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Irish cops have spy in IRA

(Martin Breen, News of the World)

An IRA commander who ordered a string of murders is unmasked today as the Gardai's most senior spy in the terror group.

The News of the World can reveal that security chiefs both north and south are aware of the mole, known in security circles as Top Gun.

He was present himself at several shootings, including the deadly sniper attacks in the early 1990s.

And he was allowed to continue his terror campaign when he quit the Provos after their 1994 ceasefire - and joined the Real IRA.

In return he provided details on large arms hauls and his information led to the arrest of several key republicans.

The informer acted as a director of operations for the Provos along the Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh borders.

A senior security source in Dublin told us: "The Irish government has been briefed on the existence of the informer and this can't be blamed on British intelligence.

"He was run by the Garda and it was certain key officers who decided which attacks they would allow to go-ahead. This will be as big as the Stakeknife affair."

Our source confirmed details had been passed to the Dublin committee set up by former Irish Justice Minister John O'Donoghue to probe collusion allegations.

It is investigating claims by Ulster's police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan that Irish cops allowed the Real IRA to carry out bombings in 1998.

Police chiefs in Belfast and senior Irish have now been shown evidence of how Top Gun took part in murders.

The spy was recruited in the mid-1980s while a key Provo commander. AFter the truce his handlers encouraged him to join the Real IRA to pass on information.

A News of the World investigation has unearthed detailed information on operations the Irish police allegedly allowed the IRA to carry out. They include:

  • Sniper attacks, which claimed the lives of RUC officers Alan Corbett, 25, and Jonathan Reid, 30 - Corbett at Belcoo in 1992 and Reid at Crossmaglen in 1993. An adapted AK-47 was used in both shootings.
  • A murder attempt on a Fermanagh district council dog warden in February 1992. Provo Joseph McManus was shot dead when the warden, a part-time UDR soldier, fired back.
  • Landmine attacks on security force patrols in south Armagh. Scores of police and Army members died in the bombings in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
  • Shootings and bombings on police and soldiers on the Tyrone border at Strabane.
  • Mortar bomb attacks on Army posts in South Armagh and on Belleek police base in 1998 after the Good Friday Agreement.

The Provos had two sniper teams in place, one of which was smashed by an SAS raid in 1997 on a South Armagh farmhouse. The informer's hit team was never captured.

Evidence presented to authorities in Dublin as well as security chiefs on both sides of the border disclosed the Garda spy was even present at some of the sniper shootings.

He was exposed when Garda detective sergeant John White claimed Real IRA attacks in the north were being allowed to go-ahead to protect an informant in the Real IRA.

The Irish inquiry team is comprised of Eamonn Barnes, a former director of public prosecutions, Dermot Nally, a former government secretary, and Joe Brosnan, an ex-department of justice secretary-general.

They were due to have issued their report by now but have been delayed by the new developments.

In the Dail on March 12 the Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell hinted that fresh evidence had been uncovered.

He said: "In early December it emerged that there were further lines of inquiry which the Group felt should be pursued. When I receive the report I will make a statement on the group's findings."

Sources said the final report will confirm that bomb and gun attacks were allowed to go ahead but that publication of much of the evidence will have to be restricted.

Meanwhile former IRA man Freddie Scappaticci, who has denied reports that he was the agent known as Stakeknife, was still lying low last night we we revealed that Stakeknife is a codename for more than one top British spy in the IRA.

The Families of the Disappeared pressure group believes these agents could help recover the bodies of terrorist victims murdered and secretly buried along the border.

The News of the World has learned that a superspy has been linked to at least four disappeared cases.

We can reveal that the bodies he could help return to their families include:

  • Bernard Megraw: The 22-year-old was snatched by the IRA from his Twinbrook home in April 1978. A dig for his remains at Kells in Co Meath in 1999 found no trace of him.
  • Gerard Evans: The painter, 24, from Crossmaglen, vanished in March 1979 outside Castleblaney in Co Monaghan.
  • Charles Armstrong: The 57-year-old dad-of-five disappeared in 1980 as he drove to Sunday morning Mass in Crossmaglen. Digging at a Co Monaghan field last May turned up nothing.
  • Danny McIlhone: The west Belfast man, 30, was reportedly killed in 1981 for stealing IRA weapons. The Provos claimed he was secretly buried in Co Wicklow but the unmarked grave has yet to be found.

Disappeared campaigner Seamus McKendry, whose own mother-in-law Jean McConville was murdered and buried in an unknown grave on a border beach, appealed to the authorities to use Stakeknife to recover remains.

He told the News of the World: "I am sure that Stakeknife, whoever he may be, has, without doubt, information on deaths and disappearances.

"I hope he can help bring closure to this for the families so we can have proper funerals for our loved ones."

Special Branch in Belfast still has a top level informer inside the IRA who helped smash the Stormont spy ring.

The identity of the IRA mole was made known to former Ulster Secretary John Reid as well as MI5 and police chiefs who raided Sinn Féin offices at Stormont last October and the homes of leading republicans across Belfast.

The Operation Torsion inquiry, which led to the discovery of an IRA intelligence gathering operation at the heart of government, was sparked off by the informer.

May 21, 2003

This article appeared first in the News of the World on May 18, 2003.