There will be no more ceasefires - The Provisional IRA

Vincent Browne interviews a member of the Provisional IRA leadership who has been authorised by the army council to speak on behalf of the movement.

The interview took place in Belfast in mid-July. The interviewee was known to Vincent Browne as a senior member of the IRA leaderrship and it was also known that he was speciifically authorised to give this interview on behalf of the organisation.

There seems to have been a significant reduction in military activity by the IRA. Is the campaign fizzling out?

There was a marked reduction in activity last year but this was because of a number of specific reasons, all of them of temporary duration and none suggessting that the campaign is fizzling out.

In the first place we undertook a massive reorganisation of the moveement in which we displaced the old locally-based pyramid structure of the IRA and set up a cell system. The reaason for this was that the British were penetrating the old structure, which was too susceptible to good intelligence work. The old system also came close to identifying those responsible for diffferent operations, for if a car was hijaccked in, say Turf Lodge, and used in a bombing expedition or such like, the British knew that the unit which carried out the expedition was one based in Turf Lodge. Then all they had to do was to arrest all the known or suspected activists in that area, torture them, and eventually they would get a confession from at least one 'implicating the others.

That system however had a number of clear advantages. It meant first of all that the local unit was closely in touch with the people of that area and this was obviously an important factor in the early years of the campaign. Also, that local unit knew the geography of that area intimately, which gave them a head start over the British.

The new cell system has changed all that. In the first place, cells are organissed often on the basis of expertise, rather than locality. Secondly, it means that volunteers from any part of the six counties might be involved in an operaation in any given area. No longer can the British assume that by picking up a few local activists and torturing them they will get confessions. This reorganisation has taken much longer than we anticiipated and is still not complete. It affeccted the Belfast area primarily and here military activity did drop off very greattly.

The second reason for the decline in activity was the absence of explosives. Throughout last year we found it very difficult to acquire materiel in any quantity but by October we had deveeloped a new process of our own which has largely solved that problem. We exxposed the fatuity of Roy Mason's claim, that the IRA was defeated, by a massive bombing blitz in early January of this year which was continued up until the La Mon disaster. Since then we have cut down on commercial bombing and we now are concentrating on prestige commmunications, electricity and gas supplies, etc.

And the third reason for the reducction in activity is simply the extended and more sophisticated nature of British surveillance. The fact of the matter is that it is increasingly difficult to operate with impunity, especially in the Belfast area, which is thick with undercover British operatives. There are three Briitish army helicopters in the air for most of the time in constant touch with plainnclothes units on the streets. There are soldiers staked out in hiding places throughout the city and suburbs. This makes operations much more difficult than was thought conceivable a few years ago.

The organisation however has adaptted to these new circumstances. That is largely what the reorganisation was all about. We have overcome massive techhnical difficulties with regard to our exxplosives and, as time will show in the not too distant future, we will overcome the surveillance problem.

You made similar noises prior to the Queen's visit last year but nothing came of them.

We were then faced with the choice of committing the movement, then undergoing a complete reorganisation, to an all-out assault on British pre- sence in the North or some spectacular operations which would achieve almost the same disruptive impact and much greater psychological effect. We opted for the latter and one of our units placced three long-delaying bombs in the grounds of Coleraine University, timed to go off during the Queen's visit there. We were very unlucky in that one was discovered a week before the visit, annother exploded prematurely and the third went off six hours after the Queen had departed. Just think what an effect this would have had if even One of these had gone off while the Queen was there.

Roy Mason made great play of the allleged IRA "failure" on that occasion but one must remember that we are enngaged in a protracted war and we were not going to put our entire struggle in jeopardy in one all-out operation. We made Mason eat his words a short time later with our New Year offensive. It was too late, unfortunately (or was it fortunately"), to dissuade Mr. Mason from allowing his ego get the better of him in persuading UTV to broadcast the film of him personally greeting the Queen at Coleraine as the accompaniiment to the nightly British national annthem.

In spite of all that and for whatever reaason, Mason did have a point in stating that there had been a sharp reduction in violence in 1977.

