Interview with Provisional IRA

Fight Racism! Fight imperialism! no.7 - November/December 1980

Editorial Note: The following interview was given to FRFI by members of the IRA in the border area. The interview took place in October of this year [1980].

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! is proud to publish the following interview with members of the IRISH REPUBLICAN ARMY in the border areas of the Six Counties. It is our policy to open the pages of our newspaper to national liberation movements so that the British working class may hear the views of those who have steadfastly fought for democracy and freedom against British imperialism. In its reactionary and brutal war against the Irish people, British imperialism has never ceased its lying, hypocritical and reactionary propaganda campaign against the Irish Republican Army — the IRA. The working class in this country is constantly told that the men and women volunteer soldiers of the IRA are nothing but murderers and criminals. With Irish prisoners of war on Hunger Strike in the H-Blocks for Political Status this reactionary propaganda campaign will be intensified. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! will exert every effort to expose and destroy this imperialist slander campaign. The interview below shows, in their own words, the IRA Volunteers as working class militants dedicated to the fight for democracy and socialism in Ireland. It shows them as un-compromising enemies of British imperialism and of the capitalist system in Ireland as a whole. It shows the IRA Volunteers as a politically conscious vanguard of the Irish revolution for democracy and socialism. Their views on the Labour lefts such as Benn, the concern they express for the future struggles of the British working class and their solidarity with the South West African Peoples Organisation of Namibia and the African National Congress (South Africa) demonstrates an internationalism which the British working class can only be proud to associate with. The interview demonstrates, categorically and unquestionably, that the men in the H-Blocks on Hunger Strike for Political Status are captives from a national liberation army, are prisoners of war and therefore deserve and must have the full and unconditional support of the British working class.

FRFI: There has been quite a lot of publicity recently about the increasing co-operation between the British and Free State forces along the border. Could you say something about this and how it has affected you?

IRA: Since Mr Haughey came to power Republican people in border areas have suffered increasing harassment. A lot of people thought that when Mr Haughey came to power he would be more sympathetic to the Republican struggle but in fact harassment has doubled and trebled if you take account of the number of houses raided and so on. There have been people who within six or seven hours of being arrested have come out of the police station and have had to go straight into hospital. In a sense we are more opposed to Mr Haughey than we are to Humphrey Atkins and Stormont.

FRFI: How do you mean?

IRA: Fianna Fail was formed back in 1926 by Mr De Valera and down through the years they have played the Republican card. Mr Lynch did not have a policy on the British occupation of the six counties he just bluffed people. Mr Haughey has also bluffed people and to be quite honest he has bluffed Republicans too. That is why we have a lot of venom towards Charles Haughey. Our priority is to defeat British rule in Ireland, but the British occupation of the six counties is a straightforward colonial situation whereas when you see the co-operation that exists between the British and Free State governments along the border, and when you see an Irishman who doesn't give a damn about the Irish people and just bluffs people ...

FRFI: Do you think people will eventually see his true colours?

IRA: We're denied access to the media so it's difficult for us to express our opinion. We can only go out on to the streets and tell people the truth through Republican News — this is the only way open to us. But with unemployment going up and up people will begin to see through Haughey. We have always been committed to a socialist republic, so Fianna Fail see us as a threat to their type of system — in fact as a revolutionary organisation we are completely opposed to it and we are increasingly conscious of this. We have no support among professional people, apart from a few individuals — the IRA is a working class movement. Sinn Fein has also developed and evolved as a result of the present struggle so that now the Republican Movement poses a great threat to the establishment on both sides of the border. Sinn Fein has increasingly got involved in social and economic struggles, such as unemployment, housing, and the trade unions — more members of the Republican Movement than ever are now in trade unions. Last year at Bodenstown Gerry Adams said that the Republican Movement must get more and more involved in these issues. The working class is absolutely sick of the established parties and they are now moving more to our way of thinking.

FRFI: So what you're saying is that you see the struggle in the same way as James Connolly did, when he said that 'if you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain'?

IRA: Yes, exactly, We're not risking our necks to have Charles Haughey sweeping into power victorious in a united Ireland — we are not going to exchange one master for another.

FRFI: It has sometimes been suggested that the military struggle of the IRA is a diversion from the political struggle for socialism in Ireland. How do you see the relationship between the two?

IRA: Over the last few years the Republican Movement has undergone a radical change to a more socialist stance compared to what it was in 1971 or 1972. At that time Volunteers were military-minded only. Now every Volunteer undergoes political training so that he understands the issues involved in the struggle and he is politically motivated. For us the short-term objective is to get the Brits out since it is they who control our economy throughout the 32 Counties, irrespective of the break from sterling in the twenty-six counties — they have complete control. So the immediate objective is to get the Brits out first of all, then work for radical social change. The other way round — working for social and economic change before getting the Brits out — will not work. You would be banging your head against a brick wall trying to achieve a socialist society before getting rid of the completely anti-socialist six counties state. Our aim is a socialist republic in the full meaning of the word 'socialist'. British politicians see a united Ireland as a threat, they see that a true socialist republic would be a threat, so Britain is determined to hang on in the North. It is a similar situation to Cuba — the United States probably regrets that it didn't get more involved in Cuba in the period before Castro came to power. There must be some economic benefit resulting from the occupation of the six counties, but the main reason for Britain hanging on is the fear of a socialist republic.


