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Maggie Thatcher’s ‘favourite spy’ who infiltrated Sinn Fein has died aged 76

Carlin successfully spied on IRA boss Martin McGuinness for 11 years

Willie Carlin© Hugh Jordan

Willie Carlin© Hugh Jordan

Willie Carlin© Hugh Jordan

Hugh JordanSunday World

Willie Carlin – Tory Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher’s favourite spy in Ireland – has died, the Sunday World has learned.

The 76-year-old MI5 spook, who successfully spied on IRA boss Martin McGuinness for 11 years, passed away at his London home last week.

He was one of the top agents inside Sinn Féin and was forced to flee his native city in fear of his life.

However, 15 years ago he secretly returned for a day when the Sunday World photographed him on the city’s walls.

Conor Graham from the Dublin-based Merrion Press publishing house, told the Sunday World: “I telephoned Willie last week, but his wife Carine answered and she told me he had died.”

Willie Carlin© Hugh Jordan

Three years ago, Merrion Press published Thatcher’s Spy: My Life as an MI5 Agent Inside Sinn Féin.

It recounted the amazing life story of a one-time British soldier from Derry’s Creggan estate who successfully infiltrated Sinn Féin on behalf of the British Secret Service.

Carlin, who was married with children, was due to leave the Royal Irish Hussars regiment in 1974.

As he had joined the British Army long before the Troubles erupted, he asked his bosses if it was safe for him to return to the city of his birth.

Army top brass spotted an opportunity to increase intelligence gathering on the growing Irish republican movement.

The Provos in Derry enjoyed boosted membership after the Bloody Sunday massacre when the Parachute Regiment gunned down 14 innocent victims after a civil rights march in the city. A senior MI5 officer arranged to meet Carlin outside the former cottage home of the British Military adventurer ‘Clive of India’.

He informed the Derry man that the British state wanted him to return to his home town, where he would ease himself into the republican movement.

Carlin was specifically told not to show any interest in joining the IRA, but to concentrate in finding out information about Sinn Féin.

And as he was offered a salary and a pension, Carlin signed up immediately.

Carlin went back home to Derry where he settled with his wife and family in the Waterside area. He found work running a community group.

Bright, articulate and well-organised, Carlin soon came to the attention of McGuinness who brought him on board as a political advisor.

Carlin is credited with changing McGuinness’s public image. He persuaded the top republican to drop his Aran jumper image in favour of suits and ties and polished shoes.

Willie Carlin© Hugh Jordan

He was party to all political developments in Sinn Féin and once a week he visited his MI5 agent Michael Bettaney at a spook’s hideaway home on the outskirts Limavady where he passed on information.

Carlin also witnessed the IRA shooting of fiver-a-day census collector Joanne Mathers. He recognised the gunman by his distinctive gait and he immediately passed on the name to his handlers.

But Michael Bettaney was an alcoholic who was eventually jailed for 10 years in England for passing British state secrets to the Russians.

A devout Catholic, he attended weekly Mass in prison where he met and befriended IRA members who were serving sentences for terrorist activities in England.

Consumed with bitterness and revenge, he told the IRA men Martin McGuinness was being betrayed by a British spy in Derry called Willie Carlin.

But MI5 spooks got to hear about this and arranged for Carlin to be removed immediately.

Maggie Thatcher – who had read Carlin’s intelligence reports with great interest – immediately put her Prime Ministerial jet at his disposal.

Carlin and his family were smuggled out of Derry in the middle of the night as the IRA was making plans to abduct him.

He returned 15 years later when the Sunday Worldpictured him on Derry’s walls and at other location in the city. Carlin also visited Joanne Mathers’ grave near Strabane.

Thatcher once described Willie Carlin as her favourite spy. And he used this connection as the title of his autobiography.

A heavy smoker who also suffered from a COPD-related lung disease, Carlin contracted Covid at the height of the epidemic.

And when it developed into Long Covid he was permanently confined to bed.

Carlin’s Egyptian-born wife Carine – who was also his registered carer – required daily outside assistance to look after him in the final months of his life.


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