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Forum Home > General Discussion > Rebel with a cause pt. 2

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When the feud ended in mid 1975, the INLA did not have the weapons and explosives necessary to carry out any major offensive. There were several hundred members in Belfast, Derry, Armagh, Portadown and elsewhere. This particular individual was building up the intelligence department in Belfast – building up files, overseeing the de-briefing of activists, creating civil, military and industrial intelligence and counter-intelligence. ‘I was lifted regularly and sometimes you might get a bit more heat because they knew you were up to something. The worst lift I had was in 1976 when I was staying in a house with this woman and the Brits raided the place. I saw a Brit pulling out a wooden butt and he called to his officer to witness what he described as a “find”. For the first few hours, I believed that this woman had been minding weapons. It turned out to be a crossbow. I thought I was going to be charged with possession. When you are in interrogation, your thoughts are not often with your family. In the cell, you think of your wife or lover or friends. Some people have never been the same after interrogation’.


In 1976 and 1977, weapons and supplies were slow in coming to the INLA. The feeling within the INLA was that if they could ‘get their act together’ they could attract some of the more advanced elements coming from the IRA. In 1977, the Provos started to shed some people and the INLA picked them up. Many of them owed no allegiance to the position that had been advocated by Costello, who was killed on 5 October 1977, by a lone gunman. ‘Between 1976 and 1980 I played a prominent role within the IRSP as a member of the Ard Comhairle. This involved travelling the country and trying to build up subscriptions to the party paper – The Starry Plough. At the same time, I was seeking to develop contacts and capacity for the Intelligence Department of the INLA. This was alongside work in the Relatives Action Committee which had been formed after 1 March 1976 to resist the removal of political status from those in Long Kesh. I was nominated by the INLA to attend meetings of the RAC and to liaise. I was involved with Mariam Daly, Ronnie Bunting and others in preparing for the Dungannon Conference in 1978 which witnessed the emerge of the republican movement’s full and active support for the RAC. Running parallel to this was a military campaign. A number of prison warders were shot and blown up. The first time the INLA used the mercury tilt booby-trap bomb – using a clamp and magnet under a car – was against a prison officer in County Antrim in December 1978. A number of activists in a unit under my control were responsible for that operation. The second time we used the device was in a car park in Portadown in March 1979 when an RUC man was blown up. He later died from his injuries’.



He was arrested in early 1979 and held in custody on remand, charged with possession of weapons and explosives. Between 1976 and 1978 he had been employed by a repo graphics firm and was very active in the trade union movement as a branch secretary. All of this activity, including his arrest, led to the break-up of his marriage in 1979. He has two children, a boy and a girl, who are now aged eleven and nine respectively.


‘I do not believe in violence for violence sake but rather that armed struggle was and is a legitimate tool in the overall armoury of the people, as advertised by Connolly: “Arguments where arguments serve and arms where arms are necessary”. My capabilities were principally in the intelligence field and I controlled a cell of INLA activists under HQ staff in the North Antrim area. Forward planning, intelligence and supplies of materials were my responsibility in the military sense. I continued to advocate the position of the IRSP in the campaigns’.



Around 1978, the INLA had begun to re-organise itself into a cellular structure as the older structures were open to penetration. A number of revolutionary models had been studied by the Intelligence Department. Cells were set up and were self-efficient insofar as was possible. This individual was one of a number of people responsible for the implementation of that cell structure policy. This allowed for people to only to be active in one area alone, and operate away from home, where they weren’t known.


All cells were directed through the HQ Staff and all operations had to be sanctioned in advance. Fundraising was the responsibility of the leadership and no individual could conduct armed robberies on their own. The size of a cell was usually no more than five people. When Costello was killed, a caretaker leadership was set up. A member of the GHQ Staff succeeded him eventually. But his death signalled a number of contradictions within the organisation which had existed previously but which had been subliminated under his authority and personality. I think we’re properly never seen such a revolutionary leader since Connolly’.



‘Weapons were purchased through Europe on a commercial basis with money that had been robbed in Ireland. Some came from the Middle East through connections with the PLO. In the late Seventies, there were various strands within the INLA and IRSP, but this never came to open debate. ‘The tendency within an ‘armed’ political organisation is that the highest authority is inevitably the army and this acts to censor political confrontation. By early 1980 the INLA were better equipped military and more confident of its own position then at any time the previous five years. The release of Gerry Steenson and others from Long Kesh offered an increased potential for operations which was realised. In the face of a hunger strike on 27 October 1980, the INLA Army Council decided to mount a sustained campaign against the RUC, the UDR and the Brits, with which I was involved’.


