When he wasn’t driving Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to secret meetings, Roy “The Rat” McShane liked to relax over a round of golf or a pint of stout at The Felons Club in West Belfast. But the veteran IRA man had another activity that yesterday cost him his relaxed, family lifestyle and forced him to flee into “protective custody”.
The Rat, as his comrades jokingly called him, was an informer in the pay of MI5.
Sinn Fein was reeling last night from another spy scandal after the driver who worked closely with the Republican leadership fled Northern Ireland, apparently under the protection of his security service handlers.
Roy McShane, 58, was once part of the so-called security team of the leadership of the Republican movement, which looked after transport arrangements to numerous secret meetings where Provisional IRA top brass were hammering out its peace process strategy.
The news was broken yesterday afternoon by Sinn Fein, which admitted that he had been working for the intelligence services. The party said that Mr McShane had left his home in West Belfast early yesterday.
Police refused to comment on the disclosure, which will be deeply embarrassing for Mr Adams, the Sinn Fein president, after the sensational disclosure two years ago that one of his closest aides also worked for MI5.
Denis Donaldson, 56, who headed Sinn Fein’s support team at Stormont, was later shot dead near Glenties in Co Donegal. Donaldson served a sentence for an IRA bombing and later was instrumental in the Republican movement’s contacts with Middle Eastern groups.
Mr McShane, a former IRA man from the Clonard area of Belfast was a long-term driver for senior republicans, including around the time of the developing peace process that led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement ten years ago.
Even though he would have been considered no more than a rank-and-file republican — he was described yesterday by former associates as a “working-class foot-soldier” — he would have been privy to highly sensitive information.
The small, grey-haired Mr McShane was a popular figure and would sometimes chat to reporters in the margins of the negotiations, revealing his fondness for golf. Not surprisingly, now that his secret life has been revealed, opinion in republican circles has switched. “I always knew he was a slimy bastard,” said one former friend in the Felons, a republican drinking den where membership requires you to have served time in prison as an IRA member.
Others said that he was a drinker with a roving eye for women. The divorced father of four was understood to be living in Divis Tower, a landmark building at the foot of the Falls Road that for decades had an Army lookout post on its roof.
“I always knew there was something not right about him,” a former friend said. “He’ll never be able to show his face round here again.”
Donaldson was shot dead five months after he admitted working as a double-agent, but republicans said that Mr McShane had nothing to fear if he returned home. They claimed that he had been under suspicion for a number of years.
Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said he had been advised by Mr McShane’s family on Thursday.
“Rumours were on the go and he confirmed to them it was the case. We did have our suspicions about him. As far as I’m concerned he’s safe. Let’s face it, the war’s over. His family’s quite distressed and it’s up to this man to make his peace with them.”
Mr McShane would have been one of MI5’s top informers, reporting regularly to his handlers and getting paid for information
Sinn Fein insisted that the unmasking of another agent did not come as any great surprise but there was shock and disbelief, especially in West Belfast, where he drank and socialised, that someone in his position could live a secret double life.
Mr Adams is due to meet party members in Dublin today to discuss the Lisbon Treaty, but he is also certain to face questions about Mr McShane.
Denis Donaldson, one of the most senior figures in Sinn Fein, was named as a spy and expelled by the party in 2005. He was shot dead at his rural home in Glenties, Co Donegal, in April 2006.
Raymond Gilmour infiltrated the IRA and INLA in the 1970s and 1980s. He went into hiding in 1982 and is now thought to be living in the South of England.
Bobby Quigley acted as a supergrass in the 1970s and 1980s and claimed that Martin McGuinness was implicated in IRA activity. Mr McGuinness was never charged.
Sean O’Callaghan was a member of Sinn Fein’s ruling council who was also working for the Irish police. His activities led to the interception of a trawler that was carrying seven tonnes of weapons. He now lives in London.
Eamon Collins informed on the IRA in the 1980s and published a book about his exploits, Killing Rage, in 1998. He was stabbed to death a year later.
Comments from article:
There will be more senior figures emerging soon as informers, just keep watching.
“Despite the level of infiltration of the IRA by British Intelligence, the IRA won the war. Doesn’t say much for British ‘Intelligence’, does it?”Well if the IRA “won” the war then how come Northern Ireland is still part of the UK with 5000 British troops still based there, with British policemen enforcing British law while Gerry and Martin draw their salaries which were paid for by the British taxpayer? What planet are you on exactly?
— Paul M, Hull,