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Editorial Death of an author

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The fact that a cease-fire exists is no guarantee of peace. Statistics show that the ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland, particularly Catholics, are as likely to become victims of violence when paramilitaries ostensibly put away their weapons as during times of open hostility. The relaxing of the policing and security apparatuses that usually follows a cease-fire declaration always creates a vacuum that both loyalist and republican miscreants have been only too eager to exploit with punishment beatings and murder.

That is the situation in Northern Ireland today, and it is made even more dire as the deepening arms decommissioning crisis spreads its pall over the future of the Northern Assembly, the Executive and indeed Northern Ireland itself.

The past week has been a particularly brutal one for Ireland, north and south. Headlines in this week’s Echo tell the sad tale: loyalist splinter groups have stepped up sectarian attacks, a republican dissident was abducted and badly beaten in Monaghan, a Sligo man bled to death after being kneecapped, and, in an attack that garnered worldwide attention, Eamon Collins, a former IRA intelligence officer-turned-tout-turned-author was tortured and murdered near his home in Newry.

Collins was the author of the superb "Killing Rage," a chilling account of his career in the IRA, his disillusionment with what he saw as an ascendant element of thuggery in the organization, and how he came to inform on his former comrades. It is not a book for the faint of heart, but rarely have the inner workings of any paramilitary organization been so completely explored — and exposed.

After Collins was killed, one detective called him a "stupid man" for having stayed in Newry, where he had once used his job as a customs official to gather information on IRA targets. Certainly, as Gerry Adams said after his death, Collins had a lot of enemies. One of them, of course, was Adams himself. Once, after Adams had urged mourners at a Newry IRA man’s funeral to avoid confrontation with the police, Collins told him his explanation for having done so was "something the Sticks would come out with." The reference, of course, is to the Stickies, the Official IRA, and as Collins himself wrote, "there was no greater insult that one Provo could level at another." Last May, in court, Collins identified South Armagh man Thomas "Slab" Murphy as a member of the IRA Army Council.

Perhaps Collins was stupid. It’s hard to imagine one man having a wider spectrum of enemies in one place. Anyone else would have run away. But he stayed, enduring years of harassment that included the burning of his home. Shortly before he was killed, he was spotted removing graffiti that had been directed at him.

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But there was likely more to Collins — a stubbornness. Maybe he was simply a man given to standing his ground. He had, after all, written a courageous book, an important book. He had to know that the life expectancy of a man of his background was not a particularly long one — especially during a cease-fire.

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