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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Nobody knows who to trust

(by Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune)

"He wouldn't be tortured, there'd be nothing like that. He'd be taken away in a car. In the old days, suspected touts would be tied up and put in the boot but I'd be surprised if he was even blindfolded.

"They'd just make him sit in the back seat with his head down so he didn't see where he was going. He'd be taken to a safe house for interrogation, " says a veteran west Belfast republican with experience of IRA internal security.

He's talking about the prominent Sinn Féin and IRA figure in the northwest reportedly questioned by the Provos earlier this week about allegations he is a British spy. "There'd be no violence. He wouldn't be stripped or hooded.

Two or three interrogators would be in the room. He'd be told to sit in a chair with his back to them so he couldn't see faces. Internal security sometimes put a coin or bit of plastic in their mouths so their voices are distorted and can't be recognised."

The republican movement is in turmoil. A prominent Belfast Sinn Féin representative was reportedly questioned by internal security on Christmas Eve and allegations are circulating about other Provisionals, including leading household names.

If any of these figures admit to being informers, it's likely they'll be sidelined instead of publicly named with the accompanying political embarrassment for the Provos.

"Since Denis [Donaldson] was outed, nobody knows who to trust, " says another west Belfast republican. "Wee suspicions about individuals that have festered over the years are now huge."

An ex-prisoner acknowledges widespread "panic and disillusionment" but thinks it pointless: "Everybody knew the Brits would try to infiltrate the movement. People must remain calm. They shouldn't become paranoid about those they've trusted all their lives. The media is using the Donaldson episode against us."

The Provo leadership is attempting to divert attention from its internal problems by saying other Irish parties and organisations are also likely to be infiltrated.

Many grassroots republicans don't buy that argument. "What does it matter if a British agent infiltrates the SDLP or Fianna Fail? Those parties weren't at war with the Brits. Agents in their ranks couldn't do the damage they can do in ours, " says one activist.

"The republican movement asks a hell of a lot more of its members than the SDLP or Fianna Fail does, so trust in the leadership is essential. When you join the IRA you're told you'll end up in jail or the graveyard. It's not too much to in return expect that senior figures are clean."

The changed political environment means Sinn Féin/ IRA leaders under suspicion are treated very differently from previous alleged informers. "Internal security is generally more relaxed. People are told to be in a certain place, picked up, and if another session is needed told to show up at a set time the next day.

"Dissidents aren't abducted now either. They're ordered to be at Clonard Monastery [in west Belfast] and then taken away. They wouldn't get the rough treatment they once did, " says a west Belfast source.

Another west Belfast republican says there would still be lengthy and rigorous questioning of suspected informers with the interrogators demanding detailed answers about matters which had aroused suspicion. The suspect's answers would be meticulously checked with other IRA and Sinn Féin members.

But some activists have lost faith in internal security. Its two previous heads, an exBritish marine and Freddie Scappaticci, were informers. "Everybody they appointed or promoted must be dubious, " says an ex-prisoner. "Internal security are running around questioning people but volunteers now wonder who internal security are?"

Another source claimed internal security weren't on top of their brief but "desperately need to be seen to be doing something to appease grassroots".

Last week, a Sinn Féin press officer confirmed to The Sunday Times that allegations had been made that Belfast councillor Tom Hartley and veteran republican Dickie Glenholmes were British agents, but that both men had denied the claims.

Hartley has no criminal convictions. It's not the first allegation about Glenholmes who has a previous republican conviction and whose daughter Evelyn was once the most wanted woman in Ireland.

Marian and Dolours Price were arrested in London for the 1973 Old Bailey bombing. "The police had information about the operation that only myself, Dolours and three people in Ireland had, " Marian Price told the Sunday Tribune.

"We were able to rule out one person immediately. The second was Gerry Adams, and we refused to believe he was an informer. The third person was Dickie Glenholmes. Through an intermediary, we sent word of our suspicions to Adams.

