Brian Rowan interviews Army Council and GHQ staff of Óglaigh na hÉireann
Rowan: I’d like to ask about the roots of your organisation, how it emerged — the when and why of that, what you see as the organisation’s role.
ONH: The organisation began with nothing more than a number of conversations between senior republicans across Ireland [in 2005]. They had watched how the anti-agreement republican military world had the perception of [being] badly organised, ineffective and perceived [as] highly infiltrated, and, in some cases, I suppose they were. They decided that after a very lengthy debate to try and salvage a group of republicans and form them into an organisation. It would have taken a year just to agree to the formation of a group. We had agreed the title Oglaigh na hEireann, but hadn’t made it public. We looked at all of the IRAs, including the Provisional IRA. We looked at all their strengths and weaknesses. We picked out what we believed were flaws in structure and operational, and we designed a structure for Oglaigh na hEireann, that while based on the same format as the Provisionals, had sections that were fundamentally different, which we believed offered better security and limited the security services in the event of them being able to successfully recruit agents and informers.
Rowan: [Is it] a new beginning, or picking up where others had left off?
ONH: It was a mixture of both. At that particular stage a number of people had come to our attention as having become disillusioned with the Provisional IRA strategy and approaches were made both ways [from ONH to individuals, and from individuals to ONH]. We believed that some of the people who were starting to form a core structure were people who could offer a formidable military alternative to what was then on offer militarily. It’s a number of people who were former members of other organisations, and that’s across the spectrum – Provisional IRA, INLA, Real IRA. The vast, vast majority of people who were recruited were deliberately selected for their skills, experience and know-how. This is island-wide. There wasn’t an open recruitment procedure.
Rowan: When does this become a first operation?
ONH: There was a number of training operations, and testing the structure, which have never been claimed. [The] first operation claimed was a kneecapping on south link pitches Andersonstown. The victim was shot six times —elbows, knees, ankles.
Rowan: Talk to me about this description of a two-headed beast, used to describe the Oglaigh na hEireann relationship with the Real IRA — two bits of one organisation?
ONH: It simply isn’t the case. Oglaigh na hEireann is a separate entity. The confusion initially in some media and security circles, we assume, came about [because] there was a handful of former senior members of the Real IRA who were playing pivotal roles in the emerging Oglaigh na hEireann. Unfortunately because Oglaigh na hEireann wasn’t doing interviews or statements at that time the water remained cloudy.
Rowan: That suited you?
ONH: No end.
Rowan: What about joint operations — sharing materials, expertise?
ONH: At the present stage there is a friendly and cordial relationship between Oglaigh na hEireann and other armed republican organisations. That doesn’t cross over into joint operations. I don’t believe there is any sharing of expertise.
Rowan: Let’s deal with the tactics and strategy of your own organisation. Describe your immediate aims, and then we’ll talk about what you think is achievable longer term.
ONH: Our fundamentals are about securing the organisation, about credible recruitment and carrying out credible, high-grade operations. We also want to offer working class communities, who have been abandoned, protection from criminals and drug dealers. Every time we are not involved in an operation we are recruiting, developing expertise, gathering intelligence and planning the next operation. All of that is made easier on the back of some of our operations. The Provisional IRA took approximately 15 years to wind down. There is no ready-made IRA pack that can be assembled in a short period of time. An Oglaigh na hEireann capable of having a sustained campaign will take time to develop. It will take time to develop the structures, personnel, finance and weaponry.
Rowan: If Oglaigh na hEireann went full out [now]?
ONH: I think we would be playing right into the hands of the British, who, while the Provisional IRA were winding down continued with their war machine in Ireland unabated. To go at it full steam would increase momentum short term, but we believe ultimately would fail within a very short period of time.
Rowan: As your expertise builds, as you become more successful in your terms, what happens inside and outside the organisation?
ONH: Inside the organisation successful operations increase morale. It also gives republicans increased confidence to carry out more daring attacks. Republicans who acknowledge that Oglaigh na hEireann are doing the right things offer their services. That in turn increases our capabilities even further.
Rowan: Do you have what previously would have been Provisional IRA bomb-making expertise?
Rowan: Do you want to elaborate?
ONH: No. We have found that former IRA volunteers have applied to join Oglaigh na hEireann on the back of those successful operations.
Rowan: Security activity?
ONH: We have noticed a dramatic increase in both overt and covert surveillance. A number of people have also been approached with offers from the security services to work for them — from right across the security spectrum. Four people in the last week have been approached with at least one offered a substantial amount of money. In the aftermath of Section 44 stop and search, with the increased [security] activity and presence, we watched as they tried to increase their presence on the ground, and, likewise, we adapted to counter that threat.
Rowan note: The interview then deals with a number of specific Oglaigh na hEireann attacks including the car bomb at Palace Barracks military base which houses the MI5 Headquarters in Northern Ireland, and the under-car booby trap bomb attack in which police officer Peadar Heffron was critically injured. It also touches on a dissident intelligence-gathering operation in a wooded area close to Palace Barracks. Over an unspecified period of time, digital cameras were used to record images of activity at the base.
Rowan: Did you target Peadar Heffron, or did you target a police officer?
ONH: We never target an individual in uniform. We target the uniform and what it stands for.
