The Shankill Bombing Leak: Cui Bono?

Ed Moloney @ The Broken Elbow probes behind the Irish News revelation about yet another British agent within management structure of the Provisional IRA. 

So, who leaked the Shankill bombing story to The Irish News, and more to the point, why?

The story claims that the RUC Special Branch was fully aware of the plan by the North Belfast IRA in October, 1993 to wipe out the leadership of the Ulster Defence Association as they met in their offices above Frizzel’s fishmongers shop on the Shankill Road, but did nothing to stop the attack.

The result was enormous loss of civilan life – the UDA leaders were not in situ when the bomb exploded – and a crisis in the peace process whose overall effect, by ratcheting up reprisal killings by Loyalists, was to strengthen pressure on the IRA and its political leadership to bring a halt to violence.

The story can be read here.

The obvious motive of the Special Branch, in unison with other branches of British intelligence, was to manipulate the IRA, via agents it controlled in its ranks, towards acceptance of a peace process which, at the time, was regarded sceptically by key elements in the organisation, not least in the Belfast Brigade, although embraced enthusiastically by political leaders such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

The Irish News story claims that its information came from Special Branch documents stolen by the IRA from the Branch’s Castlereagh offices in 2002, a raid supposedly inspired by a former New York-based bar chef called Larry Zaitchek, who now runs a restaurant in Drogheda but who had secured a job in the RUC station in order to facilitate the raid.

But, t is widely believed that the real brains behind the raid was the then IRA intelligence chief Bobby Storey, who has a number of intelligence coups to his credit, at least allegedly, including the running of an intelligence ring at Stormont, the Northern Bank robbery and the bombing of the British Army’s HQ at Thiepval barracks, Lisburn.

However Storey is a loyal acolyte of the SF President Gerry Adams and it is inconceivable that if Storey is the leaker – which circumstances strongly suggest he probably is – he could or would have acted without the permission or indeed the instructions of the Provo leadership.

So, the most intriguing question is this: as the general election machinery gears up in the South what do Adams & Co. have to gain by making all this public? We will doubtless know soon enough.

A secondary consideration: perhaps Mr Adams and his colleagues should be careful what they wish for…..After all, a full discussion of what British agents did or did not do to advance the interests of the peace process might produce less than welcome results.


  1. I posed that question last night on Twitter when this first broke Ed. Who leaked this document? My thoughts were that it was a disgruntled member of PIRA who had access to the documents and maybe had took copies and who had decided to embarrass the Shameless Shinners because of the most recent promoting of the British Royals by the party leadership or surrendering Welfare back to the Tories.

    Also cast your mind back to when SF were supposedly standing fast on Welfare, the killing of Kevin McGuigan and the stand off in Stormont. Then a former Branch Man makes the claim that the break in at Castlereagh was carried out to protect a leading IRA informer. Danny Morrison as I remember laughed it off on Twitter.

    Then the Shinners surrendered Welfare back into the hands of the Tories and the Fresh Start was up and attempting to pull the wool over people's eyes.

    I made the point that once again the mention of a tout in high places was the kick in the arse that got the Shinners doing what was expected of them.

  2. Good article, and it leads to lots of interesting questions.

    Who stands to benefit from the story leaking? I'm not sure.

    But why was the attack not stopped if SB were aware? Maybe this:

    If the attack was successful (in IRA terms), wiping out the UDA leadership would, I think, strengthen the dove's position towards calling a ceasefire - "we are doing this from a position of strength."

    If it was unsuccessful, as it was, the sheer horror of the loss of life would be on a par with Enniskillen and wound the IRA/SF significantly.

    I don't think Adams et al cared much for the "reprisals" wrought on uninvolved civilians (that included a former B-Special and at least one Protestant, both killed by "mistake"), but would have cared about the outpouring of condemnation.

    Things just got murkier.

    I'll need to consult my books, but I think the OC of Ardoyne at the time had a very, very familiar surname.

  3. Seems the heat is on again on this particular individual , I may be barking up the wrong tree here but if. This guy is one of those involved in the abduction of Sandy Lynch , not Scap by the way , then I recall similar allegations floating about quite a few years back , interesting days ahead....

  4. Does it have to be leaked as part of a strategy? Is the chances of someone with a conscience leaking it out of the question? And what strategy was served by stealing this material only to continue to ensure that it was kept secret? Was Adair tipped off when to leave the building?

    Ed's assessment of Bobby Storey as Adam's puppet is spot on.

  5. He has obviously done a fair bit of damage to the provisionals in Around , being an O.C he would have knowledge of safe houses and those who lived in them , where the busters (meetings) were held , his info would most likely have been passed on to Brian Nelson by special branch , so why is he still residing within the community with the ever present threat of exposure hanging over him , only he and the provisionals can answer that.

  6. Do they actually know who AA is and if so is it a case of 'band of brothers' only reworded to 'band of touts' in this particular case? Remember, the leadership of the IRA was fully infiltrated at the same time as this attack so Adams had plenty of internal support for his plans to surrender and all guided from afar by the Brits. Did they really need this disaster to spur it on? Was it simply a case of where the Brits warned off Adair and his crew and protected their tout by allowing the risk of the bombing to go ahead hoping that it would end with a building being destroyed and nothing more. The fact that the bomb went off prematurely was a disaster all round. To suggest that AA could have tampered with it surely would imply that he would have tampered with it to ensure it didn't go many IRA volunteers lost their lives under his leadership prior to this?

  7. Niall

    If the Brits knew about the bomb attack and their agent might have tampered with the bomb mechanism how does that imply that they did not want it to go off? You mean like the way they were also involved in the Omagh Bomb atrocity? On the balance of thing perhaps the public was safer from paramilitaries sometimes own incompetence than consistent routine state informer/agent/handler/ministerial incompetence?

  8. Although the role of touts is apparently to save lives it usually ended up they were setting volunteers up to be either murdered or imprisoned by the British state , if the device was tampered with then perhaps it was designed to explode enroute to its destination and simply didn't , this of course is supposition and conjecture , the British knew every move the provisionals were making in Belfast as a result of infiltration.


  9. Stauffenberg the role of a tout is to do exactly that...tout. What happens to the information he/she gives across is well an truly out of their hands. And who lives or dies...go to prison or even turned into maybe a bigger tout is also out of their hands...

    Thats for the spooks to decide over a glass or three of whatever in some office or Westminster..Maybe even an office in Westminster.

  10. That's the point I was making Frankie , these people surrender themselves for whatever reason , be it vulnerability , debt or indeed a need to be protected , from a Brit point of view they will always convince their victim that their interest is solely in saving lives when we all know the outcome is often the opposite. If this individual is who I think he is then he also had Jim McGarrigle and Alex Lynch batting in his team and a guy from the Newlodge who was branded a tout and had his reputation destroyed because of this Brit agent can now come home with his head held high , if he ever wants to of course.