The Grand Illusion (Part 1) ~ Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

No Longer In Kansas

There is a scene in the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, when Toto the dog pulls back a curtain, enabling Dorothy and her three companions to see the less than impressive Wizard. The Wizard pulls the curtain closed and says into a microphone, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”.

From the early years of the Northern Ireland peace process, to the present day, the public have been told not to pay attention to the terrorists behind the curtain. Crimes have been committed, history has been rewritten, terrorism has gone through a process of Disneyfication, democracy has been compromised and corrupted, and every time reality has loomed large, we have been told to pay no attention to what was clearly lurking behind the curtain.

Well, I think it’s time to pull back the curtain and pay attention.

War Crimes

On the 24th October 1990 the Provisional IRA (PIRA) carried out three proxy bomb attacks against the British military in Northern Ireland. These were also known as ‘human bombs’ as the bombs were transported to the targets in vehicles being driven my men, chained to the driver’s seat, whilst their families were held captive by PIRA terrorists.

The driver of the vehicle ordered to transport a 1500lb bomb to Lisanelly Army base in Omagh, had an incredibly lucky escape, thanks to a faulty detonator. As he approached the base, the bomb only partially exploded. The remainder of the bomb was defused by the British Army.

The driver of the second proxy bomb was 65 year old James McAvoy who had served RUC officers at his petrol filling station. For this supposed act of ‘collaboration’, PIRA terrorists took Mr McAvoy from his home in Newry, tied him to the seat of a Toyota HiAce van that contained one ton of explosives and then ordered him to drive the van to a permanent vehicle checkpoint at Cloghoe.

When he arrived at the checkpoint, Mr McAvoy stopped the van and managed to exit the vehicle, then shouted a warning that there was a bomb. Ranger Cyril Smith of the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rangers was the duty ‘road man’ at the checkpoint. Ranger Smith led Mr McAvoy to safety and alerted other Rangers about the van bomb. Despite being warned not to return, Ranger Smith ran back to the centre of the checkpoint, shouting, “I have to go back and make sure the rest of the boys are safe.” The bomb exploded as Ranger Smith passed the van, killing him instantly. In 1991 Ranger Smith was posthumously awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, for acting without regard for his own safety, to save the lives of his fellow Rangers.

You can read about Ranger Smith’s heroism here: Ranger Cyril Smith is killed in Newry | Royal Irish – Virtual Military Gallery (

Patsy Gillespie worked as a chef in Fort George army base in Londonderry. Mr Gillespie’s wife was held captive by PIRA whilst he was forced to participate in the bombing. He was chained to a seat of a van carrying a 1200lb bomb and told to drive to a permanent border checkpoint at Coshquin. He was followed for most of the journey by members of the terrorist gang. When Mr Gillespie reached the target he tried to exit the vehicle and warn the soldiers, but the bomb exploded, killing Mr Gillespie and five members of the 1st Battalion King’s Regiment. The soldiers were: Kingsman Stephen Beacham, Kingsman Vincent Scott, Kingsman David Sweeney, Kingsman Paul Worrall and Lance Corporal Stephen Burrows.

There is a memorial to the five Kingsmen at Palace Barracks, near Belfast: Kings Regiment Checkpoint Victor 2 Memorial. Palace Barracks Northern Ireland | Palace Barracks Memorial Garden

At Mr Gillespie’s funeral, the Catholic Bishop Edward Daly said the IRA and its supporters were, “the complete contradiction of Christianity. They may say they are followers of Christ. Some of them may even still engage in the hypocrisy of coming to church, but their lives and their works proclaim clearly that they follow Satan.”

The following short excerpts from a documentary series by the ‘Spotlight’ team at BBC Northern Ireland, are about the bomb atrocity at Coshquin.

This first clip includes BBC news footage of the Coshquin vehicle checkpoint, the day after the bombing. Some people might find this upsetting, so please think before clicking play. Patsy Gillespie’s widow, Kathleen, also describes the last time she saw her husband.

