Dominic Óg McGlinchey has serious misgivings and questions to ask about the strategic, pragmatic and even moral purpose of the continuing dissident republican campaign of violence. He wouldn’t be in the “business of condemning the armed struggle” but says it’s “make your mind up time” for dissident groups.
“I don’t see mass appetite at a street level for the armed campaign,” he adds. “If there was we would be having mass amounts of attacks.” He believes the various paramilitary groups must decide as to whether they take the paramilitary or political path. You can’t do both, he is certain. “It’s evolve or die, because that is where we are at.”
A case in point, he feels, is Friday's dissident feud murder in Belfast of former Continuity IRA commander Tommy Crossan. "It's terrible that anybody would be shot on a Good Friday evening, but when organisations lose direction and discipline that's where you end up."
McGlinchey recalls a conversation he had recently with a fellow republican. “I asked, is it possible for you to think for one second that you can build a republican movement without the use of the gun being at its core? And this person said of course it is.
“So then I said, well let’s engage in that process. Let’s start to have a conversation about the removal of the gun from Irish politics. Is that not what everybody wants? So how do you go about bringing together the people on the island, North and South, to establish a 32-county socialist republic? I firmly believe you have to take off the mask and go out there among the people and start that job.”
McGlinchey was an admirer and supporter of Martin McGuinness but when he and Gerry Adams persuaded republicans to endorse policing in 2007 he quit Sinn Féin. "It was too much to stomach."
The son of Dominic and Mary McGlinchey, he was 16 and with his father when he was gunned down in Drogheda in 1994; aged 9 when his mother was shot in Dundalk in 1987 just after she had bathed him and his brother Declan. He and his brother after the killings of his mother and father were raised respectively in grandparental homes in Toomebridge, Co Antrim, and Bellaghy, Co Derry.
Dominic and Mary McGlinchey were leaders in the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), both ruthless and even labelled as psychopathic, with his father being called " Mad Dog" McGlinchey, but he rejects that depiction. What he strongly suspects is that six months before the 1994 IRA ceasefire Dominic McGlinchey was killed to "facilitate the peace process". Those responsible, he contends, were one of three groups: the IRA, British military intelligence or people acting for the Irish government.
He’ll talk about his parents but first, and with a degree of circumspection, he wants to speak about dissident republican paramilitaries and how he feels they must engage in a debate about whether now is the time to call a halt to the violence.
We meet in Tuam, Co Galway, where 37-year-old McGlinchey is now living with his wife and three children. We speak for several hours over two days and he is cautious in his comments, elliptical by times, because he says you "need to be careful because it is very dangerous out there".
The danger he refers to can come from inside the dissident republican movement from people who won't like what he is saying and, he believes, possibly from some outside dark forces as well – what Gerry Adams would describe as "securocrats". But as he gradually opens up it becomes clear that behind all the qualifications he feels that the dissidents right now are going nowhere. He's hard-headed but concedes that if dissidents – who no matter how weak are always capable of killing people – are not advancing their united Ireland cause by a single inch, then questions of morality as well as politics and paramilitarism come into play.
He feels compelled to get a debate going within the dissident organisations such as the “New IRA”, Óglaigh na hÉireann, Continuity IRA and the various sub-groups and factions.
“I would never get into telling people what they should or shouldn’t do but what I would say is that republicans need to have respect and compassion for other republicans,” he says. “Republicanism is a very honourable thing if done in an honourable way. We shouldn’t be dishonouring it by the mindless use of violence. There needs to be strategy behind it and an end result in mind.
“You need to explain to your people what that strategy is. Do you believe that you are going to drive the Brits into the sea? There is no sign of that happening. To resist has to be more than saying, ‘I can endure the most, I have enough in the tank, that I have this Irishness thing that you won’t beat me, that you can never beat the Irish’. There has to be more to it than that.
“I haven’t said to anybody pack up and go home, I am not even saying it is time to dump weapons. What I am saying is that we should not be bound by the weapons. Just because they are there does not mean that they have to be used.”
McGlinchey says republicans had to sort out “how you walk in the world”. They had to decide between inhabiting “dodging bullets territory, or building communities territory. You can’t be in the two places at the same time; it’s impossible”.
McGlinchey says it is an undeniable fact that the PSNI, Garda and MI5, in their terms, have had “massive” successes against dissidents.
Dissidents had to confront many serious questions, another one being, “Is filling up the jails with republicans” advancing the united Ireland cause?
McGlinchey allows there is also a moral issue of continuing a campaign where there is little or no hope of achieving anything remotely close to republican goals. “I think that every day of the week you should ask yourself, is what I am doing bringing me further down that road; is it a case that the use of armed struggle is forcing the Brits’ hand?”
But he says that while most people abhor and deplore killings such as the murders of the two British soldiers, Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey, at Massereene in Antrim, and of PSNI officers Ronan Kerr and Stephen Carroll, that from a dissident "militaristic" perspective it has made a difference. Of the campaign of violence he says, "Are we any closer to a united Ireland. Obviously we are not. Has it stopped or stifled an absolute and utter surrender from the republican movement, you would have to say yes."
