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Text of an Interview with an IRA Spokesperson, 1 September 1998

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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Text of an interview with a spokesperson from the IRA ("Óglaigh na hÉireann") for the weekly newspaper An Phoblacht/Republican News, published 3 September 1998

Q: Could you outline the IRA view of the effect of the recent bomb in Omagh and comment on the group who had admitted the bombing?

A: First of all, let me express our sympathy with the families of those killed and injured in Omagh. In human terms it was a disaster and a tragedy of enormous proportions. No one could fail to be moved by both the suffering of the victims of the bombing and the generosity of spirit of the families of those killed and injured in the explosion.

The Omagh bomb had undoubtedly caused damage to the struggle for Irish independence and unity. We suspect that this attack and previous bomb attacks by this and other groupings have been aimed at the peace process, in general, and at Sinn Féin's peace strategy in particular. Irish republicans throughout the 32 counties have, both privately and publicly, made very clear their anger at the actions of those responsible for the bomb.

Q: Those who planted the bomb in Omagh have made it clear they are not part of your organisation, why do they persist with the claim to the title "Óglaigh na hÉireann".

A: The erroneous claim by these people to be Óglaigh na hÉireann is a good indicator of exactly what they are about and the motivation behind the actions. Prior to their defection they were given the opportunity at an army convention to put their analysis to delegates elected by and representing the entire membership of "Óglaigh na hÉireann".

Their views on future strategy and direction were rejected by the vast majority of those delegates. Having failed in what was essentially a bid for leadership this small number of individuals then resigned from our organisation and, in a very deliberate and calculated way, set about trying to undermine both the duly elected leadership of Óglaigh na hÉireann and the future strategy which had been agreed and endorsed by the army convention. Their lack of credibility among volunteers or our support base has caused them therefore to seek to gain legitimacy by trying to hijack the name of Óglaigh na hÉireann, and, by extension, trying to put themselves and their views in the proud tradition of 80 years of struggle.

While they have failed on both counts many republicans feel nonetheless aggrieved that they have tarnished the name of Óglaigh na hÉireann and many are justifiably angry at their use of the term `Real IRA'. The grouping have done only disservice to the republican cause. They have no coherent political strategy, they are not a credible alternative to the Irish Republican Army. In the immediate aftermath of the Omagh bomb they announced a temporary halt to their actions. This is insufficient. They should disband and they should do so sooner rather than later.

Q: What is your assessment of the strength of this grouping?

A: From the outset they exaggerated their numbers and made a succession of sensational claims as to the scale of defections, which were picked up and promoted by some within the media. Claims that a former chiefof-staff had defected, that entire battalions, or GHQ departments had resigned, while all untrue, were designed and have little or no support base, particularly in the occupied counties. They have had little impact on Óglaigh na hÉireann structures. We continue to have a well organised and disciplined membership throughout the entire 32 counties.

Q: There have been accusations that the IRA have supplied technology and materials to these people. How do you respond to that?

A: Allegations from British securocrats and some unionist politicians that the Óglaigh na hÉireann has given material or other assistance to this grouping are absolutely untrue. British securocrats have intimate knowledge of the capabilities and workings of this grouping. The accusations you refer to therefore are quite cynical and hypocritical.

Arguably, actions that this grouping have carried out have been designed and timed, not only to derail the peace process, but also specifically to damage our struggle. It is ridiculous for anyone to suggest we would assist them in that. What we have to ask ourselves however is this: was it mere coincidence that at the point in history when our struggle was at its strongest, such seemingly reckless actions were carried out, actions which could only have the effect of damaging our struggle? People can draw their own conclusions on this.

Q: Both the British and Irish governments have responded to the Omagh bomb by introducing legislation in their respective parliaments which will give both the RUC and the Garda further emergency powers. Are you concerned at this development?

