Return to Peace Process menu


The issues behind the Steaknife affair

John McAnulty

10th June 2003

Is the West Belfast builder Freddie Scappaticci the British spy Steaknife  - planted at the heart of the IRA by British intelligence?

Only the British and the IRA leadership know for sure and neither is anxious to speak more clearly.

What is established beyond doubt however, is that ĎSteaknifeí does exist.  This is not simply some manoeuvre by British intelligence. The British themselves would be anxious to prevent further elements of the story, regarding the utterly ruthless role they played in the sectarian killings of civilians in Ireland, from being made public. Much of the evidence is offered not by the British themselves but by disgruntled former agents.  We should take seriously for example the testimony of David Shayler, a former agent jailed by the British for exposing illegal actions by their intelligence services.  He does not know the identity of Steaknife and opposes utterly the idea that an intelligence agency should name or abandon its agents, but he testifies to the existence of Steaknife and asserts he handled high-level intelligence Ďproductí from the heart of the IRA.

If Scappaticci is not Steaknife then he has been set up by British intelligence in somewhat the same fashion that they organised the murder of  Francisco Norantonio twenty years ago. Norantonio, a pensioner, was given to loyalist death squads by the British state in order to protect Steaknife from assassination.  If Scappaticci is not Steaknife then Steaknife is someone possibly even more senior at the very heart of the IRA leadership.

The allegations about the identity of Steaknife have come as a devastating blow for the republican leadership.

  •  They suggest that the organisation has been deeply penetrated by British intelligence for most of its existence.
  • They suggest that the current republican leadership and their Ďpeace processí strategy have been the result of selection by the British over many years. The irreconcilables, those who have or may have been expected to oppose the Ďpeace processí strategy, have been assassinated or otherwise removed and only those who could be tamed to live with imperialism spared.
  • Even if all the allegations were false they open the door on a murky world where the IRA used the most brutal forms of torture and murder against its own members and supporters.  This was only acceptable to their supporters as long as the leaders were seen as incorruptible.  The hint that the British may have been calling the tune is a deadly blow to republican credibility and Sinn Feinís core support.

As with many of perfidious Albionís dealings with Ireland, asking why is the more enlightening question.  Why is it that the British, who for over 5 years have wrapped Sinn Fein in cotton wool, turning aside many of the awkward questions about the role of the IRA - even defining killings not connected to the state forces as within the definitions of a ceasefire, suddenly allowed release of a barrage of allegations that have left the Sinn Fein leadership swinging in the wind?

The answer lies in the October 2002 collapse of the executive and effectively of the original Good Friday Agreement followed more recently in May this year by the stillbirth of a new GFA Mark II version which would have included the absolute surrender of republicanism and the effective disbandment of the IRA.  Even this was not enough to win unionist support.  The dream of nationalism, to which Sinn Fein has now been co-opted, is that the British will one day despair of unionist bigotry and turn to nationalist Ireland to provide the most reliable base for capitalist political order in Ireland.  Unfortunately for them all the evidence is totally in the other direction.  Itís quite clear that unionist bigotry sank both the Good Friday Agreement and its successor.  Itís also clear that the role of the British has been to protect unionism and fix the blame for the collapse firmly on republicanism.

There wonít be a new deal even broadly within the remit of the old agreement.  The GFA structures are due for review in the autumn.  The history of the decay of the deal indicates that the conclusion the British will come to is that the more or less nothing that was on offer to Irish nationalism was too much.  The next settlement must be moved very sharply to the right.  It must indicate in very direct terms the sectarian nature of the settlement and the primacy of the unionist bigots within that settlement.  If the future dispensation is to have any chance of success then Sinn Fein must either be brought very sharply to heel or the British supported by Dublin must combine to significantly dent Sinn Feinís electoral base. Humiliating revelations about the level of brutality and torture within the IRA, combined with suggestions that they were riddled with spies, go some way towards both goals.

The big picture in the Steaknife story is not about the agent.

It is about the sheer corruption of British imperialist rule in Ireland, about their utter ruthlessness in overseeing and leading sectarian murder, piling on the pressure to create terror and despair in a civilian population.

To a lesser extent itís about the sheer incapacity of the militarist opposition of the IRA.  They were totally unable to out-terrorise the British forces and slowly and gradually were themselves beaten and corrupted.

The ruthlessness of the imperialists and the incapacity of the republicans came together in the Good Friday Agreement, a conjunction that could not possibly end the British occupation or guarantee any form of democratic rights and which has stoked the fires of sectarian hatred to new heights.

The current situation is the result of republicanismís conscious rejection of a working class and socialist strategy.  Thatís too implausible for people who first believed that a small body of armed men could defeat the imperialist forces and now believe that the imperialists are trying to bring peace and justice to Ireland!



Return to top of page