Stakeknife - The Spy in the IRA.

Posted on: 18 April 2017 by Dean Farquhar in 2017 posts


Irish Studies PhD Candidate Dean Farquhar discusses the BBC Panorama episode 'Stakeknife'.

"For many young people in Northern Ireland that are fortunate enough to have little or no recollection of the violence of ‘the Troubles’, the recent episode of BBC Panorama, “The Spy in the IRA", serves as an eye-opener into the murky past negotiated by our parents and grandparents: a past in which murder, terror and duplicity were prevalent.

The programme addressed Operation Kenova, the ongoing investigation into agent Stakeknife, a British informant believed to have been at the heart of the PIRA. Stakeknife, it was argued, headed up the Internal Security Council of the PIRA responsible for discovering and eliminating the threat of British informants. This was the cause of considerable consternation as eliminating this threat often resulted in the murder of perceived suspects. It was argued in the programme that Stakeknife could be directly linked to 18 such murders at present.

Difficult questions aimed at the security services were posed:

• Did they have foreknowledge of murders?
• Could they have prevented murders?
• Were past murders investigated fully?
• Did they sacrifice other informants to protect Stakeknife?

Allegations concerning the republican movement were also made, with former PIRA volunteer, Anthony McIntyre, suggesting that the organisation’s leadership was aware of Stakeknife’s status as a double agent, but resolved not to act owing to fears that it would be discredited. It was also posited that the findings of Operation Kenova may implicate leading republicans, ‘some of whom are [now] senior politicians.’

Barney Rowan, a senior political correspondent, summarised the potential implications of Operation Kenova:

Rowan: ‘I think Scappatici [believed to be agent Stakeknife] has the potential to pull the roof down on all sorts of people, whether at the top of the republican leadership, or whether within the intelligence community and beyond, and I’ll be amazed if we get to that point.’

Interviewer: 'Because?'

Rowan: 'Because it’s too damaging for too many people.'

At this point, it is instructive to consider the below sentiments of the man charged with overseeing Operation Kenova, Chief Constable Jon Boutcher:

The most important aspect of this investigation and the reason that I have agreed to do it is to get the truth for the victims and the families of those that were murdered and tortured.

These people undoubtedly deserve what semblance of closure that the truth can offer. However, as Rowan suggested, it remains to be seen whether the full disclosure of the past necessary for this truth to come to light is possible in the current political climate of vested interests. The Panorama programme therefore underlined a simple truism for all generations, young and old, regarding the ambiguity of how to satisfactorily address the legacy of the past in contemporary Northern Ireland."

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