Never forget the lives saved by Stakeknife and other informers

Trevor Ringland
Trevor Ringland

The debate around high-level informants in paramilitary organisations, both republican and loyalist, raises a number of issues.

I’m told by senior police officers that, by the late 1980s, a high percentage of attacks were being foiled, which suggests that the level of intelligence flowing to the security forces was significant and of high quality.

If Stakeknife was in place, we need to bear in mind how many lives he may have saved, whatever his motivation.

Similarly, he and other informers took risks which eventually contributed to paramilitaries moving down a peaceful path.

Counter terrorism takes many different forms and it involves complicated, difficult moral decisions.

Its broad motivation, though, is to save life and property. That’s something that can never be claimed for terrorism or paramilitarism.

The republican movement in particular finds it hard to accept that its actions were frustrated by intelligence. Perhaps their anger stems from the fact that they were not able to kill even more people, although they did manage to murder some 2,000 and maim thousands more.

It’s understandable it has been suggested a team be put in place to investigate Stakeknife’s existence and activities.

However, if such an agent was responsible for around 50 murders, the Army Council of the IRA was certainly culpable, whether security force handlers share any responsibility or not. Any investigation should take that aspect fully into account.

Too often some people have used an emphasis on the past to maintain divisions, rather than heal them. They see this ongoing struggle as a way of pursuing their ‘war’, albeit by different means.

It’s important that the majority in our society keeps focusing on the future instead. When we do examine the past, it should be to emphasise the lessons that the Troubles should never have happened and that pursuing political aims through violence was never necessary or justified here.

Belfast-based solicitor Trevor Ringland is an activist with the NI Conservatives