John Ware’s BBC Panorama investigation on Freddie Scappaticci, The Spy in the IRA, is available online, with an accompanying article on the BBC website. Ed Moloney has some relevant posts on his blog on the programme, including criticism of the initial response by processors in the media to Liam Clarke’s scoop when he broke the story in 1999.
Not all journalists were as keen to follow the story up. Sinn Fein spread the word that Liam Clarke’s story was the work of ‘securocrats’ – remember them? – who wanted to bring the peace process crashing down.
The charge had a certain credibility because of the days that were in it. The process was still fragile in late 1999. Killings were continuing – Rosemary Nelson, Eamon Collins and Frankie Curry were among the victims that year – the Provos and Unionists were squabbling over IRA decommissioning and the formation of the power sharing Executive promised by the previous year’s Good Friday Agreement was as distant as ever.
So the sudden appearance of a claim that the British had a major spy in the ranks and that there was an associated if only implied suggestion that the spy may have helped steer the Provos towards the peace process was, immediately denounced by Sinn Fein as a dirty trick.
And a significant and influential section of the media in Northern Ireland agreed.
By this stage the media in Belfast had, in considerable measure, divided into camps differentiated by their approach to the peace process. The pro-process camp in large measure closed up shop and contented themselves with simple daily reportage of events. But no digging worth the name. The school eventually adopted the moniker: ‘Peace Journalism’.
They accused those who wouldn’t go along with this, who approached the peace process as they would any other story, as being politically motivated, propelled by a desire to do the process damage.
The man in charge of the official investigation into Stakeknife’s activities, Operation Kenova, made an appeal at the start of April for anyone who may have been involved “in any degree” to come forward.
Jon Boutcher insisted the investigation is making good progress, but urged people who may have been involved in any degree with Stakeknife’s activities to come forward.
“There would have been those who played a role on the periphery of the offending, they might have housed people involved, or held weapons which may have been used,” he said.
“We want to speak to each and every person who played a part in any of these crimes to ultimately get to the truth for the families.
“I encourage people to come forward, you will be treated sympathetically.
“I am hoping that the passage of time since these offences occurred and the realisation that these cowardly crimes were not justified in any way will mean that misplaced loyalties will have changed and people will now feel strong enough to come forward.”
On which point it seems appropriate to quote John Ware writing in the Irish Times on Saturday.
The inquiry is not the first into the secret intelligence war. However, seasoned observers of the Troubles are sceptical it will run its full course if the evidence implicates too many senior members of the British intelligence services, but also the Republican movement. Boutcher counters this concern, saying “if any of this perceived resistance happens, I will challenge it”.
By 2007, the conflict in Northern Ireland had claimed 3,720 lives. Due partly to Sinn Féin’s laser-like focus, attention on the 367 killed by British forces has eclipsed the 2,152 killed by the IRA and other republican groups.
Very little attention, by comparison, has been paid to the 1,738 members of the security forces killed by the IRA, and none at all on those murdered by the IRA for spying – some 70 people.
In Kenova’s sights are also those IRA leaders on the Provisional Army Council who sanctioned the “executions” for spying, as required by IRA General Orders.
Appeals against the death sentence were required to be heard by the IRA’s adjutant-general with a signed copy of the verdict and sentence, and a summary of the evidence.
Gerry Adams continues to deny he was in the IRA, but a multitude of ex-IRA members and police officers say otherwise, and they say that between 1978 and 1982 Adams was its adjutant general.
And, with Sinn Féin representatives regularly appearing in the media to condemn apparent paramilitary intimidation and shootings, in the same article Ware also highlights another of Scappaticci’s roles in the Provisional IRA. From the Irish Times article
For a while, Scappaticci also exercised a kind of psychological control, if not terror, over the general population of west Belfast which went beyond the strict limits of the IRA itself.
He ran the IRA’s “Civil Administration” which policed parts of Belfast under IRA control. Ordinary “decent” crime (as it was known) was rife. Criminality gave Gerry Adams the opportunity to create “an alternative government”.
Scappaticci ran the Civil Administration “with a heavy fist”, a former IRA man who had dealings with him told me. Joyriders and drug dealers were routinely kneecapped. Civil Administration put the fear of God into locals in order to enforce collaboration with the IRA.
In Belfast, kneecapping became a weapon. A licence for an ordinary decent “hood” to continue living in the community was to ensure their future was spent limping up and down the street on crutches. Equally, they had to limit their statements to the police after the shooting to say only that “two masked men held me down and then shot me in the back of the legs, but I don’t know their names and I can’t remember their descriptions”.
But, of course, the victim usually did know the perpetrator. The (usually) teenage culprit had actually turned up to Civil Administration HQ – better known as Sinn Féin’s HQ – at Connolly House by appointment with a parent.
There, the parent would have pleaded with the gunman not to shoot his child “here” pointing away from the joint, but “there, please” to minimise lasting damage.
Repeat offenders risked a “six pack” – six shots, one for each knee, elbow and ankle. One mother vividly described her meeting with Scappaticci after he had demanded that she bring her errant son to see him.
Scappaticci told her: “The next time we hear he’s been at it or of any complaints against him, I will personally blow the head off him.” Adams, she says, sat beside him, saying nothing. Some years later her son was shot dead.
Operation Kenova is expected to last around five years and cost £35million, and with legacy issues reportedly one of the stumbling blocks in the talks on resurrecting the Northern Ireland Executive, Newton Emerson added this in Saturday’s Irish News.
A BBC Panorama investigation into the Stakeknife case has provided an unwittingly timely reminder of one nuclear talks option.
It is clear the republican movement has been watched around the clock at every level for 40 years, leaving it vulnerable to certain kinds of ‘truth recovery’.
Chief constable George Hamilton hinted as much last year when he warned that opening up all police files on the Troubles would please nobody.
Gerry Adams has now said a deal on the past is not necessary to restore devolution.