Felon Setting

Tony Catney is a former republican prisoner. He served a life sentence for an action carried out while a republican activist in 1974. I initially met him at the tail end of my first jail term. He arrived in Cage F of Magilligan Prison in the closing months of 1975, shortly after he was sent down and just a matter of days before I was due for release. Like a minority in the IRA our first acquaintance with prison life took place at the tender age of 16. Over the years I got to know him very well. We became and remain firm friends despite as far back as 1986 having serious reservations about each other’s reading of political trends. His friendship broke through the stay away barrier when times were tough, both politically and personally. Despite my long standing political disagreements with him I have always saw him as a keen strategic and political mind. As a real electoral strategist - and not just one the press elevated to the status on the sole basis of the press wanting to elevate someone to that status - he was a powerful asset to Sinn Fein throughout the peace process.

Never one to leap in the air as if jabbed with a cattle prod and then collapse to the ground with a sigh and a shudder when confronted with a different idea, he readily faced up to any criticisms of Sinn Fein strategy or his own role in helping formulate or drive it. In my numerous disagreements with him he was a formidable adversary. I would often leave discussions with him exasperated but niggled by the thought that he had a point.

We worked together in the movement and in the mid 1990s both of us came to suspect that because of our close relationship and refusal to be deferential to leadership ideas that seemed questionable, some people at that level thought it better to keep us apart. We were not organising against leadership, rather providing a platform for people to express a view not officially sanctioned. The Bobby Sands Discussion Group, which we were both central to, was not officially closed. However, those of us who were IRA volunteers, Sinn Fein activists or both were told by the thought police not to express our views in public or organise any events that might cause the leadership discomfort. He underwent his exile in Brussels while I experienced it at home. Maybe we got it wrong and the leadership were just making use of its resources but that is how we saw it at the time. Little has happened since that would cause us to revise that view.

These days Tony Catney is no longer with Sinn Fein, having decided to promote republicanism through a republican body. He is a key driving force behind the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) a campaigning body set up for the purpose of salvaging something from the wreckage of a republicanism torpedoed beneath the waterline by the Sinn Fein leadership. He has been central to many debates and discussions where he has presented the RNU analysis of the state of play. He told the Sunday Life:

It's about sitting down with each other and working out a common way forward. The Good Friday Agreement hasn't achieved anything, it's a sectarian document.When people voted for it they were voting for peace, not the contents of a deeply flawed document.

Despite a busy schedule, he has made time for anyone interested in his political viewpoint and on one recent occasion made last minute rearrangements to facilitate the travel schedule of a visiting academic currently working on a book which looks at the resurgence of republican ideas.

Last week my normal jaundiced view of the peace process hurtled rather than slipped into overdrive on reading a front page news feature in the Sunday Life in which TC, as we know him, was given space to deny allegations against him that he was leader of the Real IRA in Belfast. The story itself did not annoy me. What did were the insights it provided as to the manner in which the allegations were being pushed into the public arena. A line in the article stated that ‘Republican and security sources said they believed Catney was the Real IRA's Belfast boss.’

Having previously dealt with false claims against Catney being pedalled by the Sinn Fein leadership in which it alleged he was plotting against their safety I was immediately suspicious as to who was behind these claims. I contacted TC and asked him to comment:

I was contacted by a journalist who told me he had been briefed by a senior PSNI man, Mark Hamilton, who told him that I was the head of the Real IRA in Belfast. The journalist also told me that Mark Hamilton freely expressed the view that he in turn had been provided with this information by Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein.

He then went on to repeat a challenge laid down in the Sunday Life:

What I am doing now is making a challenge to the PSNI. I am a former prisoner currently out on licence. If they believe these allegations are true, rather than something put out there just to discredit me, why has my license not been revoked?

Tony Catney has no way of knowing for sure if Gerry Kelly told Mark Hamilton of the PSNI anything. All he has to go on is what the journalist told him. I asked him had he any reason to disbelieve the journalist to which he answered no. The journalist in question had no reason to be hostile to Kelly and relayed the story to Catney during the course of a conversation.

No stranger to whisper weasels, in his interview with the Sunday Life Catney outlined the type of problems a republican is likely to face upon deciding to no longer acquiesce in the party line:

Once I left Sinn Fein I became the victim of a witch-hunt, sniping and Chinese whispers … In the autumn of 2006 a senior Sinn Fein member was briefing IRA members that I was the head of a heavily armed military organisation that wanted to kill Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness or Gerry Kelly. That was total rubbish then and it's total rubbish now. Because I have been the victim of a whispering campaign before it isn't surprising to hear this stuff linking me to the Real IRA now.

