THE IRA has begun to issue apologies to families of its own members who were tortured and murdered as informers following revelations that its internal security section - the notorious "nutting squad" - was headed by at least one British Army agent known as Stakeknife.
In both An Phoblacht and the west Belfast weekly newspaper, the Andersonstown News, the IRA has apologised to the families of two IRA men - one of whom was almost certainly innocent of the charges brought against him.
It is the first time the IRA has recanted in such a fashion, and republican sources say it has been coming under intense pressure in Catholic areas from families of IRA men killed for informing.
It is expected that more apologies will be issued, as the nutting squad was responsible for killing at least 47 men accused of being informants.
One of the two agents working inside the IRA internal security unit was also suspected of passing information that led to the British Army's SAS shooting dead IRA men in Belfast and Co Tyrone.
The apologies issued in the past fortnight are on behalf of two IRA men: Michael Kearney from west Belfast, who was kidnapped, tortured and shot dead in July 1979; and Anthony Braniff from Ardoyne, who was killed in September 1981.
There is strong circumstantial evidence that agents within the IRA set up both men for execution to draw attention from themselves.
Kearney was blamed for supplying information to the RUC that led to the disruption of a planned 40-bomb blitz in Belfast in early 1979.
Although he was involved in transporting bombs to the assembly point for the attack, it is now known that Kearney did not supply the information about the bombs.
Kearney was tortured and, the IRA alleged, confessed to passing information. He was found "in breach of general orders" and shot in the head.
It has now emerged that the two men in charge of the squad that tortured and killed Kearney were working for the RUC and British Army.
The other case is that of 27-year-old Anthony Braniff, who is believed to have been responsible for setting up another IRA man, Maurice Gilvarry, for execution as an informer in January 1981.
He blamed Gilvarry for tipping off the RUC about a planned IRA bomb attack in June 1978 which was intercepted by the SAS, who shot dead the three bombers.
Braniff was eventually caught after it was discovered he was receiving a weekly wage from the British Army.
However, last week the IRA issued a statement through An Phoblacht denying he was an informer and praising him in unctuous terms.
Republican sources say there has been huge resentment among the families of IRA members shot dead as informants after it emerged the internal security squad was headed by two agents. These two men - who might have been collectively, rather than individually, known as Stakeknife - were two of the most important agents ever run inside the IRA.
They were uniquely placed to provide the security forces with information and to cause disruption within the IRA. Both were responsible for multiple killings. One died two years ago.
The same squad was also responsible for killing civilians like the Co Louth farmer, Tom Oliver. Mr Oliver was killed after being accused of telling gardai about an arms dump he had uncovered on his farm.
He was branded an informer and murdered as a lesson to others not to give information to the gardai.