Mason claimed a personal victory in stating that there had been a decline in civilian deaths in 1977. We claim this was a victory for the civilians, not for Mason. It also represented some change internally in the IRA. We became deterrmined last year to end sectarian assassiinations and inter-republican fueding. The fact was that Catholics were being slaughtered by loyalist para military gangs and we were being beseeched to do-something about it. Some units did retaliate against loyalist paramilitary tarrgets as did a number of Catholic defence leagues in various Catholic areas of "Belfast. We became convinced, however, that any tolerance of sectarian assassinaations was contrary to republican philoosophy as well as being a distraction from our main purpose which is the struggle against the British. .

As regards fueding: the periodic outtbreaks of internecine war between variious republican groups were disastrously damaging the war effort and general morale. We were determined to put a stop to it and I believe we have. Both these decisions contributed greatly to the reduction in the civilian casualty rate in 1977 and this year. I don't think that Roy Mason or anybody else should boast about it. Rather, we should ackknowledge it as a victory for the ordinary civilian. ..!!!

We are now determined to direct our attention and energies exclusivelyo against the British and, as they well ~ know but are refusing to admit, we are! doing this very successfully at present. (3 The number of attacks on them has risen in the first six months of this year compared with the same period iast year. Although their fatality rate is not as high as it was then, as far as we are concerned, it is early days yet.

We have reverted to land mine atttacks against mobile patrols and the British know well that the size of the explosives used in these attacks is of such magnitude as to be persuasive eviidence that our capacity and reSources are in no way depleted.

You seem to have lost several volunteers both in fatalities and arrests. Has this significantly weakened the movement?

Yes. We have lost volunteers and every man killed or imprisoned is a loss to the movement. But I don't think our effectiveness has been in any way immpaired. The British have now resorted to a policy of summary execution. Their attitude is "if you get a republican in a vulnerable situation and in a publicly credible position, then execute him." Quite clearly, this is what happened in the case of Denis Heaney in Derry some months ago. One squad of soldiers in plainclothes drove up and shot him in the legs. Another drove up behind and a plainclothes man got out and shot him in the head. Then there was the case of the three volunteers mowed down in Ballysiilan. One of the men had 63 bulllets in him, They just opened fire indisscriminately, killing a passer-by and wounding another and then having fired repeatedly into the bodies of the three IRA volunteers they walked over to them and shot each in the head.

Quite clearly the gloves are off· and that now goes for both sides. We don't have as many volunteers as we did five or six years ago and this is no bad thing. People were joining for all the wrong reasons, hundreds simply because they wanted a gun to defend their immediate area. Now we have a much more politiicised volunteer corps, it is a much tightter knit organisation and far more effecctive. You have to remember that life in the IRA is no bed of roses. There are no rich Provos. We have to suffer imprisonnment, torture, being constantly on the run, isolated from our families. Then our friends and comrades are being killled and many of us constantly run. the risk of the summary execution in mentioned earlier. We have lost 18 volunn"§" teers in this phase of the struggle. There is also the factor of being constantly tl misrepresented and coridemned by the ~ supposed morai leaders of our society. ib Not that this bothers any of us in the slightest, but sometimes it has a depresssing effect on our families. In an esstimation of our current strength you must also remember that 500 Belfast men, for instance, are in jail.

When I joined the IRA in 1970, I believed that the Brits would be out by the end of 1972. I wasn't disappointed when it didn't happen, for by then I had come to appreciate that it would be a long protracted struggle. We are preparred for that now and prepared to do whatever is necessary to achieve the desired end.

We are very happy with the volume and particularly the quality of new reecruits in the organisation. This is not a problem for us. We were never short of recruits. We often had the reverse probblem of justifying the exclusion of a great number of applicants. Because of the quality of recruits, now there is a much higher degree of political awareness, a far greater commitment to and underrstanding of the socialist republic objecctive. Commentators have had difficulty in believing that we mean what we say about a socialist republic. We are the true revolutionaries and the true innheritors of James Connolly.

Incidentally, because of the high quality of recruit we are now able to introduce comprehensive antition courses which will withstand tortures and intimidation, which are now widespread at Castlereagh and other detention centres. The British conviction in Strasbourg in the case brought against them by the Free State Government for using techniques of innhuman and degrading treatment is just one more judgement of their perfidy and treachery. If we needed graphic justifications for our campaign of violence this would be a prime one.

It is futile to place any reliance on British commitments or British justice or British democracy. It is all a tawdry cloak for naked British imperialist aggression and the only answer to it is the gun and the bomb.

