12 September 2002 Edition
Exclusive IRA interview
Army puts onus on British
In its most wide-ranging and comprehensive interview of recent times, the IRA gives its assessment of the peace process, where it believes the difficulties lie and how progress can be made.
It also deals with issues as diverse as sectarian violence, the loyalist commission, the unionist suggestion for a ceasefire auditor and the allegations around Colombia and Castlereagh.
The IRA restates its commitment to the search for peace and the spokesperson for the IRA leadership praises the discipline and dedication of IRA Volunteers.
It believes that "sections of the British military and its intelligence agencies, including the Special Branch, are still at war", and that the "leadership of unionism" and "elements within the British establishment" are working to create another crisis.
The British government has to face up to this reality and demonstrate the political will necessary to meet this challenge. That means the British government "must honour their commitments and obligations".
The IRA spokesperson expresses concern at the British government's approach to unionism and acknowledges that many nationalists and republicans are weary of the failure of "sections of unionism and the unionist leaderships to accept equality and change".
In the interview, the IRA representative states its fundamental opposition to sectarianism and sectarian violence. The army welcomes any genuine efforts to end this violence but points the finger at the securocrats and Special Branch, who run agents, particularly within the UDA, as the prime movers and instigators of this.
Dealing with the unionist proposal for a ceasefire auditor, the IRA accuses British intelligence agencies of indulging in disinformation. It asks who will monitor the British forces and warns that this proposal will only be used "to serve the interests of those opposed to change".
It reiterates its rejection of allegations around the raid on the Special Branch office in Castlereagh and describes its recent apology as "the right thing to do".
The IRA repeats again that the leadership sent no one to Colombia to train or engage in any military cooperation with any group and calls for the release of the three men.
Finally, the IRA restates its commitment to see an end to partition and the establishment of an Irish republic that guarantees equal rights and religious liberty.
Exclusive IRA interview
An Phoblacht: Accepting that there have been difficulties in this peace process for republicans, where stands the IRA today?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: It is important to understand that sections of the British military and its intelligence agencies, including the Special Branch, are still at war. They have always sought to create tensions, divisions and splits in republican ranks. They are opposed to the peace process. Consequently, over recent years, we have seen some absurd stories and speculation from ill-informed or mischievous sources designed to foment divisions if possible, or provide our enemies and the opponents of the peace process with excuses to attack republicans. We have witnessed these types of psy-ops for more than 30 years.
But the public, our support base and especially our opponents, should understand that the IRA is a highly disciplined organisation. The dedication of our Volunteers and support base has ensured that our cessation has remained intact.
The IRA remains committed to the search for a just and lasting peace.
An Phoblacht: There is an expectation that David Trimble intends creating another crisis in the peace process. What is your view?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: The leadership of unionism and elements within the British establishment have contrived this situation. The British government must face up to this reality.
At various stages these same forces have actively brought the political and peace processes to the brink of collapse. In the past the IRA leadership was able to act unilaterally to break not only the logjams that have been created but also to save the peace process. But I have to say that many nationalists and republicans are weary of the failure of sections of unionism and the unionist leaderships to accept change and equality. For their part, the British government have pandered to that unionist agenda. Remember, it was the British government that slowed the implementation of the Agreement to a snail's pace then suspended the institutions and completely disenfranchised the hundreds of thousands of people across Ireland who voted for change.
An Phoblacht: How can a crisis be avoided?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: This process can only remain alive and succeed if the political will exists to make it work. For our part, the IRA has demonstrated time and time again that we are committed to the peace process. There is no threat to the peace process from the IRA. The process is under threat from those who are against change. A vacuum has been created. Loyalism has stepped into that vacuum with a campaign of sectarian violence.
The way to make progress is for the leaderships of unionism and the British government to live up to and to honour their obligations and commitments.
An Phoblacht: The IRA has been accused of not doing enough for the peace process. What is your view of this?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: We have played a positive and constructive role. There would be no peace process but for IRA initiatives. Despite the abuse of the peace process by those who seek the defeat of republicanism, the Army has consistently shown its commitment to the peace process by taking a number of substantial initiatives.
We declared and continue to maintain our cessation.
We established contact with and engaged with the IICD.
We facilitated the inspection of a number of our arms dumps by the International Inspectors on three separate occasions.
We agreed with the IICD a scheme to put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use.
