'Santa is an informer'
"Santa is an informer' became the latest piece of graffiti to be daubed in republican areas of Belfast this week. Over the past ten days four republicans have been named as British Agents in the Irish media, another three names are also being mentioned. The volume of names being 'leaked' has led to suspicion that British intelligence is attempting to detract attention from its role in bringing down the Stormont Assembly while simultaneously sowing confusion within republican ranks.
Some of the republicans who have been named are considering legal action.
Unlike past 'outings' the newspaper stories are focusing on multiple informers, most of whom are allegedly based in west Belfast.
It is unclear if those who have been named have been visited by the PSNI to warn them that they are under 'suspicion' for informing, as is normal practice, or if their names have simply been leaked to the media by un-named sources.
The common thread amongst those who have been named is that their involvement with republicanism waned some time ago and their
influence in current republican politics is marginal.
One of those named, Dickie Glenholme, is in his 70's and has not been actively involved at a senior level within republicanism for some time.
Tom Hartley, a Sinn Féin councillor from the Falls Road, has also been named as a British agent.
Although he was a prominent member of the party in the early 1980s his political career never took off and he has been confined to council politics. The peak of his political career came when he was made Sinn Féin's leader on Belfast city council.
Another veteran republican from north Belfast who was a senior member of the IRA in the early 1970's is facing newspaper allegations that he is an informer. He strenuously denies the claims.
The former IRA member has played a back-seat role in republican politics since his release from prison in the early 1990s.
All of those named have so far refused to talk to the media.
Republicans believe that the latest wave of informer allegations is partly motivated by members of British intelligence who are seeking to settle old scores with past adversaries.
After Freddie Scappaticci was 'outed' in 2003 the media embarked on a similar wave of stories claiming that two north Belfast republicans were British agents.
The stories were denied and eventually disappeared when both men threatened legal action against the papers involved.
In an interview with Village, Caoimh'n O Caoláin denied categorically the Ireland-on-Sunday report he was an agent for the Irish Special Branch. He said he has had no dealings at any time in his life with the Special Branch. He said he was never arrested and never interrogated throughout his career. Neither, he said, did he have any dealings with anybody connected with British intelligence or the Northern Ireland Special branch. He said: "I have given honorable service for over 20 years to the republican struggle and this is an effort to demean that record and to divide and demoralise republicans".
He said he had never been a member of the IRA and never had any internal knowledge concerning the IRA. He was at a loss to know what information he might have had that would have been of any interest to the Irish Special Branch. He said he and his family found
the allegations deeply hurtful and a stain on his character and honour.
It is generally accepted he was never in the IRA, so it is unclear what use he could have been to the Special Branch. He said he had consulted his solicitor about the article but was unsure of the legal position (a famous 1972 libel action taken by the former Secretary of
the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, against the Irish Times, suggested it could not be defamatory of a person to allege they had given information to proper authorities).
For those northern based republicans named in the press as informers there is little legal redress.
Northern Ireland's courts do not regard it as libellous or defamatory to claim that a person is working for the British authorities. As the Dublin Supreme Court did in 1972, the Northern Courts take the view that every citizen should help the sovereign government of Northern Ireland.
(Additional reporting by Vincent Browne).