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Former intelligence agent Kevin Fulton, who was born in Newry but now lives "somewhere in the UK", is in hiding from the IRA and suing the British Government for a severance package. Here, the man whose been described variously as a nuisance, a reliable i

"My loyalty is to me," he says. "Someone from my own side took the decision to have me executed. They failed to do it. I was set up to be murdered but I got a tip-off".

"My loyalty is to me," he says. "Someone from my own side took the decision to have me executed. They failed to do it. I was set up to be murdered but I got a tip-off".

Fulton was interrogated twice by a senior member of the IRA's 'nutting squad', the organisation's internal security unit - a man later alleged also to be working for the intelligence services - after an IRA mission to kill a senior RUC detective was thwarted and the Provo gang arrested.

Fulton had obtained a mobile phone for one of the gang and also supplied a vehicle. He came under suspicion within the Provos when police foiled the murder bid on Chief Inspector Derek Martindale in Belfast in February 1994.

He was summoned to a third interrogation, but refused - a move which he is convinced saved his life. "If I had gone I wouldn't have come back", he says.

Fulton is engaged in a lengthy legal battle with his former employers over a "severance package". He says he was promised money, relocation and a new identity if his role as a spy within the Provos was ever compromised. The intelligence services have reneged on that promise, he claims. Given his claims, he therefore must be bitter?

"No, I am not bitter," he says. "I am just determined to take them to task in the courts. It was a dirty war. I have survived up to now. A lot of people didn't survive.

"I am just waiting to go to court, but the Northern Ireland Office keeps stalling. I have a very good legal team in Northern Ireland, well capable to fighting this battle and I think they are doing an excellent job.

"I am simply suing for the package I was promised. If I had stayed with my regiment (he joined the Royal Irish Rangers as a teenager) I would have a full pension now."

He claims former NI Secretary of State, now Home Secretary, John Reid, approved his deal but it was blocked by someone in the NIO.

And he believes the fall-out from the Omagh bombing, in which 29 people and two unborn babies died on August 15, 1998, made him enemies within the intelligence services.

After the bombing, he revealed that he had tipped off RUC contacts about people believed to have been involved and also told his handler three days before the atrocity that terrorists were about to move "something north over the next few days".

Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, in her highly critical report into the RUC's handling of the Omagh bombing investiga tion, labelled Fulton as a "reliable" informant, although senior RUC officers branded him "an intelligence nuisance" and "a Walter Mitty type".

Mrs O'Loan said it was unlikelythat Fulton's information alone could have prevented the Omagh bombing.

Although his role within the Provos was compromised after the Martindale operation, Fulton retained credibility in republican ranks among former terrorist contacts who had switched to the Real IRA.

He explains: "Half the people in the Provos have question marks over them. Everyone is suspected at some time of being a tout, even good republicans.

"People I had worked with had moved from the Provos to the Real IRA. They knew me and they knew my track record. No one had been able to prove anything against me. I was working with a man I had worked with for 15 years. He chose to believe in me".

So does he believe there are still highly placed agents within the IRA who have never been uncovered?

"Nothing would surprise me. The top men in the IRA internal security squad used to have a saying 'No one is beyond reproach, not even Martin McGuinness'. That is the way they thought."

He denies that he was responsible for outing the man who interrogated him. "I would never (publicly) reveal the identity of any agent," he insists. "It would only be done in a court of law. I wouldn't do things like that."

But he has lodged information, including tapes of conversations with handlers, with different people "in case anything untoward ever happens to me". He admits he feels under threat from the Provos and the Real IRA and even those he worked for.

"Some of those people (in the intelligence services) have as much to gripe about as the RIRA, because I am doing my thing through the courts," he claims.

He denies that his court action is a form of blackmail. "I am simply going after what I am entitled to. Some other agents have got two or three packages. I was promised one. It was a contract and I am going after what I am due. I am no different to anyone else who was promised a 'redundancy package or pension'. I will use any lawful or legal means to get it."

Fulton, who was born in Newry, has written a book about his undercover war. He outlines how he was recruited by military intelligence as a young soldier in the Royal Irish Rangers and asked to infiltrate the IRA in the Newry/Dundalk area.

In Unsung Hero, he defends his active role in the Provos. He argues that he was assured that while his role may have cost lives - even those of soldiers, police informants and RUC members - it saved more lives than it cost.

Both in the book and during this interview he declines to go into detail about his exact role in deadly IRA operations "for legal reasons".

It is alleged that he was personally involved in what was supposed to be a punishment shooting of Newry republican Eoin Morley. Morley died in the shooting. It is claimed that Fulton was one of two gunmen at the scene. The case has now been re-opened by police and Fulton will say nothing more about it.

But he is adamant that his role as a double agent did save lives. He points to one IRA plan to mortar bomb Newry courthouse. The plot was to lob the mortars over security blast walls onto construction workers inside. "If the bombs had gone in the walls would have contained the blast and it would have been like ball bearings exploding inside a biscuit tin", he says.

Just before the attack was launched the intelligence services, acting on Fulton's tip-off, installed a height restriction barrier on the entrance to the firing point, a nearby car park. This meant the terrorists' van containing the mortars couldn't enter the car park and the mission was aborted.

"Yes I did save dozens of lives by frustrating IRA operations", he says. "I did my job. I cannot say whether it was good or not. There were times when things went to plan and lives were saved; there were other times when things didn't go to plan. That's war".

He says he is still in contact with some of his former handlers. "We are good friends. They are military people. A lot of them think I was treated badly. I was not a terrorist, but a soldier recruited from my regiment. I wasn't a terrorist who had been compromised or blackmailed or turned.

"To my mind there is no difference between what I did and what Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents did during World War II. (The SOE were undercover agents parachuted into Europe to work behind enemy lines). I have spoken to SOE agents and they agree."

His book makes it clear that the war in Northern Ireland was indeed a dirty war with little morality. Lives could be sacrificed for expediency's sake - protecting agents for example - and there were few rules. Fulton says he was allowed to take part in deadly Provo operations and planning - he helped devise an infra-red system for remotely firing bombs - to build up his credibility within the organisation.

So how does he now view his role? "There is no such thing as a clean war," he says. "War is always dirty. What people saw in Belfast, South Armagh or Newry, soldiers patrolling the streets and roads, was only the overt part of the war. There was a covert war going on that they knew nothing about. The real war was going on behind the scenes and it was hurting everyone.

"There are no winners in war, only victims. That should be a lesson for everyone. But when you are in there and doing things, you don't see that."

So would he do it all again? "Yes, I would do it again but there are some things I would change. I would do it again to fight terrorism."

Fulton now lives "within the UK" but accepts that he can never come back to Northern Ireland or see his family. "I would be very foolish to do that," he continues. "The Irish people are the best people in the world, but they are very unforgiving."

Unsung Hero by Kevin Fulton , John Blake Publishing, £17.99