MI5 agent who infiltrated Irish republican movement discloses how Martin McGuinness couldn’t countenance terror against Scottish ‘Celtic cousins’. Neil Mackay reports

IT is one of the great mysteries of the Troubles in Northern Ireland: why did the IRA never attack Scotland?

The Provisional IRA repeatedly hit England with multiple bombings and killings, but there were never any similar attacks carried out by republicans in Scotland over the 30 years of the conflict in the north of Ireland. IRA cells also carried out attacks on British targets in Europe.

Today, however, we’ve finally been given a definitive answer: IRA chiefs couldn’t bring themselves to attack targets here because they viewed the Scots as “Celtic cousins”.

The revelations come in a new book by Willie Carlin, an MI5 agent who infiltrated Sinn Fein on behalf of British intelligence. He became close to IRA commander Martin McGuinness, who went on to become the leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and Deputy First Minister at Stormont.

In his new book, Thatcher’s Spy: My Life As An MI5 Agent Inside Sinn Fein, Carlin recounts a conversation at the height of the Troubles with McGuinness in which the leading republican explained the policy of non-aggression by the IRA in Scotland.

Carlin recalled: “On the way back from Derry, [Martin McGuinness] made an interesting revelation about IRA tactics and its bombing campaign across the Irish Sea. As we talked about our links to Scotland, I asked him a question: ‘Is it the movement’s policy, no action in Scotland?’.”

McGuinness then confided in Carlin, telling him: “Well, I don’t know about policy, but it would certainly go against the grain. The Scots were disenfranchised, just the same as the Irish. The English took away their language and killed off their culture, so I think it’s more a principle than a policy.”

McGuinness then added: “After all, they’re a Celtic nation just like the Irish, except they haven’t got the b***s that we have to fight for self-determination.”

Carlin explained: “The IRA’s unstated position was that there were to be no bombs exploding in Scotland during the armed struggle. Even though loyalists such as the UVF [the loyalist paramilitary terror group, the Ulster Volunteer Force] had bombed Catholic pubs in Glasgow in the 1970s, the IRA would not extend their bombing campaign into any part of Scotland.”

Speaking to The Herald on Sunday, Carlin elaborated on the significance of the decision by the IRA not to attack Scotland during the Troubles.

Despite the principle of non-aggression here, Scotland remained a key front for the IRA during the Troubles, he explained. The country was a base for fundraising, safe houses, and gun-running. The IRA’s governing Army Council did not want to risk violence in Scotland hampering such operations, or hindering support from Scots sympathetic to the republican cause.

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Scotland also played a similar role for loyalist terrorists in terms of fundraising, safe houses and gun-running. Carlin said: “There were safe houses in Glasgow and Stirling. The ferry [between Scotland and Northern Ireland] was pivotal in getting arms into the north – and anything like checkpoints, or armed police and Army in Scotland would have b******d that all up.”

Attacks in Scotland would have increased the presence of security forces here and risked undermining gun-running operations. “Then we have to think of the fact that police in Scotland aren’t armed,” said Carlin.

“So what would have happened if a cop was shot in Glasgow? The whole thing just wouldn’t have been right. It would have backfired in terms of propaganda. There were politicians in Scotland, a lot of whom were very sympathetic to the nationalist cause, and even the Sinn Fein cause, and they would have just turned against the movement.”

Carlin explained that although “fundraising in Glasgow was big”, and the main source of income for the IRA when it came to money gathered in Scotland, there were also significant contributions to the republican movement from across the country. Carlin was surprised by funds coming from as far afield as Caithness and Sutherland. These were from “farmers up there who had family and relatives in Ireland”.

Historic, cultural and family ties with Ireland were key to Scotland acting as a support base for both the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries during the Troubles.

“Metaphorically, you don’t put a bullet in the head of your cousin – you just don’t do that,” Carlin told The Herald on Sunday. “There were too many imponderables – the ferry, the support, the safe houses, shooting a policeman who might have had nationalist sympathies, a lot of Glasgow policemen have connections to Ireland.”

There was also the issue of friends and relatives of Irish people living, working and studying in Scotland. “It just wouldn’t have worked,” Carlin added.

British military intelligence and MI5 were soon briefed by Carlin on the principle of non-aggression by the IRA in Scotland. He first told his “handler” in the Force Research Unit – the wing of British military intelligence which ran agents in Ireland – about the McGuinness conversation.

The intelligence was passed up the line to London and an MI5 officer came to debrief Carlin on “the Celts of Scotland”. The MI5 officer, who Carlin refers to as “Stephen”, told him: “That’s a real gem of a piece of information you know, Willie.” Carlin asked him why the intelligence was important and was told: “It’s the first time it’s ever been confirmed.”

The MI5 officer said that analysts in London speculated there was a policy of not attacking Scotland “but no IRA leader has ever said it. The fact that McGuinness said it to you confirms for the first time something which until now we could only assume was some sort of policy”.

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Carlin said: “He went on to explain how valuable the information was when it came to military planning and counter-terrorism on the UK mainland. This information, Stephen stressed, would calm the minds of those anti-terrorist commanders in Scotland. He was clearly delighted.”

Willie Carlin: the MI5 spy inside Sinn Fein

WILLIE Carlin was one of the key agents inside the Irish republican movement working for British intelligence. Carlin, from Derry, was a mole inside Sinn Fein providing intelligence to MI5. He became close to leading republican Martin McGuinness.

For 11 years, Carlin, a former British solider, passed intelligence to London giving unprecedented insight into both the IRA and Sinn Fein. His reports on McGuinness, Gerry Adams and other key republicans were read by the British Cabinet, including then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

In 1985, his cover was finally blown and he had to flee for his life. He was flown out of Northern Ireland on a private jet used by Thatcher herself.

Carlin had been compromised by former MI5 handler Michael Bettaney, who was convicted in 1984 of trying to pass British secrets to the Soviet Union. Ironically, Bettaney had himself been betrayed by a KGB officer working for MI6.

In prison, Bettaney became close to IRA prisoners and revealed that the British had a highly-placed spy in Derry close to McGuinness.

When the IRA worked out Carlin was the spy, members of the organisation’s Internal Security Unit, the so-called “Nutting Squad”, were sent for him.

In another twist of fate, the British Army’s most notorious double agent inside the IRA was part of the Internal Security Unit. Freddie Scappaticci, known as agent Stakeknife, alerted his handlers. Carlin and his family escaped with just hours to spare.

When the UVF bombed Glasgow

On February 17, 1979, the UVF bombed two bars frequented by Catholics in Glasgow. The first hit was the Old Barns in Calton, then 15 minutes later the Clelland Bar was hit in the Gorbals. Five people were injured. There were fears the attacks would bring the Troubles to Scotland. The attacks were orchestrated by William “Big Bill” Campbell, the UVF’s senior commander in Scotland. There is suspicion he was involved in the McGurk’s Bar bombing in Belfast in 1971 which killed 15 people, and smuggled explosives across the Irish Sea.

Campbell and eight other UVF members were arrested over the Glasgow pub bombings and jailed. In June 1979, Campbell was given a 16-year sentence. UVF terror operations were effectively ended in Scotland.

In 1995, Campbell’s nephew, Jason Campbell, murdered 16-year-old Celtic fan Mark Scott by slashing his throat. The anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth was set up as a result. William Campbell died of natural causes in 1997 – thousands attended his funeral in the Bridgeton area of Glasgow.