05 June 2006

The tale of two Martins


(by Suzanne Breen, Sunday Tribune)

To say it's the tale of two Martins is an under-statement. It's a full-blown war. Hated by many outside his own community, adored by IRA grassroots, Martin McGuinness has been causing controversy for decades.

But never before have his republican credentials been questioned. Now, former British intelligence officer, Martin Ingram, is claiming that the man once dubbed 'Britain's number one terrorist' was working for the other side all along. He has produced a transcript of a conversation between agent 'J118', allegedly McGuinness, and his handler.

McGuinness dismisses it as "a load of hooey" and is "a million percent confident" no evidence will emerge to support the claim. Ingram isn't backing down: "I'm telling the truth and Martin McGuinness knows it. I'm confident the full story will come out, however long it takes."

McGuinness's favourite film is A Man for All Seasons. He says he loves the scene where Sir Thomas More faces his accusers in Westminster's Great Hall. It was in Stormont's Great Hall that McGuinness, his voice quivering with emotion, addressed the informer allegations last week.

More than reputations are at stake for both Martins. Denis Donaldson's murder shows the fate that can still await informers from old comrades; to lie about an ex-IRA chief-of-staff could have serious consequences for Ingram, ceasefire or not.

In republican circles, there are rumours of an internal IRA investigation into McGuinness. It's claimed he has been questioned by the IRA's director of intelligence and two other senior members whose names are known to the Sunday Tribune. The republican community seems divided and confused. "I can't accept it, no way could this be true. It's British dirty tricks," says one west Belfast activist. Another disagrees: "The 'J' in his codename stands for Judas."

Many Sinn Féin members believe McGuinness; IRA personnel are more sceptical. 'F*** Martin McGuinness,' said old graffiti on Belfast's Lower Ormeau, denouncing the Sinn Féin MP for demanding that four on-the-run republicans hand themselves in. 'F*** Martin McGuinness (tout)', it read after the claims. The leadership ordered its removal.

"Even if McGuinness stays in position, he's ruined," predicts a west Belfast republican. "People are two-faced. They might shake his hand and say they don't believe a word of it but, behind his back, they'll say 'touting b***ard!' "

'Martin Ingram', 44, is a pseudonym. The government knows his true identity - he has an Irish passport. For eight years, he served with the controversial Force Research Unit (FRU), including in Derry.

The two Martins have much in common. McGuinness would "talk to a stray dog", friends say. Ingram admits he "never shuts the f*** up". They both love Donegal. McGuinness's mother was born there and he recalls childhood summers in the county. Ingram's wife is also a native. He adores "the people, the landscape, the turf fires – though I don't think, in present circumstances, I'll be enjoying them for quite a while!"

Both men like traditional music and football. McGuinness is a Derry City supporter; Ingram, a Leeds' United man. They share an easy charm and sense of mischief. Ingram once phoned into a live radio interview with McGuinness, and addressed him in Irish. In a Stormont debate, McGuinness said of the DUP's Sammy Wilson, (a newspaper published nude photographs of Wilson), "it's great to see him today with his clothes on".

There are differences. "Martin has more time for guns than girls," declared a 1972 newspaper headline about "the boy who rules Free Derry". Ingram was jack-the-lad when he served in the North: "In Enniskillen, you could have scored as often as you wanted, even with Catholic girls." McGuinness's greatest extravagance is a West Coast Cooler at Christmas dinner. Ingram loves his drink.

It's difficult to cast him as a securocrat. He's previously helped republicans on collusion issues. Solicitors for Danny Morrison and the Finucanes asked for meetings. The Andersonstown News published an article by him.

But his case against McGuinness is far from overwhelming. The document is very flimsy. It contains no security classification or other details which could be used to check its authenticity. Ingram claims he removed these to protect his source, a serving Special Branch officer. The document contains nothing to identify J118 as McGuinness. There's only Ingram's claim he learned this from other intelligence sources. Neither does Ingram know McGuinness's alleged handler.