Tony Catney believes he is the victim of a smear campaign being orchestrated by his former colleagues in Sinn Fein. It is similar in style to what Rab Jackson of Eirigi so vociferously protested about in the Irish News. Eirigi too has had the evil eye of Sinn Fein cast upon it because, although it has tried to avoid coming into conflict with the party, operates autonomously in pursuit of its own republican agenda.

Catney’s explanation of the logic governing the dissemination campaign against him would equally apply to Eirigi: ‘Sinn Fein see our group as a threat and they see us offering an alternative, that's why I believe they have singled me out and are trying to depict that I am bathed in blood.’

Sinn Fein has every right to compete with the RNU and Eirigi on the field of ideas. But Tony Catney is the victim of an odious felon setting campaign then in the words of one former leading IRA volunteer, ‘it is an act so soaked in malign intent that the people responsible have plummeted to new depths and have slipped off the radar screen of anything that could be vaguely described as republican.’


  1. What a disheartening article, the way SF deals with former members in the North has always been questionable, as it is not only designed to punish those who differ with the party's peace process strategy, but forewarn all those who are thinking of following in the likes of Tony Catney's footsteps to think again, and consider the consequences.

    For a former republican prisoner who is out on license to be accused of being a leading member of the Real IRA, whether true or not, is nothing less than felon setting, there is absolutely no other way to look at this matter, as the consequences to the individual concerned could be catastrophic. In this case being recalled to jail or be set up for a Loyalist or UK intel sting.

    Tony Catney has categorically denied he is the leader of the RIRA in Belfast and that should be good enough for any Republican. As the journalist in question has said his police source was a senior PSNI man, Mark Hamilton, who in turn said he had been provided with this information by Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein, then the ball is in Kelly’s court to publicly deny this foul allegation.

    Gerry Kelly, a man who has sacrificed the best years of his life to the Republican struggle, has no alternative but to deny the allegations about felon setting which have been made against him. After all there is no greater crime in the Republican lexicon than felon setting.

    When Gerry Kelly denies he was Hamilton’s source that should be the end of the matter, although it does raise the question why, a senior PSNI man would wish to involve Gerry Kelly in such a controversy at this time?

    If Kelly refuses to deal with this matter it will prove those right who claim SF have different standards of behavior for their leadership and the ordinary Joe on the street. I hope by issuing a denial Gerry Kelly will prove them wrong.

  2. anthony

    One possible alternative to the journalist telling anything but the truth would be that the PSNI/RUC man told the journalist a mistruth, knowing that it would end up in one of the Sunday morning rags, and would cause further division between sinn Féin and the other Republican groups.

    No-one, no matter what shade of Irish Republicanism they come from, would be surprised at that surely?

    One final point Anthony, what;s your take on the growing amount of graffitti being daubed on walls in Nationalist areas threatening the leadership - the lastest being the one on the Glen Road aimed at Bobby Storey?



  3. Anthony,
    I mentioned in a previous post that it was my contention that anyone not playing the peace process 'game' or anyone who might even slightly undermine it would soon feel as though they were being worked at/attacked from both ends. ie from [so called]Republicans and the security forces. This is by no means new. It's a disorienting experience but something that has surely been in practice for some time.
    It doesn't matter whether Kelly admits to touting on people in the community to the PSNI, McGuninnes already nailed the SF flag to the mast as if anyone was ever in doubt. For goodness sake stop living in denial, these guys are actively working with the security agencies and will hang anyone who undermines their plan for Republicanism, that plan is to bury it beyond any chance of a resurection.
    McGuinness and co. haven't the political integrity to rename their political machine as FF ,WP did, they believe they are the embodiment of 800 years of Irish history and will wreck Republicanism before they'll give up the reigns. Dangerous people.
    SF have a new group of gullible youngsters emerging from school each year with no concept of the conflict that went on. They read the Hunger strikes history as you and I read about WW1 WW2 and the Tan War...fascinating but distant and safely so, SF can then reinvent itself as and when required. I would love to know outside the leadership of SF how many activists in the party were involved in the conflict from the 70's 80's and 90's and even more interestingly, how many people who were involved have abandoned SF?
    Watch yer back, SF are about!

