‘Intelligence strategy was to bring IRA into peace process’

Norman Baxter had a senior intelligence role in the PSNI
Norman Baxter had a senior intelligence role in the PSNI

BBC Spotlight has strongly affirmed the view that undercover agents played a key role in pushing the IRA towards a peaceful path.

Spotlight said that security sources told it that by 1994 a majority of the seven IRA Army Council members were making decisions influenced by high-level agents.

Retired RUC ACC and Special Branch officer Raymond White told the BBC: “They encouraged ideas that were, shall we say, more of a political desire as opposed to a military desire.”

Lord Alex Carlile served as the Government’s independent reviewer of national security arrangements in Northern Ireland. The Province moved to constitutionalism “in a shorter time than I expected” since he became involved in 2001, he said. “I think the effectiveness of the intelligence services may have been a factor in moving former terrorists to a constitutional path,” he added.

Former PSNI DCS and senior liaison officer with the security services, Norman Baxter, said the narrative in recent years has been to allege that the police were colluding with agents within paramilitary organisations to carry out acts of terrorism.

While Spotlight exposed the reality that some informers were “less than honest” with their police contacts, he said, what is evident is that the security services had “a clear strategy” to significantly disrupt terror groups and “manipulate them into a political process”.

DUP MP David Simpson noted that terrorists carried out 90% of the murders during the Troubles “and it is the terrorists alone who bear responsibility for those deaths”. Attempts have been made in the past by terrorists to blame collusion and informants for some of the most brutal terrorist atrocities, he added. “We must continue to resist such attempts to rewrite history.”

But former IRA agent Sean O’Callaghan said he believed that infiltration of the IRA, particularly at high levels, is often misunderstood and is “sometimes grotesquely exaggerated”.

He added: “If we are not careful we will be led to believe that the state ran the IRA campaign and allowed Brighton, the mortar attack on 10 Downing Street and [allowed] all of these things to go ahead. It’s completely ludicrous.”

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll was even more sceptical, asking how many of the 800 informers said to have operated in Belfast “were involved in criminality”?