Five members of the security forces were killed in five months and there were shootings, bombings and other attempted assassinations. Two more killings followed. But at the same period, three civilians had also been killed by the INLA. ‘Those three casualties were symptomatic of the overall weakness in the capacity of the INLA. By the end of 1982, the INLA was a pale reflection of what had been formed in 1974 around the class and nationalist questions. This process of degeneration continued throughout 1983. There followed a series of arrests in the supergrass system and all of this culminated in the massacre of three Protestant people in Darkley Mission Church. In 1979 and 1980, I was involved in the Intelligence field. I was by now Director of Intelligence for the INLA and offered an analysis which was critical of the shortcuts in practice which were taking place at the time’.



These shortcuts involved people going out on operations without gloves and masks and things like that. Some inside the INLA began to worry that the army was over-stretching itself and that if the state decided to come down on it, it would be unable to sustain any degree of operations. But it was decided to go on in the short term, on the basis that the Hunger Strike of 1981 offered an opportunity for sustained operations which was unlikely to be repeated. At the end of the Strikes, when the INLA had lost three men and carried out countless operations, the re-evaluation began. Then the first wave of supergrasses arrived.


‘At the time of my arrest, I was in a car on the Whiterock Road with another INLA man. There were road blocks which we’d spotted and avoided and we felt that something was going down. We drove into another one and we were caught. It was 16 May 1983. That was on Kirkpatrick. I had been arrested on the word of Goodman and McConkey previously. I was told by the cops that they knew what I was up to and they had plans to deal with me themselves’.

He was offered a deal involving the naming of people in exchange for a new life and money but turned it down. He stayed in jail for the next two-and-a-half years. Up to the point of his arrest on the word of a supergrass, if you stayed quiet in interrogation, you were all right. At the time, the supergrass thing looked unstoppable.‘Kirkpatrick changed all that. It was a new experience which had to be dealt with and there was no time for wallowing in self-pity. It did keep a number of people out of circulation for a bit’.



In jail, there are enormous strains placed on the prisoners. Many find themselves unable to cope with the thought that their partners outside may not be faithful. Many prisoners have literally gone up the wall. ‘I would have liked thought that my relationship was and is quite strong. Some people end up like Green Cross Widows and Green Cross Widowers when their partners go to jail. They find themselves imprisoned by public opinion within the community. If they go out of an evening, there’s always somebody watching them to see if they go home with someone else. I’ve seen men in prison climbing the walls wondering what the women were up to at night. That did not arise in my own case. You can’t expect people to stay celibate all their lives’.


But there are also other tensions which prison can bring to the surface. Small occurrences become blown out of all proportions while in prison. There are other things also which rankle. ‘What bothered me most about prison was the death of a very close friend of mine when he was shot by Loyalists assassins. And then when my child was born – that caused me great difficulty. You have to deal with those things because occasionally everyone gets depressed and your morale will drip for a period. The problem arises when you nose dive and can’t get out of it’.


Within the prison at Crumlin Road, he was OC of the INLA prisoners and he was effectively welfare officer as well, offering advice and assistance to those who required it. In July 1984, somebody else took over, as he had been advocating the dissolution of the INLA and his position became untenable. The IRSP Cumann was dissolved at the end of the year. ‘I stepped down for the obvious reason that I was arguing for dissolution. I used my position as a vehicle for debate and the debate became polarised. I would have been the prime mover at that time with that position but there were others arriving at that position independently. All of this was going on in jail, while more than thirty people had been charged on the word of Kirkpatrick alone. The f poact that he was charged on the word of a former comrade had its own lessons. ‘When you were in the dock on his word, you would have memories of the time when the guy was in your company and he might have shared a social event with you. You say; “What kind of human being would involve himself in this caper?” You ask yourself; “How did I not identify this previously? How did I not see through this guy? If I have been wrong about him, how many other people have I been wrong about?”



Within the jail, while the trails continued, he pursued the line that the organisation was so flawed, and that those flaws were ‘so thoroughgoing’ that the INLA could not be reformed. The organisation had been discredited and it was pointless to continue. Most accepted that there had been mistakes but argued for a reformation rather than a stand down. Personalities on both sides of the argument became focus points for discussion, clouding the real issues. But it was not essentially the personalities that were the cause of the conflict. ‘When one sits back and looks at it, you have visions of yourself engaged in a struggle for control of the movement without having understood what the potential of the vehicle really was. You were in struggle for control of a vehicle that was going nowhere – a car that had no engine. And so many people wanted to drive that car in so many different directions. The problem after Costello was that people wanted to develop the INLA at the expense of building an organisation within the working class. The failure of the IRSP to develop led to an increased reliance on military operations to establish credibility and this strengthened the hand of the army. The recruitment to the army accelerated beyond the growth of the party. Those problems had been there in the past. We chose to ignore them and put them on the long finger’.


