Did Freddie Scappaticci change the course of Irish history? – Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy is an Irish News columnist and former director of Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education.

Kenova package
Freddie Scappaticci, who was widely named as the British agent Stakeknife at the heart of the IRA, pictured in west Belfast in 2003

The presence of Sinn Féin in the White House this weekend highlights a point which most commentary about the Kenova Report failed to recognise.

The report confirmed that many IRA members (probably as many as one in five) were turned into British agents. However, the real success of the intelligence agencies was that, with so much information, they effectively turned the entire IRA into giving up not just a few weapons, but surrendering its entire arsenal and ultimately abandoning its paramilitary campaign.

That was largely admitted in SF’s “apology”, which drew a line between 30 years of violence and “the Good Friday Agreement generation”. The IRA was turned from waging war against what it used to call British rule, into SF’s joint administration of that same rule.

Welcome to the uncomfortable conclusion that Freddie Scappaticci and his fellow informers changed the course of Irish history.

Kenova package
Freddie Scappaticci (extreme left of picture/side faced) pictured at the 1988 funeral of IRA man Brendan Davison. Gerry Adams is pictured (extreme right) carrying the coffin. PICTURE: PACEMAKER

Kenova’s historical explanation begins in 1968, but it might more usefully have begun in 1922, when what later became Fine Gael (FG) accepted partition. In 1926 Fianna Fáil (FF) also accepted it.

Those violently opposed to partition organised a succession of IRA campaigns, with an almost religious devotion to The Cause (of Irish unity).

However, when the 1956-62 campaign ended, the leadership recognised the futility of violence and opted instead for a unity of people through social and economic campaigns. It was our first peace process, based on the non-sectarianism of the civil rights movement rather than the sectarian carve-up of 1998.

A photograph by Gerry Collins of British soldiers in Bombay Street, west Belfast, in August 1969
British soldiers in Bombay Street, west Belfast, in the aftermath of loyalist attacks on the homes in August 1969. PICTURE: GERRY COLLINS

Most Belfast republicans were not involved in the 1956 campaign nor the peace process, so when loyalists burned Bombay Street in 1969, those who had not been active since the 1940s resurrected what they saw as the neglected purity of the republican ideal. The Provisional IRA were the dissidents of 1969.

They were formed as a Belfast-based breakaway group from the IRA’s left-wing politics. The people would have to wait until The Cause was won.

Their campaign was based on two interwoven principles: a claimed historical legitimacy and the sanctification of violence. The first was used to justify the second. It was to be macho republicanism, unsullied by the unsavoury political world of the well-being of ordinary people.

It was that macho approach which led, for example, to the abduction, murder and secret burial of the entirely innocent Jean McConville, a widow whose 10 children were left as orphans, uncared for by state or Church. It also led to what Kenova reports as “torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and murder, including of children, vulnerable adults, those with learning difficulties and those who were entirely innocent of the claims made against them”.

Jean McConville with three of her children shortly before she disappeared on December 7 1972
Jean McConville with three of her children shortly before she was 'disappeared' by the IRA in December 1972

While the IRA attracted some genuine (and brave) men and women who believed they were fighting for a noble cause, its culture of unrestrained violence also attracted many whose only cause was seeking personal power and status through violence.

Step forward Freddie Scappaticci and countless unknown others whose propensity for abuse, torture and murder propelled them up the IRA’s ranks.

War allows your psychopathic fantasies to become your patriotic duty. So from the Shankill Butchers to Scappaticci, torture and murder were, as SF might say, inevitable – just as inevitable as the subsequent lack of prosecutions.

Freddie Scappaticci
Freddie Scappaticci was a leading member of the IRA's internal security unit known as the 'Nutting Squad'

When it was all over, like FG and FF before them, SF accepted partition. No-one had to die for that. Now SF representatives sit on the Policing Board of the PSNI which, two years ago, was reported as spending £1,000 a day on informers. (Those who informed on us in the past were bad, but those we pay to inform on others today are good.)

For the past 25 years in Stormont, SF’s relegation of social and economic issues behind The Cause has been the cause of widespread child poverty, the cause of massive ill health, the cause of 86,000 on the housing waiting list and the cause of our greatest levels of deprivation since 1945.

The real success of the intelligence agencies was that, with so much information, they effectively turned the entire IRA into giving up not just a few weapons, but surrendering its entire arsenal and ultimately abandoning its paramilitary campaign

And so as the leaders of FG, FF and SF smile in Washington with the man who supplies Israel’s weapons for the destruction of Gaza and the starvation of its children, none will object to US planes landing at Shannon on their way to and from war.

Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly
First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly are in Washington DC for St Patrick's Day events (Niall Carson/PA)

SF claims to be different, but if it were different, it would not be there. Only the SDLP dares to speak out.

Having been turned into administering what SF now calls “Northern Ireland” on Britain’s behalf, it can tell Joe Biden that it is currently the most popular party here, supported by almost the entire nationalist community.

We are all informers now.