Dennis McFadden — MI5’s Man in Saoradh
What meagre potential there existed for dissident republicanism to reformulate itself as a viable force post-Brexit was scuttled in recent weeks, with arrests en masse of New IRA members and sympathisers on the back of Operation Arbacia, a joint MI5/Special Branch operation to incapacitate the group.
Occurring mainly on August 18th, the raids resulted in the arrests of ten, including a Glasgow based Palestinian doctor Dr Issam Basalat at Heathrow Airport, all charged with varying accounts of explosives possession, conspiracy to attain arms, as well as membership of a proscribed organisation. The intelligence coup surely deals a mortal blow to the already moribund paramilitary organization, and came on the back of what appears to be long term infiltration of the group using the euphemistically CHIS (Covert Human Intelligence Sources), i.e. informants .
The New IRA is a loose term used to denote paramilitary groups that formed in 2012 out of a merger between various dissident groups. This group admitted responsibility for the murder of journalist Lyra McKee, and of having links with the republican party Saoradh as well as attending various antifascist demos in the Republic. While unconfirmed, certain pro-British outlets have spun the New IRA as conspiring with Middle Eastern groups including Hezbollah for joint efforts.
The raids occurred in multiple locations across the island, while Dr Basalat was detained at Heathrow airport. In total 7 men and 3 women were arrested. Believed to have involved 500 plus officers on both sides of the border. Gardai in the Republic raided properties in Dublin, Cork, Kerry and Laois, with the PSNI raiding addresses in Derry and Tyrone, the majority of the arrests being made in the latter. It is the latest in an increasing amount of crossborder efforts between the two forces since the controversial ascension of former PSNI officer Drew Harris to the role of Garda Commissioner. For those critical of the Republic’s lack of an independent security apparatus, it provides further evidence to the extent to which our police find themselves joined at the hip to London.
Around the same time of the raids, it was revealed that British intelligence had an asset deeply embedded within the ranks of the New IRA and Saoradh in the form of Ard Chomhairle member Dennis McFadden, likely the main cause of the carnage afflicting the dissident group. It is believed that a majority of those arrested had connections with Celtic FC fandom, a community long since associated with Irish republicanism, with McFadden using his Celtic FC connections to scout out persons of interests for the intelligence services.
Aside from allegedly bugging Saoradh and New IRA gatherings, McFadden spotted various individuals from his extensive knowledge of the Celtic FC support community that were subsequently approached by members of the British intelligence community to press for intelligence. Alleged audio of the methods used in such interrogations where potential informants are groomed can be found online, showing operatives attempting to coax individuals into providing information in return for future favours. For those engaged in dissident activity, regardless of whether they are militants or not, it is worth listening and observing the manner in which the modern intelligence operatives carry themselves..
Originally a police constable, the Glasgow born but Belfast domiciled McFadden was subsequently named in a Belfast court as a long term intelligence asset for the past ten plus years, embedding himself in the republican milieu. Involved with business interests in the form of pubs both in Belfast and Gran Canaria, McFadden was heavily networked in both mainstream and dissident Irish republicanism.
He went into hiding shortly before the raids, and is alleged by dissident republicans to have likely bugged multiple Saoradh events, including installing surveillance equipment into meeting rooms and vehicles used by party officials.
It is also feared by some republicans that McFadden had his Belfast pub bugged by authorities, which had for a long time been a drinking hole for republican activists. Under the guise of working as a hotel inspector, McFadden additionally hosted various republican activists at properties he was connected to further expanding the potential for Crown intelligence to monitor dissidents covertly.
On August 30th, the unionist leaning Belfast Telegraph reported that McFadden had been heavily active with Sinn Féin prior to joining up with anti-Good Friday elements, even meeting with Sinn Féin officials to exchange documents on one occasion. The story that is striking with McFadden is that he was very much part of the furniture in the republican ecosystem with few warning signs beforehand of being an informant.
Further commentary has focused on the potential of another long term intelligence asset within the paramilitary group, with McFadden potentially compromised by his handlers for the sake of protecting the unknown asset.
Among those arrested was long time Palestinian rights advocate Dr Issam Basalat, who claims to have been entrapped under the pretenses of being invited to a Saoradh meeting to speak for the Palestinian cause.
Lasting from the 18th until 30th of September, many of those arrested, Dr Basalat included, have embarked on a hunger strike at Maghaberry Prison where they are being detained, in pursuit of better conditions, with republican prisoners in Portlaoise threatening to do similar in solidarity.
While raising questions around entrapment and civil rights abuses, the use of informants has been part and parcel of the repertoire of British spookery since the original conflict. The case is strikingly similar to that of Denis Donaldson, a senior Sinn Féin member at the heart of the “Stormontgate” debacle in 2005, when it was revealed he was a long term grass for British intelligence and who was found murdered shortly thereafter. Comparisons can also be drawn with that of Freddie Scappaticci, who was embedded in the IRA for 25 years, and who was later found to be a long term operative with a penchant for bestiality
While going under the collective media radar, the impending Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill passed in the UK parliament vastly extends the power of British authorities to use informants, even enabling them to commit crimes including murder and torture in the process. Why British intelligence is beefing up its legal ability to commit murder is anyone’s guess, Irishmen who know their history can make up their own minds.
Dissidents Gurgle the Drains: Lessons for Nationalist Right
A little over twenty years after the Belfast Agreement and Omagh Bombing, dissident republicanism appears to be at its lowest ebb. The pre-Brexit hysteria about the striking capabilities of such groups, while hyped up, appears to have fallen flat. The Denis McFadden saga signifies the extent to which these outfits have been compromised by British intelligence to the point of being nullified.
