The Blanket

Asking the Awkward Questions

Terry Harkin

Over the last few weeks assisting with the IRSP's effort to expose the use - by an unreconstructed RUC - of child informers to spy on their own people. I was struck with the lack of interest expressed by the media, Policing Board and world in general. Here we were, a legitimate political party with what by any standards was a major story. It had all the elements - sleaze, child abuse, paramilitaries and crooked cops.

The story as we seen it was this: during August of this year an RUC/PSNI patrol picked up a drunk, confused and very frightened 13 year old boy with learning difficulties. They arrested him on suspicion of "going equipped to steal a car" and took him to the nearest RUC/PSNI barracks. Once there he was interviewed, illegally without his parents or Social Services being informed. He was threatened that he would be charged with offences if he did not spy on his own community. A community that at that point in time was under daily attack from armed loyalist thugs. The deal was simple - agree to work for the RUC/PSNI, observing and reporting back to his handlers on the movements and activities of those volunteers of the Irish National Liberation Army suspected of involvement in the by now 24 hour a day defence of North Belfast, go to prison, or worse. He was a frightened, drunk, wee boy with a mental age of 8. He was in the company of authority figures who abused him and played on his disabilities to induce terror and break him to their will. And they did - he cracked like a dropped plate.

These were the circumstances that led to the boy being released without his parents or any statutory body being informed that he had even been in custody, never mind interviewed. He'd been given the number of an Orange mobile phone to call and a name (Johnny) to ask for when he had information. And, so it was that for the best part of 3 months this disabled child was exploited and exposed to the risk of harm by those allegedly there to protect him. He was on an odyssey that involved secret meetings on far away roads, being driven around Nationalist North Belfast in an RUC/PSNI Landrover, pointing out suspected INLA personnel and eventually giving away the location of a weapon being used by those involved in the defence of his own area. This in turn led to his unmasking by the INLA. It was then that the INLA displayed a degree of empathy for this child that was sadly lacking in the forces of the crown. Instead of the execution the RUC/PSNI would have expected for one of their unmasked agents, the INLA treated the boy humanely, contacted the Church. And the IRSP then referred the family an internationally respected human rights lawyer.

As I said at the start, what a story! Or so you would think. The Irish News was given the exclusive - they talked to the INLA, the IRSP, and the priest the boy and the family. They then buried the story on the inside pages. The Guardian did better, two paragraphs on page 14. The Andytown News said that the INLA were going to start shooting children as informers. Amid the crying of the collective babies, covered in dirty water, sitting on their collective sore bare asses having just been thrown out with the bath water, two papers got it right. Only the Derry News and North Belfast News caught the drift of what the INLA had uncovered and what the IRSP is trying to expose.

This isn't just about one scared wee disabled kid from North Belfast. This is a tactic. If it's in use in North Belfast, is it in use in the West of the city? The East and South, Derry, Armagh, Strabane, Dungannon? Are loyalist children being blackmailed in this way? Take two steps back and look at the big picture. As part of the so-called UK, the RUC/PSNI are trained by MI5 and the FBI. Is this tactic in common use by other agencies of the British government? Are police forces in England, Scotland and Wales using the children of Muslims in Birmingham, Swansea and Glasgow to spy on their communities? What of the Miners in the 80's, the Turks and Kurdish, Scots, Welsh and English Republicans, the firemen? Is North Belfast just the tip of the iceberg, a ground zero for something that has ramifications for all political activists and ethnic minorities deemed hostile or subversive by the state?

But for now, all we can be sure of is this one scared child in Belfast. The trail starts with him. The Orange phone number he was given has been removed from Orange's database - that much has been uncovered by the IRSP. It is our understanding that this phone was not a "pay as you go", but rather had an account and as such must have generated a bill. Who paid that bill and, more importantly, who approached Orange to remove the number and who at Orange acted to cover up this act of state sponsored child abuse?

At every meeting the boy was given 80 pounds by his RUC/PSNI handlers. Who signed for this money, who authorised its use and who put it into the boy's hands?

Alan McQuillan, the deputy chief constable of the RUC/PSNI who would, under law, need to approve the use of such a young and "vulnerable" intelligence source has been quick to wash his hands in public over this:

"I would have to authorise something like this and I have not. If an officer has done this it would be a serious breach," or words to that effect.

