Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Martin McGartland police agent in IRA , disowns Fifty Dead Men Walking

From The Sunday Times

Liam Clarke

March 29, 2009

Martin McGartland police agent in IRA , disowns Fifty Dead Men Walking
Martin McGartland disowns Fifty Dead Men Walking, Kari Skogland's film of his book with Jim Sturgess playing the RUC cop
Martin McGartland the former IRA man who was working undercover for the British government

Martin McGartland, a former police agent within the IRA, was torn between admiration and anger as he watched the first cut of Fifty Dead Men Walking with a leading Belfast libel lawyer next to him. Jim Sturgess’s portrayal of him was disturbingly accurate. “Jim is a brilliant actor,” McGartland said. “He has got me down to a T, apart from the fact that I didn’t smoke or drink. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I first watched it — it was like seeing myself all those years ago.”

Whole scenes are drawn from his life. On the screen, McGartland saw himself walking down the street with a child on his shoulders and getting into a fight with a British soldier. He saw Sturgess selling stolen goods door to door. “It was the way I talk, the way I act. I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing a better job — but why did the film-makers feel it necessary to turn my story on its head?”

The film, and McGartland’s decision to disown it, opens up the question of how recent history, the lives of living people, should be portrayed on screen.

After McGartland watched the film, he demanded, and got, several last-minute changes. For instance, a voiceover by Sir Ben Kingsley, who plays McGartland’s RUC Special Branch handler, sets the historical context and describes McGartland as “his own man”. A number of scenes were cut or voiced over, and disclaimers were inserted at the beginning and end to say that key events and personalities had been changed.
Related Links

* Jim Sturgess takes on role as IRA informer in Fifty Dead Men Walking

McGartland asks: “They are saying it was based on a true story, but what is the definition of ‘based on a true story’? Is it 50% true, 70% true, 10%?”

He contends that the movie is fundamentally a lie that misrepresents his career and his motivation. He believes that if Kari Skogland, the director, had stuck closer to the account he gave in his book and in a BBC documentary, then she would have had a better film.

He was enraged when Skogland, Rose McGowan (who plays an IRA member) and Sturgess talked in interviews about how they were “chaperoned” around Belfast by former IRA prisoners and taken drinking by them at republican clubs. In one interview, McGowan tells how she sat drinking a bottle of cider with an IRA man who tells her he would like to shoot McGartland.

“Why would you want to mix with these people and take their estimation of the situation at face value? Why would you be impressed with this sort of talk? Why did they not talk to me, or my family, or retired police officers, to find out the way things were?” he asks.

For an undercover agent, McGartland is passionate about making his motivation clear; he says he has spent 17 years doing so, despite physical attacks on himself and his family. As one police officer put it: “He doesn’t buy into the Clark Kent side of being Superman.” Yet he is cunning when it comes to security about his security. When I first met him, he made me book a hotel room for him and arrived “knackered from the drive”. Years later, I learnt that he had been living only a couple of miles from where we met.

Like many other youngsters in west Belfast, where the IRA campaign meant there was little investment and few jobs, he became involved in crime and despised the IRA, which he saw as an oppressive force. A seminal moment was when the IRA shot and injured his brother-in-law. In the film, the teetotal McGartland is portrayed as getting involved with the IRA through drinking companions and friends and being relentlessly courted by the Special Branch to turn informant. In real life, McGartland worked for the RUC Special Branch for two years before joining the IRA. “I did it after a uniformed policeman, who I called Billy in the book, stopped me to ask if I would go and meet some of his close friends. I went into Grosvenor Road police station and met these two blokes, and I agreed to work for them straightaway,” he says. “As soon as Special Branch approached me, I agreed to work for them. They didn’t have to coach me, they didn’t have to ask me two times. I wanted to do it.”

McGartland worked for Special Branch for two years from 1987, watching IRA suspects for them and toning down his conflicts with the IRA in order to get more access. He was able to avert several attacks and identify arms dumps during this period: “I was amazed at how precise their information was, and wondered who else was working for them.” In 1989 he was asked to join the IRA. He was initially reluctant, because of the risks and the danger of getting involved in murder. “I only joined the IRA to infiltrate it and save life,” he says. “I wanted to damage it. That was the whole point.” He lasted another two years within the organisation before an IRA internal review of a series of failed attacks and arrests led them back to him. He was invited to a meeting at Sinn Fein headquarters, where he was abducted.

His kidnappers managed to dodge police surveillance at traffic lights, and he was taken to a third-storey flat in the Twinbrook estate to await interrogation. While using the loo, he jumped from the window and was saved when a local woman called the police. They gave him a new identity, Martin Ash, and a new life near Newcastle upon Tyne. But a speeding offence resulted in his true identity coming out in court, and he was later shot getting into his car, almost certainly by the IRA.

In the film, he is resettled in Canada, but there are, to his mind, more serious changes. He is shown watching an informer being tortured and being on the point of shooting him.

“That never happened,” he says. Parts of the film were cut after legal protests. One showed him watching a bomb being placed under a van and failing to report the incident to his handler, to preserve his cover. That never happened. He says: “The fact that the IRA were on to me after two years shows I reported everything I could. Things that I knew about kept going wrong, that is how they rumbled me.”

McGartland doesn’t hide his bad points. He admits his involvement in selling goods stolen from shops, something he found more lucrative than working for the police, but he insists his basic motivation was moral. He says: “If you knew that someone was going to get blown up — he has young kids, he has a wife and so on — and you know that that man’s life is going to end tomorrow, would you be able to go to bed that night and get up in the morning, and know that man would be dead, but you would be safe if you turned a blind eye? I couldn’t.”

Link:- http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/film/article5982263.ece