How about the supply of weapons and explosives?

As I mentioned earlier, we have largeely solved the problem we had for part of last year having to do with the supply of explosives and we have no difficulty in acquiring the weapons we need to continue the war. Obviously, I cannot be specific about the supply or quantity of weapons at our disposal.

The vast bulk of the Provisional IRA's weapons have come from the United States and have been imported in small quantities into Ireland and then transferred to the North. There have been repeated attempts to get arms from dealers on the Continent but all of these have failed. There was one atttempt to import arms from Libya, on board the Claudia, but the ship was seized off the Waterford coast. Some Soviet and Czech arms have been immported from the Middle East, but none directly from the countries. of origin. Referring to this, the IRA spokesman said:

We have received at no stage any help from the Soviet Union or any East European country. They are not intereested in struggles for national liberation, as they showed in Africa where they iggnored the Angolan and Mozambique freedom fighters until Portugal withhdrew and it became apparent that these movements would succeed.

He refused to say if any IRA volunnteers had trained with the PLO in the Lebanon but the comments in an interrview with Conor 0 'Cleary in The Irish Times is believed to be substantially correct.

In that interview a PLO colonel suitted that two members of the Provisional IRA had received instructions in exploosives in a PLO camp in south Lebanon. The interviewee would not specifically confirm this report but he did deny that any Provisional IRA member had reeceived training in Aden, as reported by the BBC Panorama programme last January.

The interviewee also refused to connfirm that the recently captured arms shipment from Cyprus had originated with the PLO in Lebanon but this is believed to have been the case. The haul was a massive one, including 29 Kalashnikov rifles, 29 sub-machine guns, 29 machine gun pistols, two Bren guns with two spare barrels, seven rocket launchers, 56 rockets, 108 grenades, 428 lbs. of TNT nearly 400 lbs. of plasstic explosives, 5,600 rounds of rifle ammunition, and a like number for machine gun pistols.

By any standards this was a very connsiderable shipment and suggests that the liaison between the Provisional IRA and the PLO is very close. This impression is fortified by the unequivocal support the IRA spokesman gave in the course of this interview to the PLO cause.

Do you support the PLO in its struggle to liberate the Palestinian homeland?

We are in absolute solidarity with the PLO in liberating the entire occupied area of Palestine, including all of what is now known as the state of Israel. They are fellow revolutionaries and we exxpress total solidarity with their struggle. This view will not be greeted with great acclaim among the IRA support groups in America, notably Irish Northern Aid.

We will not be dictated to by any support groups, or indeed by any outtside group, including other liberation movements. We welcome assistance but not dictation, and in any event it is a mistake to assume that all Irishcans are reactionaries, opposed to the rights of Palestinians or, for that matter, blacks in the States. Not all of these are opposed to bussing, for instance.

Nor should you assume that there is an identity of 'views between us and Irish-American groups even on Irish issues. For instance, Fr. Sean MacManus of the Irish National Caucus has recenttly been in talks with loyalists about a negotiated independence for Northern Ireland - this seems to be the direction of his brother's (Frank MacManus) Irish Independence Party.

Is the IRA in favour of any form of a negotiated independence for Northern Ireland?

We are absolutely opposed to any form of negotiated independence for the occupied six counties. It is not a solution to the Irish problem because it does not break the back of British immperialism in Ireland. It would maintain loyalist supremacy and would be a commplete block to a socialist republic.

The Loyalists want independence f om Britain only because the British n1ve abolished the B Specials and the "Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People," because the British have tried to put Catholics into "power," and have even had the gall to intern a few of themselves.

It is not because loyalists have suddenly come to love Catholics that they now want independence, but because the British have interfered with their subjugation of Catholics, which they would undoubtedly attempt to reeimpose if they got complete power in an independent set-up. There is a dangerrous lobby building up in favour of an independent six counties. It includes, apart from the loyalist paramilitaries,

sections of the SDLP, the Irish Indepenndence Party, Paddy Devlin, and some newspapers both here and in Britain. There has recently been misrepresenntation of the IRA's position on this central issue, so to be absolutely clearrcut about it once and for all:- THE IRA IS ABSOLUTELY OPPOSED TO ANY SUGGESTION OF A NEGOTIATED INDEPENDENCE FOR THE SIX COUNTIES.

