Northern Ireland news

Academic says IRA were not infiltrated into a surrender

MI5 agent Denis Donaldson pictured with Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams in 2005.

AN academic, who spent 10 years studying the British intelligence war against the Provisional IRA, has said many of the covert operations mounted against the organisation were "counter productive".

Thomas Leahy, a lecturer in British and Irish politics at Cardiff University, conducted one of the most in-depth and far reaching studies into the infiltration of the IRA by British intelligence services.

The study looks back to the early 1970s and the infamous Four Square Laundry operation by the controversial Military Reaction Force unit of the British army, right up until the unmasking of double agents Denis Donaldson and Freddie Scappaticci, the informer known as Stakeknife, more than 30 years later.

While his book The IntelligenceWar Against the IRA does not contain any major revelations and relies mainly on already public facts and statistics, it does give a comprehensive overview of the scale of the intelligence war.

It takes in the rural and city divide, when it came to intelligence gathering and concludes that the "popular perception" that the IRA was brought to its knees and forced into peace does not bear out in facts.

The author found that the British army "came into Northern Ireland blind in intelligence terms" and so relied on the RUC who initially lacked any adequate intelligence.

Speaking to The Irish News Mr Leahy said he became interested in the analysis by many historians as to why the peace process occurred when it did.

"Informers such as Stakeknife and Denis Donaldson were seen as a key factor, that the infiltration by British Intelligence had forced the IRA to engage in peace.

"Knowing about chronology of events I just didn't find that convincing. The argument that the British won the intelligence war just didn't stack up.

"The level of the IRA campaign in 1992, 1993 and 1994, the activity coming from South Armagh seemed overlooked in this previous analysis."

Mr Leahy said he spoke to a number of self confessed informers as part of his research.

He also looked at memoirs by high profile outed agents, comparing their claims with IRA activity at the time.

"Sometimes when these memoirs are released there is substantial attention given to their influence, I tried to look at them geographically in terms of activity during that time period.

"So looking at Belfast and Derry city after early 1970 there was a larger brigade battalion structure, which was easier to infiltrate, once they sized that down after 1974 it did help the IRA to compartmentalise things."

Mr Leahy said he did not find that republicans were reluctant to speak to him even as an 'outsider' researching such a controversial subject, but said some people were cautious due to the impact of the failed Boston college project.

"I suppose what did make a difference is most of the people I would have spoken to would have already been outed or written books, but Boston College project definitely made some people more cautious.

"There is no big revelation, these are things we already know, that wasn't what I was trying to achieve, it was a look at the successes and failures of the intelligence activities against the IRA.

"Was it effective? And my conclusion was that many of the operations were counter productive, serving only to bolster IRA and Sinn Féin support."

:: The Intelligence War Against the IRA by Thomas Leahy is published by Cambridge University Press.

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