Did double agent at highest level of the IRA pass on intelligence about Loughgall bombers to SAS?
Was there a link between split in Sinn Fein over abstentionism and the 1987 attack, asks Nelson McCausland.
Thirty years ago, a team of eight IRA men set off to destroy the RUC station in the village of Loughgall. They were experienced and well-armed and they carried their 200lb bomb in a stolen digger.
The attack took place in Co Armagh, but was carried out by the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional IRA, a unit that had been responsible for so many brutal killings. That is why the IRA gunmen are named on an IRA memorial in the Tyrone village of Cappagh.
However, members of the SAS were lying in wait for the IRA gunmen and there was an exchange of fire. The police station was destroyed and the eight IRA men were killed, along with an innocent civilian.
Last Sunday, republicans gathered at Cappagh to commemorate the IRA men who died at Loughgall. The crowds assembled, Sinn Fein politicians were there in force and there was a colour party of men in black paramilitary uniforms.
The northern leader of Sinn Fein, Michelle O’Neill, gave the main address, and declared: “We are proud of our freedom struggle. We are especially proud of our republican patriot dead, whose lives we celebrate here today.”
Now, I can understand relatives and friends wanting to remember those who died in Loughgall. That is human nature. However, there is a big difference between remembering and the sort of adulatory and celebratory demonstration that took place in Cappagh.
At the time of writing, Michelle O’Neill has still not been questioned by the media about what she said and that is a stark omission. So, here are some questions they might want to ask Michelle O’Neill.
If you are proud of the “freedom struggle”, are you proud of the fact that the IRA killed so many Roman Catholics? If you are proud of the actions of the East Tyrone Brigade, are you proud of the murder of eight workmen at Teebane crossroads? Are you proud of the bomb that killed eight soldiers travelling on a bus near Ballygawley?
In recent months, Sinn Fein have had a particular focus on the word “respect”, so where is the respect for the families of those who were killed at Teebane, or any of the other IRA atrocities? What many of us cannot understand is that not only is there a lack of respect, indeed a lack of human compassion, there is more than that.
Michelle O’Neill actually said they were all proud of what the IRA had done and there were no dissenting voices.
Finally, as regards Loughgall, there is also “context”, something that Michelle O’Neill studiously avoided in her speech. The leader of the IRA gang was Patrick Joseph Kelly, who was a member of the IRA army council and, in 1986, the year before the ambush, he had crossed the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
Kelly had attended the IRA army convention, where the main topic of discussion was the old republican principle of abstentionism.
Adams and others argued that they drop the rule and move into constitutional politics. Kelly voted against dropping the rule and a rift with the majority of the IRA army council ensued.
If the SAS were able to mount an ambush, they must have known about the planned attack well in advance. So, could there be a connection between the rift and the death of Patrick Kelly the following year?
The IRA was riddled with double-agents, right up to the highest levels, as illustrated by the case of Denis Donaldson.
Was it one of those double agents who passed on the information about Loughgall to the security forces? And, if so, why?
Could it have been a way of removing someone whom the Sinn Fein leadership might see as a threat? Loughgall certainly removed someone who might have become even more problematic, a thorn in the side of the Sinn Fein leaders and the anti-abstentionists.
So, who passed on the information about the planned attack? And for what reason did they pass it on?