On 14th March 1984, I was at work in central Belfast, in an office with big windows overlooking Wellington Place. I can’t recall if I had been idly looking out at the street already (likely) or whether something attracted my attention, but I do clearly remember seeing a car which had been approaching the traffic lights on the corner of Donegall Square suddenly do a U-turn and speed the wrong way down the broad, one-way street. It intercepted an oncoming car and forced it to stop at the kerb.
Armed men got out and ordered the driver and passengers out of the stopped car and into the typical “arrested” position, leaning against their car with hands clasped behind their heads. After some time, police vehicles arrived and the “suspects” were taken away.
I didn’t find out the circumstances until seeing the evening news on television. The men arrested at the road side were members of the Ulster Defence Association, (calling themselves Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover name), who had attempted to murder Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin. He and three SF colleagues had been shot and wounded — Adams most seriously — as they travelled by car from a court appearance, (on a count of obstruction following an previous confrontation with police). The UFF men later got long jail sentences.
According to the official account, the would-be murderers had been aprehended by off-duty police officers. According to Sinn Féin, the authorities had had prior knowledge of the attack and had allowed it to happen.
I think that subsequently the idea of “off-duty” police has quietly mutated into “undercover” officers, because the original term is clearly not credible. The fact of the sudden, unprovoked U-turn of their car is evidence enough that they were acting under control at the time. And something else stays with me: those guys were scary. Absolute hard men: muscular, trained and precise. As it happened, a real off-duty policeman (I assume) came on the scene very soon after the incident, and helped by collecting firearms from the car in a plastic carrier bag. He looked and moved like a slightly podgy child in comparison to the others. Normal, in other words.
I don’t know who those men were. I would guess SAS or similar, because I just can’t envisage shock troops like that being local police. I have no knowledge of how undercover forces operated in Belfast in those days, and so I can say nothing about whether the events lend credence or not to the Sinn Féin collusion claim. I can only tell what I saw.