The "informer" and the political and organisational culture of the Irish republican movement: old and new interpretations
journal contributionposted on 05.01.2018 by Stephen Hopkins
Any type of content formally published in an academic journal, usually following a peer-review process.
This article will analyse recent interpretations of the “informer” as a subject of political and historical significance for a balanced understanding of the trajectory of the Provisional Republican movement. It will do so in part through a discussion of some recent fiction and memoir-writing devoted to the figure of the informer. Specifically, this will involve an exploration of the recent fictional re-imagination of the real-life case of Denis Donaldson, by the French journalist Sorj Chalandon (Mon traître, 2007 and Retour à Killybegs, 2011) (These novels have been translated into English as My Traitor (2011) and Return to Killybegs (2013)). All subsequent references are to the English versions. In the first section, the article analyses the historical evolution of the phenomenon and recent revelations regarding the apparently widespread existence of informers in the movement during the Troubles. This section engages with the academic debate concerning the effects of these revelations upon the morale and internal political culture of the republican movement; it is argued here that the “Republican family” has been significantly affected by these disclosures in the “post-conflict” era, and that they have become an important element in the contestation between leadership supporters and “dissenters” within contemporary republicanism. The second section utilises old and new literary representations of “the informer”, particularly based around Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer and Chalandon’s work, to discuss continuities and changes in the image and perception of this phenomenon. It is argued that the interweaving of fiction with real-life and factual historical detail is a particularly appropriate means of interpreting the role and effects of the informer.