Clip One – Excerpt From BBC NI Spotlight

In the second clip from the documentary, Kathleen Gillespie describes her visit to the mortuary to see her husband’s body, only to discover that it was a ‘closed coffin’. The horrific realities of terrorist bombings, such as the identification of victims, is omitted from the propaganda disseminated by terrorists, who are seeking to justify and rationalise their inhumanity and barbarity.

Clip Two – Excerpt From BBC NI Spotlight

At the end of clip two, a former member of PIRA called the ‘human bombs’ a war crime. I wouldn’t disagree. The following link to the United Nations website, provides a definition of war crimes. As you will see, war crimes can occur during prolonged armed conflicts within a territory, between State authorities and an organised armed group. I would suggest that this covers the terrorism of PIRA and other groups.

Link: United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect

I have posted below, two extracts from the United Nations website that I would suggest confirms that many acts of terrorist violence that occurred in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, could be regarded as war crimes. That would include the three so-called ‘human bomb’ attacks, which involved the intentional targeting and murder of civilians. Whilst I don’t expect any of the terrorists involved will ever be tried for war crimes, I think it is worth noting the nature of the crimes committed and that numerous members of PIRA, are in fact war criminals, for these atrocities and other acts of terrorism.

First extract: In particular, please note items C, C i, C iii, E and E i, all of which apply to the three bomb attacks.

Second extract: Protracted armed conflict between a State and an organised armed group, can be an environment within which war crimes occur. It is not restricted to international conflicts.


The third video clip includes an excerpt from a TV interview that Martin McGuinness did for a Dutch journalist. McGuinness is speaking on behalf of Sinn Fein, about the bomb attack. During the interview he states that it is not his job or responsibility to justify what the IRA does, but that he understands the reasons that it happened.

Clip Three – Excerpt From BBC NI Spotlight

McGuinness understood the reasons for the bombings, because he was involved in the planning and authorisation of the three attacks. As the journalist Darragh MacIntyre explained in the clip, Martin McGuinness was the ‘Officer Commanding’ of PIRA’s Northern Command.

McGuinness would have known in advance, the location of the targets, the identity of the men who would be forced to transport the bombs and the tactics that would be employed. The three bomb attacks did not happen spontaneously or coincidentally. They were co-ordinated centrally by McGuinness and others in PIRA’s ‘Northern Command’. As I explained in the previous section, that means Martin McGuinness, was in fact guilty of war crimes.

Unsurprisingly, due to the illegality of PIRA membership, McGuinness was less than forthcoming about his involvement in terrorist activities and war crimes. For instance, during most of the Troubles and until his death, McGuinness claimed to have left PIRA in 1974, following his imprisonment on terrorist charges in the Republic of Ireland. That of course was a lie.

McGuinness not only remained in PIRA after 1974, he became it’s Chief of Staff in 1978 until 1982, only stepping down after his election as a Sinn Fein candidate, to the Northern Ireland Assembly. He did however remain a member of PIRA’s seven man ruling Army Council. and later assumed the role of OC for ‘Northern Command’. That gave him operational responsibility for PIRA terrorism within the six counties of Northern Ireland and the five neighbouring counties on the southern side of the border. This included control of PIRA’s ‘Active Service Units’, the distribution of weapons and explosives etc. Every shooting, bombing, robbery, hijacking, extortion, kidnapping, torture session, murder and maiming that happened within the ‘Northern Command’ area, occurred under his leadership. It all happened under his watch.

An interesting postscript to the Coshquin bomb attack, is detailed in the following link. The day after the attack, Garda (police) on the southern side of the border in Donegal, four miles from Coshquin, raided a house and arrested seven men, one of whom was William McGuinness, younger brother of Martin. The Garda found gloves, balaclavas and other clothing.

Link: The Patsy Gillespie Slaying – The Intriguing Aftermath & A McGuinness Connection | The Broken Elbow

Inextricably Linked

It is an example of the peculiar nature of politics on the island of Ireland, on both sides of the border, that there are people who at one and the same time, can be elected politicians within a democracy, whilst also being members of a subversive, fascistic terrorist group that is busily engaged in attacking the very same democracy. All the while the general populace look on, aware of the fact that elected politicians and members of their party, are either supporters of terrorism, or actually engaged in terrorist violence against the State and the general populace.

