Brutality of Loughgall gang obscured in row over Gerry Adams, says ex-RUC man
A former RUC Special Branch officer has branded claims that Gerry Adams "set up" an IRA gang for ambush by the SAS in Loughgall as a distraction from the scale of the group's murder campaign.
Dr William Matchett believes the Provisionals' "merciless" East Tyrone Brigade was responsible for at least 250 brutal killings.
Previously secret files which have been released by the National Archives in Dublin revealed ballistic tests on weapons recovered from the dead IRA men showed they had been used in 40-50 murders - including every republican killing in Fermanagh and Tyrone in 1987.
The former RUC officer said: "Padraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh were psychopaths and probably the most prolific serial killers from these shores - yet they are regarded as mythical figures by some."
The two were among eight terrorists shot dead by special forces members lying in wait after the gang smashed through the gates of an RUC Barracks while carrying a 200lb bomb in the bucket of a stolen digger.
Innocent civilian Anthony Hughes also died when he was shot in a car by the SAS.
Dr Matchett, author of Secret Victory: The Intelligence War That Beat The IRA, said the claim about Adams' involvement merely distracted from that "significant" revelation.
"McKearney and Lynagh got carried away with themselves and didn't need anyone to trip them up - it was always inevitable they would do that," he claimed.
"The Provisional movement has been tearing itself apart over this issue and I think Tyrone republicans will blame Gerry Adams for this, but the truth is the intelligence machinery was so sophisticated that they didn't need anyone from the top of the tree."
He said the demise of the notorious Provo unit proved a huge blow to an organisation that was "already on its knees", and that it forced Adams and Martin McGuinness to the negotiating table "screaming and shouting". Sinn Fein has described the 'set-up' claims as "utter nonsense", and yesterday the brother of Padraig McKearney said he did not believe Adams had anything to do with Loughgall as it was an operation planned in Tyrone.
Tommy McKearney rubbished claims that the planned attack was sabotaged by the Sinn Fein president over fears that his brother and Lynagh were plotting his execution.
"It's no secret that I have long-held political differences with Gerry, but I don't give these claims any credence whatsoever and I certainly don't point the finger at Mr Adams," he said. "Setting aside his denials that he was ever even in the IRA, I don't think he would have any hands-on knowledge of this particular operation."
The former IRA man, who was jailed for his involvement in the killing of a part-time UDR member in 1976, dismissed the claims as "misinformation" propagated for political purposes.
"This is only evidence of a classic dirty trick by the British intelligence services designed to exacerbate divisions within republicanism at that time," he said.
In November 1986 around 100 members walked out of Sinn Fein's ard fheis in Dublin after a majority voted to end the long-held policy of abstentionism from Dail Eireann in Dublin.
Mr McKearney believes the Loughgall rumour was spread to drive a wedge between competing factions within republicanism at that time.
"I'm not saying my brother didn't have differences with the movement, many did in 1987 due to a split the previous year, but to suggest that anyone was contemplating the execution of Gerry Adams is a bizarre piece of misinformation," he added.