(Tiocfaidh Àr Là) ITS HERE,
Conspiracy theories have never been strangers to Republican circles. The most notable since the 1998 Belfast Agreement, is that so-called ‘securocrats’ are involved in a conspiracy to discredit the leadership of the Provisional movement and undermine the peace process. (1) Securocrats can be defined as “disgruntled members of the security forces who want to force Sinn Fein out of government.” (2) The securocrats allegedly pull the secret strings of Northern Ireland. “These men, skulking in corners of the army, MI5, Special Branch and the Northern Ireland Office, form… a ‘shadow government’, bent on forcing its own, reactionary agenda on the province. In this view, their driving purpose is the defeat, discrediting and humiliation of Sinn Féin and the IRA – regardless of the policy pursued by Tony Blair and his ‘official’ government in Downing Street.” (3) For example, last December the late Denis Donaldson was exposed as a British agent. He had been one of three officials charged with spying on other political parties at Stormont; the alleged ‘Stormontgate‘ plot discovered in October 2002. The Provisional leadership insisted that this was proof that the spy ring had never existed and that the whole Stormontgate affair had been set up by the securocrats. “It was a British spy ring controlled by securocrats, by people within the establishment who are hostile to the peace process” declared Martin McGuinness. (4) This is questionable. Far from launching the Stormontgate affair to give the then Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble an excuse to walk away from power-sharing with the Provisional movement, the securocrats took the view that Mr Trimble should ignore the spying scandal and stay in government.
As Ed Moloney puts it, “The Sinn Féin conspiracy theory – that the spooks are out to destroy the peace process – suffers from a fundamental flaw. Not only is it rubbish, but the exact opposite is the truth. The peace process represents the wildest fantasies of the security establishment come true and the last thing the spooks want is to see it destroyed. The peace process has enabled MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland special branch to achieve something that very few if any security forces have ever accomplished: to see their enemy defanged by its own leadership and led out of violent revolutionary ways into constitutional politics and a world where the principle of consent overrides the Armalite. MI5 and the PSNI know they could never have done this themselves, that they needed people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to do it for them. So why on earth would the spooks want to undermine them, to frustrate them and place obstacles in their way, as the Provo leadership claim they have consistently done – most recently with Stormontgate? To have done so would have been to act fundamentally against their own interests. It just wouldn’t make sense.” (5) Professor Paul Bew noted that “those whom Sinn Féin named as securocrats gave every sign of being inconvenienced by the Stormontgate affair. It was their job, after all, to deliver the institutions of the Good Friday agreement and to keep Mr Adams locked into the peace process. In that sense, there has been, for many years now, a profound commonality of interest between the British security establishment and Mr Adams.” (6)
This is not to say that the securocrats are nothing but “a conspiracy theory that belonged in an airport thriller rather than the real world” as some think. (7) Such elements of the British security forces exist, “but they are not in the driving seat of British security policy. Those running the show know that there is more than one way to skin a cat. They are the type of people whom the Provisional leadership was meeting behind the backs of its membership and whose overriding objective was to ensure that Provisional objectives were never secured.” (8) For example, when Chief Constable Hugh Orde alleged in December 2004 that the Provisional movement carried out the Northern Bank robbery, Martin McGuinness told a press conference that there was a political agenda by the government and “securocrats” to try to “criminalise and marginalise” his party and stop the peace process. (9) But it is not the agenda he would have us believe. “It is an agenda of bringing Sinn Fein more closely into the structure of the state. Had there have been any chance of a deal being stuck, Orde would have been under tremendous pressure to go no further than his under reported statement that a republican group was responsible for the Northern Bank heist, without specifying which.” (10) Similarly, the Provisional movement accused senior NIO official permanent secretary Pilling of running a nest of securocrats. Pilling had in fact ensured during the 1998 Belfast Agreement negotiations that prisoners would not be released in exchange for decommissioning as a means to facilitate the peace process and the Provisional’s transition into British institutions. Far from the British establishment “considering the process to be a threat to its rule in the North” or the securocrats “attempting to engineer political isolation and demonisation” of the Provisional leadership (11), we find British diplomat David Goodall claiming that everything was going almost according to plan and former MI6 director Michael Oatley expressing public admiration for the Provisional leadership. (12)
The Provisional movement also frequently allege that there is a conspiracy between the media and the securocrats, with journalists becoming a willing participant in the so-called ‘dirty war’ by spreading “misinformation” to attack Sinn Fein and the Peace Process. When the so-called ‘Stake Knife’ affair broke out in May 2003, the Provisional leadership denied everything and blamed the collusion of securocrats and ‘journocrats’. “All of these stories are coming from nameless and faceless securocrats in British intelligence” said Martin McGuinness. (13) The peace process has indeed corrupted journalism, but not in the manner alleged by McGuinness. Quite the opposite in fact. The media has been accused by award-winning journalist Ed Moloney of covering up truth to protect the peace process and being reluctant to report events unhelpful to the peace process. (14) For example, when in October 2000 the Provisional shot dead Joe O Connor in Ballymurphy, their involvement in the murder was mostly brushed under the carpet by the media. Reporters and editors sympathetic to Sinn Fein’s strategy branded journalists who asked awkward questions (such as Ed Moloney or Suzanne Breen) “JAPPS – Journalists Against the Peace Process”. It would be more accurate to say that the peace process has in fact produced Journalists Against Journalism.
The securocrat conspiracy theory may be flawed, but it brings two political benefits for the Provisional movement. First it allows to present itself nationally and internationally as a perpetual victim; which is electorally advantageous. Secondly, it allows to shift the blame for deadlocks in the peace process away from itself to ‘securocrats’, ‘malevolent blanketeers’, ‘japps’ and other ‘enemies of the peace process’. But the cost has been that crying securocrat wolf too often has ultimately undermined the credibility of the Provisional movement. Every time the Provisional leadership cries out ‘securocrat’, only the faithful believe.
NOTES(1) Roy Greenslade, The securocrats’ revenge, The Guardian, 9 October 2002. One of the only mainstream articles taking the ‘securocrat’ conspiracy theory seriously. (2) Nicholas Watt and Rosie Cowan, Special branch blamed for leaks that damage Sinn Fein, The Guardian 23 April 2002(3) Jonathan Freedland, The strange collusion between Downing Street and Sinn Fein, The Guardian, 21 December 2005 (4) Henry McDonald, 20 Years of treachery, The Observer, 18 December 2006(5) Ed Moloney, Was there a Stormontgate? The Belfast Telegraph, 21 December 2005(6) Paul Bew, Shadowy alliance haunts Stormontgate, The Yorkshire Post, 22 December 2005(7) Jonathan Freedland, op.cit.(8) Anthony McIntyre, SF – Securocrat Fantasists,/(9) Mathew Tempest, IRA blamed for £22m Belfast bank raid, The Guardian 7 January 2005(10) Anthony McIntyre, op.cit.(11) Adam O’Toole, ‘Stakeknife’ turns out to have blunt British blade, An Phoblacht/Republican News, 22 May 2003(12) David Goodall, Actually it’s all working out almost exactly to plan, Parliamentary Brief, May/June 1998, and Michael Oatley, Forget the weapons and learn to trust Sinn Fein, Sunday Times, 31 October 1999(13) Tom Happold and agencies, Adams: Scappaticci innocent until proven guilty, The Guardian, 16 May 2003(14) Henry McDonald, Reporters ‘covered up truth’ about IRA to help peace, The Obs
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