In the murky world of the dirty war known as “the Troubles”, there is no murkier character than the participant known as Stakeknife.
A leading member of the IRA in Belfast, he joined the Provisionals at their inception and wormed his way up through the organisation, playing a leading role in the IRA’s Civil Administration unit (the body charged with keeping order in IRA-controlled areas by punishment beatings, knee-capping mutilations and murder, and later became a key figure in the IRA’s internal security unit, where he interrogated and tortures suspected informers and touts, handing them over for execution and dumping on lonely roads as a warning to “rats”.
He was, however, a king rat himself. At some stage in his career, he had been “turned” by British intelligence and so he became a reporter to the IRA Army Council and to MI5 at the same time. In a shockingly grotesque way, he ferreted out lower ranking British spies in the IRA, tortured them, found out all they were willing to confess to him, and then gave an edited version of the information to the IRA and a fuller account to the British.
By this means, the members of the Army Council of the IRA (whose members had to authorise their use of the death penalty) were led to believe that they were effectively rooting out spies when in fact they were being prevented from doing so. The British, for their part, had 20:20 vision of the inner workings of the IRA and of the personal involvement of the senior leadership in many of its operations. They knew exactly what the IRA’s counter-intelligence knew. Very convenient.
Stakeknife’s activities are currently the subject of an ongoing inquiry called Operation Kenova. Officers from Operation Kenova recently sat in the back of Westminster Magistrates Court as Stakeknife confessed to viewing “extreme pornography” online and received a three month suspended sentence on account of his clean criminal record. This is seen as part of softening up Stakeknife by the Kenova investigators.
Kenova investigators recently failed in their bid to stay civil proceedings by relatives of Stakeknife’s victims until their criminal investigation was complete. They argued that premature publication of evidence and information on Stakeknife might prejudice their work.
The remarkable aspect of all this is that Stakeknife, when first exposed as long ago the 1990s, was never targeted by the IRA, and has escaped all the usual obloquy one might expect from Sinn Féin ever since.
Why this is so is a little mysterious. Some believe that the extent of British penetration of the IRA, including that of Stakeknife, was so great and deep that the Provisional movement cannot bear to admit it publicly. The armed struggle needs to be glorified – not sullied.
Others believe that Stakeknife has entrusted so much dirt on the Provo leaders in safekeeping to a reliable third party as an “insurance policy” that he is, in effect untouchable and must be regarded as beyond any public criticism.
Still others believe that Operation Kenova is proceeding at a glacial pace to serve the deeper interests of MI5 who hope that the matter will wither with Stakeknife himself, owing to the effects of “natural causes”. His informational “insurance policy” may also cover any risks of MI5’s exposing his activities.
Unless Operation Kenova is a sham or is derailed completely, it constitutes a ticking political time-bomb for many in Sinn Féin’s Belfast hierarchy who rubbed shoulders with Stakeknife for so long.
It is as well to bear this in mind when we consider Sinn Féin Árd-Chomhairle’s motion for adoption by the recent Árd-Fheis abandoning theirs long term opposition to the use of non-jury courts.
Sinn Féin ideology still teaches that any killing or any other operation or activity carried out by the IRA with the approval of the Army Council was not, and is not, a crime.
Why? Simply because they believe that all the governmental powers of the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 were vested in the IRA’s Army Council as late as 8th December, 1938, by some surviving members of the Second Dáil opposed to the 1921 Treaty. All such activities were, on that account, completely legitimate.
A strange theory, perhaps given that the Second Dáil’s term had long expired in 1938. Nonetheless, no current Sinn Féin politician disavows that theory - or its corollary that the IRA never committed any crime. That also explains how Adams and McGuinness could plead with Ahern and Blair for IRA criminal immunity during the decade following the Good Friday Agreement, but Sinn Féin now condemns any immunity for others.
There is no chance that Sinn Féin will ever countenance the trial of any member of the broader Provisional movement by any non-jury court. It’s intended for others.