There have also been reports that the IRA has had negotiations with loyalist paramilitary groups. What substance is there to these?

There have been no such meetings over the last few months but a line has been kept open through arbitrations.

There was no agreement between us and loyalist groups on sectarian assassinnations. The leadership of these groups apparently concluded that these activiities were reprehensible and, of course we welcome this. However of course the sectarian campaign has continued interrmittently.

Have there been any talks with the British in recent months?

There have been no discussions with the British Government or with any official acting on its behalf since the beginning of 1976. We now regard such talks as entirely futile and the only time we will talk to the British again is when they come to us and ask our help to seecure their immediate departure from Ireland.

Has there been any consideration of annother ceasefire?

None. There is absolutely no quesstion of another ceasefire or truce. In my opinion the last one went on far toe long and it would be almost impossible for anybody to persuade the volunteers that another one would be in the inteerests of the movement or its objectives. Our aim now is to win the struggle on this occasion and we are prepared to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to achieve this.

Seamus Twomey has been the most dominant figure in the provisionals since 1973. He became Chief of Staff following the arrest of Joe Cahill on board the Claudia in early 1973 and, apart from a brief sojourn in jail from which he escaped by helicopter, he has been Chief of Staff since then until his arrest earlier this year in Dublin.
Twomey, a former bookie - clerk, is utterly uncompromising though he did acquiesce in the 1975 truce, having been largely instrumental in breakking the 1972 "Lenadoon" truce.

Billy McKee, Sean Keenan, and Proinsias Mac Airt were the three most important leaders of the Provisionals in the North. McKee may have been the most influential Provisional in the movement's eight year history. for he had the authority to wean away many of the fighting men from the Officials after the break in late 1969. McKee masterminded the beginnings of the campaign in Belfast in 1970 and 1971 and was imprisoned for four years in March 1971, along with MacAirt, The latter was the propagandist for the Provisionals in the early days and participated in the truce talks with British officials in early 1975. He has recently been ill. Keenan established the Provos in Derry and later became manager of the Provisionals' newspaper, An Phoblacht.

David 0 'Connell, the acknowledged political guru of the Provisionals. He was involved and grounded in the 'fifties campaign and was critical in the formation of the Provisionals. He was a member of the army council from the beginning and disagreed sharply with the movement's first chief of staff, Sean MacStiofain. Largely because of the residual bitterness caused by the dispute, he never became chief of staff, contrary to media belief. He was imprisoned twice in recent years for memb-ership of the IRA and a year ago led a 42 day hunger strike in protest against jail conditions at Portlaoise. He is now involved in editing An Phoblacht.

Did the British agree at the time of the last truce to a declaration of intent to withdraw?

Yes they did. It was part of an overrall agreement on the truce and was in written form. However it was unsigned and anyway was formulated only by civil servants. It appears that the British intentions at the time of that truce was to "educate" the representatives of the republican movement in the "realities" of their "very difficult" situation in Northern Ireland. "We would be only too happy to go but look at the reperrcussions for us if a bloodbath ensued and there is the difficulty of our commmitment to the unionists, etc." We don't want to have to listen to that sort of thing again and there is no question of it arising.

There has been no attack in England since January J 977 when the incendiary attack on Oxford St. occurred. Why is that?

It certainly has nothing to do with any agreement. The sole reason has been a logistical one.

Once we solve the logistical problem, which is formidable because of the massive surveillance there, the campaign in England will resume.

In fact the IRA did attempt to launch another bombing blitz in Enggland some months ago but this was frusstrated by two occurrences. The first was the capture in Dublin of explosives en route to England. The other was the arrest of two IRA operatives in England almost immediately after their arrival there. One was charged and the other was deported back to Belfast.

In the South, was the Provisional IRA responsible for the £400,000 robbery in Co. Limerick in early June?

With no little regret, I must admit that the Provisional IRA was not ressponsible for the Co. Limerick raid. However we do know who was responnsible and so too do the authorities, both British and Irish.

There have been conflicting reports on the circumstances of the death of Constable Tornbull. Can you say if he was alive and interrogated after the ambush?

The IRA issued three statements on this incident and I have nothing further , to add to this other than saying that the body would have been returned immmediately had it been possible securityywise to do so.

Can you elaborate on the circumstances of Capt. Robert Niarac's assassination. fhere were reports that he had been subjected to appalling torture by the IRA?

