A former commander of the Provisional IRA in Ardoyne has said he has been forced to flee his home after receiving death threats over allegations he was a state agent, which he denies.
It has been reported that the former prisoner, now aged in his late 50s, was known as ‘Agent AA’ and that calls to his RUC police handlers are logged throughout the documents stolen from the offices of the force’s Special at Castlereagh in 2002.
The North Belfast man was reportedly ‘stood down’ by the IRA’s ruling army council after the encrypted documents were decoded and it was discovered the IRA commander had been working as a double agent for almost a decade.
Most controversially, the documents are understood to show that ‘AA’ was behind the plan to explode a bomb at a shop on the loyalist Shankill Road, where a meeting of top UDA paramilitaries was due to take place. For reasons now suspected to be linked to the RUC’s involvement, the bomb exploded prematurely, and resulted in the death of one of the IRA Volunteers Thomas Begley, as well as nine civilians, while the UDA gang were not present.
Issuing a statement through a lawyer, the man allegedly identified as ‘AA’ has denied any role as a state agent, and said the allegations are “reckless” and “without foundation”.
“I always have been and remain a committed republican. Any suggestion that I was a state agent is abhorrent to me”. The man, who did not deny being an IRA commander at the time of the bombing, said he had to leave his home in north Belfast. “This situation has been very stressful and upsetting to me and my family,” he said.
The denials are reminiscent of those made by Freddie Scappatticci, another senior IRA figure who has been accused of being the high-level informer known as ‘Stakeknife’, who fled Belfast in 2003.
His statement came as PSNI Chief George Hamilton used the monthly meeting of the Policing Board to again deny the RUC “could have prevented” the 1993 attack, while referring questions on the controversy to the Police Ombudsman.
Sinn Fein has refused to comment directly on the allegations, but the party’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that “in conflicts anywhere in the world, governments and establishments such as the British military did recruit and use people from all sides as informants. It would be very naive to suggest that it didn’t happen”.
He said he didn’t know what the validity of the allegations about informer ‘AA’, but that there is a need to “find a way forward” on the legacy of conflict.
“The only difficulty is the British government’s refusal thus far to face up to the demands of many victims groups around disclosure and the use of this phrase ‘National Security’ which they see as an attempt to prevent disclosure,” he said.
Despite the blanket secrecy on the matter, there are growing demands for a full public inquiry into the double-agents and their role in sustaining Britain’s ‘dirty war’ in Ireland.
A human rights group has pointed out that initially the British government refused an inquiry into the killing of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, but the High Court reversed that decision. A public inquiry ensued which, with no cooperation from the perpetrators, published important findings about the culprits. The Pat Finucane Centre has argued that such a process demonstrated that even with opposition from the British government, successful inquiries could still be held.
Relatives of victims of the Shankill bombing have vowed to search for the truth behind the attack. Gary Murray (pictured with his mother Gina), whose 13-year-old sister Leanne was killed in the atrocity, rejected the PSNI’s denial that the force had advance warning of the bomb.
“I think they did know because there were touts all over the place,” he said. With the files they stole from Castlereagh, how did he (PSNI Chief George Hamilton know what was in them? He wasn’t even Chief Constable then.”
Charlie Butler, who lost three family members in the blast, said: “I think the families need truth for closure. If it’s the truth that there was collusion, we need it. If there wasn’t collusion, even better, but we still need it.”