(by Greg Harkin, Sunday People)
June 24, 2002
A County Louth farmer murdered by the Provisional IRA was working for Garda Special Branch, but was set up for death by another secret agent, this time a top terrorist in the pay of a secret British Army unit.
A year-long Sunday People investigation has now established the last movements of father-of-seven Tom Oliver whose death in 1991 sparked a huge outcry north and south of the Border. And we can reveal for the first time today that agents within the Provisional IRA were given a licence to kill, even if that meant killing other agents.
Mr Oliver was a 37-year-old farmer from Riverstown on the Co Louth peninsula of Cooley. Late on Thursday July 18, 1991, he went to attend a new-born calf on his farm but never returned home. Unknown to family or friend, Tom Oliver had been leading a bizarre double life as a paid informer for Garda Special Branch.
Over the six years prior to his death, his information to police had to led to the arrests of at least eight republicans and the recovery of countless weapons. But Tom Oliver was no surveillance expert or some type of 007 spy. And that's what led to his death.
For the farmer always used the same pay-phone to call his Special Branch contacts to pass on information. At the same time the shadowy British Army outfit the Force Research Unit was getting information on the same IRA gangs in south Armagh/north Louth from its agent inside the group. And it was this agent who discovered Tom Oliver was a Garda informer.
Just days before his death Tom Oliver went to the public pay-phone to make a call to his handler. But this time the booth was 'bugged'.
It was suggested that a voice-activated tape recorder be placed inside and that they should wait for Oliver to arrive. A five-minute phone call followed that would seal the fate of the father-of-seven.
The FRU had to decide whether Oliver would live or die - whether he could be 'sacrificed'. And there were lots of reasons why they wanted him dead.
Firstly they feared his information could lead to the arrest of British agents working inside the Republic, and in particular one agent. Secondly their agent helping to murder an informer would increase their man's standing within PIRA. And thirdly, in the murky would of counter-terrorism the less Gardai knew about the IRA along the Border, the better - as far as the British FRU were concerned.
They were highly suspicious of a number of Garda officers in the Republic and were convinced that at least one named officer was working for the IRA. Sunday People has confirmed these allegations with a number of reliable security sources. Mr Oliver's body was found dumped in a field near the south Armagh Border on July 20, 1991 - less than 48 hours after his abduction.
He had been horribly tortured and shot repeatedly in the head. Sources say he had confessed to his work for the Gardai after the tape of his phone call was played back to him.
The murder caused outrage in Co Louth. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest at the brutal murder. Known republicans were shunned in shops and bars in a wave of revulsion at the brutal killing. Gardai briefed journalists by claiming that Oliver had only passed information to them once after accidentally coming across weapons on his farmland.
Such disinformation is still churned out. But it could not have been further from the truth. Oliver was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a full-time highly paid agent. But he was an informer with a long track record in dealing severe blows against the PIRA at the time.
It's the hand in his death played by British security agents, revealed by us for the first time today, which is sure to start a political storm and calls for more inquiries. With the focus now on the murder of Pat Finucane in Belfast in 1989 and the FRU's role in that death, it could be easy to forget countless other murders set up and organised by the state.
Loyalist Brian Nelson was a rarity - he was one of the very few FRU agents who was loyalist. The FRU - motto Fishers of Men - had dozens of agents, the vast majority of them inside the Provisional IRA. A senior security source willing to discuss the Oliver case told Sunday People: "Thomas Oliver is just one example where people were killed to suit the agenda of the day.
"The last thing FRU wanted was their people inside the most elite unit of the Provisional IRA in what was then known as 'Bandit Country' ending up in Mountjoy because of a low-ranking
"It suited for more reasons than that though."
This article appeared in the June 23, 2002 edition of the Sunday People.