Throughout the ‘Troubles’, Sinn Fein was regularly referred to as ‘the political wing of the IRA’, and for good reason. In the late 1940s the IRA had been virtually wiped out by its failed wartime campaign. Thankfully their collaboration with the Nazi regime, did not pay dividends. One can only imagine what they may have done after a Nazi victory, or a Nazi occupation of the island of Ireland.

In an effort to revitalise the IRA, three new leaders took control following an army convention in 1948. Tony Magan, the new Chief of Staff, along with Padraig McLogan and Tomas Mac Curtain, became known as ‘the three Macs’. The three men were of a view that politicisation was required. In 1949, all members of the IRA were ordered to join Sinn Fein. By 1950, McLogan was the president of Sinn Fein and Magan was on the party’s ruling executive.

Two decades later, following an IRA split and formation of the ‘Provisional IRA’ and ‘Provisional Sinn Fein’, a similar relationship existed. The ‘military wing’, PIRA, controlled Sinn Fein at all levels, for the duration of the Troubles. In the early years of the Troubles, Sinn Fein was very much the junior partner, but this was to change over time, particularly from the hunger strikes at the Maze Prison in the early 1980s and the related electoral success of Sinn Fein. The hunger strikes were so effective at increasing support for Sinn Fein that it has been claimed by a former PIRA prisoner, six of the ten hunger strikers died, even though an acceptable offer had been made by the British government. The implication of this is that the Republican leadership cynically let six men die, in the belief that their deaths would result in a political gain for Sinn Fein.

This increasing influence of the political wing, from the early 1980s, led to tensions within the Republican movement and even resulted in a senior member being dismissed from PIRA in the mid 1980s, because of his opposition and hostility towards the Sinn Fein agenda and the channelling of resources to the political wing. It has been reported that this dismissed individual was Ivor Bell, a long time friend and associate of Gerry Adams. If that is the case, then clearly the friendship had went into terminal decline.

There was also suspicion and opposition to the Sinn Fein agenda, amongst the lower ranks of PIRA’s militarists. For instance, hard line members of PIRA’s ‘East Tyrone Brigade’ were known to be considering a split from the organisation and two leading members of the unit, Padraig McKearney and James Lynagh, had been in talks with other PIRA terrorists along the border area. In 1987, Lynagh and McKearney were two of the eight terrorists killed by the SAS, whilst they were attacking Loughgall RUC station.

Due to the fact that the security forces had clearly known in advance that the attack was going to occur at Loughgall, the normal PIRA paranoia about informers went into overdrive. It wasn’t long before an additional level of paranoia entered into conversation; namely the the possibility that someone in a leadership position had viewed the Loughgall attack as an opportunity to neutralise troublesome individuals, who were opponents of the political path the Republican movement was taking.

PIRA initiated an investigation into the possibility of an informer revealing details of the Loughgall attack. One of the people involved in this mole hunt was allegedly Freddie Scappaticci, who was allegedly a member of PIRA’s internal security unit, whilst also allegedly being in the employment of British intelligence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the existence of an informer within East Tyrone Brigade, remains to this day, an unsolved mystery.

The increasing power and influence of Adams and McGuinness did not go unnoticed outside Irish Republicanism and it has been speculated that the British State, by various means, facilitated Sinn Fein’s ascendancy, in order to bring about an end to PIRA’s campaign of terrorism. This would be a logical supposition. To combat and undermine an opponent such as a terrorist group, an objective would be to manipulate strategic thinking and one method of doing this, would be to influence people in positions of power, nurture them, promote them if possible, whilst at the same time engineering the neutralisation of opposition.

Ultimately this should lead to the cessation of violence by the terrorist group. If done properly, the members of the terrorist group and their supporters would think that the new non-violent, political path they are taking, is their idea. Ensuring that they internalise such a notion, is key. The long term benefit is that this internalisation of an idea, is more effective and less resource intensive than coercion. Your target group will require less monitoring or ‘policing’. This is a basic pacification strategy and goal.

