UK state: Northern Ireland

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at
Mon May 12 08:06:13 MDT 2003

Much is being made in this article and elsewhere of the "devastating effect"
that these revelations are having on the republican movement. That may be
true -- others are better placed to evaluate the situation. However, I would
like to suggest that there is another agenda at work here, and it involves
the slow but steady decay of the UK security apparatus's legitimation,
ultimately undermining the rationale for the Union. How does this work?

There is strong evidence to suggest that various elements within the British
state apparatus have concluded that Northern Ireland is an expensive and
troublesome possession that need not detain them further. There are far
bigger fish to fry, not least Europe and the dilemma of how to negotiate a
successful extrication from US hegemony. Since the 1970s elements within MI6
have been promoting a peaceful settlement between the British state and the
republican movement, with varying degrees of success. The main obstacle to
this tendency has been the empire loyalist faction, whose figurehead was
Margaret Thatcher, and whose shock troops were MI5. That organisation's
history as the security apparatus for the colonies informed its approach to
Northern Ireland: since the other colonies were steadily leaving the empire
(at least formally), this one would remain, by any means necessary. Thus the
decision to put MI5 in charge of security operations was fatal, from the
point of view of those within the British state apparatus (Edward Heath
especially) who wanted to engineer some kind of peace arrangement. The
Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 was effectively sabotaged by the combined
weight of organised Unionism in league with key elements of the security
apparatus -- ironically the same apparatus that decried the labour militancy
of the period but were happy to use it to thwart Harold Wilson's government
as in the Ulster Workers' Council strike of 1974. This episode is the
subject of Robert Fisk's "The Point of No Return" (1975) and is summarised
by Paul Foot in "Who Framed Colin Wallace?" (1990).

What followed thereafter was a bloodbath in which the extremist faction of
the British state went on the rampage, much to the disgust of people like
the then-head of MI6, Maurice Oldfield. As the recently published work of
journalist Peter Taylor testifies, it was MI6 which kept communications with
republicans open, and which was the main communications conduit between Sinn
Fein and Thatcher throughout the period when officially she "did not talk to
terrorists" and sought to "deny them the oxygen of publicity" by instituting
the ridiculous broadcasting ban in which British television and radio could
not broadcast the voices of Sinn Fein politicians but actors could voice
over their pictures. Utterly farcical.

In line with the general disaffection with the ever more extreme and
irrational Thatcher and her cohort, the punk Thatcherites, the British state
apparatus came more and more under the control of "moderates", as evidenced
most spectacularly in the putsch of 1990 when Thatcher was replaced by John
Major. Major's tenure brought about the Downing Street Declaration of 1995,
in which he and then-Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds laid the
foundations for what subsequently became the Good Friday Agreement, the
basis for the current "peace process". A major part of these developments
has been the gradual uncovering of security apparatus activity during the
period of the Troubles, of which this latest development is among the most
stunning. While that may be responsible for disarray in certain republican
ranks (again, I defer to those more in the know), it is at least as damaging
to the credibility of the British state as the impartial arbiter of law and
order. The entire legitimacy of the Union is on the line here, when taken
into consideration with all the other developments that have occurred in the
past five years: the Bloody Sunday inquiry, the Patten report and
emasculation of the RUC, the Stevens inquiry and the Finucane issue, to name
the most obvious examples.

A question that must be asked is why is all of this being allowed to happen.
It was possible in the past for the most egregious acts of state terrorism
to be swept under the carpet in the name of national security, democracy,
the rule of law, or whatever. It seems that this is no longer the case. The
result is that irreversible changes are taking place, and these are working
to undermine the whole basis of British occupation such that Unionism, as a
political doctrine, is being progressively denied its primary justification:
the moral superiority of the Protestant United Kingdom. Without that, it is
reduced to the level that it tried for so long to portray republicanism as
occupying -- as manifested in the recent spate of internecine killings and
shootings between rival factions of loyalist paramilitaries. It becomes ever
harder for the likes of Trimble and Paisley to rail against the threat of
republican terror when the actuality of loyalist terror is plain for all to
see. And the exposure of Stakeknife shows just how well the British state
looks after its own -- the man, while well rewarded in the past, is now
condemned to a life of hiding and uncertainty. But why?

The continual revelation of secret state activity may be regarded as in the
interests of certain fractions within the British state. Since these
revelations are sufficiently damaging of the status quo ante's credibility,
we must assume that either

a) the jig is up and that the process of uncovering the dirty secrets of the
past 30 years has developed its own momentum to the point where it is now
unstoppable; or

b) key elements within the British state apparatus are deliberately doing
what they can, within the parameters set in part by themselves, to chip away
at the edifice of British occupation and thereby pave the way for eventual
reunification of Ireland within the context of a European Union itself
subject to greater (presumably dominant, as it must always be) participation
by British state and capital.

