Few deal in secrets more than RUC
Special Branch. It intrigued me then to know what
someone from that stable felt of the Ed Moloney book,
A Secret History of The IRA. Sinn Fein hated
it and tried ignoring it. They could do little as
they watched it soar up the bestselling list, where
it remains well above Gerry Adams second book on not
being a member of the IRA, despite the latter being
released a year after Moloneys. In what way
would Bill Lowrys view differ from Sinn Feins?
is a very persuasive read. Ed Moloney had great insight.'
But did the books 600 pages provide him with
something radically different from what he already
knew? 'It confirmed what I believed.'
central thesis is that an end to the armed campaign
in exchange for an internal solution was being clandestinely
explored by the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams from
the 1980s, for the most part behind the backs of his
colleagues. Martin Ingram of FRU went someway towards
endorsing Moloneys account with his RTE revelation
that he was aware of a secret peace process by the
time he had returned to the North for a second tour
of duty in the late 1980s. Was Special Branch aware
Bill Lowry said that as far back as 1988, a full six
years before he joined Special Branch, he realised
changes were in the air. The war was no longer being
prosecuted with the same vigour. 'It was clear then
that the movement was going to wind up the armed campaign.
Signals from the British Government left him in no
doubt that things were on the move.
of the role of Gerry Adams as outlined by Moloney?
'It is very much a reliable account.'
former Special Branch chief conceded that people had
to admire the ability of Adams in pulling it all off.
He knew it was going nowhere and did the right
thing in bringing it to a end. It seemed an
opportune time to ask if he supported the peace process.
He didnt surprise me with his affirmative response.
Why wouldnt he didnt it secure
British rule into perpetuity? He was often bemused
to hear Sinn Fein spokespeople indirectly refer to
him as a securocrat.
did he take the term to mean?
but a figment of Sinn Feins imagination. They
use it cover for the lack of progress they have
made or when the terrorists do something that goes
wrong and causes Sinn Fein embarrassment.
further argued that the IRA was fortunate to have
embraced the peace process and call it quits when
it did. 'They got more gains from doing it then than
they would have had they been forced to close it down
after 9/11, even if they were able to have gone at
it full throttle.
did he account for newspaper reports that the British
Government and Unionists were caught unawares by the
1994 ceasefire? He couldn't see how they were. There
was more than enough evidence that it was in the air
although there may have been a lack of certainty about
the exact date of its enactment or the nature of its
ceasefire of 1997 was more significant. After they
ended the first ceasefire with Canary Wharf the
leadership went back to war with no real intention
of fighting it. They didnt want the campaign
to succeed. It was to let the army carry on until
they seen for themselves how futile it was.
of which made me wonder to just what lengths elements
within leadership were prepared to venture in order
to ensure the campaign did not take off and that it
would be reduced to what one senior RUC figure at
the time described as a 'pathetic grubby little war.'
But, if I was thinking the man facing me might enlighten
us on that I was wasting my time. Secrets of State
would not, unfortunately, be featuring on the pages
of the Blanket.
where now for Special Branch and its activities? Sinn
Fein claims the old RUC Special Branch is moving en
masse to senior management and mainstream leadership
positions within the PSNI, in order to mitigate the
effects of restructuring. Tom Constantine, the Commissioner
tasked with overseeing the implementation of Patten,
in criticising the pace of change focussed on Special
the Provos say, the fact is that the PSNI will only
become acceptable when the Provos say they are to
be accepted. They will do it when ready, regardless
of what they say about Special Branch. When they
eventually get some of their local boys on the policing
partnership boards, they will go for it. They need
to give them something in return for the terrorism
they were engaged in.
made the point that all the Assistant Chief Constables
are former RUC. Did this use of the term former
mean the force had been disbanded? He thought being
changed was a more appropriate term. And the
type of change? Towards what was always available.
For him, ultimately, republicans made the style of
policing pursued by the RUC necessary. He feels this
is borne out by the way that policing methods have
greatly relaxed now that the IRA campaign has stopped.
for Special Branch resisting change he contended that
the fundamental review of policing conducted by Ronnie
Flanagan was in essence Patten.
Fein rejected Patten when it came out and are now
demanding that it be implemented in full. Constantine
was correct about the pace of change being too slow.
