Journalist Paul Donovan argues that the recent publication of Paul Routledge's book on Thatcher favourite Airey Neave raises important questions about a number of deaths relating to the the Irish conflict
WHILE AIREY Neave has been credited with masterminding the rise of Margaret Thatcher to power, less well publicised is the fact that no one has ever been brought to account for his murder. Intriguingly, the murderers of Ian Gow, another Thatcher confidante, who died 11 years after Neave have never been brought to account either.
A big supporter of repressive Labour Northern Ireland secretary Roy Mason, Neave was set to move the war against republican terrorists up a notch when the Tories were elected in 1979. Using his own 'special links' with the intelligence services -- it would seem he never left MI6 -- Neave was expected to give the SAS and security services an even freer rein to do whatever they liked to eradicate terrorism in the north of Ireland.
It was this modus operandi that made Neave such an obvious target for assassination by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).
While Routledge in the final analysis supports the view that INLA did the murder -- the climax of the book centres on his meeting with those closely involved in the act -- he floats the idea of Neave having been killed by a combination of elements in MI6 and the CIA.
Evidence for this scenario are drawn from three diverse sources: journalist Kevin Cahill; Gerald James, the former director of the arms company Astra, and Ulster Unionist MP Enoch Powell.
The story goes that the intelligence services were not happy with Neave because he was threatening to clean up their corruption and make the service more effective. He was intending to head up the intelligence service himself with Sir Christopher Sykes, British ambassador to the Hague, at the head of MI6 and Christopher Tuggendhat, the former Tory MP taking over MI5.
A drunk Neave coming home from a St Patrick's event at the Irish embassy was said to have told Cahill that there would be a cleaning of the Augean stables.
James' evidence comes down to his claims that the mercury switch on the bomb was only available to the CIA at the time.
The CIA in Powell's version of history were concerned about Neave because the US favoured a united Ireland in Europe in the long term, one that could then join NATO. Neave's policies pulled in the opposite direction, eradicating terrorism and cementing the union.
The most intriguing link to the official espionage theory is the fact that no one has ever been brought to account for the murder of Neave.
Routledge quotes at length from an interview with former army information officer Colin Wallace where he tells of how the army and intelligence services knew virtually every operating INLA terrorist at the time and that it would not have been difficult to find out who did the crime, especially given how deeply infiltrated the organisation was with agents.
While Neave's killers were never found, Routledge believes that the government and secret state got their revenge on the Irish Republican Socialist Party and INLA with a series of killings. Among these was Ronnie Bunting, director of intelligence for INLA, and Miriam Daly and John Turnly, both members of the IRSP.
The attempted murder of Bernadette McAliskey and her husband are also cited as further attempted executions. While these could never be directly tied back to the government they were widely seen as the revenge for the murder of Neave. INLA told Routledge that the killings were the work of "the securocrats" in the army and intelligence services. "'We demand that there should be an enquiry,' insisted my masked informant. Citing the more recent deaths of lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, he added: 'It is still [British] policy as far as we can see,'" writes Routledge.
The mention of the Nelson and Finucane murders raises further questions about the recent past in Northern Ireland. The Finucane and Nelson cases together with those of Robert Hamill, Billy Wright, Bob Buchanan, Harry Breen, Lord Justice Gibson and his wife Cecily are all to be the subject of judicial investigation as a result of the Weston Park negotiations on the peace process last year.
The role of former intelligence agents in the Finucane case has already been well documented with William Stobie recently murdered after acquittal in court following accusations put by Metropolitan Police Commisioner Sir John Steven's inquiry into the death of the solicitor.
The growing body of evidence around the murky army Force Research Unit has already raised more questions than it has answered. The FRU came to prominence recently as a result of the inquiry being conducted by Sir John into the Finucane case. Martin Ingram (not his real name), who worked for the clandestine army unit, revealed how ten years ago, a break-and-entry team from the army's intelligence wing based in Ashford, Kent had burned down offices occupied by Sir John at Carrickfergus near Belfast. When Ingram's revelations first became public the Ministry of Defence gained an injunction banning the publication of any further material.
A pattern is beginning to emerge over so many unresolved cases that suggests those in authority are more keen to cover up the role of informants and groups than they are to get at the truth. While the need for a truth commission relating to recent events in Northern Ireland has been voiced many times before, as the months go by the case to support such a body grows ever stronger.
Supporters of some type of truth commission originally tended to come from the republican side of the divide but now the call must be far broader. There are questions coming from the unionists, former soldiers and policemen. What is required is an internationally established authority to look into what has gone on in Northern Ireland over the past 30-plus years.
The remit should include cases like Neave, Gow, Finucane, Nelson, Wright, Buchanan, Breen, Lord Justice Gibson and his wife Cecily. The implications of much of what has gone on would seem to spread far beyond Northern Ireland and perhaps it is this that so worries the British establishment.
Public Servant Secret Agent by Paul Routledge is published by 4th Estate, £16.99 hbk
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2002 Paul Donovan