There was murky collusion aplenty between states and paramilitaries during the Irish Troubles.
Ministers from the Republic of Ireland plotted in 1970 to send arms to the IRA; the Irish state went to extraordinary lengths to stop the extradition of murderers to the UK; Irish gardai helped violent republicans; and members of the establishment provided safe houses for paramilitaries on the run.
There was naturally far more collusion in Northern Ireland, for it was there that paramilitaries were trying to overthrow the state and the security services were trying to stave off outright civil war. The Royal Ulster Constabulary’s Special Branch and the British Army’s Force Research Unit ran agents in all republican and loyalist paramilitary groups and saved many lives in the process. Along the way, terrible and morally questionable decisions were made: Freddie Scappaticci, a key figure in what was known as the IRA’s ‘nutting squad’, was left free to kill suspected informers because his information on IRA operations was crucial to the undermining of the organisation; loyalist paramilitaries who reported that Catholics were to be murdered were sometimes deflected towards IRA targets.
Both republican and loyalist retired paramilitaries seek to obscure the stark statistics that show how lightly they got off compared to state forces: republican paramilitaries killed 2,157, lost 397; loyalists killed 1,100, lost 171; the army killed 310, lost 503; local defence forces killed eight, lost 206; and the RUC killed 50, lost 303. The brilliant propagandists of Sinn Fein rewrite history by claiming that all loyalist killings were instigated and assisted by ‘the forces of the crown’. In this they are abetted by the gullible and the wishful thinkers of the international human rights industry, by Irish-America, by the British left, by nationalists ignoring the mote in their own eye and by some disaffected ex-agents seeking notoriety.