But it is not because of resistance. You have to
remember that 98% of Patten won Special Branch approval.
Branch is now known as C3 and is divided between operational
and intelligence functions. But there is room to suspect
that REMIT is the Special Branch reinvented and allegations
persist that Bill Lowry was central to the thinking
behind the development of REMIT. I referred him to
a pretty comprehensive article by Jarlath Kearney
in the Andersonstown News on these concerns.
is a body that checks on the efficiency of investigations.
It has nowhere near the powers or role that is suggested
in the Andersonstown News article you mentioned.'
composed and relaxed, Bill Lowry showed no animosity
towards those he talked about, regardless of what
side they took during the conflict. What may come
as a surprise is that he displayed a high regard for
the capability of some Sinn Fein politicians and was
distinctly unimpressed by the behaviour of some unionists.
And there were signs of past irritation with former
Secretary Of State, Mo Mowlam. This came across in
the context of his defence of Special Branch against
my suggestion that there was clear evidence of the
primacy of political policing over civil. According
to the Walker Report arrests could not take place
without the approval of Special Branch. Quite clearly
this was political interference in the arrest procedure.
He disputed this, saying that input rather than control
was the sum of Special Branch influence. He then went
on to argue that politicians had a case to answer
when it came to interfering in policing matters.
the Provos killed Dougan during the talks Mo Mowlam
did not want to hear tell of it. She did not want
to act on our reports. On another occasion word
was passed down that Rita OHare would be travelling
from Dublin to Belfast for a funeral and that she
was not to be arrested. We insisted that it was
a policing matter and that if there was a warrant
out for her arrest she would be arrested. But our
intelligence led us to believe that Mo Mowlam had
either stayed with Rita OHare while she was
in the Republic or socialised with her. So you can
see where that leads. Police business if it is to
be non-political has to be free from such constraints.
That is clear evidence of interference in policing
work and yet Special Branch is blamed and the government
gets away with it.
the subject of policing being driven by a political
agenda, it is frequently said of the current chief
constable, Hugh Orde, that he is a new brush and is
not tainted by politics in the manner of some of his
predecessors. But it seemed to me that Orde couldnt
avoid being political. In the way that Jack Hermon
personified the politically driven war cop, Hugh Orde
is the equally politically driven peace process cop.
His role and approach is what is needed at this juncture.
It is simply a continuation of the way in which the
British state politically polices the North.
is the way to see it. Hugh Orde will do what is
necessary to see that the political policy of the
government succeeds. It is what chief constables
do. To put political policing, as you call it, all
down to Special Branch simply does not stand up.
the way his lengthy police career had come to an abrupt
end I wanted to discuss some of the factors that led
to his parting from the PSNI. He resigned in
acrimonious and disputed circumstances after
a confrontation with the chief constable, Hugh Orde,
over allegations that he had leaked confidential information
about Operation Torsion, as the raid on the offices
of Stormont Sinn Fein became known, to the BBCs
Brian Rowan. He was adamant that he would not discuss
anything relating to charges brought against those
arrested after the Stormont search. There is
a court case pending and I am not prepared to say
anything that might affect the outcome.
there are things in the public record said by him
which he should be able to talk about. For example,
he is on record as saying: 'I felt during the whole
operation that I was running, constant pressure from
the security services, that it would be better if
we didn't take skulls, if we just took papers. It
would leave Sinn Fein/Provisional IRA a chance of
denying they were involved in it. Elsewhere
he had taken up his case with the Policing Board,
claiming he was forced out, and humiliated as
a gift to Sinn Fein to try and make the political
The security service saw an opportunity
to give them something by forcing me into a position
that I had to retire to give them a scalp.
I felt humiliated, degraded, embarrassed and betrayed.
was this not overstating the influence of Sinn Fein?
had only about ten weeks left to serve in the
police at the time this happened. I leaked nothing
of a security nature nor endangered anybody. Anything
that I told the BBC was already in the public
domain. But M15 told the Chief Constable that
they wouldnt work with me after the search
at Sinn Feins office at Stormont. I have
been told that Gerry Kelly was insisting that
I would have to go and also that Alan McQuillan
could no longer carry on as Assistant Chief Constable
after Alan wrong footed the Provos at Ardoyne
by exposing their intentions to cause a riot during
the mad season parades and made them appear foolish.
had been speculated that Operation Torsion was a case
of Special Branch paying republicans back for the
break in at Castlereagh. Sinn Fein and the IRA have
both denied IRA involvement.
