TV review: Peter Taylor’s Our Dirty War is a reminder of the depravity of the Troubles

Our Dirty War: The British State and the IRA - BBC 1, Tuesday and iPlayer

Our Dirty War will be broadcast on BBC NI this evening and on BBC iPlayer
Our Dirty War is available on the BBC iPlayer

The families of informers or those labelled informers must have suffered atrociously during the Troubles and in the couple of decades since it fizzled out.

Of course, our greatest sympathy is with the innocent civilians whose lives were needlessly taken, or destroyed, in our bitter sectarian war.

You may take the view that members of a paramilitary organisation who were killed by their own or sacrificed by the security services knew what they were getting themselves into.

But this doesn’t lessen the suffering of their parents, wives, children and other family members.

The hatred of those deemed traitors is common to conflicts around the world, but ultimately the families of all victims, regardless of the part they played, suffered.

The paramilitary dead of the Troubles are remembered in ‘rolls of honour’, stone memorials, commemorations and events.

The families of deceased IRA members have the full backing of the republican movement and are highly respected in those communities.

Kenova package
Freddie Scappaticci pictured after he was outed by the media in 2003

The same applies to fallen RUC officers and members of the British army.

The families of informers or suspected informers have little community support, no political support and were forgotten by the state.

Particularly in republican areas, a state agent in the family was a mark of shame, even if they had already paid the ultimate price.

A small number of families have managed to get the IRA to publicly admit that a member was not an informer and apologise for the murder, but most have been left to keep their heads down for decades.

Operation Kenova into the activities of the IRA’s spy catcher Freddie Scappaticci gave these families some hope of finding out the truth when it was launched in 2016.

Johnny Dignam, abducted and murdered by the IRA along with two other men in 1992. BBC
Johnny Dignam was abducted and murdered by the IRA along with two other men in 1992 (BBC)

Scappaticci was a psychopathic killer who, it seems, enjoyed torturing his captives before the pre-determined end.

But he was also a British army agent who, it is believed, was responsible for killing other state agents, possibly with the knowledge of his handlers.

IRA members who were not informers, or ‘touts’, were also killed to protect Scappaticci or others.

Undoubtedly, it was the ‘dirty war’, as labelled by now veteran journalist Peter Taylor.

In advance of Friday’s release of the interim Kenova report, Taylor has been back in Northern Ireland to speak again to these families.

The interview with Claire Dignam is at times difficult to watch and you wonder if Taylor should have called a halt.

Claire Dignam, husband John was killed by the IRA in 1992 picture from Peter Taylors Our Dirty War. PICTURE: BBC
Claire Dignam whose husband Johnny was killed by the IRA in 1992 speaks to Peter Taylor (BBC)

She remains so traumatised more than 30 years after the killing of her husband Johnny by the IRA’s so-called ‘nutting squad’ that she doesn’t keep a picture of him in her house.

When she arrived at the studio for her interview, she recoiled at a huge image of him on the screen and jumped up and ran in terror when she heard the first words of his voice in an IRA recorded ‘confession’ shortly before his murder.

Remarkably, Claire says she has forgiven the IRA killers of her husband.

“I have to forgive to live,” she says, tears streaming and her face a ball of pain.

She questions whether Johnny was passing information to the British but if he was, rather than help her after his death, the British army tried to recruit her as informer in a cynical assumption that she’d want to get back at republicans.

Taylor later pointed out to the viewer that to prevent their own voices being heard on the tape, the IRA interrogators banged a pan on the table to instruct the condemned man to begin his confession.

It’s a horrific, chilling noise which takes you to the kernel of the disgusting depravity of the Troubles.