In the first place we didn't' torture Niarac. But we did refuse to return his body to impress on his former comrades in the SAS and indeed to the British rulling class, of which he was a part, what was in store for them if they persisted with their imperialist domination of the Irish people.

Incidentally, the waves of moral outtrage that accompany operations such as the executions of Turbitt and Niarac strike us as rather hypocritical. It wasn't the IRA that introduced the weapon of terror to Northern Ireland. Before any British soldier was killed they had murrdered several innocent civilians and of course nowadays they have declared open season on republicans. It was the British who chose the weapon of terror and there are going to be many more funerals on both sides before this war is ended.

Does the Provisional IRA welcome the return of Fianna Fail to power in the South?

As far as we are concerned there is no perceptible difference between Fianna Fail and the Fine Gael-Labour coalition. There is no such thing as the Provisional alliance, as the renegade reepublicans in the so-called Sinn Fein, the Workers Party, maintain. This is easily verified by the record of repression which Fianna Fail has unleashed against the republican movement, both prior to their going out of office in 1973 and since their return to office last year. Which party do you hope wins the British election?

It makes no difference to us but we do hope that, whichever party Wins, they do so with a clear majority. Withhout such a majority no British Governnment will face up to the inevitabilities of the six county situation.


Kevin Mallon (with Thompson submachine gun) and Brendan Hughes preeparing to attack a British army patrol near A ughnacloy, Co. Tyrone in late 1971. Mallon escaped from Mountjoy prison in Dublin, along with Seamus Twomey and J. B. O'Hagan on October 31,1973. Subsequently he playyed an important part in the lead-up to the 1975 New Year truce with the British Government, which caused considerable tension within the Proviisionals. His influence among the activists held the truce for several months, but the position became untenable within the movement in mid-1975 and hostilities were resumed. It is clear from the tenor of the accompanying interview that the anti-truce faction within the Provos have now won asscendancy.

Brendan Hughes was one of the most notable activists on the border durring 1971 and 1972. He subsequently became disaffected from the Proviisional leadership and started a splinter group which engaged several bank robberies in the South to raise money for new equipment. Eddie Gallo.gher, the kidnapper of Dr. Herrema, was an associate of his. Hughes is now with Mallon in Portlaoise jail, both serving long sentences. They are kept in separate sections of the prison because the Provisionals refuse to acknowwledge the legitimacy of the break-away factions.


The IRA has indulged in brutal kneecappings and other forms of of punishhments of members of the minority commmunity in the last few years. Is this a foretaste of the kind of society the Provisionals would impose if they ever came to power?

In considering the IRA's punishment techniques you have got to regard the overall context. The fact is that minorrity areas have been terrorised by the British and while the war against them has gone on some criminal elements have attempted to exploit the situation. We don't have the options of a fair judicial system or a compassionate penal system, we necessarily have to employ crude and admittedly somewhat barbarrous methods to protect the ordinary people in our areas.

We have acted only at the behest of the people. It is not any good to us to be inflicting unnecessary hardship on the communities which give us most support. They call on us to do someething about the rapists, the child molessters, and the criminals. If we ignore these pleas and at the same time refuse to allow the conventional police forces into the areas, we lose credibility. Finally, is what has been achieved these last eight or ten years worth the 1800 or so lives that have been lost?

Of course not. Virtually nothing has been achieved and it is precisely because of the lives that have been lost that we must ensure that a lasting just and peaceful settlement comes out of it all: a socialist republic, where the rights of the individual would be rigorously prootected and where the society's wealth and resources would be used to the betterment of all members of society.

We can't give up now and admit that the men and women we sent to their graves died for nothing. The struggle must continue now until victory is achieved and we are determined to do that.

What right have you to decide on behalf of the Irish people that a struggle, which they patently don't want, should conntinue and that further lives should be lost?

I don't accept that we have no manndate. I 'could return to the mandate deriived from the 1918 election but we see our mandate deriving from the injustices of the present system of the imperialist controlled six county state. We have the same right to fight injustice as the blacks in South Africa or the Palestinnians in the Middle East. It is the obbjective injustice of our circumstances that gives us a mandate and a secure knowledge that the people in the reepressed areas support us day in day out with their spontaneous help and enncouragement. •