International Terrorism Involving British State Forces

Martin Galvin (MG) interviews the former PRO for the Republican POWs during the 1981 hunger strike and now author, Richard O'Rawe, (RO) via telephone from Belfast about how the recent retirement of Peter Robinson as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) may affect political relationships and policies in The Six Counties. Again, this comes courtesy of the efforts of TPQ transcriber. 

Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
28 November 2015
(begins time stamp ~ 14:00)

MG: We have the author of the definitive work on what the blanket protest was like. He was the author of Blanketmen – the author of Afterlives – he's a commentator and analyst of events in The North of Ireland and he's coming to us from Belfast, Richard O'Rawe. Richard, are you with us?

RO: Hello. (discussion of audio difficulties)

MG: Richard, last week, Sandy and John had on – they covered the story of Peter Robinson – the former Number Two of the DUP, the man who was the Number Two to Ian Paisley – the man who took over the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest unionist party in The North of Ireland – is now currently the First Minister of Stormont and who announced before his party conference last week that he would be resigning and that he would be giving up his post and that there would be new leadership in his party. Now on Monday, he was at Stormont, he answered questions, and at the end of his questions this man, who said that the Union was safe - he said the Union - we would say British rule in The North Ireland - is safe, he said that the Democratic Unionist Party and British rule in The North of Ireland is secure. The person who made a deal for there to be a centre at Long Kesh prison – the prison where you were imprisoned along with Bobby Sands and the others who died on hunger strike – who you wrote about in Blanketmen - and who did away with that deal to have that preserved and to have a centre there. This man, when he gave his last speech the Ulster Unionist Party, a federal unionist party, they didn't clap or applaud. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a Nationalist party, they did not stand up and applaud. The Alliance Party, which goes back and forth, they did not stand up and applaud. But I couldn't help but see on BBC Sinn Féin, Martin McGuinness and others - they were the only ones other than members of the Democratic Unionist Party - who applauded Peter Robinson. Can you explain that?

RO: Well, it's very difficult to explain it indeed because why would they applaud this man? You got it right in the first instance: this is the man who pulled down the deal on Long Kesh - who said we can't have a memorial at Long Kesh because it would be Republican. And then this is also the man who forced Sinn Féin last week into becoming an austerity party after making cuts to the welfare system and absolutely crucifying the poor and they stood up and they clapped him – all I can really say on that is: They should be ashamed of themselves – absolutely ashamed of themselves.

MG: Richard, the way that Stormont works there can't be any movement unless both the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin agree as the two largest parties, or what they call cross-community support. So in order for there to be any movement on any issue you have to get those two parties, which are polar opposites, to agree. Now what effect did this have in terms of the welfare policies that you just mentioned?

RO: I'm not so sure they are polar opposites! I mean they are polar opposites in the fact that one wants to maintain the union with Britain and the other aspires to a socialist republic – well, a republic – they're not socialists and that's another matter. See, the thing about these two guys, these two parties, is this and this is what we need to bear in mind with this welfare thing: There's nothing that their focus means more – certainly not that means to politicians more - and certainly not in relation to welfare cuts - than the possibility that if you don't do a deal you may well be on the receiving end of those welfare cuts.

Martin McGuinness turned round several months ago and said that if ... rather than accept the austerity measures that the Tory government was imposing on The North of Ireland he would rather pull down the Assembly. And what they have done here in a very sort of Machiavellian way is to dig up a fund that had always been there – it's a sort of get out of gaol fund – and they brought that in and tried to supplement that for the welfare cuts that will be coming down the line. But nobody knows the extent of the welfare cuts because it's an ongoing process whereby people are always delayed as to whether they'll be eligible for this grant or that grant or this welfare grant or that welfare grant so they don't know if they've got enough money or not. But it doesn't really matter - at the end of the day from what I can see - the only thing that matters with these two parties is that they don't end up on welfare. I mean that's what I see here.

MG: Alright. Well Richard, Cameron, David Cameron the British Prime Minister, wanted to get austerity – he wanted to get cuts – he seems to have gotten it. Republicans wanted to stop that and they also wanted the British government to own up on what they've been doing – some of the collusion murders – some of the other policies - the murders at Ballymurphy, on Bloody Sunday and elsewhere in the North of Ireland - they've seem to have made no movement on that whatsoever.

RO: No they haven't. They haven't and the reality is that, and this is what a lot of people don't seem to grasp, they talk about terrorism - one of the biggest terrorist organisation that was involved in The Troubles in Northern Ireland was an outfit called FRU, and it was the Force Reaction (Research) Unit. And it was a branch of the British Army, which ran a whole plethora of Loyalist organisations which were dedicated to killing Catholics and Nationalists. I mean, these guys were directly controlled by a British Army regiment who were controlled by the politicians and right up to Thatcher. And they were responsible for hundreds of killings. These are the guys that put no-warning car bombs in Monaghan and Dublin in 1974 and blew up thirty-three (four) people and injured another three hundred.

