Ex-IRA man: IRA members believed leadership ‘guff’ despite setback in Gibraltar

Anthony McIntyre at his home in the Republic of Ireland.
Anthony McIntyre at his home in the Republic of Ireland.

Rank and file members of the IRA were being assured the organisation had not been penetrated by the security services despite the major setback at Gibraltar, a former IRA prisoner has claimed.

Anthony McIntyre, who spent 18 years in the Maze prison before turning his back on the Provisional movement, said the ordinary Provos putting their lives at risk still believed “the leadership guff” that the British were relying on luck.

Funeral in west Belfast of Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Danny McCann

Funeral in west Belfast of Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Danny McCann

Speaking to the News Letter 30 years after the SAS shot three IRA terrorists in Gibraltar, the IRA man turned academic said the organisation’s leadership was “looking wobbly” after the deaths of eight members at Loughgall the previous year, and what he calls the “disaster” of the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb.

“What was happening at that time is that you had the Enniskillen disaster and, in my view, the leadership of the IRA must have been looking wobbly,” he said.

“You had the Gibraltar deaths, and the IRA appeared to be having very little impact in terms of success. I remember thinking at the time when the two soldiers were killed [at a republican funeral two weeks later], that that was probably a saving grace for the IRA leadership who seemed incapable of doing much else.

“Around the same time they lost volunteers in south Armagh, Brendan Burns and Brendan Moley – some of their most experienced volunteers – in a premature explosion, so there were some pretty serious setbacks for the IRA.

“The serious failings were that their security department was extensively penetrated, run by the British and that they (IRA leadership) were responsible for putting that security department in place, therefore responsible for not protecting volunteers like Mairead Farrell, Dan McCann and Sean Savage, from the type of penetration of security that the British were capable of mounting.”

Mr McIntyre added: “Therefore, the leadership just pretended that it was just good luck, or maybe fortuitous on the part of the British – that they just discovered this [IRA operation] and that there weren’t really any failings of leadership. I think there were serious failings.”

Commenting on how the setbacks were affecting morale within the IRA, he said: “That sort of [intelligence] penetration never really became obvious to them because they still believed the leadership guff. In 2003 the leadership were still spoofing that Stakeknife was not an informer.

“They talk about collusion in relation to the security services and the loyalists, but this is a major aspect of collusion here. Serious questions need asked.

“They didn’t come out and say that they were penetrated. Yes, the IRA volunteers knew there was penetration, as that was par for the course, but I don’t believe the volunteers on the ground knew the extent of the penetration, and to a large extent the leadership concealed the level of penetration from them.”

• Anthony McIntyre left the mainstream republican movement when it endorsed the Good Friday Agreement. On leaving prison he completed a PhD and became a journalist.