Northern Ireland

Stakeknife: Mulhern family divided over inquiry into Army agent

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe investigation into Stakeknife, named by the media as Freddie Scappaticci, has divided the Mulhern family, as Kevin Magee reports

The activities of the Army's most high-ranking agent, codenamed Stakeknife, are to be investigated but a date for the inquiry has yet to be set.

The family of Joseph Mulhern, who was shot by the IRA in 1993, believe his death will feature in the inquiry, but they are bitterly divided over whether or not it should even take place.

Mr Mulhern met a lonely, untimely death in July 1993.

The 23-year-old was abducted and shot by the IRA, who alleged he was a police informer.

His body was found on a remote hillside on the border between counties Tyrone and Donegal, dressed in a blue boiler suit and his hands tied with cable.

Those were the tell-tale signs that he had been tortured before he was shot.

Image caption Jospeh Mulhern's body was found on the border between Tyrone and Donegal in 1993

For a long period during Northern Ireland's Troubles, Stakeknife was running the IRA's internal security unit, otherwise known as the 'nutting squad'.

Stakeknife has been been named by the media as Freddie Scappaticci.

But the west Belfast man denies the allegation.

The secret agent is to be investigated in connection with the murders of up to 50 people.


It is an inquiry that Joseph Mulhern's father Frank fully supports.

"Stakeknife was employed by the state," he said.

Image caption The IRA alleged that Joseph Mulhern was a police informer

"Stakeknife knew when a lot of these murders were going to take place.

"He obviously reported to his handlers and they did nothing to stop these murders.

"The IRA have pulled the trigger but the state authorities could have prevented it as they would have known about it a number of weeks before [Joseph] was taken away.

"Why did they not act?"

But that is not the view of the entire family.

One of those who carried Joseph Mulhern's coffin was his younger brother Fran, then aged 18.

Not long afterwards, he left Belfast to study law in England and settled there.

Image caption Frank Mulhern, pictured carrying his son's coffin, says he supports the Stakeknife inquiry

He feels the Stakeknife inquiry is focusing on the wrong people.

He said: "The thing that I feel is really strange is that everyone is talking about Scappaticci, but ultimately what about the people who actually pulled the triggers?

"It just seems like they are getting a free pass.

"So, to me, the whole thing just smacks of being almost this inquiry to use as a political football to beat the British government with."


Asked if he would welcome an inquiry that could shed light on what happened to his brother, he replied: "No, because it is not going to bring my brother back.

"It keeps dragging up the past," he said.

"And the second thing it does, is its just money that Northern Ireland does not have."

Image caption Frank Mulhern says Stakeknife's handlers could have stopped his son's murder

It has been suggested the inquiry could cost £5m a year for five years.

But those who have argued for it, like Joseph Mulhern's father Frank, say that figure has been deliberately inflated.

"That sum has been mentioned, probably by the state authorities here, to try to make up excuses why they should not have an investigation," Frank Mulhern said.

"They don't need to spent £35m because they have all their information and files in Castlereagh or Whitehall or wherever they keep their files."

Fran Mulhern said he believes the way the government is dealing with past - by holding inquiries into some deaths but not others - is not only unfair but is hampering political progress and reconciliation.

You can read his views here.

"Either you provide something for all of the victims or you deal with none of them," said Fran Mulhern.

"You can't cherry-pick, and for me that is the big problem.

"It seems to be we are going to look at this, but we are not going to look at that.

Image caption Fran Mulhern says he believes the Stakenife inquiry is a waste of time and money

"The young girl who lost her dad because he was in the [Royal Ulster Constabulary] and was killed by a mortar bomb has every bit as much right as someone who lost a family member at Loughgall or wherever.

"Picking and choosing creates resentment and it doesn't allow the province to move on."


Fran Mulhern lives in the north of England and rarely returns to Belfast.

He is the only remaining male sibling in his family.

The archive television footage of Joseph's funeral shows younger brother Liam, then aged eight, carrying a single red rose behind the coffin.

By the time he was 15, Liam Mulhern was on remand accused of offences linked to the Continuity IRA.

He was later jailed for dissident republican activities and died two years ago after taking ill in Maghaberry Prison.

The two Mulhern brothers are buried in Belfast's City Cemetery beside their mother who died when they were children.

More on this story