O’Rawe was interned at Long Kesh in Cage 3 whilst Scappaticci was confined most of the time to Cage 5. Occasionally the two men would have nodded to each other as they walked around the perimeter.
O’Rawe, who turned to writing after his years in prison, has tracked down a series of individuals who were either neighbours of Scappaticci or who were alongside him in the IRA. Some have spoken anonymously, while others were happy to be named by the Belfast-based author. It has resulted in a remarkable and detailed account of how a British spy penetrated the upper ranks of the IRA.
Code-named Stakeknife, Scappaticci worked for British Intelligence for decades until he was finally unmasked in 2003 and went into hiding. O’Rawe powerfully chronicles how he ran the IRA’s secretive internal security unit known as the “Nutting Squad”, which was responsible for abducting, torturing and ultimately killing people suspected of working for the security services in Northern Ireland.
O’Rawe’s account is a hard read at times, as he details the brutality and savagery meted out to suspected informers during the Troubles. It is heartbreaking and chilling to see how lives were cheapened and effectively treated as currency in the battle between the republican movement and the British state. Yet, that is only part of this story of Northern Ireland’s dirty war.
O’Rawe shows how Scappaticci, the grandson of a Belfast Italian immigrant, worked his way up through the ranks of the IRA to become one of its most feared leaders
Fundamental questions remain about how Scappaticci was allowed to operate and what British Intelligence knew about his activities. Many families and their solicitors want to know if the deaths of their loved ones could have been avoided and what role the UK military and political establishment played. O’Rawe reports that Stakeknife who died in April 2023 in England, was implicated in numerous murders and in this account published by Merrion Press he details what his role was.
This book could not be more timely as an official investigation into Stakeknife is in its final stages and it’s expected that a report will be published very soon.
The inquiry, entitled Operation Kenova, has been run by John Boucher, the retired chief constable of Befordshire Police. His team spent months interviewing a series of witnesses to consider historical crimes including murder and torture and investigating the actions of the state.
O’Rawe shows how Scappaticci, the grandson of a Belfast Italian immigrant, worked his way up through the ranks of the IRA to become one of its most feared leaders. He paints a picture of man who was seen as a cruel bully, callous, with a history of domestic violence and a liking for pornography. It is a timeline of abduction, torture and endless killings. A brutal glimpse into a dark and menacing world devoid of morality.
This book works best when O’Rawe uses original material from his own interviews, which give detail on Scappatici’s character and behaviour. There is a large journalistic body of work on Scappaticci and the author is able to draw on the previous investigations of people such as John Ware, Roger Cook, Sylvia Jones, Liam Clarke, Greg Harkin and Darragh McIntyre.
I was aware of large parts of the Scappaticci story having previously investigated him for a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight documentary. Despite such familiarity with sections of the narrative, O’Rawe kept my attention with a very readable piece of work. He not only concentrates on the violence that was happening on a daily basis but he also examines the politics of the time and the debates that went on in republican circles.
O’Rawe writes about allegations that Martin McGuinness was a British agent and he discusses suspicions that some IRA men had about the late Deputy First Minister. He details how one former IRA commander personally challenged McGuinness and claimed he was working for British intelligence. O’Rawe says some will find the suggestion “preposterous”, whilst others who were once in the IRA still have serious questions about the Derryman’s actions and behaviour.
He has used his IRA knowledge and his contacts well. He poses uncomfortable questions about our bloody and murky history, a part of our past that still causes daily pain for many people
If I was nitpicking I would like to see a glossary in future editions which would detail who the individuals referred to were. Inevitably, with a complicated story there are a lot of names to get your head around and sometimes you have to backtrack to follow events clearly. An index, a timeline and a photo section would also enhance this powerful narrative.
Since 2005, O’Rawe’s writing career has taken off. He has written two books about the IRA hunger strikes and a biography and a stage play about Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four. He has also penned two novels.
In Stakeknife’s Dirty War he has used his IRA knowledge and his contacts well. He poses uncomfortable questions about our bloody and murky history, a part of our past that still causes daily pain for many people.
It is another reminder that there is much unfinished business in Northern Ireland.
Stephen Walker reported for BBC Northern Ireland as a reporter and correspondent from 1991 until 2023. His biography of John Hume, The Persuader, is published by Gill Books on October 12th