A Spooky World

Tonight The Pensive Quill features guest writer Alec McCrory discussing the campaign of harassment he has been subjected to by British security services. It was written several months ago but the writer’s computer was seized by British police the day after Father’s Day.  It was returned only recently.  The piece is topical given the recent assault by the PSNI on the legal profession and once again underscores how citizens continue to be menaced by the PSNI operating to a political policing agenda.

Recently, I have been receiving some bizarre phone calls to my mobile and landline.   The first call came early last year on a weekday afternoon.  The caller described himself as a “friend in need”, which alerted me to something strange going on.  When I challenged him to identify himself he simply instructed me to save his number and said that he would be in touch.  Of course, I told him where to go in graphic language and terminated the call. 

A few months later a second call came, only this time my wife answered.  The male voice on the other end of the line told her to pass on the above message to me, word for word, and hung up.  On both these occasions, I contacted my solicitor who logged the details and attempted to phone the number: I was able to retrieve it on the 1471 service.  Unsurprisingly, he was diverted to a personal answering service.

Over the next year the PSNI/RUC began to show a greater interest in me and other members of my family.  I have been stopped and searched dozens of times whilst going about my normal business.  In an earlier piece for the Pensive Quill, I wrote of how this targeting has impacted my wife and young daughters.  There are many today who would turn a blind eye to this type of harassment, or worse, justify it on the grounds that those on the receiving end of it must be doing something wrong.  An old excuse used by those who should know better.

Several months ago I received a third phone call this time to the landline. On this occasion the caller did not beat about the bush; in a clipped English accent he said his name was Harry and that he worked for MI5.  Once again, I told this spook where to go and hung up the phone.  Republicans expect to come under the microscope but Harry’s direct approach caught me on the hop.  I credited the security services with having more finesse.  My solicitor was unconvinced and suggested someone might be pulling my chain. But, whoever Harry was, I had niggling suspicion he would be in touch again.

I did not have to wait long to have my suspicions confirmed.  Last Thursday afternoon, I received another call from Harry on the landline Harry.  He said that we should meet for a chat somewhere.  Once again, I dismissed his offer at which point the call took a sinister twist.  He mentioned one of my sons by name causing me to slam down the phone.   Any doubts I had about the caller’s identity quickly evaporated into thin air.  He had just attempted to use my son as bait in an attempt to reel me into his net.   There had been a hint of menace in his voice so I knew this was no wind up. I immediately passed on the information to my solicitor and then I posted Harry’s number on face book and contacted the press.

These approaches have become common currency.  I personally know of dozens of people who have been targeted by the spooks of MI5 in their war against the ‘dissidents’.  In some cases large sums of money has been offered to people in financial difficulty; people have been approached in police custody or when signing bail, in prison, on holiday, in car parks, in hotel rooms, by phone,  the list is endless.  Normal everyday activities are fraught with dangerous possibilities and unpleasant surprises.

For those on the receiving end this experience can be deeply disturbing and frightening.  Families are being put under the microscope and stretched to breaking point by the security agencies with little or no protection.  All solicitors can do in these cases is complain to the recently discredited Ombudsman who is powerless to interfere with or curtail MI5.  Political representatives are expediently silent whenever it comes to this aspect of policing preferring to concentrate on the civic role of the RUC/PSNI.  For this reason, as much as any other, it is essential to expose the nefarious activities of the spooks.

My advice to anyone who finds themselves this position is to go public. Spooks and agents like to skulk in the shadows, unseen and hidden away from the world of checks and balances.  By exposing them to public scrutiny it may be possible to flush them out in to the open.


  1. Alec what can one say other than keep your chin up a cara and dont let these creeps get to you, I know its easier said than done, personally I,d play the fuckers like a fish keep them on the phone forever,wind them up ,record the conversation and put it on u-tube,when they are stooping to these depths its obvious they are losing the argument,

  2. Alec,
    this must be deeply disturbing for you and your family. What is more disturbing though, is the fact these faceless people do not appear to be accountable to anyone.

  3. I have been around enough corners in my time to have grown a thick skin. Personally, I am totally unfazed by the approaches and couldn't careless if they stopped me all day long every day. This is what I have come to expect from the British police force and security agencies going way back to the pre ceasefire days. Such behaviour is consistent with the role played by the British security apparatus in the north.

  4. Alec,
    what is taking place now has a very different dimension to anything that went before.
    At one time we have a united Republican front againt this type of harassment now we have just a front.
    Not only is this front prepared to look the other way, they are actively engaging in passing on information about Republicans to the 'spooks'.

  5. Alec,

    not a pleasant experience even though you are unfazed by it. They are trying to spook you out so your article had an appropriate title.


    which in some ways retrospectively legitimises the type of behaviour Alec protests. There is no less reason to be opposed to it today than 20 years ago and yet as you point out ...

  6. Finnuala, you highlight the qualitive change that has taken place within Republicanism. The attitude of the PRM to the British state has changed fundamentally in recent times. Because their collaborationist policy of supporting the RUC/PSNI, the harrassment of republicans has increased significantly. The activities of MI5 falls outside the remit of the DPPs or any other of the mechanisms of accountability agreed. the British ring fenced political policing so that none of the parties could intefer with its operation.

  7. Alec,

    that qualitative change you refer to also amoiunted to a transformative change. Whether we agree with the SF perspective or not it seems impossible to describe it as republican. Whatever arguments can be made in defence of it they can hardly be termed republican ones

  8. it is everything but republican, Mackers. And I used the terms 'collaborationist' very deliberately. How else can is be described from a republican perspective?