FRFI: Does the aim of a socialist republic create any problems for you in rural areas like the border areas?

IRA: I would be telling a lie if I said that there was absolute harmony on this question. At the last Sinn Fein Ard Fheis a new economic policy document was passed, with some amendments, and there was a great debate about it — but this is healthy, and any talk of a split in the Republican Movement is just rubbish. The Republican Movement has always been left-wing — the Easter Proclamation was socialist and Connolly, of course, was a socialist it's just that recently this has been brought more to the fore. This campaign is not going to peter out — this is the final campaign — and so every element in the Republican Movement is being brought more to the fore. It's obviously easier to win people over to socialism in built-up areas like West Belfast, and it takes a long time to persuade the small farmer that in the long run socialism will benefit him too: there is a very strong tradition of independence and self-reliance among the small farmers. Also, the rural population is deeply religious and it is strongly influenced by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has been a major stumbling-block to revolutionary movements down through the years. For example in the 1950s Michael O'Riordan, who was General Secretary of the Communist Party, stood for election. The priests sent a letter round to the local people saying that they would be committing a mortal sin if they voted for him, and he only got about 200 votes. The Catholic Church has always been opposed to revolutionary groups and has always stood behind the status quo. So it's a slow process of gradually attracting the people in the rural areas towards socialism — it's not easy, but they are gradually coming round to our way of thinking.

FRFI: We have heard quite a lot about how the IRA has now been re-organised. Could you tell us something about this?

IRA: There is a vast difference between the Volunteers of today and those of the early 70s. In the early 70s at the time of the split in the Republican Movement and with the loyalist onslaught on the nationalist areas it was a matter of getting every man into the IRA to defend their own areas. At the present time we turn away recruits. We put recruits through recruitment courses involving counter-interrogation techniques and so on. After four or five weeks we can see whether they are suitable — if they are not suitable they are rejected. So the numbers of Volunteers are now lower but they are much more effective. The Volunteers today are much more determined than before. They are much more committed because they are politically motivated. In the early days people automatically joined the IRA and they would have just looked at you if you'd asked them why they'd joined - now Volunteers can tell you exactly why they joined. The IRA is now prepared for a long-term struggle.

FRFI: It's been suggested that because of this re-organisation the IRA is now more distant from the people. What is your view on this?

IRA: There are lower numbers in the IRA than before, not because of lack of applicants but because we are much tighter on security. Certain members of the Republican Movement are now selected to be known to people but not Volunteers in active service units. So Volunteers are isolated from the people but the Movement itself is not isolated. At the last Easter commemoration in Newry, for example, we had the biggest parade that we have ever had there.

FRFI: How would you assess the military situation at the moment?

IRA: Over the years both sides have got more sophisticated. The Brits now rely much more on undercover work, so the enemy is much more difficult for us to identify. Also, the RUC are now encouraging vandalism in nationalist areas to try to get us to divert resources. People come to us for help rather than to the RUC because they hate the RUC, but if we don't help them people will be forced to go to the RUC, so this is also a problem for us. But we are still able to carry out successful operations. We don't believe in fact that there are that many Brits around now — they are being replaced by the RUC and the UDR under the Ulsterisation policy.

FRFI: But how do you think this should be interpreted - as an admission of defeat by the British Army or as an indication that the British government feels that it can safely leave repression more and more to the local forces?

IRA: There is no doubt that the British Army has been a failure. They can't put out any mobile patrols in the border areas. In Crossmaglen, for example, the Brits just send patrols round the village square next to the fort all day — they daren't go beyond that. Last Monday they tried to send a mobile patrol out from Crossmaglen to another village and the patrol had gone just 100 yards before it was blown up. We have intercepted letters from British soldiers in South Armagh and South Down which show how demoralised they are. Narrow Water had a demoralising effect on them and this has lasted right up to the present day — they are very nervous and they often open fire without any reason. There were in fact over 35 Brits killed at Narrow Water — there was a big cover-up. What happens is that the British authorities go to the relatives of the dead soldier and explain that if they admit that he was killed by the IRA it will only help the IRA and so help to kill more soldiers. So they get permission from the relatives to cover up the fact that the dead soldier was killed by the IRA. Of course if the dead soldier was an orphan it's even easier to do a cover-up.

FRFI: Does this sort of cover-up go on regularly?

