Police allegedly knew about Shankill bomb plan and could have prevented it
Terror commander was among up to 24 republicans identified as informers by Provo team using stolen Castlereagh documents, reports Suzanne Breen
The IRA has identified up to two-dozen informers in its ranks after studying hundreds of files stolen during the Castlereagh break-in. Most of those it believes were police agents are still living in republican areas.
The Provisionals tasked four of its members with decoding the heavily redacted documents snatched during the 2002 raid at police headquarters. Two of those appointed to the IRA investigation team were ex-prisoners from Belfast.
They worked at separate locations in the Republic and operated with stringent security measures in place to prevent the documents falling into the hands of the Garda.
Yesterday's Irish News reported that the Castlereagh files showed the IRA's north Belfast commander at the time of the Shankill bomb was an agent codenamed 'AA'.
It alleged that he passed information to his Special Branch handlers which potentially could have prevented the atrocity in which nine civilians were killed.
The Belfast Telegraph knows this man's identity. He is a taxi driver in his mid-50s from Ardoyne who was imprisoned in the H-Blocks. Until recently he socialised in Sinn Fein circles and canvassed for the party at elections.
A republican source said his unmasking was the tip of the iceberg. "The IRA has known the identity of many more informers in its ranks for a considerable while. It was a long, slow process of decoding documents and identifying people through a process of elimination and deduction," he said.
While the IRA knows the names of up to two-dozen members who worked for Special Branch, the paramilitary group has taken no physical action against them, and most have been allowed to continue living in republican areas in Northern Ireland.
Some grassroots members believe the leadership has adopted such a low-profile course in order to "save face" and avoid "the embarrassment of having to out so many touts".
However, an ex-prisoner from west Belfast last night called on the IRA leadership to be honest with its members. "This will be like the paedophile scandal in the Catholic Church. More and more dirt will keep coming out," he said.
"Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness need to come clean about the organisation they were running. It's disgraceful that IRA volunteers are being kept in the dark. They deserve the truth." While the IRA leadership has been aware that their former north Belfast commander was a Special Branch agent for many years, rumours only started circulating about him on the streets in more recent years.
When he got married, some republicans threatened to paint his name and codename on the walls. On another occasion, graffiti alleging that he was an informer did appear, but it was quickly removed.
An ex-prisoner who was in the H-Blocks with the man said: "We were in H1 together. I liked him very much and I'm not going to pretend otherwise now.
"His nickname in jail was 'Stalin' because he was hugely into Marxism and was always reading Marxist texts.
"He was a serious guy, but he could take a slagging.
"I lost touch with him after I was released from jail, although I saw him at two funerals and I once called in to see his family. He lived in Ardyone, but he was originally from another part of north Belfast."
The Irish News reported that the former IRA commander was stood down 14 years ago. But republican sources insisted to the Belfast Telegraph he had remained active in the republican movement. They said he had campaigned for Sinn Fein in elections, although the party sent him to Glengormley to canvass rather than Ardoyne. The sources said that he was integral to deciding who secured republican funerals locally.
He was photographed at a republican funeral in Ardoyne in 2013 at which mourners included leading republicans Sean 'Spike' Murray and Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane. He was mentioned positively in the Sinn Fein newspaper An Phoblacht that year.
The ex-IRA commander's family are strongly denying he was an informer.