Martin McGartland

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Person.png Martin McGartland   Amazon WebsiteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(Police spy, author)
Martin McGartland.jpg
Belfast, Northern Ireland

Martin McGartland is a former Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) informer[1] who joined the organisation in order to pass information to British security forces. When he was exposed as an informer in 1991, he escaped from IRA custody and was resettled in England. His identity became known after a minor court case; he was shot by the IRA, but recovered from the injuries. He has written two books about his life.


Northern Ireland

McGartland described his childhood as one in which he would join with older boys in stone-throwing to goad the British Army. He also became involved in battles with other Catholic youths against Protestant boys, this mostly involved throwing stones at each other.

He became involved in petty crime, which brought him to the notice of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC . He agreed to provide information to them about the Provisional IRA, which he infiltrated. He was given the code name, "Agent Carol".[2] He led a double life, kept secret even from the mother of his two children. From 1987 to 1991 he provided information to the Special Branch, rising to the centre of IRA and Sinn Féin operations.

McGartland's reported greatest regret was his failure in June 1991 to save the life of 21-year-old Private Tony Harrison, a soldier from London, who was shot at the home of his East Belfast fiancee where they were making wedding plans. McGartland was brought into the operation so late he had no time to advise his handlers although he had previously indicated the IRA's interest in the area.[3] A taxi driver, Noel Thompson, who picked Harrison up at Belfast airport and informed the IRA was later jailed for 12 years for conspiracy to murder.[4]

In 1991, McGartland provided information about an attack planned on a Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland pub where soldiers frequently drank: the RUC intercepted the courier delivering the gun to be used, and McGartland was exposed.[5] He was abducted by the IRA but escaped execution by jumping from a third floor window, and was rescued by passers-by before being hospitalised.


He moved to England and received nearly £100,000 to buy a house and establish a new life in Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear, going by the name Martin Ashe.[6] He failed in his attempt to receive compensation for criminal injuries.[7]

In 1997, his identity was revealed publicly by the Northumbria Police in court, when he was caught breaking the speed limit and subsequently prosecuted for holding driving licences in different names — which he explained as a means of avoiding IRA detection.[2] He was cleared of perverting the course of justice.[8] In June 1997, the BBC broadcast a television documentary on his story.[9]


In 1999, he was shot six times at his home by two men, but recovered from serious injuries, after being in intensive care. The IRA was blamed.[10][11] He was relocated immediately, protected by 12 armed officers and given a specially armoured car. Total costs, including the investigation, amounted to £1,500,000.[12] In 2000, Lord Vivian asked in the House of Lords whether the government intended to remove police protection from McGartland, and was told by Lord Bassam of Brighton that "Individual protection arrangements are a matter for the chief constable of the police force concerned and are not discussed for security reasons."[13]

The day after he was shot, the incident, along with the murders of Eamon Collins, Brendan Fegan and Paul Downey, was cited by Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble in an interview with reporters in Belfast, to question whether the IRA ceasefire was being maintained. He reminded Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that this was a condition of the early release of paramilitaries under the Good Friday Agreement.[14] A week later it was mentioned in the Northern Ireland Grand Committee as evidence that IRA arms decommissioning had not taken place,[15] and in January 2000 by Robert McCartney in the Northern Ireland Assembly.[16]

In 1999 McGartland published a book about his life, Fifty Dead Men Walking. The title indicates the number of lives he considers he saved through his activities.[2] The following year he won his lawsuit against Associated Newspapers, publishers of The Daily Mail, The Evening Standard and This is London web site, which had published an article alleging the shooting might be related to connections with local criminal gangs.[17]

In 2003, IRA member Scott Monaghan sued Northumbria Police for £150,000 for alleged ill-treatment when he was arrested (but not charged) over McGartland's shooting. McGartland had frequently criticised the police for inadequate protection, but offered to testify on their behalf, saying: There are people who have been the victims of terrorist attacks, who've lost loved ones, and some of them haven't been compensated. It's a scandal. I am the victim of an attack and I got around £50,000 in compensation, which is not a big amount considering my injuries. I'm not complaining ... at the end of the day I was grateful to be alive. The reason I will help Northumbria Police is that this is an injustice.[8] Monaghan's main claims were for false imprisonment, assault and wrongful interference with goods. They were rejected by the High Court in January 2006. However he was awarded £100 for a delay in returning items of property. As of September 2008, no one was ever charged with the shooting.[18][19]


After the 1994 ceasefire and the 1997 cessation, McGartland appealed to be allowed to return home to West Belfast. When he asked Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, when he would be able to, he was informed that it was a matter between him and the IRA.[2] McGartland has said that his relatives have received harassment from republicans.[2] In August 2006 Ian Paisley told Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, "We have also heard how the sister of IRA informer Martin McGartland was told by police that her safety was under threat. This news broke immediately after the Secretary of State's comments that he believed the IRA had ended all of its illegal activity."[20]


A film inspired by his book Fifty Dead Men Walking (the number of lives he claims to have saved) went on general release in April 2009;[21] the film was directed by Kari Skogland and stars Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess.

Books by Martin McGartland

  • Fifty Dead Men Walking: The Terrifying True Story of a Secret Agent Inside the IRA, 1997, ISBN 1-85782-178-5
  • Dead Man Running, 1999 ISBN 0-8038-2005-4

See also


  1. "Former soldier wanted over base attack"
  2. a b c d e "McGartland: 'A dead man walking'" BBC, 17 June 1999. Accessed 26 January 2007
  3. McGartland, Fifty Dead Men Walking, pp. 247-253
  4. Independent, 9 February 1993
  5. {{URL||optional display text}}[dead link]
  6. {{URL||optional display text}}
  7. "Martin McGartland" House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 19 March 1997 (pt 15); accessed 26 January 2007
  8. a b "I will help cops beat bombers writ" icNewcastle - Sunday Sun, 6 July 2003; accessed 26 January 2007
  9. Homeground (BBC2, 1997-): "An exile's return", British Film Institute; accessed 26 January 2007
  10. "Informer's sister told of threat"
  11. "Informer fights for his life after shooting" by Joe Oliver. The Examiner, 18 June 1999
  12. Cassidy, John "£1.5m to keep RUC agent Martin alive", Sunday Mirror, 9 January 2000; accessed 26 January 2007
  13. "Martin McGartland: Police protection", Lords Hansard Written Answers text for 16 February 2000; accessed 26 January 2007
  14. "Trimble calls for review of IRA ceasefire" RTÉ News, 18 June 1999; accessed 26 January 2007
  15. "Northern Ireland Grand Committee, 24 June 1999" Accessed 26 January 2007
  16. "Police: Patten Commission Report" Northern Ireland Assembly, 24 January 2000; accessed 26 January 2007
  17. "Martin McGartland v Associated Newspapers Ltd", Media Law Newsletter, October 2000; accessed 26 January 2007
  18. "Convicted terrorist wins damages" BBC, 26 January 2006; accessed 26 January 2007
  19. "Actress would have joined the IRA" BBC, 11 September 2008; accessed 11 September 2008
  20. "Paisley blast at IRA claims" Belfast Today, 2 August 2006; accessed 26 January 2007
  21. Irish Times, 4 April 2009

External links

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