We implemented that scheme in October 2001 and in April 2002.
The difficulties these initiatives caused us, our Volunteers and our support base should not be underestimated in any way. At times it has been very difficult for republicans to understand why the IRA should do any of these things, especially in the face of the repeated failures of the British government and others to live up to their commitments, and against a background of sustained loyalist attacks on Catholics and nationalists.
We have taken these unprecedented steps to enhance the prospect of achieving a just and lasting peace. The IRA is not the problem. The problem, and it is one the British government have to face up to, is that there are elements, especially within their own system, who are against the peace process.
Your question should be directed at those elements who are against change.
An Phoblacht: What about the ongoing sectarian violence? The unionists, as well as some sections of the media, have been running the tit-for-tat claim for months. What effect is this having?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: The description of the sectarian violence as tit-for-tat is false. Some journalists run that line because they are politically hostile or frightened, or depend on the crown forces and the NIO for information, leaks and stories. The failure of sections of the media to seek out and tell the whole truth is adding to the sense of anger.
To understand what is happening in the Short Strand, in North Belfast, South Antrim and in other parts of the Six Counties, we have to place loyalist violence in its proper context. The reality is that there are loyalist paramilitary organisations that are not on ceasefire. Much of the current outpouring of sectarian hatred is designed to provoke a response from the IRA and to deepen the crisis that is being contrived in the political process.
The tit-for-tat accusation is already being cynically used by some unionists. It is designed to shift blame for the collapse of the institutions away from the leadership of unionism and those elements within the British establishment who are against the process.
It is also important to remember that while loyalists have at times pursued their own agenda, many, many individual loyalists have been and are surrogates of the securocrats within the British military and political establishment. Like Brian Nelson, they have been guided and directed by military intelligence and the Special Branch. They have been supplied with weapons. They have been supplied with intelligence.
The UDA especially is infiltrated at every level by the intelligence services. It is the organisation primarily responsible for the bulk of the sectarian violence against the Catholic community over the past two years. All of this under the guiding hands of the intelligence services who recruited them.
In the midst of a pogrom against Catholics, nationalists and their properties, sections of the British establishment and unionists remain fixated on defeating republicans and defending a failed status quo.
An Phoblacht: In light of all of that, how do you respond to the speculation around the creation of a 'ceasefire auditor'?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: Firstly, there have been no breaches of our cessation. Suggestions to the contrary have come from the British military intelligence agencies. This misinformation has already been seized upon by elements within unionism, and the creation of an auditor would be the latest example of the British government pandering to their demands. As I pointed out earlier, there are loyalist paramilitary organisations not on ceasefire and British military covert operations continue unchecked. Overt operations, including attacks on nationalists, continue. Who will monitor the forces of the crown? It is evident that this whole idea of an auditor is being pushed by the unionists. If it is put in place it will only be used to serve the interests of those opposed to change.
An Phoblacht: Is the IRA involved in orchestrating violence at the interfaces?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: No. Allegations that the IRA is involved in fomenting sectarian conflict are totally untrue. We are fundamentally opposed to sectarianism in any shape or form. Sectarian attacks, whatever their source, are wrong. Everyone has a responsibility to bring these to an end. They should stop. Republicans have very clearly and visibly been active on the ground in trying to calm and defuse conflict situations.
An Phoblacht: What is your view of the recent loyalist commission statements?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: We welcome any genuine attempt to bring an end to the violence at the interfaces. Many people will be understandably sceptical about the 'no first strike' claim in light of ongoing attacks.
Despite this, as I said before, we want to see an end to all sectarian violence, including that which is taking place at the Belfast interfaces. While the overwhelming majority of these attacks have been directed at Catholics, there have been attacks on Protestant people and property. All of this must stop. We will do all that we can to encourage calm in nationalist communities. The situation for all of those living at the interfaces is intolerable. Every effort must be made to bring an end to this difficult and dangerous situation.
An Phoblacht: In relation to the ongoing attacks from within the republican community, have you any comments to make?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: We have addressed the activities of these groups on a number of occasions in the past. They are small in number, they have little or no support base. They articulate no coherent strategy. They have no impact on the structures and discipline of Óglaigh na hÉireann. Their attacks are aimed at collapsing the peace process. They need to examine whose interests this serves.