Lowry laughed. The Provos did Castlereagh. Our
reason for searching the Stormont offices was to regain
ground, not to rub the Provos noses in it.
made it known to him that some people, who are often
described as dissident republicans', were of
the view that Special Branch wanted rid of some of
its dodgy files and decided to set the Provisionals
up. Once the IRA took the bait and raided Castlereagh,
Special Branch was free to tell Nuala OLoan
or John Stevens that any files they might require
as part of their investigations had disappeared during
the St Patricks Day break in. He seemed to view
this as one more conspiracy theory. The Provos
thought they were getting the Crown jewels but all
they got were a few books of no consequence.
this point gowned graduates and their families out
for celebratory meals began to swamp our space. We
had talked for two hours already, and with the appearance
of young university post graduates flush
with the radiance of achieving their degrees, it seemed
an appropriate time to switch the conversation to
purely cerebral matters. I asked him what he liked
to read. If I anticipated that he would tell me his
book-browsing took him to the shadows - something
like Le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
or Conrad's The Secret Agent - I was to be
disappointed. Despite being in good physical shape
he quipped that he should really read the Atkins
Diet. He has a particular interest in US politics
and likes to watch current affairs programmes rather
than read books on it. However, he rarely misses the
Irish Times or the column he 'loves' by Kevin
Myers. The thought crossed my mind that republicans
will hate him more for that than for having being
in Special Branch. Bill Lowry has tried reading Killing
Rage by Eamonn Collins but always put it down.
'That is evidence of penetration the other way. A
Provo using his position in the Customs Service to
gather intelligence for the purpose of killing people.'
I wondered if he, like Martin Ingram, was appalled
by the Freddie Scappaticci depicted by Eamon Collins
in his book as someone who clearly enjoyed power and
murder. Did it create pangs of conscience in some
corners of the British intelligence community that
it happily let a torturer and multiple killer like
Scap run loose for so many years? Sources before lives?
disputed the conclusion but side stepped any exchange
about Scappaticci. He had already told me he would
not discuss sources.
concluding comments were concise.
I want people to know is that I did nothing wrong.
I was the sacrifice to keep the Provos happy. Hugh
Orde is alleged to have said somewhere that I was
offered a post of similar rank elsewhere in the
force. If he did say it, he is mistaken. I was told
to go off and do a bit of gardening for a couple
enjoyed the exchange with Bill Lowry. I better understand
the thinking behind a person such as him as a result.
But I could never share his benign interpretation
of the role played by RUC Special Branch throughout
the violent conflict. True, that the Provisionals
were prepared to settle up for an internal solution
would add weight to his view that it was all for nothing.
Nevertheless, his position that the IRA campaign made
policing abnormal is one I examine from its flip side.
Special Branch and many other facets of British security
policy helped produce and sustain the armed republican
campaign. Anger is still palpable within working class
nationalist communities when the relationship between
Special Branch and the killers of Pat Finucane is
mentioned. It is a fiery anger that the British seem
to want to douse with petrol each time they move to
block investigations which might reveal more rather
than less about the involvement of Special Branch.
a republican there is nothing that would ever tempt
me to support a British police force in a partitioned
Ireland whether powers over policing and justice are
devolved to the puppet parliament or not. As a socialist,
I would never serve or endorse any of the capitalist
states repressive apparatuses. The challenge
facing any radical is to hold them to account, never
to run them. What would republicanism stand to gain
from Gerry Kelly organising British state repression
in Ireland? Just as when Bairbre de Brun and Martin
McGuinness organised the assault of private capital
on the public sector, the justice and policing ministry,
no matter who staffs it, will foremost benefit the
powerful and underpin the type of stability Britain
requires in the North.
we parted, the irony underpinning how things can change
struck me. It was clear that whatever the differences
between myself and Bill Lowry, unlike Gerry Kelly
perhaps, neither of us has a future as a British cop
in the PSNI.
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