Ingram says: "The document forms a small part of my case against McGuinness. My evidence is based on my personal experience of dealing with many aspects of his life and with other agents." Writer and ex-IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre, no friend of the Sinn Féin leadership, says: "I remain unconvinced by this document or anything that has been said. This is Diplock court evidence."

Ingram's personal credentials are his strongest point. He outed Freddie Scappaticci as Stakeknife and disclosed that Francisco Notorantonio was murdered to protect him. The republican's movement record on these matters is abysmal. Although it's now universally accepted Scap was an informer, Sinn Féin initially defended him staunchly.

Gerry Adams denounced the media as "the real losers" for having "bought a line from faceless people". A senior IRA source told the Sunday Business Post that Stakeknife didn't exist. "It would be laughable were it not so serious," he said. "Ha!Ha!Ha!" declared the Sinn Féin spokesman when asked to comment on the McGuinness claim.

Ingram admits it's personal for him. He blames McGuinness for the 1986 murder of Frank Hegarty, a Derry informer he liked. He promised Hegarty's son Ryan, he'd bring his father's killers to justice. Ingram uses the case to support his argument McGuinness is a British spy. McGuinness, he says, promoted Hegarty inside the IRA, against the advice of other republicans who presented him with evidence Hegarty had previously informed on republicans. The handlers of senior informers often have them promote lower level informers through the ranks.

Hegarty's informing led to the discovery of an arms' cache. Hegarty fled to England but missed home and regularly rang his mother. One day, McGuinness allegedly came on the phone and told Hegarty he'd be safe if he returned home. McGuinness denies this. Ingram claims he was in the room with Hegarty at the time and FRU taped the conversation.

Hegarty returned to Derry. McGuinness told his mother Hegarty had to attend a meeting in Donegal to clear things up with the IRA, Ingram says. Days later, Hegarty was found with a bullet in the head. Ingram claims McGuinness had to get Hegarty home, and have him killed, to restore his reputation within the IRA. He also alleges Freddie Scappaticci gave FRU advance warning of the murder, but the security forces let it happen because McGuinness's survival as a spy was deemed more valuable than Hegarty's life.

In 1993, following disclosures on Central Television's Cook Report, the RUC launched 'Operation Taurus', an investigation into McGuinness's IRA links. Later, its detectives questioned the decision not to prosecute him, despite three witnesses willing to give evidence.

It's entirely possible the British, involved in pre-ceasefire negotiations with Sinn Féin, decided that would have jeopardised the peace process. Ingram argues the failure to prosecute McGuinness goes deeper. He claims the supergrass, Raymond Gilmour, offered to testify against him in 1982 but was refused.

McGuinness served 14 months in prison in the Republic on two separate IRA membership charges in 1973 and 74. Membership charges in the North were dropped against him in 1976. Ingram says it's remarkable, that in 35 years at the top of the republican movement, McGuinness has never been convicted of paramilitary activity in the North: "This man has been so lucky, he should be buying lottery tickets." Again, it's a purely theoretical argument, not hard evidence McGuinness is an informer.

Ingram alleges the British deliberately built a myth around McGuinness, even praising him as "excellent officer material". While the Derry Brigade was very active in the early 1970s, from the 80s it was riddled with informers and other brigades ridiculed its inactivity. When asked why McGuinness would possibly become an informer, Ingram says: "What makes a woman buy so many f***ing shoes? I've no idea."

Jane Winter, director of the respected British-Irish Rights' Watch group, has met Ingram. "I don't know whether or not these allegations about Martin McGuinness are true," she says. "In my experience, Ingram has proved reliable in the past. He has helped families from both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland on collusion cases. So far, everything he has told me has turned out to be true. But he's stronger on cases where he has first-hand information than on those where he relies on other sources."

Ingram suggests one way of settling the war between the two Martins: "I've never shown my face in front of the cameras but I'll do it now because of the seriousness of the subject. I'm challenging McGuinness to a live TV debate – anytime any place, anywhere. There are no preconditions. The ball's in your court, Martin."

June 5, 2006

This article appeared in the June 4, 2006 edition of the Sunday Tribune.

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