As the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu observed in his masterpiece ‘The Art of War’, over two thousand years ago, “All warfare is based on deception”. What better sleight of hand or smoke and mirrors in a violent conflict, than to convince your enemy it was their idea to radically change their strategy and give up on their stated objectives. And not only that, but for their supporters to celebrate all of this as if it is a victory.

There has been speculation that senior figures such as Martin McGuinness, were actually recruited as informers or agents by British intelligence. This may or may not be true, but my assessment is that McGuinness and Gerry Adams, were both talent spotted by British intelligence, early in the 1970s. Both men were part of the PIRA delegation flown to London in 1972, for secret talks with representatives of the British government. They were known to be relatively significant figures by that time and likely to be part of the next generation of leaders. Their cards were marked from this early stage.

As the old guard were replaced over the next few years and power within PIRA shifted from the south to north of the border, the British State, via the intelligence services, the security forces and any other channel open to them, would have been monitoring the internal machinations of the military and political wing of the movement. Profiles on every known individual would have been created and regularly updated. Assessments would have been made on each ‘player’, their abilities, their political thinking, their relationships inside and outside the republican movement, where they sat on the political / militarist spectrum etc would have been logged.

I would suggest that sometime in the 1980s, with the electoral success of Sinn Fein, thanks to their cynical use of ten hunger strikers, people within certain circles of the British State sensed an opportunity was emerging. A political alternative to PIRA’s terrorism could be advantageous. A vital component of the plan would be having someone within the Republican movement, who possessed the necessary political astuteness and the credibility to win over the more hawkish elements of the militarists. This probably ruled out Gerry Adams, or at least as a solo effort. The person who fit the bill was Martin McGuinness.

Lights, Camera, Lies

Not long after the 1982 election, McGuinness gave an interview to a British television journalist. Remember that this was not long after McGuinness had stepped down as PIRA’s Chief of Staff, but he was still on the ruling Army Council. Observe how McGuinness pretends to be nothing more than a member of Sinn Fein and an elected politician, merely trying to help the Gilmour family, when in fact he was involved in the kidnapping being discussed. It is the same role playing performance that was on display eight years later, in the Dutch television interview.

The kidnap victim, Patrick Gilmour, was the father of PIRA ‘supergrass’ Raymond Gilmour. PIRA kidnapped Patrick Gilmour to apply pressure on his son to retract witness evidence against PIRA members. The kidnapping occurred in Londonderry which was McGuinness’ hometown, his turf, and the ‘Derry Brigade’ of PIRA would not have carried out the kidnapping, without McGuinness giving the green light.

Notice how McGuinness tried to shift blame away from PIRA and onto the police, for the PIRA kidnapping of Patrick Gilmour. This is a variation on a theme, in terrorist propaganda. It is part of their victim-oppressor narrative, in which the ‘oppressor’, the State, is portrayed as being responsible for wrongdoing, rather than the terrorists. Even in circumstances such as a terrorist attack that kills civilians, terrorists will often find a way to blame the State and excuse their own actions.

I have included this clip from the early 1980s, to show how McGuinness dealt with questions from the media about an act of PIRA terrorism, in which he was involved. He was already an adept liar and able to duck and weave whilst propagating a narrative, not only about PIRA but also his fabricated role, supposedly detached from the crime being discussed.

Thirty years later, little had changed.


We have been told repeatedly, via the media, in the years following the signing of the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement, that Martin McGuinness had been ‘on a journey’ from IRA commander to ‘peacemaker’. I suspect that this may have started around the same time, or not long after, the media phased out the explanatory note, “political wing of the IRA”, that they had habitually used for years, every time they mentioned Sinn Fein. This was part of the rebranding and repackaging of Sinn Fein.

When you unwrap the sparkly and shiny PR packaging, that the British government under Tony Blair helped to wrap around Sinn Fein, what you find is an unrepentant terrorist and mass murderer called James Martin Pacelli McGuinness, who either didn’t go on a journey of spiritual enlightenment, or he had a return ticket and swiftly returned home. What you will also find is a political party that to this day, is still being “influenced”, according to intelligence assessments, by the ruling ‘Army Council’ of a terrorist group. A synonym for ‘influence’ is the word ‘control’, which may be a little too on the nose for mass public consumption. ‘Influence’ has a softer feel to it and allows for flights of fantasy, such as the leadership of Sinn Fein, actually being the leadership of Sinn Fein, rather than several unelected, publicity shy men with interesting back stories, whose names we dare not mention.

