David Granville reviews The Trigger Men by Martin Dillon, Mainstream Publishing, £7.99 hbk
IN THE event that the actions of British security and intelligence forces operating in Ireland over the past 35 years are eventually open to public scrutiny — or, as is more likely, when it is deemed politically expedient to lift the lid on the sordid goings on of one of the least accountable areas of the British state — it is likely that the phrase 'dirty war' will inadequately describe what has been undertaken in the cause of defeating Irish republicanism.
Students of decolonisation will be aware of of the ruthless brutality of counter-insurgency strategies - including the use of sponsored local terrorist 'counter-gangs' in defence of the empire in countries like Cyprus, Kenya and Oman.
The use of such surrogate forces was to become an integral part of the British strategy in Northern Ireland from the early 1970s — suggesting that the British army openly recognised what successive British governments have always attempted to deny: that were again facing was a colonial 'situation'.
It is not surprising therefore that a considerable part of Martin Dillon's latest book, Trigger Men, is taken up with the relationship between key figures associated with loyalist terrorism and the shadowy world of covert military intelligence.
Notorious figures such as Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair, Billy 'King Rat' Wright, Shankill 'Butcher' Lenny Murphy and the murder gangs under their control feature prominently in Dillon's fascinating but chilling study, as do the operations of the army intelligence's Force Research Unit and its forerunners.
All too often the reader is presented with a noxious coctail comprising unaccountable-spooks, sectarian thuggery and paedophilic abuse.
While republicans are not excluded from scrutiny — there is a chapter on Domninic McGlinchy, the owner of the original 'Mad Dog' tag, and speculation about the deathly consequences of intelligence efforts to protect a supposedly highly placed agent in the IRA, 'Stakeknife' -- Dillon places the guruesome and unpalatable reality of loyalist/intelligence service collusion firmly centre stage.
Working on intelligence supplied by the security forces and heavily infiltrated by an extensive network of paid informers, it is clear from Dillon's account that the intelligence and the security services must bear considerable responsibility for the reign of terror unleashed against the Catholic and nationalist population of Northern Ireland
Their aim in nuturing and protect the killer gangs was based on a belief that the mayhem and fear generated throughout nationalist community as a whole would result in it putting pressure on the IRA and others to give up their armed resistance to British rule.
However, many of those who were targeted by loyalists were innocent civilians, tortured and killed for no other reason other than to satiate the sectarian blood lust of the loyalist killer gangs.
Dillon's attempt to examine the personality and motivation of some of those responsible for hundreds of deaths throughout the conflict makes for uncomfortable but essential reading for everyone with an interest in Anglo-Irish relations and demonstrates the desparate need for closer scrutiny and greatrer transparency concerning the workings of our intelligence services.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2004 David Granville