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Sunday 25 December 2005

It's that time of year again – tout-naming, agent-identifying, informer-spotting time

IT'S agent-identifying, informer-spotting, mole-tipping, spy-speculating, tout-naming time - since I think you're unlikely to be excited by the revelation that I believe there was a republican spy ring at Stormont, that Denis Donaldson had by then become an unreliable agent who was picky about what he told his handlers, that the police were tipped off by a different informer, that the documents found in Donaldson's house were so sensitive that the British government had to spend £35m relocating frightened people, that the Stormontgate case was dropped to protect a valued agent, that Donaldson is saying what the republican leadership has instructed him to say, that the republican rank-and-file are reeling and paranoid and that their leadership is responding by doing what it does best: following Goebbels's advice - that if you tell a lie that is big enough and repeat it often enough, the whole world will believe it.

So let's get down and dirty and talk of what everyone who cares is discussing this week: is there really an even better-placed spy than Donaldson and, if so, who is it?

This week, I've been told by a variety of sources including journalists, ex-terrorists and an ex-cop that the person in question is variously Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Gerry Kelly, Martin Meehan and Siobhan O'Hanlon (sister of our Eilis).

Now I despise Adams as much as the next man, but I discount him absolutely for two reasons. The guy is smart, but I don't think there's anyone alive who could have pulled off being top Provo, head negotiator and public face of the republican movement internationally as well as being a spy.

Besides, when you think what he's achieved by way of destabilising and dividing Northern Ireland and threatening the south, his British controllers would have to be as malign as they were brilliant.

Both those excluding reasons apply to a slightly lesser extent to Martin McGuinness, but I can't see what would be in it for him. Unlike Gerry, he has no taste for the high life and still lives frugally in his council house.

I suppose it's conceivable that he might be a principled man in the mode of Sean O'Callaghan, who became disgusted with the IRA and worked unpaid for the gardai, but that hardly fits with his enthusiasm for such IRA activity as using innocent people as proxy-bombs.

Danny Morrison is too indiscreet to be a spy: not only was he pushed out of the inner councils of the Provos for having a big mouth, but he recently incurred their wrath for embarrassing them by attacking Ted Kennedy viciously when he snubbed Adams. Spies have more sense than to annoy those they seek to deceive.

Now to Tom Hartley, Belfast City Councillor for the Lower Falls, republican archivist and antiquarian and one of Adams's best friends. The last time I saw Tom was at Belfast City Hall as the general election count was going on. Having smiled at him and shaken his hand, he responded with his customary grumpiness and aggression.

I've forgotten what accusation he levelled against me for my criticisms of the Provos, but - suffering as I was from sleep deprivation after watching results until 5am - I fear I responded in kind and used the 'F' word to describe the republican movement.

If there's one epithet that drive all republicans mad it's "fascist" and it duly drove Tom mad, so I made my excuses and left. I rule Tom out simply because a fellow who can't keep his temper would make a terrible agent.

Now we come to an interesting trio of ex-convict possibles. Gerry Kelly, presently Sinn Fein spokesman on Justice, was an Old Bailey bomber who was one of the very few men transferred from a British to an Irish prison.

He was young, he had years of jail ahead of him and - like all other IRA people - would have been frantic to serve his sentence at home with his own kind.

So there might have been an opportunity to do a deal with him. And, of course, once you help the security services they can blackmail you to go on helping.

I'd quite like it to be Martin Meehan, who is a repellent piece of work who used to organise the Provos's street-theatre of hate. I once had the misfortune to be present at a performance which involved Constables Baton, Shoot to Kill and Collusion strutting in Orange sashes and bowlers while Constable Ever So Nice tried to thrust an Orange collarette over the head of a resisting small patriot boy.

I have a feeling that Siobhan O'Hanlon, Gerry Adams's personal assistant, is being discussed mainly because these days we always have to be inclusive about women and everyone is obsessed with Mata Hari.

All this will run and run. Happy Christmas.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards