Credit: BBC

The mysteries that go with Scap to his grave

When the IRA killed Louth farmer Tom Oliver in July 1991, I seem to remember that Christy Moore wrote a song condemning this. I am almost certain that he performed it live, but it does not appear among his recordings, including those that were collected in his box set of live recordings stretching back to the late 1960s.

Anyway, I have a strong recollection of having been disgusted by Christy’s apostasy at the time, even though I knew from my time on the run, and from my own and others reflections among republican prisoners in Portlaoise that a small but significant number of republicans were coming to similar conclusions with regard to the futility of an armed campaign that the republican leadership was already secretly planning to bring to an end.

Whatever else one might say about Adams and the “inner group” and the failure to advance the national objective after 1994 they got that one right. 

I was reminded of the death of Tom Oliver and the song when I heard that Alfredo, Freddie, Scappaticci had died. Scap, as he was fondly known by those fortunate or unfortunate enough to know him, was exposed in 2003 as an informer for one or other or several of the intelligence agencies involved in infiltrating and manipulating the IRA.

Unlike Scap’s many alleged victims who were exposed or appear to have been exposed as “touts” Alfredo lived out the last two decades of his life peacefully and immune from any potential retribution. He remained seemingly devoted to the sordid habits – if his conviction for the possession of pornography can be taken at face value – of a man who by some accounts earned a lot of money from his work on behalf of those agencies. 

If he was an informer, or agent to be more accurate, then of course he managed to avoid the fate of the up to 40 of whom it is alleged were killed during Scappaticci’s period as head of the Internal Security Unit. Many of whom it is now claimed were murdered, often after being tortured, in order to protect Scappaticci or perhaps other agents and touts within the IRA, some of whose identity is perhaps still unknown.

Where Tom Oliver, and Christy Moore’s song if it existed despite its having seemingly been excised from the folk memory, fits into all of this is that Tom Oliver was allegedly abducted, tortured and murdered as part of that operation – which involved the British intelligence agencies including Forces Research Unit agent Kevin Fulton/Peter Keeley– to protect Fulton, Scap and possibly others.

The Gardaí, to whom Oliver was allegedly supplying information, are still investigating his abduction and murder although bizarrely Oliver’s car which was discovered in a field the morning after he had been abducted has since disappeared. Which either smacks of incompetence or of something worse given the earlier disappearance of files related to the investigation of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974 in which British agents were also involved and who were protected for many years afterwards. 

Scappaticci of course denied the allegations and his legal representatives received €382,000 in costs from the Smithwicks Tribunal that sat from 2011 to 2013 to investigate allegations surrounding the IRA killing of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan in 1989.  Also of interest is that current Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was then PSNI Assistant Chief Constable and appeared at the Tribunal to place the RUC Special Branch and British intelligence version of events related both to the killing of the RUC men and Oliver on the record. 

Scap is dead and the republican leaders who knew him when he was a fellow member of the IRA leadership still deny that he was an informer. Other former leading republicans who have fallen out with them do not deny that Scap was a tout, but they deny that he was Stakeknife, the key agent at the heart of the IRA leadership.

I have no idea and it is pretty pointless to engage in speculation about things of which the truth will never be known. Everything we do know about Scappaticci since he was exposed – not least the fact that he was afforded all of the legal protections normally given to such creatures by the British state – confirms that he was a state agent. 

Why the former IRA leaders still associated with Sinn Féin continue to deny that their old chum was a tout is unknown. It may simply be embarrassing to acknowledge that yet another of those close to the top was working for the other team. It may have other motives tied to the manner in which the IRA campaign came to an end and in which the IRA in effect surrendered, disbanded and handed over its vast supply of weaponry.  All without achieving the sole objective to which the IRA was committed.

Which may be a matter of mirth to some, and it certainly makes a mockery of the surreal revisionism that attempts to portray that abject surrender as a momentous victory. “IRA – the Undefeated Army” has about the same veracity as one claiming the same about the Scottish Jacobins after the Battle of Culloden, 1745.

None of it is of course faintly amusing to the families of Tom Oliver and other innocent victims of Scap’s gang of torturers, and their bosses in the IRA and/or the British intelligence agencies. The IRA statement on the death of Tom Oliver, published by An Phoblacht, claimed that “The IRA has a duty to protect its organisation, its volunteers and the back-up provided by its supporters. Tom Oliver’s death was due to his willingness to act as an agent for the Dublin Government’s Special Branch.”

It would seem now that the IRA was neither capable of protecting its own organisation, supporters and objectives, and that the reasons for Tom Oliver falling victim had nothing whatsoever to do with any of those things. 

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