Scoops Not Filed

A few days ago an article appeared in the Irish Times by Peter Murtagh. It related to the 1986 IRA killing of Frank Hegarty, one of its senior volunteers who had gone ‘over to the other side’ as Martin McGuinness put it. The other side ironically, given where Sinn Fein is today, was then the British state. There is little room for doubting that Hegarty was a British agent or that he was unaware that the sanction for going over to the other side was, as Martin McGuinness said, ‘death certainly.’ But that was less the point of Murtagh’s article than the role he alleges was played by McGuinness in the immediate aftermath of the killing.

Murtagh wrote that he visited the Hegarty home to interview the dead man’s loved ones and while there he was first confronted and then compelled to leave by two republican goondas.

There was a knock on the door. Two men came in. One stood directly in front of me, cutting me off from the women. The other engaged the woman who had been talking to me. I was ushered out, out to a waiting car. Inside the car sat Martin McGuinness. The family is very upset, he said. It wasn’t good to talk to them right now; in fact, they really couldn’t talk right now. It wasn’t a negotiation. The interview was over. Ended by McGuinness and his two heavies.

McGuinness, accused recently in many newspapers of having lured Hegarty to his death, was a Sinn Fein elected representative at the time. This context would have given legs to Murtagh’s account had he filed it immediately. Yet it was never published in the Guardian for whom he was covering the Stalker controversy when the Hegarty killing occured.

Most people probably accepted Murtagh’s Irish Times version of events, not being predisposed to accept much Martin McGuinness would have to say on the matter. Many of them probably feel that the current presidential candidate has little choice other than to be evasive on issues relating to his decades long IRA career. But a former Sinn Fein colleague of McGuinness, Danny Morrison, phoned Murtagh demanding to know why at the time he never filed the biggest scoop of the year. Murtagh told him he could not really remember but he was working on bigger stories at the time including the Stalker affair, adding that his car had once been hijacked in Derry and he had not written about that either.

While it was a tad hyperbolic for Morrison to claim that it was the biggest scoop of the year, there is no doubt that it was a serious story and would have made good copy for any newspaper. For whatever reason it was not published. Murtagh in his radio exchange with Morrison yesterday was steady. Morrison was assertive but admitted lying to Murtagh during the late night phone call which he falsely claimed to have taped. A tactical subterfuge no doubt, but one that probably gives an advantage by default to Murtagh who has admitted no dishonesty on his own part.

Whatever the facts behind the Murtagh story, his not filing the report is not an isolated event. On the 17th of October 2000, four days after the IRA had gunned down Joe O’Connor in West Belfast’s Ballymurphy, I was sitting with a journalist in my home less than half a kilometre from the scene of the killing. The journalist had come up to my home to interview Brendan Hughes. As he and I sat in our living room along with Brendan Hughes and my partner Carrie Twomey, two senior members of the IRA’s GHQ staff could be viewed from our living room approaching the house. I commented that it was the IRA. The journalist recognised one of the individuals and mentioned his name.

They knocked and after answering the door I led them into the kitchen where a fractious exchange ensued as they sought to intimidate both Carrie and myself over an article accusing the IRA of having killed O’Connor I had co-written with Tommy Gorman, published in that morning’s Irish News. The journalist, clearly aware that a noisy exchange was taking place, the details of which both I and my partner discussed at length with him and Brendan once the IRA people had left, nevertheless published nothing about it. Nor did the interview with Brendan Hughes, his reason for being in our home, appear anywhere either. His only public acknowledgement that a sharp exchange had taken place came some time later when the now deceased Jack Holland wrote an article about IRA attempts to suppress its critics. In that article Holland cited the journalist as admitting he had heard a heated exchange from behind two doors:

An American reporter was in the house when the incident occurred. He says he was in another room and did not hear any threat. However, he said “it was a heated discussion, heard through two doors.”