Given the recent history of Northern Ireland, option b seems much more
likely. A useful biproduct from the point of view of Blair, and even Major,
is that this process involves the continuous revision of the Thatcher and
pre-Thatcher eras, to the detriment of those responsible for security policy
during these times. Mediated via the party system, this translates into
useful point-scoring against the utterly discredited Conservatives by New
Labour. A suitably minded Conservative Party leader could also use it to put
some distance, finally, between the party as it is now and the lingering
presence of Thatcher. But this is merely the surface noise of a deeper
struggle within the realms of the British state for control over the reins
governing its strategic direction. Despite the very worrying involvement of
US President Bush, whose interests have more in common with Bob Jones
University graduate Ian Paisley than with the republican and nationalist
representatives party to the Good Friday Agreement, it is possible to
imagine a scenario in which there has been formulated at the very least a
tacit agreement between the hegemonic state fraction and the Sinn Fein
leadership, in which concessions from the IRA are to be extracted in return
for the continuing disintegration of the British occupation's superstructure
(assuming that the base has already evaporated, as argued above), which acts
to undercut Unionist demands for further concessions amounting to abject
surrender by the republicans in addition to rendering Unionist arguments
concerning the essential desirability of the Union irrelevant, again for
reasons adumbrated above. If the political and economic base for Unionism is
shrinking relative to that supporting reunification (as opposed to
republicanism, which should be treated as a distinct fraction within the
reunification movement), then, from the British point of view, this is a
clever exit strategy conducted with the full connivance of the political
party most likely to ascend to hegemonic status within the North, and
possibly elsewhere in the remaining 26 counties -- especially if "moderates"
within Sinn Fein, post-reunification, tie up with Fianna Fail. The recent
revision of Europe policy by Sinn Fein, alluded to some time ago by
Domhnall, might contain the seeds of such an outcome, although it should be
remembered that such a rethink is also necessary for the development of a
pan-European workers' movement opposed to US imperialism and the imposition
of a neoliberal agenda by European and US capital. Such are the
contradictions and potentialities of the present.

Michael Keaney


Named: British double agent who murdered for the IRA

Exclusive: Top Provo executioner was paid £80,000 by British government
By Neil Mackay, Investigations Editor
The Sunday Herald, 11 May 2003

THE British army's most deadly double agent, who operated at the very heart
of the IRA, has been identified as Alfredo 'Freddy' Scappaticci, known to
spy-masters by the codename 'Stakeknife'.

As the British government's most powerful weapon in its 30-year 'dirty war'
against the IRA and Sinn Fein, Scappaticci is suspected of being allowed by
the army's Force Research Unit (FRU) to take part in up to 40 murders. He is
said to have been involved in the killings of loyalists, policemen,
soldiers, and civilians to protect his cover so he could keep passing
top-grade intelligence to the British. He also kidnapped, interrogated,
tortured and killed other IRA men suspected of being British informers.

He is also said to have provided his military handlers with the information
which led to the 'Death on the Rock' killings of three IRA volunteers in
Gibraltar in 1988 by the SAS. At the time, the IRA were convinced that their
active- service unit had been betrayed by an informer. However, their
mole-hunt drew a blank.

Files based on intelligence from Scappaticci were forwarded to prime
ministers Thatcher, Major and Blair. During a 25-year career infiltrating
the IRA, Scappaticci rose to become head of their Internal Security Unit
(the so-called Nutting Squad) and a member of the IRA's General Headquarters
Staff. He also became close to some of the most powerful members of the
republican movement, including Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and former
IRA chief-of-staff Brian Keenan.

The IRA fear the outing of Stakeknife could deal an almost-fatal blow to the
organisation. A senior Republican source said last night: 'This is the most
dreadful news I've ever heard. I don't know how we can recover from this.
How can we have any confidence left in ourselves when a man like Scappaticci
turned out to be Stakeknife?'

Scappaticci was paid an estimated £80,000 a year by British intelligence.
The British army knew his cover would be blown this weekend following a
story the Sunday Herald carried last week revealing that rogue British
agents planned to expose his identity.

MI5 spirited Scappaticci out of Ulster, moving him to a safehouse in the
Irish Republic. He is now believed to be at a military establishment in
southern England.

The events follow a week of turmoil and chaos within British military
intelligence, the UK government and the ranks of the IRA.

The exposure of Scappaticci as Stakeknife comes just weeks after Scotland
Yard Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, released his report on alleged
collusion between British security forces and terrorists in Northern

As a result of Stevens's work nine members of the FRU, including Brigadier
Gordon Kerr, the Aberdonian army officer who led the unit, could now face
prosecution. An unquantifiable number of civilians may have been killed
because of state collusion with para militaries, including Belfast solicitor
Pat Finucane.

The dramatic events have now led to the British government taking tentative
steps toward setting up a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation
Commission -- an idea backed by many families of the Troubles, but opposed
by many unionists.

Last night, the Northern Ireland Office told the Sunday Herald that the
government now wanted to 'address the suffering of victims of violence as a
necessary element of reconciliation. The [British and Irish] governments
will seek to establish what practical steps can be taken to recognise and
address the suffering of all victims. We expect this initiative to include
discussions of issues like truth and reconciliation.'

A senior British intelligence officer said Scappaticci's exposure meant 'the
dirty war in Ulster is over. With Stakeknife gone, there are no more nasty
secrets to come out.'

The Republican movement is devastated by the revelations that Scappaticci,
one of the IRA's most feared and admired operators, was the biggest and most
damaging double agent ever to work within the Provos.

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