A: It certainly is a matter of concern that both governments have knee-jerked and opted for a security rather than a political response to the Omagh massacre. Repressive legislation and emergency powers have no place in any genuine conflict resolution process. For the past 80 years such powers have served only undemocratic and repressive ends. For example, giving more repressive powers to the RUC, a discredited sectarian paramilitary force, is like pouring petrol on a fire. This can only damage the potential for a democratic peace settlement.

Q: It is over 4 months now since the Good Friday agreement. The IRA has previously de- scribed it as a significant development; do you still believe it contains the potential to transform the situation?

A: We described the Good Friday document as a significant development. That remains our view. We are, however, conscious of growing concern at the slow pace of movement. Quite clearly those within unionism who rejected the agreement are continuing their attempts to subvert it. There are others who are trying to slow the pace of progress by resurrecting old preconditions and creating new preconditions in the hope that they can force the governments to renegotiate the agreement with a view to minimising change.

We still believe progress can be made, but this depends on both governments fulfilling their commitment to implement all aspects of the agreement. We share, of course, the desire of the vast majority of the Irish people to see the Good Friday document deliver on its potential. The best answer to those who are obstructing the construction of a lasting peace settlement, including those who planted the Omagh bomb, is to move the situation forward speedily and fulfil the existing potential for the resolution of the conflict in an all-Ireland context.

Q: Despite what you have previously said about decommissioning some unionists continue to demand that the IRA decommissions its weapons. What do you say to them?

A: We made our position absolutely clear on this in April, we stand by that statement. As I have just said some people are using the decommissioning issue in support of their own narrow agendas of subverting or securing a renegotiation of the Good Friday agreement. This should not be allowed to happen.

Q: What do you say to those who are demanding the IRA make a declaration that the war is over?

A: Irish history is replete with examples of the cycle of conflict, repression/resistance, increased repression. If the objective conditions exist for violent conflict, then such conflict will occur. That is a fact of history. Over a year ago we announced a cessation of military operations to facilitate the opportunity for a democratic peace settlement. In doing so and maintaining that cessation with great discipline we effectively created the existing opportunity for the achievement of lasting peace. That needs to be secured. The challenge for everyone then is to remove the causes of conflict. Far better that people would expend their energy on that than wasting time on word games around whether or not someone is prepared to say the war is over.

Q: Some weeks ago the media carried reports of imminent developments on the issue of missing bodies. Is there any substance to these reports?

A: We sympathise greatly with the families whose loved ones have disappeared in the course of the conflict over the last 30 years. We are not responsible for everyone who has gone missing over that period. Approximately 20 years ago the Army Council issued a directive to volunteers that the body of anyone executed by Óglaigh na hÉireann should be left for their families. Prior to this directive in the 1970s Óglaigh na hÉireann was responsible for the execution and burial of a small number of people. This has caused incalculable anguish and pain to their families.

We have committed ourselves to doing all within our power to alleviate their suffering. Last autumn we established a special unit under the command of one of our most senior officers tasked to ascertain the whereabouts of these graves. A number of factors, including the lapse of time since these incidents occurred, changes in leadership, and the deaths of some Óglaigh na hÉireann personnel have rendered this task extremely difficult. However the work of this unit will continue. When they have established as complete a picture as possible surrounding these events the relevant families will be notified immediately.

Q: How optimistic are you for the future in terms of the realisation of republican objectives?

A: We remain both optimistic and confident that we will achieve our objectives, a united and independent Ireland, a national democracy. Over many generations IRA volunteers have given their lives and their personal freedom for this cause. This particular phase of struggle has been the first which has passed unabated over successive generations. This unbroken pursuit of our objectives is testimony to the courage, commitment and discipline of both our volunteers and our supporters throughout this phase of struggle. That commitment remains intact.

This year sees the 200th anniversary of the rebellion by the United Irishmen. Our vision remains as theirs, a free, independent and sovereign Ireland, a country where Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter stands as equals. These have been the goals of successive generations of republicans. These are our goals. We are committed to their achievement.

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