While it is impossible to say die on physical force Irish republicanism, it is fair to say the organisational remains of the New IRA have been punctured beyond effective use. Its sister organisation Saoradh, while trumpeted as a new political bridgehead for crestfallen republicans, is unlikely to ever garner enough energy to match the provisional movement of old.
Like the notoriously infiltrated NPD Party in Germany, chockablock with federal informants, authorities find it more advantageous to keep dissident organizations running for sake of intelligence gathering. The corpse of Saoradh will likely linger on to the benefit of the spooks who monitor it, and to the detriment of the fools who flock to their banner.
The reasoning of British intelligence to pull the plug on the McFadden operation is also worth pondering. Was McFadden compromised to save another informer? Or maybe with the prospect of a hard border on the horizon, spooks are anxious to bed down any threat of republican militarism before there appears a fresh new target in the form of a physical border.
Ultimately however, the McFadden fiasco marks the end of the line for the obsolescent brand of dissident republicanism, whatever miniscule political cargo cult it manifests itself in. The political paucity of such groups was illustrated in 2019, with social media mapping of dissident republicanism by the analytical firm Moonshot, which while noting a degree of passive support showed very little of an activist base. In addition it noted a dearth of support in the under 21 age category, a traditional hotbed for militancy among dissident and jihadi groups.
As dissident republicanism gurgles the drain, and a pacified Sinn Féin is about to cross the threshold of power in the Republic, our elite is finding a new ideological enemy number one in the form of the emergent nationalist right. For many decades to come potentially, the column spaces of our inky fingered elite will be filled with condemnation of the nationalist right in the same manner they almost performatively attacked Sinn Féin and the PIRA for the duration of the northern conflict.
With this political shift comes the need to study where the moribund dissident movement went wrong (and right) in the hope of avoiding such mistakes.
The success of any insurgency, political or militarily rests on the existence of a durable upper cadre that can competently handle internal intelligence. The history of Irish nationalism is a study in the art of the intelligence war, dealing with the knavish world of British intelligence. It is in this field the dissidents failed most.
The Provisional IRA had the so-called ‘nutting squad’ during the Dirty War against informants, however this was heavily flawed and gradually denuded after years of warfare. General Michael Collins was able to sustain the republican struggle by outfoxing the spooks in the Castle in a feat that has never been replicated since. What structure had the dissidents to insulate themselves against British spooks?
The second lesson that must be learnt from the dissidents is the hopelessness of armed resistance as a means to combat globalism. While our history is littered with men of action, in an era of total electronic surveillance, any effort to take up arms would surely end in failure and simply strengthen the ruling liberal regime.
Put simply, if a highly sophisticated armed movement like the Provisional IRA couldn’t overthrow the state, some random far-right start up doesn’t stand a chance. Those dissident republicans who famously stopped the eviction at Stokestown found themselves effectively undone when authorities gained access to their organisational group, showing how easily operations can be compromised. From electronic surveillance to the Special Criminal Courts, the state we live in has the ability to combat insurgencies written into its DNA, and can always rely on the help of Whitehall for backup if needed.
The ideological dalliance with Marxism is another failing of the dissidents, and a continuation of what was seen with the provisionals. While arguably in the early days groups like Republican Sinn Féin could have been said to have embodied an older implicitly conservative brand of republicanism, this has long since faded with the same failed equations of Marxist struggle being trotted out again and again.
Marxism has never been a threat to the British establishment, which has long since nurtured it through its state backed intellectuals and universities from George Bernard Shaw onwards. What made Irish republicanism dangerous was its nationalistic militancy, even if it employed the language of socialism. In the year 2020 using jaded language akin to a 1950s national liberation struggle makes little sense, and is pointless against the social and cultural forces of globo-homo modernity.
The embrace of Marxism has also led in the rather embarrassing predicament where dissidents find themselves confronting (often physically) those who oppose mass immigration and globalism, citing a commitment to anti-racism or the bizarre theory that anyone objecting to immigration must be aligned with British interests and partition. As if to typify this mania last month, when a stand was erected in Belfast by republican eurosceptics objecting to mass immigration, gangs of dissidents physically attacked it.
Where the dissidents have gained a feather in their cap however is the occasional mobilising of communities against evictions and drug dealing. While many dissidents are not entirely innocent of narco crime themselves as the lives and deaths of Michael Barr and Alan Ryan attest, they have been a thorn in the side of the cartels, even if their intentions haven’t been entirely noble.
Starting in 2012, the Kinahan crime cartel began a low level war with dissident republicans, commencing with the murder of Alan Ryan in 2012 and continuing until the 2016 murder of Michael Barr at Sunset House in Ballbough. In the North, Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), one of the forerunner groups to the New IRA, made a name for themselves for anti-dealer vigilantism, using the methods of intimidation and kneecapping.
While no angels in their vigilantism and certainly unable to be acquitted from charges of dealing themselves, dissidents may have a point taking an often extrajudicial attitude to combating the scourge of dealing. Republicans for decades have acted as something of a buffer against the rot of narcotics entering working class communities beginning with “Concerned Parents Against Drugs” in the 1980s and which vastly increased the political purchase of Sinn Fein in inner city Dublin.
The chance may arise in years to come for our yet fledgling nationalist movement here to cut its teeth in areas gradually abandoned to cartel influence, following the effective neutering of Sinn Fein marshalling the same communitarian energy.
Overall, even if the grim cavalcade of dissident republicanism continues for years to come, the sun has set on their chance to muster into a real political force, likely having their outsider role usurped by the nationalist right. It is the hope of this writer that whatever nationalist right makes it into the mainstream avoids the pitfalls of dissident republicanism, from botched armed campaigns to falling under the knife of state intelligence agencies, to embracing a dead ideological paradigm.
It’s about time this island sees some real dissidents.
All images used for reporting purposes