Category: Archive

Ex-MI6 agent lashes pols for IRA doubts

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — The former MI6 agent who established a secret dialogue with the IRA in the 1970s and helped coax the organization to the negotiating table has hit out at politicians in Belfast and London for using decommissioning as an "excuse to avoid the pursuit of peace."

Michael Oatley, former MI6 controller for the Middle East and counter-terrorism and for Europe, said he had no doubt about the commitment of Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to finding a political way forward.

Oatley, whose contacts with the IRA helped lead to the 1975 cease-fire and produced the first moves in the peace process, said that decommissioning was being projected as the central issue.

"It is not. The true issue is politics or violence," he wrote in the most recent issue of Sunday Times.

"There are lots of guns in Ireland, and in the hands of both communities in the North. The question is not whether an organization has, or can, obtain weapons. It is whether it will choose violent or political action."

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He said some politicians and certain elements of the media in Britain are portraying the arms deadlock as proof that Sinn Fein is insincere about its commitment to political action.

"This tactic might be described as a picador approach to introducing a terrorist organization to the attractions of the political arena," Oatley said. "No doubt, if sufficient barbs are thrust into its flanks, the animal will eventually, with reluctance, charge. The picadors can then claim the beast was always a ravening monster."

He said the decision by Sinn Fein to take a political path was a recognition of changed circumstances with the development of the EU and a realization that the security forces could contain their campaign.

The decision to give politics a chance, Oatley said, was not because of "doubts about its ability to continue the campaign or to recruit volunteers to pursue it (the security forces have never doubted it, either).

"The decision was taken with trepidation by intelligent, ideologically committed individuals who had spent their adult lives in pursuit of what they regarded as a just war.

"They did not abandon their armed campaign because they needed a rest or thought it had become irrelevant.

Oatley said the suggestion of a cease-fire was "furiously opposed" within the IRA and many feared that a move to political action would destroy its strength.

He described the response of Prime Minister John Major’s government to a cease-fire as "picadorism at its most provocative." It questioned the sincerity of the cease-fire and insisted on a tougher declaration.

Oatley said there is an explanation for the reluctance of the IRA to begin decommissioning.

"Weapons and caches are widely dispersed under the control of local cells," he said. "Volunteers are not sheep. All joined to pursue an armed campaign for agreed objectives, which have now been modified.

"Discipline in the face of such changes has been remarkable. Leaders can but lead; confidence in new policies takes time.

"Members of the republican movement are determined it shall not be destroyed by false promises."

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