These are the guys that killed Nationalists – Nationalists left, right and centre. And you're talking about a guy called (Brian) Nelson here who was controlling the whole UDA (Ulster Defence Association) and to an extent the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) all over The North. They killed people – and they killed hundreds - hundreds of Nationalists - and they were directly under the control of the British government. So why on earth would the British government release their secret papers so that they can nail themselves to their own cross? They would never do that! I mean anyone who realistically thought that the British were going to do that is living in cloud cuckoo I mean, that's the reality.

MG: Richard – we're talking with Richard O'Rawe, the author of Blanketmen, the author of Afterlives, and a great commentator and analyst of events in The North of Ireland - a former Republican political prisoner himself in Long Kesh. (discussion of audio difficulties) Richard, last year at this time – in fact the anniversary is tomorrow - I just want to explain to the audience what you're talking about: November 29th – this year will be the twenty-sixth anniversary of one of those assassinations. It was of an American citizen, Liam Ryan, somebody who lived in the Bronx in Review Place near me, near Gaelic Park in the Bronx, for a long period of time – became an American citizen – went back – bought a pub - had Loyalists come into that pub on November 29th, shoot him down, get away - have members of the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) go to the house and his widow and his family and just laugh and say: Those people will never be arrested. And it turns out now so many years later that the weapons involved were used in many other assassinations – that they were directly – that these men who killed him seemed to have been shepherded, guided, given intelligence, given information by that FRU – by that force within the British Army that you were just talking about. Is that...

RO: ...Yes, absolutely! This wasn't uncommon. I mean this Force Reaction Unit and not just them, the Special Branch was up to their armpits in all sorts of murder – and Special Branch being a branch of the police – they were up to their armpits in all sorts of murder and they were directing agents to specifically kill people. You know, this is the irony of this whole situation: They called the IRA terrorists, right? Now, the IRA were no saints. They were killing people – of course they were and they were doing it fairly regularly but so were the British. The British was absolutely involved in state terrorism. I mean you only need to look no further than the Irish Parliament – I was talking earlier there about the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in which thirty-three people died and three hundred were injured.

The Irish Parliament's Joint Committee on Justice called the attacks on Monaghan and Dublin in 1974, and this is a direct quote: an act of international terrorism involving British state forces. These people were involved in terrorism left, right and centre and they were never, I repeat, they were never, and they never will - any poor victim who's hoping for, in my view, who's hoping for some sort of discovery process - I don't think it will ever happen – I mean I'm not at all confident that it'll happen in relation to Bloody Sunday I just don't see them putting their own people in the dock – even if they do put them in the dock I suspect they'll be acquitted.

MG: Alright Richard, I just want to ask: now the DUP is supposed to have a new leadership. Arlene Foster is supposed to be the leader in Stormont. My experience with her is somebody who went to court and cheered when Gerry McGeough was convicted and was put in prison. She's somebody who, when she was asked to take over on an interim basis for Peter Robinson, called Sinn Féin and SDLP members, the two Nationalist parties, rogues and renegades and people who had to be kept away from the money. Nigel Dodds is supposed to be the new head of the Democratic Unionist Party. He is somebody who's identified with Loyalist triumphal or Orange triumphal parades in The North of Ireland - forcing marches down and past Ardoyne. Do you expect any change, any movement, anything towards a united Ireland or any better conditions or better movement from this new leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party? (discussion of audio difficulties.

RO: Absolutely not. No, I mean it'll be the same as usual. These people are very comfortable in their own skin. There is no threat to the status quo. There is no threat to the state of Northern Ireland. They have a Republican party who are like junior partners and they and Sinn Féin are very comfortable with all the arrangements that are in existence now and they're in a position to make sure that they stay there virtually in perpetuity. So I see no change at all. And in reality why would they change? There's nothing there that would put them off in a different direction of send them in a different political direction. They are comfortable. As far as they're concerned the Union is safe. They are the major party. They are in control of the machine. There is no need to change anything.

MG: Richard, we have to leave it at this point - we're moving ahead to our next guest. I want to thank you for coming on and giving us your analysis and we'll talk to you again in future.

