are too many loose ends around the story to be clear that anyone at the top themselves initiated or ordered the operation.
I doubt Gerry will sue anyone in this regard (he once told Father Des Wilson that people like him do not sue), but he might have a decent case for taking take a complaint to the Press Council, should he so wish to do so.
But it should not be forgotten that the price of this peace process of ours was the forgiveness of murder. On the scale things, Donaldson was just one of many victims who’s killers will likely never be brought to justice for the sake of that same peace process.
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