In addition to hearing a ‘heated discussion’, the reporter had firsthand accounts of what had taken place from both myself and Carrie Twomey. He knew the identity and seniority of at least one of the IRA intimidators. I wondered at the time why the report was never carried. It was only years later, after Brendan’s death, that he finally wrote about meeting Brendan in our home, and even then he still failed to mention the encounter with the IRA which took place while he was in the house.

Few journalists find themselves in the position of being within earshot of IRA intimidation of fellow journalists and when the opportunity presents itself it is not unreasonable to expect that a scoop is in the making. Despite my frustrations at the copy not being filed, I never thought the journalist was guilty of anything seriously untoward. While others have assumed a much more critical stance, in my view it was at worst a judgement call I would not have agreed with.  I have spoken to him on a number of occasions since and once addressed a group of students at his request. There were never any hard feelings between the two of us as a result of it. But what it confirmed for me was that journalists do not always file what others would regard as newsworthy. Because they do not is no reason to assume that an unreported event is one that did not happen.


  1. Good post Anthony,but you must allow those Broy harriers of the lead now and again,or as Maggie said set loose the dogs of war,I wonder in the cases you posted was it an editorial decision and who actually took that decision if you get my drift?.

  2. Martin was on the other day,stating he got involved with Franko Hegarty case, because Franko had said he was kidnapped by MI5, and as an elected rep he would try and use his influence to help.He tried the same thing with Lorraine Gilmore some years previous, trying to get her husband home for a third eye hole. He was smarter than Franko

  3. Mackers,
    whether Murtagh chose to publish his encounter or not does not deflect from the truth.
    The Hegarty killing has Mc Guinness stamped all over it.
    No other informer was ever enticed home. No other Chief of Staff ever got down on bended knee and guaranteed a mother that her informer son would be totally protected. (what an absolute bastard)
    Hegarty knew something about McGuinness, something which he and his pal Scap needed hushed up big time.

  4. Is Morrison now farming himself out as some type of avenging angel.
    Why are they suddenly rolling him out or letting him roll himself out to answer awkward questions about the leadership?

  5. I an no supporter of Martin but Franko got what was coming to him, he was a tout simple as that. He trusted Mcguinness as for "knowimg something" is absurd it was a ploy that worked.

  6. Marty,

    in the Murtagh he admitted not filing so it was not an editorial decision. In my case I think it was simply not filed, so again not a matter for the editor. Can't imagine both being filed and none of them getting in.

  7. Nuala,

    Murtagh had his version confirmed today by another journalist although I have not had the chance to read it yet.

    Franko no doubt knew the score. The ruthless use of the mother to lure him back was sinister stuff. As Saddened said it was a ploy that worked - but it takes a certain type to make it work.

    'Hegarty knew something about McGuinness, something which he and his pal Scap needed hushed up big time.'

    Sounds like the Fenton event in that respect.

  8. Saddened,
    how do you know it is absurd?
    A lot of people who would know a lot more than us certainly do not think it is absurd!

    the more you delve into this stuff the dirtier it gets.
    I certainly have no sympathy in relations to informers but the line has become so blurred it is hard to know who was who.
    Davidson and Scap were both tortures and executioners and they were both top agents.
    How many of their victims were guilty and who was innocent, self preservation was very much the order of the day.
    Was Scap protecting Mc Guinness?
    A lot of decent and very sincere republicans now believe he was.

  9. Nuala,

    it is very murky. We can no longer say that all those shot as informers were informers.

    There is no doubt the Brits wanted McGuinness to be protected just as they wanted Adams protected. They reckoned correctly they could do business with them and needed their input to secure a non republican outcome.

  10. Nuala,

    but Billy was in the IRA and Gerry wasn't.

  11. Mackers,
    a very credible explanation, maybe Gerry never actually knew Mc Kee.
    And maybe Billy has gotten it all wrong about him.

  12. Anthony,

    is this the second article you're
    taking about?