The peace process was in part a marketing exercise and the product being sold was not only the agreement, but a range of unsavoury characters with distasteful, socially unacceptable, morally bankrupt propensities for mass murder, maiming and wanton destruction. In order to sell the agreement, a convincing narrative about change and embracing democracy was required. Something to win over members of society, less than enamoured with the idea of the early release of prisoners or allowing unrepentant terrorists to sit in government whilst they busily compromised and corrupted democracy, in the hope of undermining Northern Ireland and turning it into a mafia state.

So we were told, amongst other things, that Martin McGuinness had been on a journey and that “political wing of the IRA” thing, was the stuff of history. No longer a problem guv. Sorted. Martin’s a new man, the Shinners have embraced democracy and cue the stirring ‘West Wing’ inspired soundtrack whilst the credits roll.

Of course, it was all absolute bollocks.

Now lets fast forward to 2013 and an interview that Martin McGuinness did in Oxford, for Al Jazeera television. The Good Friday Agreement is done and dusted, Marty has been on his journey and become a peacemaker and everything is just peachy swell.

In this clip, the interviewer raises the issue of the Coshquin ‘human bomb’ attack. The interviewer describes the nature of the bombing and asks how it wasn’t cold blooded murder. McGuinness’ response was: “Obviously people will have their interpretation of that.” You can tell from the audience reaction, they were unimpressed by his inability to accept that the Coshquin atrocity was murder. Some of course may have been under the impression that Saint Martin of Derry had actually changed and was really a peacemaker. Imagine their surprise.

McGuinness then moves quickly onto his well rehearsed peacemaker propaganda narrative, stating, “I was involved in the very embryonic stages of trying to build a peace process, so that I could bring about a scenario where the IRA would call a halt to its activities and give the opportunity to bring about negotiations, which would bring about fundamental change. And against the odds, I and others succeeded.”

McGuinness of course can’t and won’t condemn the ‘human bomb’ attacks, as that would mean publicly criticising PIRA – he would never do that – and also having to condemn himself for authorising the attacks. Instead he employs his peacemaker narrative as a distraction from his role of terrorist, mass murderer and war criminal. A peacemaker who had moments earlier been unable to agree that the killing of Patsy Gillespie or the five soldiers at Coshquin, or for that matter the killing of Ranger Smith at Cloghoe, were cold-blooded murders.

Again, as with the TV interviews in the previous two clips, McGuinness detaches himself from an act of terrorism that he directed, thereby absolving himself of responsibility or blame. These interviews span three decades, but McGuinness and others have repeatedly told this same lie, or variations on this theme, and quite a few are still propagating this lie.

Many people in Northern Ireland knew McGuinness was a terrorist, a senior member of PIRA who was guilty of ‘directing terrorism’, whilst simultaneously playing the role of a politician. The public understood the relationship between PIRA and Sinn Fein and that they were inextricably linked. It was all glaringly obvious. We could all see what was behind the curtain, but in the 1990s, during the peace process, it became increasingly apparent that there was a new narrative about terrorists such as McGuinness. We were meant to pay no attention to the lying, mass murdering war criminal behind the curtain. The terrorist godfather was rebranded and repackaged and before you could say “public relations”, McGuinness had become a “peacemaker” on a “journey” from “IRA commander” (Don’t say terrorist!!). The Nelson Mandela of the northern hemisphere, with a bit of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Gandhi added to the mix for added flavour.

Here is a link to a Belfast Telegraph article by journalist Liam Clarke, on McGuinness’ interview at Oxford.

Martin McGuinness refuses to condemn IRA ‘human bomb’ attack in 1990 dubbed the ‘work of Satan’ by Catholic bishop –

Incidentally, the late Liam Clarke and fellow journalist Kathryn Johnston (Liam’s wife), wrote a book on Martin McGuinness and therefore had taken a considerable period of time to assess their subject. It was their view that Martin McGuinness was a pragmatist, rather than a peacemaker. I think that’s a pretty good observation.

