McGuinness: I’m no MI6 superspy

Martin McGuinness has been one of the IRA’s most influential members for decades, from the height of the Troubles as Gerry Adams’s right-hand man to a Sinn Fein MP in the power-sharing government currently being negotiated in Belfast. But a spy for MI6? Rumors that Sinn Fein’s #2 – a man who was for years ...

608311_AdamsandMcGuinness5.jpg
608311_AdamsandMcGuinness5.jpg

Martin McGuinness has been one of the IRA's most influential members for decades, from the height of the Troubles as Gerry Adams's right-hand man to a Sinn Fein MP in the power-sharing government currently being negotiated in Belfast. But a spy for MI6?

Rumors that Sinn Fein's #2 - a man who was for years the IRA's director of operations - was actually a British agent have been dismissed as hogwash for years. But it has come to light of late that the Brits actually did have an impressive array of secret agents in the upper echelons of the republican movement. Denis Donaldson, long a top Sinn Fein man, was outed as spy for the Brits in December, and wound up murdered a few months later. Freddie Scappaticci was at the heart of the Provisional IRA but secretly did the bidding of London. But having McGuinness on the MI6 payroll would have been a nab in a whole different stratosphere. There was little McGuinness didn't know - about the bombs, the tactics, the gunmen. But could it all have been a ruse?

Martin McGuinness has been one of the IRA’s most influential members for decades, from the height of the Troubles as Gerry Adams’s right-hand man to a Sinn Fein MP in the power-sharing government currently being negotiated in Belfast. But a spy for MI6?

Rumors that Sinn Fein’s #2 – a man who was for years the IRA’s director of operations – was actually a British agent have been dismissed as hogwash for years. But it has come to light of late that the Brits actually did have an impressive array of secret agents in the upper echelons of the republican movement. Denis Donaldson, long a top Sinn Fein man, was outed as spy for the Brits in December, and wound up murdered a few months later. Freddie Scappaticci was at the heart of the Provisional IRA but secretly did the bidding of London. But having McGuinness on the MI6 payroll would have been a nab in a whole different stratosphere. There was little McGuinness didn’t know – about the bombs, the tactics, the gunmen. But could it all have been a ruse?

So the conspiracy theories have been unleashed. If McGuinness was an MI6 spy, the British Secret Service might have known about the Brighton bomb. I like conspiracy theories as much as the next girl, but even I’m a little doubtful that the spooks let Thatcher get so close to being blown to smithereens. (I’ll admit that I’ve played devil’s advocate on this with James around the water cooler, but no matter.) But how did McGuinness avoid jail and assassins’ bullets, while so many of his comrades weren’t so lucky? Did he have protection?

The intelligence agencies have now confirmed what McGuinness has asserted: he was no British spy. The official report out Monday confirms that MI6 and McGuinness had authorized dialogues and meetings going back years, but the aim was to negotiate a ceasefire. Then again, isn’t that the perfect cover?

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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