The Armalite and the Ballot Box
"The military struggle will not slow down to relate to Sinn Fein's political activity". Michael Farrell interviews two spokespersons authorised to speak on behalf of the leadership of the IRA.
Farrell Sinn Fein has achieved striking successes at the polls in the last nine months. What do you see as the significance of those successes?
IRA For years the political establishment claimed that the IRA had very little support. The election results have answered that conclusively and have quantified our support. Of course we do not say that all who voted for Sinn Fein were voting for active support of the IRA but they were showing at least passive support. The results have been a big morale boost for the IRA and have revived the enthusiasm of any Volunteers who were inclined to flag. We see the Sinn Fein vote as a clear vote for the Brits to get out.
What effect will the election successes have on the strategy and tactics of the IRA?
The history of other anti-colonial struggles like those in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Vietnam have shown the need for guerrilla movements to have widespread political support to succeed. The election results have shown that we are building up that support. They will not lead to any real change in the strategy or tactics of the IRA, however. We attack when and where we can. Our tactics are determined by intelligence and logistics - the availability of weapons and personnel. The military struggle will not slow down to relate to Sinn Fein's political activity. If anything, subject to logistical considerations, the war is likely to be stepped up.
What is your strategy?
Our strategy has been, by military and political action, to frustrate the British aim of making the six counties governable through local power-sharing-type institutions. So far we have succeeded in this and the Brits can only govern in a direct colonial way, using 30,000 armed men. Ultimate success will come when the British government decides that even colonial rule is no longer feasible. This will come about when, as a result of our military activity. the British people themselves demand an end to the war.
How do you see a British withdrawal coming about?
The level of political and military activity is not yet enough to secure this. We recognise that, even if the entire nationalist population in the six counties voted for Sinn Fein, that wouldn't be enough. There must be an increase in political activity in the 26 counties so that they also demand that the Brits get out. Even that wouldn't be enough. because the only thing colonial rulers will listen to is force. There must also be a big escalation of military activity by us - and there will be.
How long will this take?
In 1978-9 we projected a long war lasting for 20 years or more. That was partly to prepare our people psychologically as there was a certain amount of war-weariness at the time. We are not so sure that it will take that long now. If the Republican movement can capitalise on all the social discontent in the 26 counties and continue its electoral successes it could be a lot shorter.
In a previous Magill interview the IRA predicted bombing attacks in England. Recently a London Labour councillor who supports British withdrawal argued that such bombings hinder the development of a solidarity movement there. Do you still intend to bomb Britain?
Our activity in Britain at any given time is dictated by our ability to strike there. It is still a target because we believe one bomb in Britain is worth 50 in Ireland. However, we do not intend to hold the British people responsible for their government's crimes in Ireland. Any attacks will be limited to the British political establishment and to military targets. And if there is a big growth in anti-war feeling in Britain we would have to revise our attitude.
To what do you attribute the recent emergence of supergrasses?
'The Brits have had to resort to bribing IRA Volunteers - supergrasses - because our adoption of cells (or Active
Service Units as we prefer to call them), meant they couldn't get information anymore. Very big sums of money are involved. Volunteers have been offered up to £250,000 during interrogation. A few IRA members who had been broken by spells in jail gave in to this temptation. We have learned from this and will be much more careful in future about reinvolving people who have been in jail.
What effect have the supergrasses had on your organisation?
The supergrasses were also an attempt by the Brits to shake the confidence of the people - on whom we rely for support - in the IRA. This worked for a while when they saw actual IRA Volunteers giving information, but the effect has worn off. The proof of this is that the IRA is still operating effectively. Remember that every Volunteer needs a billet and every weapon a dump and these are provided by the people.
Even if some Volunteers are jailed because of the supergrasses it will not affect our capabilities. We have never had to deploy even 50% of our membership during the periods of most intense activity. At one time almost 2,000 alleged IRA members were interned and it didn't affect our capacity to continue the war. For some years now we have been turning away recruits because we don't need them and directing them into other areas of resistance.
The IRA has kidnapped the father of Raymond Gilmore, the Derry supergrass. What will happen to him?
Raymond Gilmore's father will be released when Raymond Gilmore retracts his evidence.
But what will happen if he does not retract? How can you justify punishing a father for the sins of his son?
The fate of Raymond Gilmore's father rests in Raymond Gilmore's hands. It all rests with him.
The IRA has attacked many off-duty UDR men and RUC Reservists. You justify this because they are members of the British forces, but do you not accept that such killings alienate the Protestant communities among whom these people live and work?
It is a euphemism to talk of off-duty or part-time UDR men or RUC men. They are never off-duty. They are armed all the time and if they came upon IRA Volunteers they would attack them, whether they were on duty or not. We cannot allow an armed organisation which is ranged against us to go undeterred because of the sensitivities of the loyalist population. Do they care about the sensitivities of the nationalist population who have suffered so much?
In the event of a British withdrawal how do you expect the Protestant population of the North to react? What will your attitude be towards them?
Many loyalists have a supremacist mentality like the Afrikaners in South Africa, the Pieds Noirs in Algeria or the Israelis. They may not have as many privileges but the mentality is the same. It is very possible that people with that mentality would try to repartition the North - as Harold McCusker MP has already suggested. And they have about 19,000 armed men in the RUC and UDR to help them do it.
We don't know how many of the loyalists would take that line, but anyone who opposes Irish self-determination with force will have to be met with force. On the other hand we are prepared to offer them within a united Ireland what has always been denied to us - equality.