  9. Alec,

    the term collaborationist is one the Provisionals used to describe everybody else who did what they are doing today. And in that sense it would be consistent from a republican perspective to use it. How much meaning it actually has in the communities the Provisionals represent is another matter. And I often wonder if it is employed analytically or to demean. If you look at the term traitor as used by McGuinness it was more for the purpsoes of demeaning than for offering analytical insight.

    In these things language is a weapon. I think it is accurate to observe that the Provisional project is not republican. That observation can be made in a descriptive fashion without attributing any value to republicanism. But it can also be used to gain the moral high ground; that to be republican places republicans on the high ground and to be non republican places the 'non' element on the low ground.

    In your use of the term I think you do it analytically.

  10. Macker's

    my use of the word was not merely descriptive nor was it offered as term of abusive. The Vichy gorvernment during the second world war was described as collaborationist because of its relationship with the Nazi occupation. To cooperate with and assist an occupying power in the administration/governance of France placed the Vichy regime in a collaborationist position. Sinn Fein's current accomodation with British occupation and its role in a local administration is essentially no different.

    As you rightly point out, nationalist parties in the past were lambasted by republicans for their willingness to reach an internal arrangement with the British before and after partition. Adams and McGuinness have brought Irish Republicanism to a place where, in reality, it can not hope to survive the transformative demands of the system. Sinn Fein's political strategy seriously threatens the future of Republicanism because it removes its oppositional heart and renders it ideologically impotent.

  11. Alec,

    comparisons of SF with Vichy France or the Brit involvement in Ireland with Nazi Germany's occupation with France tends in my view to undermine the republican argument. A few years ago a situation in the Short Strand was compared with Beirut and Auschwitz if I recall correctly. The hyperbole was such that it detracted from the points made rather than strengthening them. The problem for SF is that they type of analogies you employ to critique them were the very ones they employed to critique others. So they have become hoist on their own petard.
    Sinn Fein is a reformist party still pretending to be republican. They have bought into the NI state to a greater degree than even the Sticks did, whom they lambasted for being treacherous sell outs.
    I think republicanism as we knew it is finished. You obviously disagree.

  12. Mackers,

    the comparaion I made is not in my opinion hyperbole. The difference is to be found more in scale than essence. Toady SF cooperates with and assists British rule in Ireland via its role in a local administration. I see the point you are making and I agree that exaggerated comparisons can detract from a proper critique. However, I believe the word 'collaborationist' is a fair description of SF's role today from a republican position.

  13. Alec,

    I think the term colloborationist is apt only because SF used it to castigate those who did what SF is doing now. Outside of that I doubt it has much use value. But of course you are right to say that from a republican perspective it would be fair play to use the term against SF. At the same time that brings out a new problem - what use or relevance the republican perspective?

  14. "what use or relevance the republican perspective"

    Mackers, we have had this out on many ocassions and clearly disagree fundamentally. I have described your position as being post republican because I believe you now operate within a different ideological/interperative framework.

    You would have to be more specific than the above statement. Within the broad chruch of republicanism there are competing perspectives/philosophsies representing the entire ideoogical spectrum.

    For example, I doubt whether Tommy McKearney would agree with you on the irrelevancy of the left-republican perspective in modren Ireland. Likewise, those on the more traditionalist end of the scale would challenge your assertions regarding the validity and relevance of their position.

    Of course, I know you are referring to something more specific, in which case, you should identify its colour and type.

  15. Alec,

    Tommy has removed from any left strategy the central republican objective. He argues, persuasively in my view, that the GFA means the Irish people have settled the national question to its own satisfaction. So Tommy has, rather than republicanism being the cause of forward momentum, republicans participating in strategies that are left but not republican. So while his perspective would push an island wide socialist agenda it does not address the issue of partition.

    In my view republicanism is not the answer to the question of partition. And republicanism has never shown itself capable of providing that answer.

  16. I don't believe Tommy has removed the central republican objective from any left strategy at all: at least this is not my understanding of it. What he did say is that the GFA removes the urgency of finding a resolution to the national question for the foreseeable future. He argues that republicans should therefore park the issue in favor of a left programme designed to mobilise the working class on an all island basis. However, I beleive Tommy's perferred long term option is a unitary socialist republic free form British interference.

  17. I personally haven't read Tommy's book yet. Any commentary I have come across would suggest he would still favor the left republican objective of a 32 DSR as the long terms solution.

  18. Alec,

    Favouring a united Ireland in the long term is the position of just about all nationalists in the country. It is SF’s position too. The SDLP favour a united Ireland in the long term but they have no republican strategy to achieve it. Their answer to the question of partition is a constitutional nationalist one not a republican one. I don’t think favouring a united Ireland in the long term has any bearing on the insertion of republicanism at the centre of strategy. I favour it yet you feel in my case it is a post republican position.

    Tommy certainly favours a united Ireland but sees no way of getting it. For this reason he makes no strategic link between his Left project and his republican belief in a united Ireland. He believes in working with the unionist working class to combat neo liberalism and capitalism not because he feels it is a means of bringing unionists across to a republican position. There is no attempt by him to con either the unionists or republicans about what is possible.

    That is my reading of his position. He is a republican who takes cognisance of the balance of forces and being aware of the limitations of republican strategies he does not try to devise one but urges republicans to work in progressive causes which are not by themselves republican.

    When we talk of republicanism here we are working on the assumption of it as we have understood it. There is no right, either de facto or de jure, afforded to any section of the people on the island of Ireland to veto unity.