Shankill allegations call into question all we once knew about a bloody time

The scene of carnage following the IRA bombing of the Shankill Road in 1993.
The scene of carnage following the IRA bombing of the Shankill Road in 1993. The scene of carnage following the IRA bombing of the Shankill Road in 1993.

FOR those old enough to remember those bloody and at times savage days of the early 1990s, when the north's conflict spiralled downwards into a series of tit for tat sectarian killings there are numerous tragic events ingrained in the memory.

But even among the almost daily carnage, the Shankill bomb stands out as an event that shocked a population seemingly desensitised from years of conflict. Most people can tell you where they were when they heard the news, my terraced house on the other side of the peacewall in the Clonard area of west Belfast shook violently from the force of the blast.

Retaliation for the IRA bombing was swift and brutal and it was just a week later when news reports showing broken bodies being pulled from the rubble on the Shankill Road were replaced with the scenes of bloody carnage at Greysteel.

Much has been written about that period and the aftermath and with the north on the brink of all out civil war there was a push towards a political settlement. Both sides were as a result forced back to the negotiating table with a war weary public ready to embrace a deal that may have otherwise been unthinkable.

Victims were forced to accept the early release of all paramilitary prisoners, republicans a settlement that fell far short of the once demanded United Ireland. Unionists agreed to share power and sit in government with former IRA members.

But what if all that we once thought we knew about that time and the events that followed was wrong?

What if the dark hand of British intelligence was playing both sides of the chess board at one time and the innocents standing in Frizzell's fish shop on the Shankill Road on October 23, 1993 were considered collateral damage?

The Irish News has seen evidence that shows the man who was the Ardoyne 'commander' of the IRA from 1991 until 2001 was in fact a top level informant.

Also, that prior information was passed to his handlers about the plan to kill UDA leader Jonny Adair in his office situated above Frizzell's shop. How previous plans to kill the high profile loyalist were abandoned as unworkable before the idea of walking a bomb into the building was floated by the compromised IRA leader.

That Adair, who met with UDA members every Saturday at the office, wasn't there on the day of the attack. Was he warned while innocents were allowed to perish?

All this has been known to republicans since the break- in at Special Branch offices at Castlereagh in 2001 when classified documents detailing the information being passed by the Ardoyne commander to his handlers was stolen by the IRA.

And while people close to the Sinn Féin leadership such as Denis Donaldson and Roy McShane were outed for political reasons, efforts have been made to conceal the extent to which the 'military' side of the organisation was infiltrated.

Should a Police Ombudsman's investigation reveal that the Shankill bomb and other events carried out by the Ardoyne IRA during that period were preventable our understanding of that time will have changed forever.

For the victims, those injured and those who lost loved ones, this development raises allegations of collusion that overshadows all that has gone before it.

Was a botched attack allowed to go ahead and did the State allow civilians to die to shame republicans into a ceasefire?

That's now a question for the police ombudsman to answer.