I've been an Irp all my life and I've never seen a peeler so quick to get his denial in first. Surprisingly he did not say, 'I'm confident the PSNI would never do such a thing', he just said, 'I didn't do it'. A strange thing for a senior RUC/PSNI officer to say about his force, or is it?

Let's take two steps forward and look again just at the North of Ireland. It has been clear for sometime those elements within the RUC/PSNI loyal to the old Ascendancy have been working with people inside the media with a similar agenda to destabilise the Peace Process. The raid on the Sinn Fein office was so media staged that it turned out campier than a Whitehall farce. In the interviews outside Stormont, Hugh Orde would only say that he knew the raid was going to take place. No one in the press pack thought to ask why the warrant was not executed at the same time as the homes of Sinn Fein employees and supporters were raided. Sure any police force in the world would know how to co-ordinate an operation like that.

They came for the press and the press dutifully bayed for the blood of alleged spies. A democratically elected Assembly was brought down, two peoples were disenfranchised.

Let's face it, the Assembly was a lame duck and a waste of money that would have been better spent in pay raises in the public sector and kidney machines. But, there is an unmissible parallel between these two spy stories. In one, a police force abuses its power and brings down a democratically elected body and the media don't ask questions. In the other, that same force are exposed using a mentally under developed child to spy for them. And still the media don't ask questions.

There is no press pack hounding Orde and Mc Quillan. The Policing Board took two weeks to get back to the IRSP when they tried to contact them. Questions need to be asked about what happened to this boy and no one seems to want to ask them or even consider the wider ranging implications of what has been uncovered by the INLA. Why? Are nationalist politicians and newspapers so wedded to this sectarian agreement that they are willing to sacrifice the rights and welfare of this child and who knows how many others on its altar? Are the organs of the state, the BBC and ITN, so toothless that they turn a blind eye while the State and/or Ascendancy blackmail and corrupt the innocent? Of course they are, that's a given. Their only concern is to spoon-feed the population drivel and sanitised versions of the truth. A version that cannot be allowed to show that the Agreement has not worked and will not work. How can it work when unionists are still empowered with a built-in veto and the much vaunted reform of the RUC cannot prevent a disabled boy from being abused and debased for low grade intelligence work? The deafening silence that surrounds the October 15th break in at the Bloody Sunday Inquire in London and the fact that English MP's are forced to ask questions as to why the writings of LVF murder victim, journalist Martin O' Hagan have yet to be returned to his family and publisher only serve to add grist to this mill. What has changed? The only thing that I can see that has changed is the unwillingness of the nationalist press to take up any issue that is not rubber stamped by Sinn Fein or the Brits.

This has happened before of course, the media manipulation, the covering up of dissent, control of perception, control of the population by using their children to spy on them. I wonder where it was?

In closing, and at the risk of being sued by John Grisham, I would like to pose a challenge to those of the nationalist press in Ireland and the middle-Left broadsheets of Britain. Close your eyes, imagine the terror of a 13 year old Irish boy with learning difficulties lifted off the street at his most vulnerable, denied his basic human and legal right to be seen by his family or by social services. Alone, scared, with the police all around you, telling you that you're going to prison if you don't sell the defenders of your community for 80 pounds a time. Imagine the fear he then had to live with, the stress the fear of exposure must have generated in his young mind every time he left his home. Then forget that the boy is Irish. Don't see him as Muslim or the son of some Lefty trade unionist. Imagine it's your son. Then open your eyes, take your fingers out of your backsides and drag this whole sordid mess out into the public domain where it belongs.




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

1 December 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Blanket Special

3 Part Series

Capo di Tutti i Capi?: The Three Families

Part Three: The Civil Rights Veterans' Story
Anthony McIntyre


Asking the Awkward Questions
Terry Harkin


West Belfast Firefighters Support
Davy Carlin


Crime And The Family

Sean Smyth


Juliana McCourt
Anthony McIntyre


A Glimmer of Hope
Michael Dahan


28 November 2002


Blanket Special

3 Part Series
Capo di Tutti i Capi?:
The Three Families

Part Two: Danny McBearty's Story
Anthony McIntyre


The Price of Peace Is In The Pocket
Davy Carlin


Bastards and Traitors!
Billy Mitchell


Dr. Ruth Inexpert On Sexy "Irish State" Controversy

Paul A. Fitzsimmons


The Letters page has been updated.




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