Here is a link to an Irish News article in which Kathryn Johnston shares some thoughts on Martin McGuinness:

‘When the camera was pointed at McGuinness a shutter came down in his eyes’ – The Irish News

I have posted the passage at the end of the above article. This refers to the fact that McGuinness hadn’t actually changed much. He had simply acted in a pragmatic fashion, when the need arose.

From the Irish News:

While many have spoken of Martin McGuinness’ 30 year journey from IRA leader to statesman, Mrs Johnston believes the man himself did not undergo a Damascene conversion.

“I think his journey didn’t take him that far, I think above all McGuinness is a pragmatist and it was the times that changed rather than McGuinness. I think he probably died as he lived. He was the same Irish republican when he died as when he was walking the streets of the Bogside in the late 60s, early 70s. Having said that I don’t think there’s a single other person who could have brought the IRA from guns to government, it’s a singular achievement,” she added.

Kathryn Johnston is probably correct in her view that McGuinness was the only person who could have brought PIRA into a peace process, agreeing to the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement and all that went with it. McGuinness had a credibility that Gerry Adams did not share. Adams alone, could have moved Irish Republicanism only so far. McGuinness was essential for what was to follow.

Some might say that this made McGuinness valuable, not only to PIRA and Sinn Fein, but to the British State. McGuinness’ seemingly charmed life, in which he avoided imprisonment in Northern Ireland, led to speculation that he was an informer for British intelligence. Whether he was an informer, or a senior member of PIRA that British intelligence assessed to be a valuable component in their long term strategy of influencing PIRA to end its violence, it still raises difficult questions about the morality of dealing with terrorists, especially people such as McGuinness who was still actively engaged in a terrorist campaign.

Whilst it could be argued that talking to McGuinness or employing other tactics to bolster the Adams-McGuinness camp, helped eventually to reduce the level of violence and save lives, one has to wonder about the moral dilemmas that occurred, such as meeting with McGuinness, only days after the three ‘human bomb’ attacks. One also has to wonder about the evidence that may have existed about the criminal activities of McGuinness and others, and if decisions were taken at the highest levels not to act upon the evidence, as it might disrupt a long term strategy by removing a key player.

Such is the nature of running agents within criminal gangs and terrorist groups. Sometimes unpalatable things have to be done, for the greater good and sometimes, even with the best of intentions, things can go wrong. It’s not an exact science and there are multiple variables, all of which cannot be controlled or predicted. There can however be limits, lines that cannot be crossed.

Whilst experienced agent-handlers accept the responsibility of making difficult, often life and death decisions, with no obvious right or wrong option to pick, in order to save the lives of innocent members of society, they know the importance of sticking to principles, a moral code. Much of what they do, particularly when they are successful, will never be made public, but still having your morals intact when the gold watch is handed over at the end of a career, should be the number one item on the to-do list.

Politicians on the other hand, are a different breed, from a different culture, with different goals. Some have little or no discernible morals. Some are fuelled by an ego that is disproportionate to their skill set and abilities, and that ego is in need of constant stroking. When this egotism is combined with a moral ambiguity, it becomes an intoxicating and problematic cocktail, in which the aforementioned politicians become drunk on their own power and self-delusion. This can then lead to self-aggrandising decisions, to help their career, help sell an autobiography in the future, or whatever else it is that drives them.

In future blogs we will look at what happens when political expediency to achieve a desired objective, the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement (GFA), resulted in the Blair government turning a blind eye to multiple murders by PIRA, whilst they were supposedly on ceasefire, their smuggling of weapons from Florida, before and after Sinn Fein signing up to the GFA, and of course the training of Marxist narco-terrorists in Colombia, in return for millions of dollars from cocaine production and / or a trawler full of weapons.

All the while the Wizard of Oz was telling the public, not to pay attention to the terrorists behind the curtain.

The Grand Illusion Part 2 is available HERE.

The Grand Illusion Part 3 is available HERE.

The Grand Illusion Part 4 is available HERE

You can also find me on Twitter at @SageDespatches