  4. Larry

    Just on your last point, in West Belfast, a fair number of activists would have been involved in the late eighties and early nineties. Going beyond that and you are talking bout people in their fifties or sixties possibly.

    That isn't bad given that political activists are difficult to come by in any era, and for any party.

    Nor would I begrudge anyone who was directly involved in the conflict from an army perspective feeling that they have done their bit and who choose not to sacrafice all of their time on this earth to the movement.

    I know lots of fellas and girls who served time and are now happy just to be settling into family life with a partner and kids. You will see them at Easter and other local commemorations and they still vote for SF, so they are not leadership, they are not activists, but they most certainly gave a lot for their country.

    I suppose a more poignant revelation, from the cohort of people that you refer to, is how many place their X or 1 against the SF candidates in their local constituencies when the ballot box is in town. For me, that is a more accurate barometer of where people in this country place their loyalty on the national issue. So far, the support for SF has held strong, time will tell how long that remains the case - and despite what people may argue, these same people are not some sort of hypnotised mass who can't make up their own minds - to suggest such indicates to me an arrogance that isn't justified.



  5. Westie,
    look at the way the media are stone walling anything and anyone remotely anti GFA and the hype given to the SF leadership over the last years. If you look at the huge sea change in the SF position at every oportunity/necessity then I suggest the 'masses' and party activists are indeed hypnotised. Gullible was an unfortunate choice of word. The people can only play with the cards they are dealt, being realistic. Media saturation surely has an effect and promotes the GFA agenda. That's not a crime but it is unbalanced and OTT.
    The only thing that can be said for the SF stratagy is that maintaining a psychophantic cadre and blinkered direction they have broken the back of the Orange Order at Drumcree [McKenna may disagree] also the Official Unionists have floundered somewhat. Unionism has seemingly fragmented and the Catholic/Nationalist vote has held solid.
    When I criticise SF it's not as a political machine or the integrity of the younger activists, it's the move by the leadership to become at all costs the SDLP while professing to be the same Republican movement we all supported in years gone by. It's the dishonesty in their stance. Maybe a consistent vote and demographics may guide them toward where they intend to go in the long term, [ a referendum on unity?] who knows? Hopefully it will. But when they claim to be Republican I am extremely embarrassed.

  6. Larry

    I take on board your points. Maybe your final point does outline an option for the long term strategy, even if it is a fall back position.

    I don't think that is a bad position to have and it would indicate that Irish Unity is the ultimate goal of the Partyalong with it's supporters. It was never going to happen tomorrow or the next day, but it has to stay as a constant issue for anyone who claims that the ending of partition is a priority objective/aspiration in their lives.

    It isn't, nor has it been in my adult life, something that the SDLP give too much air time to.

    All the best.



  7. As someone who has also been blamed for starting the trouble in Ardoyne on 13th July.

    Gerry Kelly of S/F actually told the above to the RTE Northern Editor and the Editor of the Irish News.

    Sad as it may well be but it is rightly called felon-setting and is a disgrace for anyone claiming to be an Irish Republican to do so.

    Thanks Mackers again for highlighting the hyprocrasy of the modern day S/F.

  8. Westie, sorry about the way these comments are coming but I am on holiday and getting a response out is not always easy.

    Yes, you could be absolutely right. Gerry Kelly may well not have made any allegations against Tony Catney. The cop could have made them up. Which of course must make you ask yourself even more what are you doing giving political support to a force which does this type of thing.

    The piece was not penned to attack Kelly as such but to allow Tony Catney to get his version of events out. Therefor, as Mick Hall argues all Kelly has to do is deny it. There is nothing else against him on it. Although you have to concede the Martin Og Meehan allegations tend to give it more legs. What would you think of it if it is true?

    As for threats against Bobby Storey appearing on walls, it seems a bit of role reversal at play. And it is all very mild compared against what the Provisional movement has dished out to republicans at odds with it. Don´t you agree?

    Having said that it is totally out of order, just as the attack on his car was, as the attacks on the persons, families or properties of any Sinn Fein member.

    I think the strongest criticism of late to appear in my pieces was that directed against those who attacked the home of Mitchel McLaughlin. So, I think you know what my position on all forms of intimidation is. I totally oppose it and would as readily defend a Sinn Fein members against it as I would a republican critic of the party.

  9. I,ve been logging on every day and no new postings,so I reckon your away and I hope not for your tea,have a good one, Marty F

  10. Marty F, not just yet! On holiday simply. Glad somebody noticed!!