A: Examine their consciences. Take a good look at what is going on. If they agree - ok. If not then speak out." - Fourthwrite interview with Brendan Hughes
Gerard Hodgins speaks to the Guardian's Ireland correspondent, Henry McDonald, about ongoing armed republicanism. The interview initially featured in the Guardian on 28 January 2014.
Irish dissident groups 'thwarted by surveillance technology'
|Former IRA hunger striker Gerard Hodgins says British have 'permanent eyes and ears' inside terror organisations|
A former IRA hunger striker who has been a vocal critic of the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has warned armed republican dissident groups that advances in surveillance have given the British state "permanent eyes and ears" inside their organisations.
Gerard Hodgins, who has called on the New IRA, Continuity IRA and Óghlaigh na hÉireann (ONH) to declare ceasefires, said dissident bomb attacks did the opposite to what hardline republicans intended – and delivered more votes for Sinn Féin.
In an interview with the Guardian, Hodgins, who is a former prison comrade of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, said the use of surveillance technology made conventional guerrilla warfare "exceedingly difficult". He said: 'The widespread use of this technology gives the British almost permanent eyes and ears in places the dissidents would frequent.'
Directly addressing the anti-Good Friday Agreement armed republican groups, Hodgins pointed out that the level of British infiltration of the Provisional IRA, long before the peace process, had been "colossal and fatal" for the "armed struggle".
Hodgins said the spate of New IRA and ONH bombings across Northern Ireland over the plast 18 months "played into Sinn Féin's agenda". He said: 'Sinn Féin will use the fear factor to appeal to voters. So the occasional dissident bomb in Belfast city centre makes sure everybody votes according to tribal camp.'
His call for a dissident republican ceasefire is echoed by the website Pensive Quill, a site of republicans who are critical of Sinn Féin but opposed to any return to violence.
Hodgins, from west Belfast, last year publicly called on Adams to resign from the Bobby Sands Trust and accused him of lying about his relationship with his brother, the convicted paedophile Liam Adams.
The trust controls all of Bobby Sands's written material. The late hunger striker's family has been involved in a legal battle to wrest control of it from leading Sinn Féin figures.
Hodgins, like the dissidents, believes Sinn Féin's peace strategy has solidified the unionist veto over constitutional change in Northern Ireland but, unlike them, he opposes a return to violence.
Urging the dissidents to call off their violent campaign, Hodgins said:
The tactics and strategy they are trying to develop are tactics and strategy that we tried, but which failed: the British can deal with these frames of reference. There is also no popular support for armed insurrection and, without a support base, armed insurrection is irresponsible.
Hodgins is a former Sinn Féin press officer who spent 20 days on hunger strike with other Irish republican prisoners in 1981.
While deeply critical of Adams, Martin McGuinness and other Sinn Féin leaders, Hodgins said continuing the "armed struggle" today was a futile exercise. He said the republican dissidents should learn from the failure of the Provisional IRA to force Britain to issue a declaration of withdrawal from Northern Ireland.
'The infiltration was undoubtedly colossal and fatal. The British were regularly one step ahead of us on the ground, making life difficult,' he said. '
Squads were being captured, dumps compromised, [IRA] volunteers executed; even the Eksund [an IRA smuggling ship intercepted in the 1980s] was never intended to make it to Ireland.
The British penetrated the Provos at every level and put their agents and spies in place to ruin us from within and deliver us to precisely where the British state wanted us.
Add to this the success of the British in pioneering agent recruitment and handling, where they delivered one of the most resilient guerrilla armies, the IRA, to just where they wanted us and I don't for one moment doubt the security agencies have agents in place amongst the dissidents today.
He added that he was friendly with many, but not all, of the dissidents and vehemently denied any role in directing the hardline republican campaigns.
Following Hodgins's outspoken attack on Adams, he has faced stories in the media alleging links to leaders of the New IRA and ONH. However, reliable republican sources, as well as sources in the security forces, accept that Hodgins, while a political opponent of Sinn Féin, is a trenchant critic of the ongoing "armed struggle" and not involved in their armed campaigns.
Hodgins, who was first imprisoned when he was 17 years old, sounded cautious about any of the disparate dissident republican groups heeding his call for a ceasefire:
The dissident world is fractured over many groups, ranging from some misguided patriots to agents of the state to outright rogues who are abusing my community rather than protecting it. But it is important to highlight the futility of pursuing a failed strategy..
Republican groups still at "war"
The New IRA: The largest of the anti-ceasefire republican forces, which formed into an alliance between the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs in Derry and independent armed republican units in east Tyrone in late summer 2012. It has been responsible for a series of bomb attacks from its main base in Derry, but the Guardian has learned that there has at least been some debate within the movement about the ongoing efficacy of its "armed struggle".
Óglaigh na hÉireann: A small hardline faction with a base in north Belfast, which has been behind recent bomb attempts in the city centre, including, it is thought, a firebomb incident that resulted in the activist setting himself on fire just before Christmas. ONH does speak to critics of continual "armed struggle" based around The Pensive Quill, but as yet shows no signs of moving towards a cessation of violence.
The Continuity IRA: The oldest and most ideologically rigid of the three main republican factions. CIRA is politically aligned to Republican Sinn Féin, which broke away from the mainstream Sinn Féin movement as far back as 1986 over Gerry Adams and his allies' plans to recognise the legitimacy of the Irish Republic parliament. While its political allies are mainly based in the Republic, CIRA maintains a small but troublesome presence in the Craigavon/Lurgan area of north Armagh. Responsible for the 2009 murder of the first PSNI officer, Constable Stephen Carroll, CIRA are the least likely of any of the anti-ceasefire groups to listen to any calls for an end to their armed campaign.