A KEY figure in the Northern Ireland peace process is today named by former Special Branch agent Martin McGartland as the IRA punishment chief who ordered his execution.
Padraig Wilson, who is set to lead the IRA team negotiating disarmament, headed the terrorist organisation's intelligence and discipline operations in Belfast in the mid-1980s.
McGartland, who infiltrated the IRA on the Special Branch's behalf, reveals in the Sunday Mirror today how he went to meet Wilson at Sinn Fein headquarters in 1991 - but was faced, instead, with a punishment squad
who took him away for interrogation and execution. He escaped by jumping from a third-floor window.
Wilson, 42, still a prisoner at the Maze but is expected to be released within weeks, was elected to handle the decommissioning talks at an IRA Army Council meeting two weeks ago in the Irish Republic.
Wilson is said to have met Canadian General John de Chastelain, head of the International Decommissioning Commission, in Dundalk yesterday, to start talks on handing over weapons.
Sinn Fein officials refused to confirm Wilson's role. One said such a role would be "an enormous, and perhaps, unfair burden on a prisoner". But security sources said they were expecting the IRA to put up a "smokescreen".
Two priests from Clonard monastery in West Belfast, who set up a secret communications channel between the IRA and the Irish government in the early 1990s, could become involved in the talks.
The IRA is considering asking Fr Alec Reid and Fr Gerry Reynolds to act as independent decommissioning verifiers.
Republicans describe Wilson as one of the most respected IRA leaders and a moderate voice among hardliners.
He was jailed for 24 years in 1991 after being caught with a car bomb in Belfast City centre.
In the mid-1980s, Wilson joined the IRA Belfast brigade staff. His closest ally was David Adams, the cousin of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
As head of its so-called Civil Administration Team, or punishment squad, Wilson had the power over life and death, sanctioning vicious attacks on petty criminals and taking charge of the hunt for Special Branch informers. One he uncovered was Martin McGartland.
In 1991, suspicion fell on McGartland after operations he was involved in were either foiled by the security forces or had to be abandoned because of defective weapons.
McGartland, then aged 21, had spent the previous two years working with Davy Adams, and also in the pay of Special Branch.
One August morning he was called to a meeting with Wilson.
After clearance from his handlers, McGartland went to Connolly House on Andersonstown Road, Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland HQ.
But Wilson was not present and McGartland was taken to a flat in the Twinbrook estate where he later jumped 40ft from a third floor window to cheat death at the hands of an IRA execution team.
Within months, Wilson was caught with an undercar booby trap bomb and sent to the Maze.
He gave the first insight into IRA thinking on disarmament a year ago in a letter to a Belfast newspaper. It said he believed that "voluntary decommissioning" could happen once political institutions were in place.
Now the world holds its breath to see if decommissioning will go through before the May 2000 deadline.