Friday, 8 April 2011
Who killed Eamon Collins? Who killed Denis Donaldson?
I’ve known just two informers in my life – or at least two that I’m aware of. Eamon Collins (no relation) was an IRA intelligence officer who turned supergrass. I knew him when he’d left the IRA and was studying at the University of Ulster. He was a stocky, vivacious man who’d been told by the IRA to stay out of the north. He ignored the injunction, wrote a book called A Killing Rage and ended up being brutally killed outside Newry early one morning in 1999. No one was ever convicted of his killing.
The other was Denis Donaldson. I didn’t know him but I met him a couple of times when I was doing some interviews with Sinn Féin up at Stormont. Denis was also small and stocky: he came down and brought us up to the Sinn Féin offices, chatting in a friendly, good-humoured way en route. Some years later he and two others were charged with being part of a republican spy ring “at the heart of government”. It later emerged that, far from being a republican spy, Donaldson had for years been feeding information to the RUC about republican activities. On April 4, 2006 he was found shot dead in a cottage in Donegal. No one was ever convicted of his killing.
The assumption in both cases is that these men were shot by former comrades, enraged by their betrayal. That’s possible but I know of no evidence supporting the belief. However, history provides consistent evidence that once the British authorities had finished using an informer, that informer was tossed aside to fend for himself. In fact, the failure to convict anyone of the murder of either Collins or Donaldson raises the possibility that the British themselves were involved in the deaths of men who knew too much about the dirty war waged here.
The media like stories to be clean-cut, heroes vs villains, the authorities vs terrorists. By now we should be wary of such black-and-white garbage. Two years ago we were told dissident republican groups were hopelessly infiltrated by British intelligence. Then we stopped hearing that. Then we had the killings of two British soldiers at Massareene Barracks and the shooting dead of PC Robert Carroll. Now we have the death of PC Ronan Kerr.
If we’re lucky, history will reveal the truth on all these matters. In the meantime we’d be fools to believe that all ‘informants’ are heroic or that, when no longer useful, they’ll be protected by those for whom they worked.
There’s one word uglier than ‘informer’ – it’s ‘handler’.