Practical reasons behind ceasefire


The organisation is a ruthless armed group, up to its neck in criminality

THE IRISH National Liberation Army (INLA) declared a “complete ceasefire” 11 years ago shortly after the Real IRA Omagh atrocity of August 1998.

Back then the INLA ceasefire declaration referred to its founder Séamus Costello who was shot dead on Dublin’s North Strand in 1977, quoting his view on the working class: “We are nothing and we shall be everything.”

Costello was viewed as lending legitimacy and socialist status to the INLA and its political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP). This latest declaration that its armed struggle was over occurred at his graveside in Bray, Co Wicklow.

But whatever about Costello’s standing, legitimacy has been in short supply with the INLA down the years. Even now it remains a ruthless and dangerous organisation that is up to its neck in criminality.

There are sound practical reasons why it should make this statement of peaceful intent. But similar to the UVF, Red Hand Commando and UDA, it will need to go further and start putting away its guns. Come February the legislation will conclude which allows paramilitaries to move weapons without fear of prosecution if it is for the purpose of decommissioning.

After February it should be open season on the paramilitaries who still retain weapons. Guns recovered after February will be subjected to ballistic and forensic tests and people stashing them or linked to their use will face lengthy prison sentences.

It is for this reason that senior political and security sources expect that the INLA will now also move on decommissioning. Senior sources also said yesterday that the organisation already has been in contact with the decommissioning body, as a prelude to decommissioning.

It may not be mere coincidence that this weekend it was also reported in the Irish News that the Official IRA has begun decommissioning talks with Gen de Chastelain.

INLA leaders have included maverick and unpredictable members such as Dominic McGlinchey and Dessie O’Hare, who was expelled from the organisation. Since its formation in 1975 it has killed some 120 people including Tory MP Airey Neave in 1979.

Its single worst act of violence was in 1982 when it bombed the Droppin’ Well pub in Ballykelly, Co Derry, killing 11 British soldiers and six civilians. Three INLA members: Patsy O’Hara, Kevin Lynch and Michael Devine along with seven Provisional IRA members died during the 1981 hunger strikes.

But what now for the INLA? The organisation is heavily involved in drug dealing, extortion, robbery and other forms of criminality. The Independent Monitoring Commission noted in a recent report that “it was serious crime which constituted its main common purpose”.

In Derry in June last year the INLA was blamed for the murder of pizza delivery man Emmett Shiels, shot dead when he intervened on behalf of another man who was being threatened by a suspected INLA gang. While the announcement has been welcomed, a close eye will be kept on whether decommissioning and an end to criminality will follow.