He rejected it like we were hysterical women who couldn't do our time, " claims Price. When Price was released, she claims she raised the issue with Adams again: "I wasn't looking for retribution, I was concerned because Dickie had remained prominent in the movement. Gerry Adams said, 'Don't worry, Dickie isn't in a position to do damage.' I felt I was being fobbed off.

"I'm not saying Dickie Glenholmes definitely is an informer. If anyone is publicly saying so now, I'd suspect they're outing small fry to protect a far bigger fish. But my concerns were never properly addressed and I'd like to know why." Glenholmes' conviction occurred subsequent to Price's allegations.

Internal security's unprecedented access to information makes it the IRA's most important department. It vets all new recruits and investigates every IRA operation that goes wrong. It has the right to know the make-up of every IRA unit, who was on what operation, and the location of safe houses.

Martin Ingram, a former British intelligence officer, is stunned the IRA didn't rotate its security personnel regularly to disrupt any long-term infiltration. Denis Donaldson caused divisions among republicans in the US, sidelining militants.

An ex-member of the Sean Savage Sinn Féin cumann in Kilkeel says he did the same in south Down. "Donaldson's job was at Stormont but for some reason he was never out of our area. He'd even visit a farm near Ballynahinch, shooting birds and rabbits with his legally held firearm.

"He stuck his nose into everything. He'd tap his finger on the table, tell us what to do, and there was no arguing. Anyone independent-minded, anyone who even asked questions, was marginalised.

"Donaldson and his clique drove 40 people out of the party in south Down. He ran a dictatorship and plenty of good people, including an ex-hungerstriker, were treated very shabbily. Those he sponsored and promoted are now highly suspect."

Former councillor and Newry Institute lecturer, Martin Cunningham, joined Sinn Féin 30 years ago. He'd helped build the party in loyalist Kilkeel.

Selected at a local convention as the South Down Assembly candidate, he was later deselected by the leadership. "I'd taken risks for Sinn Féin but I was replaced by Catriona Ruane who had just joined the party and didn't live in the North, let alone the constituency. Donaldson came down to enforce the decision.

Cunningham claims that Donaldson said, 'Take it from me, this is coming right from the top.' "I'd clashed with him over Orange marches. Kilkeel nationalists were tortured by parades every weekend night in summer. Donaldson opposed me organising protests, " said Cunningham.

Another south Down republican accused the leadership of indifference to security risks: "There was one boy we believed was a tout. He acted suspiciously and had that many mobiles we called him 'three phones'. "When we raised it with the leadership, we were asked what role we saw for him in the movement. 'Suicide bomber' we said. He's still involved."

On informer scandals, the Provisional leadership's record, even to its own members, isn't one of transparency. To save face, it provided cover for Freddie Scappaticci, outed three years ago.

Martin McGuinness said then: "Mr Scappaticci is the only person with the courage to go before the cameras and to issue a statement in his own name. These stories are coming from nameless and faceless securocrats in British intelligence. People have to judge who has the most credibility on all of this." Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly made similar statements.

It's widely accepted by IRA grassroots that 'Scap' was an informer. He has since fled the country. Sinn Féin had little to say when questioned by the Sunday Tribune about 'Scap' on Friday. "I don't know what our position on him is, " a spokesman said. "We don't discuss it. He is not a member of the party." Over the years, 'Scap' was regularly photographed beside Sinn Féin leaders.

A west Belfast republican says the outing of 'Scap' and Donaldson raises uncomfortable questions for grassroots: "Over the years, MI5 used Donaldson to strengthen the Adams-McGuinness leadership and to weaken its critics.

"The British could have used 'Scap' as a state witness against Adams or McGuinness, like MI5 and the FBI used Dave Rupert against Mickey McKevitt, but they didn't. We have to ask ask ourselves why the British didn't want to harm the leadership."

January 9, 2006

This article appears in the January 8, 2006 edition of the Sunday Tribune.