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Why Mike Logan's death demonstrates Sinn Fein has the luck of the Irish

But the security services will also breathe a sigh of relief the US gunrunner took his secrets to the grave, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 04/11/2016

IRA gunrunner Mike Logan
IRA gunrunner Mike Logan
Sean 'Spike' Murray

There's a long tradition that the living should not speak ill of the dead. It's rather a sanctimonious custom, because there are many evil and despicable people whose ends are not worth mourning in the slightest. Mohammad Emwazi, aka the original 'Jihadi John', springs to mind. The world was hardly a poorer place without him.

But in responding to news of the lonely death of former supergrass Raymond Gilmour with a crass declaration that "this has made my day", former bomber turned Sinn Fein politician Jim McVeigh did cross a line. So much for leaving the past behind and moving on. Obviously, it's only unrepentant killers who must be forgiven in the name of the blessed peace process.

Given that warning, republicans will surely have the sense to keep it to themselves this time as they toast the death - in his sleep of an apparent heart attack - of Mike Logan, US millionaire stockbroker and IRA gunrunner.

Logan had agreed to testify against Sean 'Spike' Murray, the head of IRA's northern command, who is now one of Sinn Fein's senior officials, and told BBC's Spotlight in 2014 all about how the operation worked and who was involved, claiming Murray was the lynchpin.

The chances of that trial now going ahead have diminished considerably, though Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice has called on the PSNI to "redouble their efforts to bring all involved to justice".

If it is now quietly shelved Murray will breathe a sigh of relief - though he denies all involvement in wrongdoing (senior republicans seem to have adopted reggae star Shaggy's It Wasn't Me as their theme tune).

Sinn Fein will certainly be relieved. It's already working overtime to clean up after Gerry's numerous gaffes. The last thing it needs is another scandal.

So, too, will many in the British Government and security services, who don't want any light shone on a period when republicans were being allowed to import guns even after the Belfast Agreement was signed and the IRA was meant to be pursuing a wholly democratic path. Remember that convenient fiction, with which all criticism of the peace process was kept at bay?

The British knew exactly what the Provos were at. They just opted to turn a blind eye, and would rather that the same blind eye is turned now to their own misdeeds.

If Logan's death means a lid is kept on that murky business, then the conspiracy theorists will be having a field day.

The timing is favourable, and the amateur gunrunner was only 57. Such sparks are all it needs to keep the paranoid wackadoodles busy for years to come.

Either way, his death brings to an end another sordid chapter of the Troubles, which, as Logan's story shows, did not merely affect the lives of those touched directly by violence, but also attracted plenty of others who had no reason to become involved, except by choice.

The chaos drew in political activists, who saw in the daily litany of atrocities some noble struggle against oppression, and academics and writers in need of a subject. It also acted as a magnet for hotheads and adventurers in search of excitement.

They didn't need to understand what was going on. They just wanted a piece of the action. Mike Logan fitted that stereotype to a tee.

"I liked living on the edge," was how this third-generation Irish-American himself put it. He made the Troubles sound like a form of extreme sports, akin to bungee-jumping. The adrenaline was all.

His story is reminiscent of an episode of Give My Head Peace where 'Da' is sent to meet a delegation of Irish-Americans to persuade them to continue funding the "cause". Before handing over the cash, they want to ask some questions, the first of which is: "Do the Mountains of Mourne still sweep down to the sea?"

That perfectly encapsulated the romantic vision of Northern Ireland, divorced from the ugly reality of conflict, to which gullible Irish-Americans were prey.

It might even be forgivable had Logan become involved with the IRA during the 1981 hunger strikes, when he first visited Belfast, and plenty of otherwise level-headed people were losing the run of themselves.

In fact, he didn't start sending arms to Ireland until 1995, by which time even the least level-headed IRA sympathisers were starting to realise that the game was up.

Logan was in his 30s by this point. He was well past the "old enough to know better" stage of life, but he continued to do it for another five years.

Some of those weapons are known to have been used, including in the murders of Constables John Graham and David Johnston in Lurgan in 1997; but even that was not sufficient to give the Florida-based millionaire second thoughts.

It was only when the operation was compromised and he was exposed that he agreed to turn against his comrades in return for immunity from prosecution.

This is hardly how the romantic stories of resistance were supposed to end.

Mike Logan may not have been an admirable man - even in that Spotlight documentary he clearly didn't like to be faced with the bloody consequences of his own actions - but we do need such people. We just have to hold our noses and get on with it.

His death, though, is a reminder of how difficult the process of dealing with so-called legacy issues and past prosecutions has become. The participants are dying off. Memories are fading.

Some might say that this is just how those in power want it to remain. That's one conspiracy theory which is hard to refute. Why is it taking so long?

Allister might be speaking more in hope than expectation when he calls for the prosecution of 'Spike' Murray to be speeded up; but he's definitely right that there's something suspicious about the "slow rate of progress" in many cases.

Mike Logan had immunity from prosecution from the US authorities since 2002. There was no reason for authorities in Northern Ireland not to offer him the same deal shortly afterwards.

Instead, the saga dragged on. And on. It's now two years since he told Spotlight the whole story and, sadly, he won't be telling it to anyone anymore.

Mike Logan may have died of natural causes, but it demonstrates again that Sinn Fein - and those who bend over backwards to mollify them - really do have the luck of the Irish.

Belfast Telegraph

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