How touts played ducks and drakes with the lives of others
It is one of the great regrets of my journalistic life that nobody ever asked me to be an informer, reporting on The Vital Things I Knew to my handler (as we say in the business).
For the absence of any such approaches simply means that no one thought I was knowledgeable enough, or useful enough or reliable enough to be employed in the hush-hush world of espionage.
Not that I would have been tempted to accept: I am far too visible and indiscreet to be of much value in that line of work. But like the lesbian at the heterosexual orgy, I would just have liked to have been asked, that's all.
Anyway, we now know that probably half the paramilitary leaders of the North were informers, working for British Army intelligence, Special Branch, 14th Int and MI5.
It was always said by republicans in west Belfast that no one should ever report even a child- abuser to the RUC, because Special Branch would simply use the man (always a man in those innocent days) as an informer.
I dismissed such a dim view of the police as warped, cynical and depraved. In fact, it was entirely justified. That's just what Special Branch did.
Moreover, we all know that at least one senior member of the IRA was an habitual child-rapist, whose crimes were concealed by both the IRA and the RUC Special Branch. And with the two sides coming together to protect a child-rapist, suddenly we're in murky, vile and evil waters indeed.
Moreover, I am of the firm belief that British Intelligence/ RUC Special Branch turned a large number of ‘republicans’ because of their paedophilia. You don't risk your life because you're being blackmailed over a homosexual dalliance, or even because you've been playing away with the missus of the local OC: but you probably will if accused of child-rape.
Many UVF/UDA leaders were informers anyway: unprincipled, illiterate, violent thugs, few had any sense of loyalty to anything except to their own immediate gang.
Most were too thick to give their handlers the bigger picture, but they could supply fragments, which better minds than theirs — and that was barely the greatest cerebral breakthrough since the discovery of astrophysical calculi — could shape into a picture.
So it seems that a great deal of IRA and loyalist paramilitary activity was being run by the British, to the point that British agents within the IRA were being tried by British agents within the IRA for being British agents within the IRA and were then being executed by British agents within the IRA for the crime of being . . . you get the picture.
Indeed, there was one legendary occasion when an IRA informer was being interrogated by two IRA intelligence agents, while the executioner waited to do his job; and every single person present was employed by separate British intelligence agencies, with each assuming he was the only agent there. Delightful.
So, with such large numbers of paramilitary leaders working for the British, why weren't the Troubles ended earlier? If Stakeknife, the awesome Scappaticci (truly, the ultimate enforcer) was working for the British from 1978, as he was, how was it possible that the final ceasefire only came in 1996?
That was rather like the head |of British intelligence, Ormonde Winter, getting an agent into |the heart of the IRA in 1920, and the IRA calling a ceasefire just |in time for the Munich Agreement in 1938.
So the question remains: how could the IRA have had as many informers as an old abandoned house has rats, yet neither the combined efforts of the British nor the Irish governments were able to bring about a ceasefire for decades?
What was going on? Were some clever buggers inside the security apparatus having a jolly good time, arranging fun-filled little SAS ambushes, and deploying UVF killers against Sinn Feiners, for their own perverted pleasure?
Now I don't expect a terrorist war to be ended by two cricket-teams drawing stumps and having tea. Almost all guerrilla-insurgencies are ended by criminal means, when the State finally bares its teeth and declares: you think you're bad? Just try us for size.
It's not pretty, but it's what happens; in 1923 in Ireland and 1978 in Argentina, and 1946-47 in the Ukraine. This is what states do. The Normans gave us the basic |notion of state, and when pressed, states tend to come over all Norman, once more.
But to turn an insurgency into a real-life reality-game: that, now, is something new. Some years ago, I was at a dinner in the North, and the man sitting beside me was MI5. He'd read my own critical opinions on the North, and very pleasantly said to me: “You really haven't grasped what this peace process is about, have you?”
Well, I think I know now.
It was as much about bringing elements of the security forces onside as it was to bring the terrorist organisations to an agreement.
And if my suspicions are correct, then some very wicked individuals indeed were playing ducks and drakes with the lives, the peace and the sanity of the people of Ireland, and of the lives of police and soldiers, almost for entertainment value.
Which is about as evil as it gets.