An unusual dispute has arisen in east Tyrone after a former IRA leader denied a Sinn Fein man’s claims that loyalists and republicans reached “an understanding” in the area after a secret meeting in the early 1990s.
Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy has said he met two members of the UVF and a Protestant clergyman in a hotel car park near Dungannon. After the meeting he says the understanding was maintained with loyalist paramilitaries -- effectively, a local ceasefire -- and there were no more killings in the area.
Mr Molloy said he attended the meeting, thought to have been in June 1993, after receiving a telephone call. He said it was held in a car outside the Glengannon Hotel, which has since closed, and was attended by himself, two loyalists and a Protestant clergyman.
“I got a phone call asking would I go and meet these people and didn’t know who I was meeting or the extent of the meeting,” he said. He said he was not aware of the identities of the two loyalists present. “It was quiet clear we were dealing with loyalists,” he said. “They did identify themselves as UVF and they were speaking on behalf of the UVF.”
He added: “The meeting was an opportunity for people to say what they wanted to say and other people to understand where they were coming from.”
Mr Molloy said the encounter ended “amicably” after around 30 minutes and those present thanked each other for the exchange. There was no further contact.
“It was a good meeting with the clearing of air and better understanding and it was one of those early stages of outreach between loyalists and republican communities in the area.”
The veteran republican said his role was as a Sinn Fein representative and point of contact.
Around the time of the meeting there was strong speculation that the Provisional IRA was preparing to call a ceasefire, which was eventually called in in 1994.
But a former OC [Officer Commanding] of the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade has said that Mr Molloy’s meeting took place without the knowledge or consent of the organisation’s leadership in the area, and that no agreement was reached.
The former IRA man told the Belfast-based Irish News that Mr Molloy met with just one loyalist and the church minister. He said the meeting was arranged without consultation with the IRA’s local command structure, and ended in a row.
He dismissed any suggestion that a deal was done to end the killings and says that had the IRA been aware of the planned meeting, the loyalist, who was a member of the British Army’s UDR, would have been killed.
He also indicated that British Crown forces including UDR members continued to be targeted after the meeting.