IRA splinter Irish National Liberation Army disarms, offers no regret for its decades of death

By Shawn Pogatchnik, AP
Monday, February 8, 2010

IRA splinter group disarms; no apology for carnage

DUBLIN — A ruthless IRA splinter group, the Irish National Liberation Army, declared Monday it had fully disarmed but offered no regrets for committing some of the worst atrocities of the Northern Ireland conflict.

“We make no apology for our part in the conflict,” said INLA spokesman Martin McMonagle, who spent seven years in prison for plotting to plant bombs in England and assassinate Northern Ireland’s senior Protestant politicians.

Northern Ireland’s disarmament chief, retired Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, confirmed he and other officials had received and destroyed Irish National Liberation Army guns, ammunition, explosives and bomb parts. In a statement he said INLA officials — who have observed a shaky cease-fire since 1998 — had said the weapons represented their entire arsenal.

The general also confirmed that a long-dormant faction, the Official Irish Republican Army, recently handed over its modest stockpile of guns. The Officials were the first IRA faction to call a cease-fire, in 1972, but remained a racketeering and money-laundering force in working-class Catholic parts of Belfast.

De Chastelain declined to provide further details in keeping with his clandestine efforts since 1997 to persuade all Northern Ireland’s underground armies to surrender weapons.

He already has confirmed the disarmament of the most elaborately armed group, the Provisional IRA, in 2001-2005, followed by the province’s two major British Protestant paramilitary groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defense Association, in June 2009 and January 2010, respectively.

The Anglo-Irish legislation that empowered de Chastelain to collect weapons expires Tuesday in Northern Ireland and Feb. 23 in the Republic of Ireland. After that, anyone caught with paramilitary weapons likely faces prison time.

De Chastelain and his largely Finnish and American staff are expected to shut their offices in Belfast and Dublin after publishing a final progress report to the British and Irish governments later this month.

The only paramilitary gangs still committed to keeping weapons are two small anti-British factions, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, which reject Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. Both groups still mount occasional bombings and shootings in Northern Ireland.

Leaders of Sinn Fein — the IRA-linked party that is the major Irish Catholic voice in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government with Protestants — said the INLA move underscored that today’s dissident violence is futile.

“The peace process has ensured that a peaceful and democratic path to a united Ireland exists. There is no appetite for armed actions within the (Irish) republican community,” said Sinn Fein justice spokesman Gerry Kelly, who led the Provisional IRA’s first car-bomb attacks on London, in 1973.

The Irish National Liberation Army was formed in 1974 by Official IRA members unhappy with their cease-fire. Like all IRA factions, it hoped to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom against the will of its majority Protestant population.

It sought to distinguish itself by preaching a strict faith in Marxism — and by upstaging the Provisional IRA with the callousness of its violence. The INLA attacked targets the much larger group couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

In 1982 the INLA, in its deadliest strike, killed 11 British soldiers and six civilians by bombing a Northern Ireland disco in a Protestant village. The following year it machine-gunned a rural Protestant gospel hall, killing three worshippers and wounding seven.

In all, the group killed more than 120 people. Since the late 1980s, the majority of its victims have been rival criminals and its own members caught in a cycle of internal feuds.

The two INLA veterans who announced Monday’s disarmament said all the bloodshed had been necessary in pursuit of political aims they never came close to achieving.

INLA representative Willie Gallagher — whose own brother was shot through the back of the head by INLA rivals in 1996 — said its killings “were necessary in the conflict and our prosecution of the war.”

He and McMonagle rejected British journalists’ calls to apologize for the assassination of World War II hero Airey Neave, the Northern Ireland adviser to then-Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher.

Neave, 63, bled to death after a bomb exploded under his car in the British Parliament parking lot in March 1979, weeks before Thatcher’s rise to power.

Gallagher described Neave — famed as the first British soldier to escape from the Nazis’ Colditz prison — as “an enemy combatant and a casualty of war.”

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