Terrorists laid bare by authors on the inside

Lucrative royalties have eased informers' fears of retribution says Ian Burrell
  • @iburrell
THE secrecy of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland is being blown apart by a succession of literary bombshells.

As Northern Ireland peacemakers attempt to lure the terrorists out of the shadows, an unwanted spotlight is being shone on the gunmen by the publishing industry.

One by one, reformed terrorists and secret agents who were paid to work inside paramilitary groups are going into print to describe their cell structures, operations and internal politics.

The prospect of lucrative royalties has helped to ease the authors' fears of retribution from terrorist hit squads. One book is already a best-seller, and three more are expected to attract great interest, not least from the terrorists themselves.

Today sees the publication of Raymond Gilmour's Dead Ground, detailing his nine years masquerading as an IRA terrorist while working for the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Gilmour joined the INLA at 16 before switching to the IRA, where he became a member of the elite Brandywell cell in Londonderry, whose operations he constantly thwarted by tipping off his RUC handler, known only as Pete. "In my time I saved hundreds of lives," he said.

Gilmour's cover was blown in 1982 when he told Pete that the IRA had taken possession of an American heavy-duty assault rifle. It was a fact known only to a handful of terrorists and Gilmour knew he would be exposed.

When he later admitted to his wife, Lorraine, that he was an RUC agent, she broke down in tears and begged him not to pursue his plan of giving supergrass evidence.

In 1984, the case against 35 men implicated by Gilmour collapsed in court. Since then he has lived in hiding.

He still lives "overseas", but his wife and family have returned to Londonderry, unable to take the stress of life on the run.

Another account of life inside the IRA is already in the best-seller's list. In Fifty Dead Men Walking, Martin McGartland recounts how he was recruited by the RUC as a Belfast teenager. He claims his tip-offs saved more than 50 lives.

When his true identity was discovered in 1991 he was taken to a flat in west Belfast to be interrogated and executed, but escaped after throwing himself through a third floor window. He said: "People are now starting to realise that the agents working inside Northern Ireland are the unsung heroes and the effect of this is to make it more acceptable for people to pass information about the terrorists to the police."

A different perspective on life inside the IRA is expected from a forthcoming book being prepared by reformed terrorist Sean O'Callaghan, a former IRA commander who served eight years of two life sentences for murder. He is now a respected commentator on Northern Ireland affairs.

Meanwhile, disgraced former soldier Brian Nelson is believed to be writing Agent Orange about his time within the Ulster Defence Association. Nelson did nothing to stop many terrorist operations and in 1992 was jailed for 10 years for the murder of five Catholics before being released under a new identity.