An Phoblacht: Unionists have already used and seem set to continue to use the arrests in Colombia and the raid on the Special Branch office in Castlereagh as part of the next crisis. How do you respond to these allegations?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: I spoke earlier about those agencies on the British side which are still at war, still planting mischievous stories in the media. These issues fall into this category.
Once again, we were not involved in the Castlereagh raid. Instead, look at the motives of those who are pushing this story, those who run it without any challenge, investigation, or verification of the allegations being made.
In respect of Colombia, let me repeat what we have being saying consistently since shortly after the three men were arrested. The leadership of the IRA sent no one to Colombia to train or to engage in any military cooperation with any group. The IRA has not interfered in the internal affairs of Colombia.
The outrageous claims raised in the media have ensured that the three men cannot receive a fair trial. They should be released and sent home to their families.
An Phoblacht: You say that the onus for averting the looming crisis rests with the British government. What should they do?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: The British government must face down those who for narrow political ends, within unionism and within their own ranks, are opposed to change.
There is a range of unresolved issues. The British government know what they are. They must honour their commitments and obligations.
For instance, the British government make a great deal of the closure or relocation of certain military bases. On the other hand, they have remilitarised by strengthening existing military installations, bases and camps, by expanding others and erecting surveillance cameras and equipment within nationalist and republican areas. Hardly the preparations for a lasting peace.
The level of Crown forces activity has significantly increased in some areas. In places such as South Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh, the presence of mobile and foot patrols have brought with them an increase in levels of harassment. Covert intelligence agents continue to target republicans. Nationalists and republicans find it difficult to accept the concentration of such activity in their areas while the violence emanating from loyalism goes virtually unchecked.
The drive from within Special Branch to recruit informers and agents has been intensified. The recent attempt over the twelfth of July period to provoke confrontation with republicans through totally fabricated intelligence briefings are all part and parcel of a security agenda. All of this while the IRA remains on cessation.
An Phoblacht: Your statement of apology and condolences to the families of non-combatants killed or injured by your actions took many by surprise. Why did you make it?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: It was the right thing to do. Our sincere apology and condolences went to all of those families of non-combatants killed or injured as a consequence of our actions. We also highlighted the fact that there have been fatalities on all sides, combatants and non-combatants. We acknowledged the grief and pain of all of their relatives. If this process is to succeed, if it is to lead to a real and lasting process of conflict resolution, then that requires all sides acknowledging the grief and loss of everyone. Creating a hierarchy of victims will not achieve a process of healing. We have endeavoured to fulfil our responsibility in this regard.
An Phoblacht: And finally, what of your goals for the future?
Óglaigh na hÉireann: It remains our firm view, reinforced in so many ways by the British government's cynical management of this peace process, that the root cause of conflict in our country, and the single biggest obstacle to a lasting peace, is British government policy on Ireland, its outworkings and in particular partition.
We are committed and determined to see an end to partition and the establishment of an Irish republic on this whole island:
a republic that guarantees religious and civil liberty;
a republic that affords equal rights and equal opportunities to all of its citizens;
a republic that will cherish all of the children of the nation equally;
a republic built on a firm foundation of democratic rights, principles and entitlements.
Recent IRA Initiatives
An IRA spokesperson confirms that its representative has met with the IICD three times
The IRA leadership announces that it will reinitiate its contact with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) and that it has agreed "to put in place within weeks a confidence building measure to confirm that our weapons remain secure.
The IRA gives a significant boost to the peace process with an historic and unprecedented initiative. It is revealed in a statement from Óglaigh na hÉireann that agreed international inspectors Martti Ahtisaari and Cyril Ramaphosa have been allowed inspect arms dumps belonging to the IRA.
A senior IRA source confirms to An Phoblacht that international arms inspectors Cyril Ramaphosa and Martti Ahtisaari have carried out a third examination of IRA arms dumps.
The leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann confirms that "the IRA leadership has agreed a scheme with the IICD which will put IRA arms completely and verifiably beyond use".
In a move "to save the peace process and to persuade others of our genuine intentions", the IRA implements the scheme to put arms beyond use agreed with the IICD in August.
The IRA confirms that it has taken another initiative to put arms beyond use. It says: "This initiative is unilateral at a time when there are those who are not fulfilling their obligations.
The IRA offers sincere apologies and condolences to the families of noncombatants it has killed and injured. The Army also acknowledges the grief and pain of the relatives of combatants on all sides.