INLA halt was on cards for months

 

The INLA ceasefire was not a result of Omagh. It had been on the cards for months, and indeed some would argue since 1996, when its hardline "chief-of-staff", Gino Gallagher, was assassinated.

All the noises this year from the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the INLA's political wing, had been conciliatory.

Even though the party opposed the Belfast Agreement and displayed a huge No banner on its Falls Road headquarters, its leadership constantly stressed the need to reconsider a violent campaign.

It is understood the IRSP has been engaged in dialogue with the Government for several years. Hours before the Omagh bombing, the party issued a statement stressing the need to recognise the referendum result and for members of the republican socialist movement to rethink the use of arms.

The INLA had come under pressure from its prisoners, who wanted early release, but the organisation had adopted a more moderate position in recent years anyway.

The IRSP/INLA had held discussions with Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, despite Sinn Fein's repeated denunciations of the INLA and calls for its disbandment.

These talks were a sign that, while the IRSP would continue to verbally oppose the peace process, the INLA would ultimately co-operate.

The paramilitary group, which describes itself as Marxist, was formed 23 years ago by Seamus Costello after a split in the Official IRA. Costello was shot dead in Dublin by his former comrades the following year, but the INLA continued to grow, gaining a reputation for ruthlessness in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

For violence and killing, it was once considered a serious rival to the Provisional IRA. In 1979 it killed Mr Airey Neave, the British Conservative spokesman on the North and close confidant of Mrs Thatcher.

Three of its prisoners died on the 1981 hunger-strike.

Its most infamous leader was Dominic McGlinchey, who headed the organisation from 1982 to 1984 and is believed to have killed up to 30 people.

He was shot dead in 1994. By then he had long broken with the INLA.

In the mid-1980s the INLA was riven by internal feuds. The worst ended in 1987, leaving 12 people dead. The INLA was largely ineffective in violence in the early 1990s, except for a Belfast commander, Gino Gallagher, who shot dead three leading loyalists on the Shankill Road in June 1994.

The INLA did not follow suit when the Provisional IRA called a ceasefire that September. However, it operated a de-facto suspension of violence under its "chief-of-staff", Hugh Torney.

In April 1995 Torney and three others were arrested with a major arms cache near Balbriggan, Co Dublin.

When they appeared in court Torney ordered that an unconditional ceasefire be formally announced from the dock.

Gallagher and others declared the ceasefire "illegal" and expelled Torney, although some INLA leaders backed Torney. Gallagher took over as "chief-of-staff" and attempted to rebuild the INLA.

Recruits were taken in Belfast, Dublin, Limerick, Dundalk, Strabane, Derry and Armagh. The IRSP reopened its headquarters and was very critical of the peace process.

Gallagher was dead within eight months, shot at an unemployment benefit office in January 1996 on Torney's orders.

Another feud followed, in which Torney was killed and Gallagher's associates emerged the victors.

During this time the INLA announced it would be operating from a "position of defence and retaliation", responding to anything it interpreted as an attack on nationalists.

However, after Gallagher's death, the INLA/IRSP moved away from its hardline position. It urged a vote for Sinn Fein in last year's council elections.

The INLA remained active, killing a police officer, a former police officer and two leading loyalists, including the LVF leader, Billy Wright, in the Maze, during the past 16 months. But it did not attempt to mount a sustained campaign.

The so-called `Real IRA' was responsible for the Newtownhamilton bomb in June, but the INLA agreed to admit responsibility for it.

The INLA held discussions with the `Real IRA' and the Continuity IRA. It remained well armed but, unlike the two other dissident republican groups, never intended a long-term violent challenge to the peace process.