By Jack Holland and Patrick Markey
Martin McGartland, the ex-informer who infiltrated the IRA while working for the RUC Special Branch and later wrote about his experience in a best-selling book, is recovering in a hospital after surviving a gun attack at his home in Tyneside in Northern England.
McGartland was shot several times Thursday morning in the garage at the back of his home on Duchess Street in Whitley Bay, a small seaside resort town near Newcastle Upon Tyne in Northern England, according to Northumbria police.
Shortly before the shooting, McGartland had called the Irish Echo to discuss a website that he was setting up to promote his books. During a conversation with a reporter, McGartland alleged that IRA members were benefiting financially from the current situation in Northern Ireland.
He alleged that a leading member of the IRA, John Deery, who at one time was identified by police as the organization’s chief finance officer attached to GHQ staff, now "owned houses everywhere."
"Ex-prisoners are buying cars and garages on their release" with money allegedly supplied by the republican movement, he told the Echo.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
McGartland also alleged that the IRA was "taking money from drug dealers" and that this lay behind the killing some weeks ago of Brendan "Bull" Downey, drug dealer in Northern Ireland who was murdered near Newry. McGartland said that, in addition to promoting his books, he would use his newly created web site to publish such information about the IRA.
He also expressed anger at what he claimed was the continuing persecution of his family in Belfast. He said that one of his sisters, the mother of six children, had been driven from her home in West Belfast by a mob. Three years ago, McGartland’s brother was viciously beaten in West Belfast.
McGartland, using the code-name Carol, worked for the RUC Special Branch from 1987 until 1991, during which time he was a member of the IRA in West Belfast. At one time, he was close to Davy Adams, nephew of the Sinn Fein president, and got to know some of the West Belfast IRA’s leading "players," he said.
McGartland’s career came to an end in August 1991 after he helped disrupt an IRA attack planned against a pub where off-duty soldiers drank in Bangor, Co. Down. The police intercepted the gun courier, against the advice of several senior Special Branch officers, who feared the operation would expose their source. It did. McGartland was lifted by the IRA but managed to escape from his captors after a spectacular jump to freedom from a third-floor apartment.
McGartland was later relocated to Northern England by the Northern Ireland Office, where he lived under a new name. Two years ago, his real identity was revealed during a court case over a driving offense.
"They’ve done me"
On Thursday morning after the attack, neighbors found McGartland slumped by a car. He managed to tell one of them, "They’ve done me," according to the area’s Journal newspaper. The paper reported that McGartland had been hit at least five times with injuries to his torso, hands, and to one leg. Northumbria police would not confirm McGartland’s wounds.
After a seven-hour operation on Friday to remove the bullets, McGartland was reported in stable condition and under armed police guard at an area hospital. Northumbria police would not comment on the caliber of the weapon used nor on whether a gun was recovered from the scene of the shooting.
Northumbria detectives are now looking for two men seen driving away in a red Nissan Bluebird car. Although early reports suggested the attack was carried out by local criminal elements, police are not ruling out the possibility that paramilitaries were involved.
"We are keeping an open mind on whether this was an IRA attack or whether it was something other than that," a Northumbria police spokesman said.
A well-placed Northern Ireland security source said it "looks like a Provo hit." Though there is still nothing firm on the type of gun used, the source speculated that it might have been a low-caliber, .22 handgun, which would explain why McGartland survived despite being shot a number of times. Experienced gunmen often use low caliber weapons because they are concealed easily, the source said.
However, an Irish government source cautioned that there are "some who want it to be the IRA and there are some who don’t," according to whether or not it fits in with their political agenda.
According to McGartland’s lawyer, Nigel Dodds, McGartland had received a threatening phone call on his mobile phone just a week before the shooting. The caller was aware of changes in McGartland’s domestic situation, knowledge that could only have been gleaned by close observation, the lawyer said by telephone from his Northumbria office.
"He certainly considered it an implied threat," Dodds said.
Although he had been living in Northern England in 1991, McGartland’s real identity was only revealed because of driving offense court case. Two years ago, he was charged with perverting the course of justice for holding several driving licenses. He was acquitted of the charges, but only after he revealed his past to a jury.
Dodds said the government needed to reopen negotiations on another resettlement for McGartland.
"What we are preoccupied with at the moment is reopening negotiations to resettle him for a second time," he said.
McGartland’s new book, "Dead Man Running," is due out in the U.S. next March. A spokesman for the publishing company, Hastings House, when told of the shooting said: "That’s horrible. He was such a good person." Others, however, did not share this view of the author. "He was a low life gouger," commented one member of the security forces who has had many years experience handling informers.
During the recent telephone conversation with an Echo reporter, McGartland expressed sympathy for Eamon Collins, a former member of the IRA who broke under police interrogation and informed on the organization. Collins was murdered in Newry in January. He, too, had published a book detailing his work for the IRA which was at times scathing about the republican movement.
"I sent a wreath to his funeral," McGartland said.