IRA: Yes, especially in the border areas. It's much more difficult to cover up attacks in built-up areas whereas in rural areas many attacks are not seen by anyone. For example, there was one occasion where two soldiers were killed by snipers on Carlingford Lough. We phoned in responsibility but there was no mention on the news. A few weeks later it was announced that two soldiers had drowned in an accident on Carlingford Lough . On another occasion a soldier was killed in a booby-trap in Fermanagh: it was later announced that he had been killed in an accident. It's not so easy to cover up attacks on the RUC or the UDR because they are local people, whereas nobody knows the British soldiers. In fact there has been this sort of cover-up right from the start of the war from the first explosion right up to the present day.

FRFI: Has the increased harassment by the Free State forces along the border recently affected your operations at all?

IRA: There are occasions where it might affect us, for example when they set up increased road blocks and raids on houses, but they can't keep it up — it costs a lot of money. It's a bit of a hindrance for a short time, but it doesn't seriously affect us in the long run.

FRFI: What about the arms dumps which have been captured recently?

IRA: Those dumps mostly belonged to the INLA — with whom we have some co-operation at leadership level but not at local level —or in one case to the Official IRA. Some of the dumps were just material that we had abandoned. We are not losing guns the last gun that we lost was nine months ago.

FRFI: Why do you think that the discovery of these dumps was so publicised in the media?

IRA: To try to discourage people from holding weapons for us, and to try to suggest to people that there are informers within the IRA.

FRFI: Are many Volunteers captured by the British?

IRA: In the last eighteen months we have lost one man who was killed and one man who was captured. The Brits can't capture Volunteers, so they lift young hoods off the street - people who have been in trouble with the law in some way — and force them to sign confessions of being involved in IRA activity. The idea is that when it's published that a well-known young ‘hood' is a member of the IRA this will downgrade the IRA in the eyes of the local people.

FRFI: What do you think of the present situation in the H-Blocks and how do you think the situation will develop?

IRA: The H-Blocks are the major issue at the moment and every branch of the Republican Movement must now put everything into this issue. I can't see any solution to the H-Blocks except a hunger strike, although we don't want a hunger strike. The prisoners have now reached the stage where nothing has been won and the only thing left is a hunger strike. If they do go on hunger strike they will stay on it until death. The issue of political status will make or break the Republican Movement: the tradition of the Republican Movement is that every action that you do for the Movement is a political action, so if the prisoners do wear the prison uniform all the previous struggles of the Movement will have been in vain. If there is a hunger strike there is no doubt that the nationalist people will come on to the streets and there will be mass protests. Michael Alison said recently that the reason why political status was given in 1972 was that there was a mass outbreak of lawlessness, but if people die in the H-Blocks what happened in 1972 will seem like nothing. There has been a suggestion from the Churches that the H-Block issue could be resolved if we lay down our weapons. This suggestion in fact comes from the British government and it amounts to asking us to surrender. We have no intention of laying down our arms.

FRFI: Many politicians in Britain, especially in the Labour Party — such as Tony Benn, Eric Heffer and Jock Stallard sign human rights petitions yet do nothing in practice about the H-Blocks. What do you think should be done in Britain in relation to the H-Block issue?

IRA: It is very difficult in Britain, although possibly more could be done through the trade unions. The H-Block situation is distorted in the British media so we must get the truth about the H-Blocks across to the people in Britain. There are many protests about torture in Chile and other countries yet Ireland, where there is the worst treatment of political prisoners in Europe, is ignored. Last week Benn said that there should be a united Ireland yet he refused to answer questions about the H-Blocks. He is just a professional politician trying to gain power in his party - he is linked to the establishment. Neil Blaney is a similar politician in Ireland — he is now calling for a united Ireland yet he signed internment orders in the 1950s. Some people say that if Benn gets to power there will be a great change in the North of Ireland, but the same was said about Haughey — establishment politicians are all the same.

FRFI: What are your views on other liberation struggles that are going on at the moment, for example in South Africa?

IRA: We totally support the ANC and SWAPO. If we can help such struggles in any way we will certainly do so. Volunteers are educated about other liberation struggles and we have regular Command meetings with Volunteers where we have political discussions, including discussions about other liberation struggles. We have provided encouragement to others through our own struggle because we have shown what can be achieved through determination — the downfall of Stormont and the splintering of the Unionist Party and indeed the Basques, for example, have told us that they look to us for leadership. The people in Zimbabwe fought a war for seven years and they have achieved their objective through military means, and our attitude is — they have done it so we can do it. It is time people in Britain also got off their knees, because the Labour Party won't help them. As Lenin said, you have to make the revolution not wait for it to happen. There could have been a revolution in Britain in the 1930s if there had been the right leadership: at the present time, with unemployment increasing and with the militancy among black people, the struggle could really develop in Britain if there was the right leadership. Above all, the people in Britain should avoid the situation that we were caught in in 1969. The only thing that saved the nationalist ghettoes at that time was the loyalists' illusion that all nationalist areas were heavily armed, whereas in fact this was untrue. We were not organised or armed at that time and we don't want to see people in Britain caught in a similar situation.


Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed

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