But now dissidents must face up to hard realities, he feels. McGlinchey observes how the PSNI and Garda have striven to ensure that in the crackdown on dissidents that no republican is killed. “They seem to be very anxious not to make a martyr of anybody. There is a new dispensation: the way the republican movement was built before was you went and looked into an open casket and you paid your respects and what you did was you lost one but you got 10 [new members]. So now what we have is we bring them up in front of the judiciary. You either put them away for life or you strip every single strand of republicanism from them: we’ll make them wear a tag; we’ll break them; make them plead guilty in a British court; ask them to swear never to immerse themselves in republican activity again: they are actually starting to take republicanism out of your DNA.”
There is also the question of the blurring of the edges between dissident and criminal activity. He refers to cases of dissidents extorting money from drugs dealers – "if you pay me you can continue to poison your community" – and how such activity is "sullying" republicanism. He says there are too many people claiming to be republicans who "should never have been allowed on the bus".
McGlinchey believes that his father, who was killed in February 1994, just six months before the groundbreaking IRA ceasefire, was shot to help smooth the path to the IRA ceasefire of August 1994. “There were no ballistics, no cars, no nothing. Everybody [involved] disappears off the face of the planet.”
His mother was murdered in 1987, almost certainly as part of an internal republican feud but he is convinced there was a strategic agenda to his father’s death, and that it wasn’t driven by some internal republican revenge motive. “It’s sexy to blame some link from the past but the reality is that there is a high, high probability that he was killed solely to facilitate the peace process.”
By whom? “Either those who were working towards the peace; or you have got the Free State government; or you have got the British security services. The evidence is that on the island of Ireland there are only three groups who can make people disappear: it’s either the Free State government, the IRA or British intelligence, not unless the Israelis lent us Mossad for a night.”
According to McGlinchey, his father, who had been released from prison in the South the previous year, was working for a very senior IRA figure at the time, investigating internal "corruption". He says he subsequently learned that his father had become aware of a planned meeting in Co Louth between members of the IRA's Dublin brigade and members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, and that his father was determined "to make sure that that problem would have been dealt with".
McGlinchey says he met his father in Drogheda about an hour before his killing and was struck by the fact that he seemed agitated and emotionally upset. “I said to him, ‘What’s wrong with you; is the IRA going to kill you?” and he said, ‘I am just sick of my name being blackened by men who never fired a shot.’ I asked him again, ‘Is the IRA going to kill you?’ And he said, ‘No, the IRA would never kill me, son.’ Within an hour he was dead.”
“I was with him,” he recalls. “I informed him he had to make a phone call that night. And then he said to me, ‘The chip shop’s open, do you want to get chips?’ I said ‘No, I have the dinner ready for you.’ You were always on edge. He used the phone box and then a car went flying by. I jumped out and shouted at him to run. I heard him shout, ‘Ah fuck’. The shooting had started at that stage.”
McGlinchey said if his father hadn’t been killed in the phone booth he would have been killed somewhere else in Drogheda that night, and that because he was with him in the car he too could have been killed. “Whoever these people were had the clearance to go anywhere in Drogheda that night.”
In an interview with Vincent Browne, Dominic McGlinchey spoke of having killed some 30 people and of liking "to get in close" when attacking his victims. He's been viewed as a cold-hearted psychopathic killer who ran an INLA organisation that frequently seemed more focused on murderous internal republican feuding than the "armed struggle", while in contrast Bernadette McAliskey at his funeral said he was the "finest republican of them all". No difficulty in figuring which view his son supports. "My father was the most genuine, caring individual you ever came across. There are more people walking around America today and walking around other places living because the plane ticket was bought for them rather than them being executed."
In 1987 he was living with his mother Mary and his brother Declan in Dundalk while his father was in prison. Their sister Maire had died as an infant from meningitis. His mother had just bathed the pair of them. “She was brushing the water out of my hair at the door of the bedroom when there was a big thud to the back door. My mother asked me what was that and I said Declan must have fallen in the bath. She went to have a look to see was he okay and that was when she must have seen the two men running up the stairs.
"She started shouting at them, 'Don't be shooting me in front of my children; take me outside, don't let my children see this.' They kicked her into the bathroom – I ran down the stairs. Her very last words were, 'God forgive me.' The rattling and the shooting started then. They shot her in front of my brother; his body was all burned with spark marks from the spray of the gunfire."
He adds, “My mother was a very good woman; she was very disciplined; she was very caring; she was a woman who certainly did not suffer fools. I would say that the security forces feared her as much as they feared my father.”
He doesn’t elaborate on the trauma of such experiences. He’s said enough, made his point forcibly about the necessity for dissidents to consider quitting the stage and recalled hard stories about his parents. He finishes with a surprising comment. “I genuinely try to see the good in people,” he says. “I could sit and have a cup of tea with those people [that shot his mother]. Because whatever happened in the conflict we all become dehumanised, stripped of dignity and victims of ourselves, victims of the situation that we were born into. There were things done that were unimaginable, not normal, but normal for people who lived in the occupied Six Counties.”