Troubles spot

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 November, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 November, 1993, 12:00am

Stone Cold by Martin Dillon Arrow $60 THE sub-title of this chilling book is The True Story of Michael Stone and the Milltown Massacre In March, 1988, three members of a (Roman Catholic) IRA unit were buried at Belfast's Milltown Cemetery. A (Protestant) Loyalist terrorist went on the rampage during the funeral, killing three people and wounding 50 more. Stone was caught and is now serving a life sentence.

Where Northern Ireland is concerned, Martin Dillon has just about seen it all, with the insight of a journalist born in Belfast, working at first for newspapers and the BBC, but best-known for the half-dozen, carefully documented books he has produced on the situation.

I don't know how but Mr Dillon seems to be accepted by the warring factions of the IRA, the Loyalist paramilitaries, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Intelligence services whose role is ever increasing.

Mr Dillon is even-handed and dispassionate: his books have dealt with Republican and Loyalist atrocities alike.

Without interrupting the flow of his narrative more than is necessary to understanding, he explains the groupings, re-groupings and allegiances that are stirred in the seething Northern Ireland tragedy.

The book draws particular attention to the way in which Stone and other Loyalists were able to build up dossiers on possible IRA targets: many security forces files found their way into Loyalist hands.

''Dissident policemen, soldiers from the Ulster Defence Regiment and other regiments provided Loyalists with a ready supply of this type of intelligence.

The suspicion also existed that Special Branch and British Intelligence permitted the leaking of such information to encourage the killing of people whom the agencies of law and order had proven unable to interdict.'' But the main story is that of Michael Stone, a man with a record of killing in the Loyalist cause but who was operating as a kind of freelance at the time of his attack on the Milltown cemetery mourners.

It seems from the evidence produced here that Stone botched the attack. He stationed himself in the wrong place and seems to have delayed his assault for no obvious reason.

Certainly there were casualties but with Stone using two automatic pistols and half-a-dozen grenades on a densely-packed crowd it could, and perhaps abstract theorists would say, should have been worse.

Why things turned out the way they did you can speculate about forever. Did Stone know his natural mother was in fact a Catholic and was he affected by the atmosphere of the cemetery? It is difficult to say, although the author did interview Stone in jail and carried on a correspondence with him, much quoted here, which shows Stone to be surprisingly articulate.

The fact that Stone was ever brought to trial was due entirely to a handful of members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who faced down the hysterical mob. Stone was charged with six counts of murder, some predating the mayhem at the funeral.

The author tells this story, with its background of warring factions within factions, not only among the Provisional IRA and the Loyalists but inside the British military and Intelligence communities in as straightforward way.

There is an almost grey starkness about the writing which matches Belfast on a rainy day. It is all very matter-of-fact and propagandists of whatever persuasion will look in vain for justifications, excuses or special pleading from the author, although his understandable sense of tragedy shows through from time to time.

Perhaps saddest of all is that the street fighters, the assassins of today, were only babes in arms when the present troubles began. Worse, there is no sign of anything to prevent their children taking over in due course.