  13. Fionnuala Perry

    'No other informer was ever enticed home. No other Chief of Staff ever got down on bended knee and guaranteed a mother that her informer son would be totally protected. (what an absolute bastard)'

    In your eyes is McGuinness a bastard now or then, I mean is McGuinness a bastard only now because of the hypocrisy in his overt coop with the state.

    'Hegarty knew something about
    McGuinness, something which he and his pal Scap needed hushed up big time'.

    Surely if McGuinness was a British agent back then, it would have been in the Brits best interests to have this 'something' hushed up also. McGuinness wouldn't have gone to such lenghts over Hagerty, but simply relied on the Brits to protect their prize and thus deal with the low grade Hagerty. Why would McGuinness have allowed himself to be exposed to the man's family or taken any chance whatsoever, dosen't add up in my book.

  14. Nuala,

    not sure why Morrison is putting himself about so pugnaciously. Maybe doing it on his own and trying to recover lost credibility. Two weeks ago a Belfast republican said that even people on the ground in SF pay no heed to him.


    that seems to be the one. Thanks.

  15. saddened

    'franko got what he deserved'

    Donaldson also whilst mcguinnes stands shoulder to shoulder with PSNI chief calling for 'informers'.
    why is scap walking about?

    if they all got what was coming to them the SF leadership would all be dead a decade or 3 ago.

  16. Saddened

    Liam Adams to be extradited for child rape charges. Considering Gerry believed Liams daughter but covered for Liam for decades; why did Liam not get what he deserved?

    The consistency of SF 'brass'-necks.

  17. der Liebhar,
    anyone who would use a mother to lure her son home is pretty low.
    And that type if low is not conditional on whether it was today, last week, 1974 or before.

    The brits do not always protect their agents be they 'high grade' low grade or just plain low life grade.
    They did not protect Fenton and he would have been well graded. They actually sent him back here in the knowledge that he had been sussed.
    Why then did they protect less valuable informers than him? Who knows?
    They could have prevented Davidsons death and he was pretty high grade but again he had been sussed.

    Why did McGuinness go out on a limb to get Hegarty home?
    Why did he chose to approach the mother?
    Why did he hand him over to a top british agent and IRA executioner?

    Maybe he had a fixation with the ones that got away. Strange he never had the same fixation with his old pal Scap who was able to go about his daily business in West Belfast years after the IRA sussed him.

  18. Nuala,

    here is a link to an interesting piece on it.

  19. Mackers,
    A very interesting/informative piece, probably explains the whole scenario better than anything else I have read.
    It was all about his self-preservation, what's changed?

  20. Nuala,

    I thought it was the best piece on it that I have read

  21. Just read that.

    was going to say it would make a good le carre thriller, but a total nightmare more like.

    Wood and trees comes to mind. Scap, Adams both gerry+liam, mcguinness and the rest all ok; donaldson, hegarty and the likes dead. That was no organisation, it was a club of the filthiest variety....still is.

  22. just thinking there about that estate agent in Belfast who was shot super quick...Fenton? and the married couple in the alleyway.

    The more you think about the SF 'leadership' the more the cast in that Michael Jackson thriller video begin to look virtuous.

    Good job the war's over or the body count required to keep those SF guys in place would have put pol-pot to shame lol

  23. Anthony,

    "..not sure why Morrison is putting himself about so pugnaciously"

    Guffawed at your description of Morrison's recent belligerence - almost, but not quite, as loud as when you put his lights out with 'Dear Danny'- which was truly a masterful rebuttal if not a masterclass in the art of "rope-a-dope".

  24. Robert,

    I think the lights in there have been operated by dimmer switch for quite some time.

  25. I also read the article about Hegarty,are we to believe army council members went on like this or was it in reality as the saying goes "lions led by donkeys". If it was to save his neck why did he try the same ploy with Gilmore a few years EARLIER, using his wife Lorraine. It doesn't add up does anybody have any ideas.