A unionist MLA has warned that the idea police had foreknowledge of the Shankill bombing via an informer could be a republican “false trail”.
Jim Allister has already written to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, asking her to help shed light on the claims, and on Thursday he said they may potentially stem from a “malevolent republican source”, whose agenda is to “unsettle” the public’s faith in the forces of law and order.
He was speaking after a statement was issued from a solicitors’ firm on behalf of a republican figure, stating that he has been forced to leave his home for the safety of his family because people believe him to be the alleged informer.
The whole issue stems from January 25, when the Irish News carried a report claiming that an Ardoyne IRA commander who planned the 1993 bombing (which killed 10, including one of the bombers) had been a security source known as “agent AA”.
The paper reported that it had seen documents which were stolen from the security forces in the 2002 Castlereagh break-in – widely believed to be the work of the IRA.
Mr Allister asked the Secretary of State a week ago to indicate if any of the stolen information was “capable of grounding the allegations”, and restated the call on Thursday night.
Mr Allister said the Secretary of State could “close down the issue” of whether police had prior intelligence about the bombing by stating whether the stolen Castlereagh files (which were said to have been encrypted) really could be used to support such a claim.
He had written to her last week and received no reply.
Late on Thursday night, the NIO issued a statement which said: “Allegations have been made about the circumstances surrounding the horrific Shankill bombing.
“Those responsible were the terrorists who planted the bomb and murdered nine people.
“The chief constable has said that he is 100 per cent convinced that the police service, at the time, had no knowledge that could have prevented it from happening. This matter has now been referred to the Police Ombudsman.”
Asked if he believes the claim not to be credible, Mr Allister said: “I just don’t know. I’m not ignorant of the fact the Provisionals are quite capable of laying false trails and misinformation.”
The news has led to a renewed focus on alleged failings by the security forces, and Mr Allister said: “If the source is a malevolent republican source, that’d be their obvious agenda – to unsettle, and to cause people to think ill of the things that hitherto they trusted...
“I think anyone should be cautious about totally buying into the suggestion, because it could be a false trail laid for these obvious reasons by republicans.”
Asked why the IRA – if they are behind the claims – would want the claim that one of its top men is an informer publicsed, Mr Allister said it could be the case that “other scores are being settled – who knows?”
Sean Kelly survived the Shankill bombing, which had seen him and Thomas Begley carry a bomb was a very short fuse into a Shankill fish shop during a busy day.
It was intended to kill UDA men who the IRA had believed were meeting in the upstairs property.
It detonated prematurely, killing shoppers and bystanders, and wounding scores more.
A memorial was later erected in Belfast to Begley, over the objections of some of the victims’ bereaved relatives.