Interview with ‘Oglaigh na h-Eireann’

Extracts from the interview between the Irish News and a representative of ‘Oglaigh na h-Eireann’.

Q. Would you consider speaking to either government in the future?

A. “Well it’s a situation that has not yet arose but we need to be pragmatic about these things, There has never been a war situation anywhere in the world that hasn’t been resolved without dialogue and talks,

“We would only be interested in taking part in talks if they were about negotiating withdrawal and ending British interference in Irish affairs and if they took place within a tight framework.”

Q. Have you met with Sinn Fein and, if not, would you consider speaking to them?

A. “Sinn Fein hasn’t asked to meet with ONH, Sinn Fein members have publicly called us criminals, and there is no point in publicly criminalising people and then privately speaking to them.

“In the current conditions any talks would not be carried out on an equal footing. Until Sinn Fein recognise that everyone who opposes their current path cannot be dismissed away with a wave of the hand and labelled ‘criminals’ and that there are those who believe physical force to be a viable tactic then there is no point.

“We’re not totally ruling it out. There is still a window of opportunity there for talks with Sinn Fein but not in the present format.”

Q. The IRA engaged in a lengthy campaign of violence on a scale much greater than anything the current crop of dissident groups are capable of and yet that failed to secure British withdrawal from Ireland. What makes ONH think that violence on the relatively small scale that they are engaged in will succeed where the IRA failed?

A. “Well there are two points to that:

“The arena that the IRA fought in and the tactics used in the middle of a war zone meant that people, as in the general public, were conditioned to almost expect daily attacks. Now though, people are simply not accustomed to it. The north has been sold around the world as a settled state within the United Kingdom. Sure haven’t we even been given the dubious accolade as having Derry named a UK city of culture in reward for being nice obedient republicans .

“But then when say a British army major has to come out and explain away a bomb attack outside the headquarters of MI5 it destroys the idea of this utopian, agreed, internal settlement having been reached.

“For as long as there is British interference in Irish affairs we, as in ONH, will continue to expose it for what it is, a myth.

“Secondly, the structure and mechanisms of the provos, since the early 1980s, were heavily compromised.

“A large body of people had to be involved for any operation to go ahead. This leads to leaks and arrests and this ultimately led to the stalemate situation the IRA later found themselves in.

“Our tactics - and obviously we can’t go into details to protect our own security - are different in order to avoid backing ourselves into a similar cul-de-sac.

“So really what we intend to achieve is to continually upset and expose this myth of normalisation but without the back-room deals that weakened the IRA’s position.

“We intend to nick at the heels of the Brits to eventually force them into a situation were they open up negotiations on the issue of British interference in Irish affairs.”

Q. The majority of Irish people voted in favour of the Good Friday Agreement. There is only minimal support for ongoing republican violence. What makes ONH think they have the right to continue a campaign of violence against the wishes of the Irish people?

A. “The Irish people voted for the agreement which was ripped up at St Andrews in order to appease unionists.

“Our argument is if one document can be ripped up then why not another document. Look, there has never been a mass appetite for violent insurrection in Ireland. The leaders of the 1916 rising were spat on by Dubliners.

“When the provos were active Sinn Fein’s percentage of the vote was relatively small. You will never get unreserved support for war anywhere in the world. There wouldn’t be any wars if they relied on unilateral support.

“The problems is that the Good Friday Agreement was sold to republicans as a victory. You only have to look at the cavalcades through west Belfast for proof of that.

“Most people didn’t even read it, they just relied on politicians’ selective analysis of its contents.

“What is now crystal clear is that republicans were badly outmanoeuvred during the creation of the deal. The very reason for generations of war in Ireland was never even addressed - there is no timetable for British withdrawal.

“Until we have negotiations about a deal that addresses withdrawal as far as we’re concerned Irish people will continue to fight against British occupation.”

Q. Is ONH’s campaign not more about disgruntled former Provisionals embarrassing Sinn Fein than it is about challenging Britlsh rule?

A. “Absolutely not. There are members of our organisation who came from within the ranks of the IRA and had sat back and gave Sinn Fein breathing space to make the agreement work and achieve their goats.

“That didn’t happen and we now have a puppet Stormont parliament that is controlled by Westminster. We oppose Stormont outright but we are not here to bring down any particular party sitting in it - Sinn Fein obviously come in for the most ridicule for their poacher turned gamekeeper mentality.”

Q. Following the Omagh atrocity any remaining support for militant republicanism was all but eradicated. The recent ONH car bomb at Strand Road station in Derry only narrowly avoided killing civilians. Surely ONH realises that the recent up-scaling of attacks means it’s only a matter of time before civilian lives are lost?

A. “lf you look at the last few large bombs - Palace Barracks, Ballykinler, Strand Road - we took them right to the doors and that was deliberately to minimise the risk of civilian casualties.

“Palace Barracks was at midnight, Strand Road after 3am - again this was because there are less people about at that time of the morning.

“Look we realise anyguerilla army requires a degree of support, which would be seriously tainted if civilians were hurt or killed.