RO: Okay Martin, thank you so much. Bye-bye all.
(ends time stamp ~ 27:07)


  1. A couple of things, AM if you can please help answer? Do you think RO is accurate when he states..

    " And then this is also the man who forced Sinn Féin last week into becoming an austerity party after making cuts to the welfare system and absolutely crucifying the poor and they stood up and they clapped him – all I can really say on that is: They should be ashamed of themselves – absolutely ashamed of themselves."

    Are SF really that pliable from outside, even 'unionist' direction?

    If I could also offer a comment on collusion, I would offer that FRU did not have as much 'hands on' with the loyalist groups as he makes out. Certainly not to the extent RO proffers. If so, why were so many loyalists caught and jailed?

    One scenario offers insight into collusion at least in a local area. Say a prominent Republican was arrested along with a few others and while being interrogated threatened the RUC officers life/family, maybe even in the heat of the moment let slip he knew where the cop lived.

    The cop being human is naturally frightened for himself and his family, and has also seen many people walk away on technicalities. In this instance he copies an intelligence file quite illegally and leaves it in a loyalist house during a raid. Or more than that, rings the 'loyalist' to let him know when and where the Republican will be. This is a set up, collusion in murder I make no bones about that.

    But if you gloss over the emotion that drives people to conflict, indeed remove it altogether, then you miss the chance to address and resolve it. Simply stating that the British via FRU controlled the loyalists is not only lazy, it is also inaccurate.

    If you follow that logic then given the amount of informers alleged to have held senior positions within the entire RM, could we not also say that FRU controlled the Provisionals?

  2. Steve,

    not specifically pliable to the unionism but certainly seduced by office. Could you imagine republicans of Bobby Sands' era buckling in such fashion just to advance political careers? I suppose in part it is the conservatism that comes with
    "maturity". If the SDLP were doing this I could say, well they have always tried to abide by the rules of the club they signed up to and which imposes certain constraints on them and leads to compromises and so on. But SF howled traitor and opportunist at everyone else for doing what they are doing now. The gap between what they practiced and what they preached is global - worlds apart. That is what makes them doing this look so foolish whereas if the SDLP were doing it, they would not draw the same ridicule.

    It is also a salutary reminder never to place your trust in revolutionaries. They never deliver and then spend their remaining years trying to airbrush away the promises they made.

    Collusion was endemic - rather than try to wish away the extent to which it happened with loyalists we need to articulate into the collusion narrative the degree to which it also involved the republican project. Did FRU control the Provisionals? Between it and the other elements of the British security apparatus there was a high British input into the Provisionals. How useful is it to assign responsibility to the IRA (UVF or UDA too for that matter) for killings in the manner say that Lost Lives does? There are strong grounds for arguing joint enterprise, with one of the partners being the British state.

    The jailing of loyalists is never a useful way of measuring collusion. It was useful to the British state in that it could maintain the fiction that it was upholding the rule of law.

    One thing seems certain, the role of the British security services as benign and neutral is being inexorably eroded. They were not fighting terrorism but practicing it.

  3. Steve
    You have to realise that there were conflicting groups within the security forces. SB and CID regularly clashed over arrest warrants. Even within SB there were officers doing their own thing contrary to orders from above and conflicts between FRU and SB. To say that the state micro managed loyalist actions in the Troubles is nonsense but an agenda that republicans like to push. The amount of loyalists successfully jailed by CID is testament to that, no tout is going to do a life stretch to save his handler's career. For me, by far the most interesting case of state collusion with loyalists and republicans is in East Tyrone were it looks like a decision was made and successfully executed to take out the whole brigade.

  4. Thanks AM, and yet again I find myself agreeing with you. A very, very dirty war of that there is no doubt.

    Peter, my apologies, I am unaware of the 'decision' in East Tyrone to which you refer. Can you please elaborate?

    Thanks as always.

  5. Steve
    I am refering to the shooting dead of the majority of the PIRA East Tyrone brigade between 87 and 92. In the mid 80s the East Tyrone IRA joined with the Monaghan IRA to form a very active killing machine. The British and loyalists in the area were very concerned due to the increase in murders of security force personnel and protestant civilians. The Belfast IRA were also concerned because this brigade weren't too fond of Adams. FRU sent a senior officer to the area and within 5 years 25 SF/IRA had been shot dead by the SAS and UVF including some of the most feared operators in the Provos like Lynagh, Kelly, Pete Ryan, McCaughey and Grew. The most fascinating thing about this episode of the Troubles is that it seems there may have been a level of collusion between the IRA leadership, the UVF and FRU. Just like when Lenny Murphy got taken out, it suited all parties. The status quo don't like hawkish threats. In the discourse of the Troubles this hardly gets a mention but it is highly significant in my opinion.

  6. That is pretty astonishing Peter, is their anybody from the RM who can offer an opinion?

    Thanks Peter.