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Six TV shows on him, two books and a Hollywood film... but still they won't admit Martin McGartland was a spy

By Liam Clarke

Published 18/02/2014

Jim Sturgess as Martin McGartland in the movie Fifty Dead Men Walking
Jim Sturgess as Martin McGartland in the movie Fifty Dead Men Walking
Martin McGartland

The Home Secretary has told a court that she dare not confirm or deny that Martin McGartland was a British agent in case providing such information would endanger his life or even damage national security.

Mr McGartland, one of the best-known undercover agents to operate during the Troubles, spoke of his frustration over Theresa May's stance, saying: "This is one of the daftest things I have ever heard; everyone who is interested knows my past."

Mr McGartland was a former RUC and MI5 agent within the IRA in the 1980s and 1990s.

"It is 23 years since I worked as a undercover agent," he said.

"No current security interest is at stake. Besides, I have written two books about it since then. One was made into a film (50 Dead Men Walking).

"I have featured in six TV documentaries and numerous newspaper articles. The IRA captured me once and nearly killed me in a gun attack.

"The authorities wrote to the BBC back in 1997 admitting that I had been resettled and was being protected because of my service to them. I wonder how well briefed the Home Secretary is?"

Ms May, whose department is responsible for MI5, signed the application in a court case brought by Mr McGartland and his partner Jo Asher. The pair now live under secret identities provided by MI5.

He even has a contract signed by the organisation in which representatives of two police forces – Northumbria and the PSNI – acknowledge his service in general terms. This agreement was signed after he was shot in England.

Mr McGartland is disabled and suffers mental trauma as a result of the attacks on him. Ms Asher cares for him full-time. She is also unable to prove her qualifications because they are held in a different name.

The couple are unable to claim many State benefits because he can't admit the cause of his trauma or his gunshot wounds for security reasons. For a time, MI5 made up the shortfall, but that facility was withdrawn after he gave an interview to the Belfast Telegraph.

And Mr McGartland has had psychological counselling withdrawn despite reports from a Government-nominated psychiatrist that he needed it, and was suffering personality changes.

"Refusing to confirm or deny my role is simply a trick to avoid the State's responsibilities toward someone who has risked his life for it," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

BACKGROUND

Martin McGartland is one of the best-known undercover agents or informers to have worked during the most recent Troubles. From a republican family, he never sympathised personally with the IRA and turned strongly against it when other young people he knew were kneecapped or beaten by the organisation. He was a Special Branch and MI5 agent in west Belfast from 1987-1991. In 1989 he joined the IRA at his handler's request. His cover was blown when he averted a gun attack on off-duty British soldiers in a Bangor pub and the IRA deduced that he was an MI5 mole.

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