Throughout the early Eighties, there had been various power struggles within the INLA. There were leaderships based in Dublin, and others in Belfast. Rows erupted over supplies of weapons and explosives, with Belfast people taking control at the point of a gun. The arguments were always about weapons and explosives, rarely ideology. There were internal feuds which fuelled this antagonism. In the current round of hostilities within the INLA, three strands come together to form what has been called the Army Council faction. This included some of the Kirkpatrick defendants, the mainstream group in Belfast, and the Dublin leadership. Those within the INLA who wished to continue came to be known as the General Headquarters faction. One of the most significant developments within the INLA was the arrest of Dominic McGlinchey on 17 March 1984. There was a vacuum left within the organisation, and there were scrambles for control of weapons and territory. This particular supporter of the Army Council faction is now very critical of this period. ‘Complaints were going unheeded and the allocation of resources led to difficulties. We believed at the time that it was temporary and we lurched from one crisis to the next. The Quartermasters and Operations Departments had primacy. Projects which would have yielded long term results and which were political in nature were going short of funding. A number of us were engaged in an exercise over the years where we were putting a smile on a corpse’.



Throughout the period since 1970, many of those close to him have died. Three times there have been attempts on his own life. During the most recent feud, he was on the top of the list for the other side among others. ‘You have to deal with grief in your own time and space with other comrades who have known you and them. My Christmas card list since 1974 is very much depleted. I have thought about getting killed. It’s one of those situations where you could worry yourself to death, worrying about whether or not you’re going to get killed. The question as to whether I ever feel like giving up is one which is asked by my family from time to time. But capitalism will not give its hold by argument. If there’s to be social and political and economic change, people will have to go out and make that change within the working class and take control of their own lives. The day I feel I’ve had enough, I’ll stand back. Until then, I feel morally obliged and politically committed to what I’m doing. I don’t consider myself a Catholic. I don’t believe in God. I’ve no concept of Heaven or Hell. I believe that if I was killed, that would be the end of it. I’ve nothing to fear in that regard. I’ve often thought of the effect my death would have on my family and friends – they would have to do the mourning. Nothing lasts forever. You die eventually. There are things I would like to do with my life, certain relationships I would like to develop, like those with my children. The relatives who remain to mourn the death on both sides are the most tragic losers in this situation. The position is one of a war in which you kill or be killed. If an individual is killed, his life is ended. It’s over.


‘I would see the lessons of the Irish struggle as lying in the historical gap between revolutionary nationalism as symbolised by Feniansim, and revolutionary socialism as symbolised by Connolly. As someone who is essentially a product of the Republican tradition, I would hold the position advocated by Lenin in his pamphlet on the national question. That position is that nationalism and the national question is only revolutionary in so far as it resolves that question in the interests of the working class, thereby allowing that class develop its content and achieve socialism. There is a point at which pure achieves nothing more than a change of management. This lesson is visible in any of the 140 or so countries that have achieved national independence since the nineteenth century. What is required is total change – the dismantling of capitalist institutions and their replacement with those organs of power which truly represent the working class. This cannot be achieved by anything short of a socialist revolution’.

June 27, 2010 at 2:38 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 110

what a read. Melancholy in places, but a fantastic insight. Thanks for sharing this with us Stockholm

June 27, 2010 at 4:10 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 59

another great read!

June 28, 2010 at 5:58 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 25

There are some typing errors but I take it everyone accepts that!

At the very end there is a pharagrap saying; "There is a point at which pure achieves nothing more than a change of management.". That should of course read;  There is a point at which pure nationalism achieves nothing more than a change of management."


Also I take it that everybody knows that the IRA, not the IRS split in 1970...


The article is written by Derek Dunne. 


More will come...

June 28, 2010 at 7:51 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 25

Oops.. Just read the text again and found that a numer of lines is missing in the first paragraph of pt. 2.


Between the lines; "...intellgence and counter-intelligence." and; "I was lifted regulary..."

It should read:


The IRSP mobilised support for armed struggle. The INLA carried out attacks in order to win support for the party, and the party's main position was one of support for armed struggle. This vicious circle continued. On a personal level, this individual had done his O levels in 1974 and had read Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Connolly extensively. Gerry Steenson had been sentenced to eight years for possesion in 1975 and rose to be OC of the Compound in Cage 5, Long Kesh. He organised various discussions centred around Lenin and remained there until 4 April 1980.

Really sorry for that! I cant edit the original post. But I think it is an important paragraph. It says something important about Steensy as well!



June 29, 2010 at 12:00 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 16


June 29, 2010 at 6:35 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 67

Very interesting read of part 1 and 2....thanks for sharing this Stockholm.

June 30, 2010 at 11:08 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Shane Dundalk
Posts: 17

well in the reading about there was things on there that i never knew  but it is good to learn more its all history now but still very interesting 

June 30, 2010 at 2:35 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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