IRA chief 'protected after being exposed as informer'
The second most senior IRA man in south Armagh is being protected amid claims that he worked as an agent for British intelligence, according to usually reliable security sources.
The man, who has the official title of officer commanding South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional IRA, is also a member of the Northern Command, which effectively ran the organisation from the early 1980s.
He is a close associate of the Provos' border boss Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, Gerry Adams and other figures in Sinn Fein.
He is said to have given the order for the brutal beating - which turned into the murder - of Paul Quinn, the innocent 21-year-old who happened to have been involved in a violent row with another local Provo who had assaulted a young woman in October 2007.
Now it has been learned that the south Armagh 'OC' was outed as a tout earlier this year and that shortly afterwards an IRA bodyguard team was sent from Belfast to ensure that no attack was made on the man in order to save embarrassment for the organisation.
It is not clear how he came to be exposed as an agent, but he is believed to have been recruited by British intelligence in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
He had charge of the IRA's border sniper team, which killed seven soldiers and two police officers in the 1990s.
The team was eventually rounded up and arrested in an operation by the SAS near Crossmaglen in April 1997.
Sources say that shortly before they were captured the team was given orders by the man not to carry any weapons when they were directed to a farm to collect their sniper rifle for an operation.
When they arrived, they were surrounded by 16 SAS men, who ordered them to surrender. It was one of the few times the SAS didn't shoot members of an IRA active service unit on armed operations.
A sniper rifle and other weapons were recovered.
The team, which included Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghin O Caolain's brother-in-law - Bernard McGinn from Castleblayney, Co Monaghan - were sentenced to lengthy jail terms, but released in 2000 under the Good Friday Agreement.
McGinn, who laughed when he received his life sentence, died in December 2013 from a suspected heart attack in Monaghan town, aged 56.
By the time of the final IRA ceasefire in August 1997 the south Armagh IRA leadership was already heavily involved in fuel and cigarette smuggling.
It is believed that the British struck a deal whereby the IRA leaders could continue to benefit from the illicit trade so long as no further attacks on security forces or bomb attacks on commercial targets took place.
From that point on the south Armagh OC and his associates became millionaires while continuing to donate a reputed 25% of their earnings to the IRA. The man is said to have bought another substantial portion of farmland in Armagh.