The extraordinary claim that Martin McGuinness is an MI6 agent had been hinted at on the internet for some time before it emerged in the press last week.
A former British Army agent handler, known by the pseudonym Martin Ingram, had been alluding to it on the Slugger O’Toole website for some time before it was published by the Sunday World.
Ingram merits attention because he was the man who exposed Freddie Scappaticci as Stakeknife, a British Army mole inside the IRA.
Nevertheless, the evidence for his latest claim looks decidedly thin. By his own account, it’s based on information provided to him by a serving PSNI Special Branch officer. There is little to suggest the information is authentic, and there are good reasons to question the motives of Special Branch officers, who have long been accused of an anti-agreement agenda.
The Ingram allegation would obviously serve such an agenda by discrediting Sinn Fein’s candidate for Deputy First Minister within republicanism.
The mention of MI6 is also an interesting angle within the story. Bureacratic rivalries have long been a factor in Northern Ireland. During the early years of the Troubles, it was the main spy agency in the north, where it advocated a political solution. It ultimately lost out in a power struggle with the more hawkish MI5. Nevertheless, an MI6 officer with contacts in Derry , Michael Oatley, was the British Government’s key back-channel to the IRA for many years. This may well have inspired resentment among police officers.
McGuinness himself has pointed the finger at the DUP, which has benefited from many Special Branch leaks over the years. A number of incidents over the course of the peace process, raise the possibility of a Special Branch agenda to benefit the DUP.
The most significant was the Stormontgate affair in 2002, when a Special Branch raid on Sinn Fein’s offices led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive. The officer who led the raid, Bill Lowry, went on to speak at the DUP’s annual dinner.
The Sinn Fein member at the centre of the Stormontgate affair, Denis Donaldson, subsequently turned out to be a Special Branch agent. He was later murdered after his whereabouts were exposed by the Sunday World with the help of a former RUC officer allegedly linked to Special Branch.
Other incidents raise questions about the Special Branch’s role in targeting even unionist opponents of the DUP. In the run-up to the 2005 general election, the PSNI raided the home of Michael Copeland, a UUP Assembly Member in South Belfast, a key marginal where the DUP candidate was a former head of the Police Federation in Northern Ireland.
Mr Copeland claimed he was the victim of a dirty tricks campaign. This left his colleagues with something of a dilemma, since they had dismissed Sinn Fein’s claims about the role of securocrats in Stormontgate. The UUP’s elections chances were significantly damaged, yet nothing ever came of the investigation.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see more smears against Sinn Fein as the political process continues, and if there is another election, it will be interesting to see how the DUP goes about finishing off its Ulster Unionist rivals.
After all, if the UUP now has official links to loyalist paramilitaries, the DUP may have unofficial links to their handlers.