Magazine article The Spectator

Trusted by Two, Loyal to One

Magazine article The Spectator

Trusted by Two, Loyal to One

Article excerpt

Trusted by two, loyal to one

Kevin Myers

FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING by Martin McGartland Blake, 16.99, pp. 248

The informer as hero is not, to put it mildly, a literary device popular in Ireland. If ever an individual could alter that narrative tendency, it is Martin McGartland, whose informing from within the IRA to the RUC saved as many as 50 lives in Belfast in the early 1990s. His ultimate survival apparently owed less to the care and professionalism of his masters in the RUC Special Branch than to his own cool nerve, his ingeniousness and his sturdy Ballymurphy frame.

McGartland's is frankly an incredible tale which has been largely confirmed by reliable investigators such as John Ware and Liam Clarke. Unfortunately, McGartland's credibility has not been enhanced by his English ghost-writer who misspells simple Irish place names like Shankill Road and Enniskillen, and who even, God help us, has McGartland referring to the 'loo'.

I am unconvinced too as to motive few informers work solely for the virtuous principle which McGartland's ghost-writer insists drove him; but then what convincing motive is there for the life of the informer, for whom torture and execution are daily - and nightly -- apprehensions?

Martin McGartland was the sort of reliable mechanic-type figure IRA commanders felt they could speak freely in front of. But he had been an informer even before joining the IRA, and his police handlers must have listened in mounting wonder as information from this raw teenage recruit soon enabled them to disrupt major IRA operations on an almost daily basis. (Possibly life with his mother - a foul-mouthed harridan of a kind not unfamiliar to anyone who has worked in Belfast - had given him a good apprenticeship in how to dissemble before force majeure).

He was a classic agent -- teetotal, hardworking, diligent, seemingly reliable to both sets of masters, but true only to one. His schizophrenic life required breathtaking courage, for the IRA internal security unit, which rejoices in the splendidly Stalinist name of Civil Administration Team, and which could give the Geheim Staatspolizei lessons in cruelty, was and remains satanically vigilant in its pursuit of informers. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.