“We’re always just one more Omagh away from a forced ceasefire. That’s a situation no-one wants and that’s a road ONH will not be going down.”

Q. Is ONH purposely trying to deter nationalists from joining the police by targeting Catholic officers as in the case of Irish-speaking officer Peadar Heffron, who lost a leg following an ONH bomb attack earlier this year?

A. “Religion isn’t a factor. When we receive intelligence on British security force members we don’t ask what religion they are. Once they put that uniform on they become part of the British war apparatus and that’s it plain and simple. If they have made a conscious decision to become part of the forces of occupation, well then, they take that risk.”

Q. While loyalists have so far not responded to the increased dissident activity there is fear that groups such as ONH could provide loyalists with an excuse to carry out sectarian attacks against nationalists. If this happened would your group not bear some responsibility and how would ONH react?

A. “We are aware that both the UDA and the UVF have been gathering intelligence on republicans in recent times. There seems to be a level of acceptance of this within the NIO and the British government. ‘Keep the boys busy, but without them actually doing anything about it’ kind of attitude.

“We are observing this situation. That said, it’s clear that people like Jackie McDonald are now firmly embedded in the system with all the financial rewards that comes with conforming.

“There are obviously disillusioned loyalists.

“If they were to attack republicans - and this is purely hypothetical and a big if - then we would not be getting involved in sectarian tit-for-tat action but we would target those actively responsible.

“Look, if we are able to locate army majors and track them to a house in Bangor then an active loyalist wouldn’t prove much of a challenge.”

Q. Do you recognise the Garda as an acceptable police service or are they considered 1egitimate targets now or in the future?

A. “The gardai are clearly cooperating with the British security forces and thele have been brutal assaults on republicans both young and old who have been arrested recently. People are being sent to casualty before even being sent to court. But we abide by the IRA green book and don’t engage in armed action against the government or the 26 counties.”

Q. The IRA abandoned proxy bombs following the public backlash at the murder of Derry man Palsy Gillesple in 1990, why would ONH resume the use of such a morally repugnant practice?

A. “We realise the provos abandoned the use of proxy bombs following a public outcry and ONH are not totally comfortable with the idea of using proxy bombs. On the occasions we have used proxies it was out of necessity.

“In the case of Palace Barracks it was to exploit a security loophole in their defences. We knew through our intelligence that [a city centre taxi firm] were security-cleared to enter the barrack’s perimeter.

“In the case of the Derry bomb [Strand Road] our volunteers accompanied the driver and didn’t arm the bomb until the last minute, again to exploit a weakness in that we knew taxies were allowed to park outside the station at night.

“We apologise to both those taxi men. We realise it’s a tactic not fully supported even by republicans and where we can execute an operation by ourselves we always will do.”

Q. Realistically does ONH even have the kind of weaponry needed to sustain current activity?

A. “Before we embarked on a campaign we set about acquiring arms and explosives. As the recent upsurge shows, we have the material required to carry out the type of campaign we have envisaged.”

Q. Dissident republican splinter groups have often been accused of using activity as a cover for criminality. As with any organisatlon ONH needs funding, that requires illegal actlvlty and criminality does It not?

A. “ONH members do not and never have extorted any one.

“We also don’t tax drug dealers or criminals, and I would challenge anyone to come up evidence to prove otherwise.

“We have ways of funding our organisation which I’ll not go into but which Sinn Fein would be well versed in as they don’t differ that greatly from the way the provos funded their army.”

Q. Do the current dissident republican groups cooperate with each other and does ONH carry out joint operations with other groupings such as the Real IRA?

A. “We enjoy a healthy relationship with all armed groups who are serious about taking on the British. But no we do not carry out joint operations. There is no point in us setting the bar high for membership and then compromising that by getting involved in operations with other groups.”

Q. Is ONH currently linked to any political grouping and does it intend to get involved in politics in the same dual armalite/ballot box way that mainstream republicans previously did?

A. “ONH will not be going down the political party/army module because it has failed, One always compromises the other.

“But we are not just militarists, we do have a political strategy and we recognise that a number of republican political groups are doing good work providing an alternative voice - we would draw inspiration from these groups.

“As for the ballot box/armalite strategy, well it fell on its face. So no. We won’t be following that.

“We’re not a political group. Our allegiance is to the Republic with the obvious aim for a 32ounty democratic Ireland of genuine equals, where a small percentage don’t hold all the wealth and where the Irish working class take control of all aspects of their own lives.”

Q. So far ONH has confined Its activity to Northern Ireland. Since so many of your tactics seem to mirror those used by the IRA will that also include bombing Britain?

A. “There are reports every Sunday about what ONH are going to do but we do not speak to tabloid newspapers. In the future we will target the British apparatus should that be in Belfast, Birmingham or London.

“It’s ok for people to say we don’t have capability. A year ago they said we couldn’t even detonate a bomb.

“One year on, we have now shown that we are capable of using an array of tactics and will continue to do so in the future.”

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