Belfast Telegraph

Six TV shows on him, two books and a Hollywood film... but still they won't admit Martin McGartland was a spy

By Liam Clarke

The Home Secretary has told a court that she dare not confirm or deny that Martin McGartland was a British agent in case providing such information would endanger his life or even damage national security.

Mr McGartland, one of the best-known undercover agents to operate during the Troubles, spoke of his frustration over Theresa May's stance, saying: "This is one of the daftest things I have ever heard; everyone who is interested knows my past."

Mr McGartland was a former RUC and MI5 agent within the IRA in the 1980s and 1990s.

"It is 23 years since I worked as a undercover agent," he said.

"No current security interest is at stake. Besides, I have written two books about it since then. One was made into a film (50 Dead Men Walking).

"I have featured in six TV documentaries and numerous newspaper articles. The IRA captured me once and nearly killed me in a gun attack.

"The authorities wrote to the BBC back in 1997 admitting that I had been resettled and was being protected because of my service to them. I wonder how well briefed the Home Secretary is?"

Ms May, whose department is responsible for MI5, signed the application in a court case brought by Mr McGartland and his partner Jo Asher. The pair now live under secret identities provided by MI5.

He even has a contract signed by the organisation in which representatives of two police forces – Northumbria and the PSNI – acknowledge his service in general terms. This agreement was signed after he was shot in England.

Mr McGartland is disabled and suffers mental trauma as a result of the attacks on him. Ms Asher cares for him full-time. She is also unable to prove her qualifications because they are held in a different name.

The couple are unable to claim many State benefits because he can't admit the cause of his trauma or his gunshot wounds for security reasons. For a time, MI5 made up the shortfall, but that facility was withdrawn after he gave an interview to the Belfast Telegraph.

And Mr McGartland has had psychological counselling withdrawn despite reports from a Government-nominated psychiatrist that he needed it, and was suffering personality changes.

"Refusing to confirm or deny my role is simply a trick to avoid the State's responsibilities toward someone who has risked his life for it," he told the Belfast Telegraph.


Martin McGartland is one of the best-known undercover agents or informers to have worked during the most recent Troubles. From a republican family, he never sympathised personally with the IRA and turned strongly against it when other young people he knew were kneecapped or beaten by the organisation. He was a Special Branch and MI5 agent in west Belfast from 1987-1991. In 1989 he joined the IRA at his handler's request. His cover was blown when he averted a gun attack on off-duty British soldiers in a Bangor pub and the IRA deduced that he was an MI5 mole.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph