11 November 1999 Edition
Conspiracy to murder
Death lists, British Military Intelligence and an Orange Lodge
by Laura Friel
It was 5am and in the McKee family's Turf Lodge home, RUC Inspector Dixon was informing Joe McKee that his name and personal details had been discovered on a loyalist death list. The warning came almost too late, barely an hour before the family escaped death in an arson attack on their home. Two days earlier, an RUC officer had called at Joe's father's home. ``Tell Joe his files are missing,'' was all the RUC office had said.
Five years into an IRA cessation, the uncovering of a plot to systematically target republicans, apparently with the assistance of soldiers working for British Military Intelligence, suggests that the elimination of political opposition to British rule in Ireland remains a working option
Mary McKee doesn't really know why, when she came downstairs in the early hours of Monday morning to the sound of a fire alarm, she did not open her living room door leading into the hall. ``I touched the handle and it was warm,'' says Mary. In a split second decision, Mary left the door unopened and went back upstairs to warn the rest of the family.
``The fire officer told me if I had opened that door, I would have been hit with a ball of flames and the rest of the house would have been engulfed in minutes,'' says Mary. Upstairs, her 13-year-old son Seosamh, 22-year-old daughter Ciara and 18-month-old grandson Seanan were sleeping. Unusually, the McKee's hallway is enclosed without the stairway which is situated in another room.
The fingerprints of British Military Intelligence are all over the murder conspiracy uncovered at Stoneyford Orange Hall
``I got everyone safely out of the house and then telephoned the fire brigade,'' says Mary. At the house a fire officer donned protective clothing, mask and breathing apparatus before attempting to open the McKee's front door. As the door opened the fireman was momentarily engulfed in flames.
In the smoke-blackened hallway, the McKee family inspect the damage to their home and their lives. ``It's hard to believe anyone would want to kill us,'' says Mary. ``It's hard to believe someone was prepared to risk burning my children alive.'' The smell of burning still hangs in the air. ``Petrol was poured through the letter box and then set alight,'' says Joe.
The petrol canister used in the attack was abandoned outside the front door. The RUC investigating the incident failed to take away the canister and had to be telephoned for a second time before it was removed. ``Forensic examination of the canister used in the attack should have been a priority,'' says Joe, ``the RUC somehow `forgot' about it.''
Joe McKee is one of 300 nationalist whose names and details were discovered in a loyalist cache in Stoneyford Orange Hall.
``The RUC Inspector who visited our house after the attack told me my name and details had been found in the hands of loyalists,'' says Joe, ``but he was not prepared to give me any more information.''
The attack on the McKee home came less than five hours after another loyalist arson attack on Catholic premises in West Belfast. At O'Neill's funeral home on the Stewartstown Road, petrol was poured down a waste pipe which had been pulled out at the rear of the building. No one was in the building at the time and the alarm was raised shortly after 11pm. The premises were completely gutted, destroying a fleet of six vehicles.
British military Intelligence
In 1990, a covert assassination campaign orchestrated by British Military Intelligence and prosecuted by loyalist death squads was publicly exposed when the Stevens team inadvertently arrested intelligence agent Brian Nelson and, against instructions, Nelson identified himself as a British agent to investigating officers.
Last week, the seizure of a loyalist intelligence cache in Stoneyford Orange Hall of British Army documents profiling around 300 republicans and nationalists has once again placed the covert activities of British Military Intelligence centre stage in the collusion controversy.
In 1990, British police chief John Stevens had been appointed by the British government to investigate allegations of collusion after the media exposed the fact that hundreds of crown force documents were in the hands of loyalist killers. As an agent for a covert unit of British Military Intelligence, the Force Research Unit, Brian Nelson provided detailed information on selected targets for loyalist death squads. Nelson had also played a key role in rearming and reorganising loyalists.
A British Army document unearthed by Stevens recorded that as an agent, Nelson was infiltrated into the UDA to ensure that ``proper targeting of Provisional IRA members [took] place prior to any shootings.'' The FRU was disbanded in 1990, apparently not because of its involvement in covert assassination plots but because of the exposure of that involvement.
The unit was reconstituted under a different name and the killings continued. Between February 1989 and May 1993, fourteen members of Sinn Féin were shot dead, including three elected representatives, election candidates and workers.
Almost a decade later and five years into an IRA cessation, the uncovering of a plot to systematically target republicans, apparently with the assistance of soldiers working for British Military Intelligence, suggests that the elimination of political opposition to British rule in Ireland remains a working option.
Less than a month ago, a statement from the loyalist grouping at the centre of the Stoneyford conspiracy, the Orange Volunteers, boasted of its recent reorganisation. As with the Nelson conspiracy, that reorganisation may well have been orchestrated by elements within the British military establishment.
The information contained in the handwritten documents has been described by the media as up to date and extensive. Some are believed to be copies of British army files compiled as recently as 1997. Details included names and addresses, car registrations, 70 photographs and maps giving the inside layout of homes.
Details about one recently released republican prisoner suggests the information was being passed to loyalists as recently as within the last three months. The 300 files, the British media has put the figure closer to 400, target people from the Greater Belfast area and South Armagh, two republican strongholds.
The Orange Order and the Orange Volunteers
There is nothing very remarkable about Stoneyford Orange Hall. In a small village on the outskirts of West Belfast, the building could be one of any number of Orange Halls to be found in rural County Antrim. Its well-kept exterior exudes the respectable virtues of stability and good order. This is not a neglected venue for a marginalised fringe of loyalist extremists. Stoneyford Orange Hall stands at the heart of its loyal community.
The Orange Order was ``aghast'' at the discovery of a murderous conspiracy within the sanctuary of one of their own halls. ``I am sure the lodge is totally taken aback by this, as I am,'' said County Grand Master Robert McIIroy. The Order was equally surprised to learn that a number of Orangemen had been arrested following the documents' discovery. Lisburn DUP Councillor and Stoneyford Orange Lodge member Cecil Calvert confirmed that ``some of the men arrested are members of the Orange Order... but a person is innocent until proven guilty''.
In a statement expressing shock, the Orange Order said that the lodge had ``absolutely no knowledge'' that their property was being used in this way. ``Orange halls are very much part of the community and are widely used by a variety of groups and organisations,'' said a spokesperson. Orange Order secretary George Patton said that if any member was found to be involved they would be expelled. The Orangeman, Norman Coopey, jailed for the brutal sectarian murder of Catholic schoolboy James Morgan in 1996, was never expelled by the Order. He was allowed to resign.
The loyalist grouping calling itself the Orange Volunteers emerged shortly after Billy Wright's Loyalist Volunteer Force declared its ceasefire. For many the Orange Volunteers appeared as just another loyalist flag of convenience. The LVF itself had emerged in the wake of the UVF's ceasefire. Members of the UDA were already operating under the banner of the Red Hand Defenders. The ongoing campaign of sectarian intimidation against northern nationalist continued unabated. The names changed but the violence continued.
There were gun and grenade attacks, and car bomb attacks, but the hallmark of recent loyalist violence has increasingly been in the use of petrol and pipe bombs. Arson attacks on Catholic Churches in the County Antrim area were followed by gun and grenade attacks on Catholic-owned businesses, particularly Catholic bars and pubs.
But the campaign of terror waged against northern nationalists has been mainly focused on the sectarian intimidation of the most vulnerable: Catholic families living in isolated rural settings, Catholic families housed on the outskirts of nationalist estates and, most vulnerable of all, Catholic families and mixed faith families living within predominantly loyalists areas. The Quinns of Ballymoney and the Elizabeth O Neill's of Portadown. According to the British government's own figures, during seven months of Drumcree protests over 1,300 families sought rehousing on the basis of sectarian intimidation.
When an advert from an organisation calling itself ``the Orange Volunteers'' appeared in the Orange Order's official Twelfth magazine, the Order swiftly denied any connection with the loyalist terror group of the same name. It was just a charity, they claimed. The fact that pipe bombs emerged as a significant weapon in the loyalist arsenal in the fields of Drumcree and claimed their first fatality, RUC officer Frank O Reilly, during an Orange protest did not weaken the Order's resolve to turn a blind eye. Denial has become the hallmark of the Orange Order in recent times.
And it's apparently true. The Orange Order does not have to organise a conspiracy to murder, British Military Intelligence can seemingly do it for them. And it's true, beyond a few personnel and the convenience of an Orange Hall, the Order does not need to prosecute a sectarian war. All it needs to do is provide the backdrop and set the stage upon which the drama of reaction can be played out.
To a unionist community unsure of their future, afraid that the legacy of their past misdemeanours against their Catholic neighbours might be revisited upon them if they loosen their grip, the carnival at Drumcree has fed into their worst nightmares. How different it all might have been had the Orange Order had courage to exercise a little moral leadership, refused to be hijacked by the refusniks within Unionism and embraced the future rather than harked back to the past.
As for the Orange Volunteers, the unearthing of the Stoneyford conspiracy marks a small but significant development. While the Red Hand Defenders were largely recruited from within the ranks of established loyalist death squads. The Orange Volunteers have been attracting loyalists without any previous history of paramilitary activity.
The OV initially adopted a particularly sinister religious fundamentalism, and their violence to date has reflected the group's underlying sectarian ideology. More recently, the Red Hand Defenders and OV have been meeting in Belfast, Antrim and County Derry to study copies of military documents identifying suspected opponents of British rule in Ireland.
It has been suggested that the OV now has access to the modern weaponry of Ulster Resistance, the weaponry secured by British agent Brian Nelson before his role in the British army's covert assassination campaign was exposed. The scenario seems remarkably familiar. The fingerprints of British Military Intelligence are all over the murder conspiracy uncovered at Stoneyford Orange Hall.
RUC delays alerting nationalists
BY LAURA FRIEL
The lives of hundreds of nationalists are being put at risk because the RUC is dragging its feet about warning them that their names have been discovered on a loyalist death list discovered at Stoneyford Orange hall in South Antrim last week. Speaking at a Stormont press conference, Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy said that only a handful of people out of 300 named in the documents had been told by the RUC that their lives were in danger. The Assembly member said only a few people in Belfast had been informed and he knew of no one in South Armagh who had been contacted by the RUC in relation to the Stoneyford files.
The lack of urgency displayed by the RUC has been further compounded by the ad hoc nature in which even those who have been notified were informed. Gerard Loughlin said he had discovered his name and details were included in the Stoneyford documents after the RUC visited his ex-wife at an address where Gerard has never lived.
Of the few who have been warned, most have had the information relayed indirectly through a relative, ex partner or neighbour. Martin Walsh said the RUC had only spoken to his ex wife. Both men are former republican POWs, Gerard was recently released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Martin was released several years ago.
The details given to those who have been informed are ``scanty'', said Lisburn Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Ferguson. ``The RUC is reluctant to give any more information than confirmation that your name and details are included in the files,'' he says. ``What details they will not divulge.'' A further two Sinn Féin councillors have also been informed of the threat against their lives, Belfast's Alex Maskey and Seán Hayes.
Speaking at the conference, Seán Hayes said his home had been attacked on Thursday night last and he was informed by the RUC the following day that his name was on a death list. Seán said it was ``deeply worrying'' that his house had been singled out for attack only hours before the RUC informed his family that his name and details were in the hands of loyalists.
Meanwhile, Gerard Rice of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community, whose name is also on the hit list, has been told by the NIO that his life ``is not worth saving''. The residents' representative said the RUC had approached his family last Saturday to warn them of the possible risk to his life.
Four days earlier, NIO Security Minister Adam Ingram confirmed that Gerard's request to be included on the Key Persons Protection Scheme had been rejected. The request for security was denied on the grounds that Gerard Rice's death ``would not affect the maintenance of law and order''.