Rowan: Did you target him because of his involvement with the GAA — that he speaks the Irish language? Were you making a point?
ONH: No comment on that.
Rowan: Is he not as Irish — more Irish — than those who make up your organisation?
ONH: Absolutely not. Irish history is littered with mercenaries who have worked for and implemented British laws.
Rowan: What is it about new policing that you object to?
ONH: Policing in the north of Ireland is still controlled by National Security — MI5. All its powers, laws and finance come from England, and it is no different today in 2010 than it was in 1994 [the year the IRA announced a complete cessation of military operations]
Rowan: Do you really believe that?
ONH: Yeah I do ? everything that the RUC did — the abuse, harassment and frame-ups — still continues today.
Rowan: How big an operation was the Palace Barracks attack — its timing [coinciding with the devolution of justice powers] and the fact that MI5 Headquarters is on site?
ONH: The timing of it was deliberate. The significance was deliberate, and a major effort was put into that operation.
Rowan: Did you have the base under camera surveillance prior to that attack?
ONH: We’ll not go into details on duration of our surveillance except to say that we garnered significant intelligence.
Rowan: Is it from this that you target the Army Major [in a planned under-car booby trap bomb attack] in Bangor?
ONH: We won’t go into detail on how we garner intelligence except to say that we have shown that we can pinpoint police officers and soldiers very accurately.
Rowan: Security assessments suggest the fingerprint/type of bomb used in Bangor was
different to the make-up of the device used when you targeted a police dog-handler in east Belfast — clearly suggesting more than one bomb-maker.
ONH: Oglaigh na hEireann has developed explosives expertise.
Rowan: It was the dog-handler you were targeting — not his partner?
ONH: Had we been targeting his partner it [the bomb] would have been under her seat. Our intelligence and surveillance showed us that she regularly drove him to work. We deliberately picked areas [for attacks] that were seen as safe zones for security forces. It was to send a direct message that nowhere is safe.
Rowan: I want to talk about some recent developments — the speech by the Director General of MI5, the threat level raised in Britain, Police Federation calls for a thousand more police officers, a stepping up of overt policing. What does all of this say to your organisation?
ONH: It says that they — MI5/British Intelligence — are acknowledging a growing threat, which they admit they played down and ignored, played it down and underestimated it.
Rowan: Is Britain – attacks there – part of your focus and thinking?
ONH: Oglaigh na hEireann will decide when and where it attacks. Sceptics will say, ‘they would say that because they don’t have the capabilities’. Eighteen months ago, they told us we couldn’t even detonate a bomb. Nothing is beyond our reach.
Rowan note: The interview then deals with a claim by Martin McGuinness that the British and Irish governments have been talking to dissident groups. The Belfast Telegraph has been told of a process of contacts — not face-to-face, but mediators talking to representatives of the dissident groups and separately to British and Irish officials, but with all sides knowing who is involved.
Rowan: Has your organisation met face-to-face with representatives of the British or Irish governments?
Rowan: Let me talk about contacts, quiet dialogue, involving mediators talking both to your organisation and British and Irish officials. Do you recognise that description?
ONH: I recognise the description, yes.
Rowan: I’m told it’s at two levels — alternatives to punishment attacks, and exploring a way forward without armed struggle/activity. Is that a reasonable description?
ONH: We are a people’s army. It’s inevitable that we will be interacting with the community. Some punishment attacks are resolvable, others aren’t. It’s a giant leap to get from that to a perception of engagement with the British or Irish governments. People from all walks of life talk to us about non-violent ways. Again, we don’t see that as direct contact with either government.
Rowan: How do you respond to the description of dissident republicans as traitors — “conflict junkies”?
ONH: We think it’s farcical. Some of the hypocritical comments coming from former armed republicans who are engaged in demonisation of former comrades for upholding the proclamation and the IRA’s Green Book.
Rowan: We hear a lot about senior Sinn Fein figures being warned of threats. Are they legitimate targets in your eyes?
ONH: No. Ireland has seen enough of feuds while the British sit back and happily watch it.
Rowan: The IRA was better armed, supported, resourced, and they acknowledged a military stalemate. So, what makes you think you can achieve more?
ONH: The overview of the structure we pointed to earlier in the interview, we believe has more durability to penetration. We have no desire to replicate or be a morph of the Provisional IRA. They failed — so, why would we want to copy them? There is a fragile Assembly. There is a forging together of political opposites that is much easier to undermine and defeat than the war that the Provisionals had.
Rowan: Do you think a war can be won?
ONH: We think a war can create the conditions where republicans can create dialogue that will fulfil republican objectives.
Rowan: Brits out?
ONH: A 32 county democratic socialist republic. Brits out is simply not good enough.
Rowan: So it’s a pipedream then?
ONH: Some people say that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sitting in a room sharing power in a partitionist Assembly endorsing British policing was also a pipedream.
Rowan: Has killing become the cause, just to say, ‘we haven’t sold out’ — killing for killing’s sake?
ONH: As far as we are concerned we are not engaged in killing for killing’s sake. We are engaged in a war against the illegal occupation of our country and usurpation of Irish sovereignty.
Rowan: So you think that killing will work?
ONH: We think that a war will create the conditions for credible dialogue aimed at British withdrawal. Internal settlements are not what Irish republicans fought, died and went to jail for.