Calls for Libya to stump-up to the relatives of people killed by the IRA are senseless, CONNAL PARR
THE DESIRE of the UK government to seek compensation from the heart of Tripoli on behalf of relatives of those killed and wounded by IRA bombs sets a strange, dangerous precedent. If Libya is docked for having provided weapons that killed and maimed human beings during the Troubles then the rule must be applied across the board.
Unquestionably the most significant suppliers of weapons and money to the IRA have been groups in the United States. If the source of arms and bomb-making material is paramount then powerful Irish-American elites on the East Coast, particularly the Irish Northern Aid Committee (Noraid) are streets ahead of Libya or any other European source. Up until 1992 this amounted to about US$1 million a year for procuring arms. This line supplied weapons to the IRA over a far more sustained period than Libya, whose munitions did not reach Ireland until well into the 1980s.
American aid on the other hand fuelled the Provisional IRA campaign from 1969 without let – and in the most intense, deadly phase of the conflict – with weapons consistently made available from this transatlantic channel to all incarnations of the IRA. While this supply emanated not from governmental agents, and the United States might claim that gunrunners were murky renegades who slipped back into the shadows, those responsible for Noraid were often drawn from the most established and wealthy Irish-American families. Only the Presidency of Bill Clinton – ironically, given his less than favourable reputation among unionists – saw these avenues challenged with some success.
The Provisionals needed funding and arms; the poor could not have helped them in this regard. It was precisely the power and resources of stateside gunrunners that attracted the Provos and it beggars belief to suggest that successive US administrations had no idea who they were or what they were doing. In November 1982 the founder and chairman of Noraid, Michael Flannery – an 80 year-old IRA veteran of the 1920s – was acquitted with five other men in New York of conspiracy to supply arms to the Provisionals after pleading successfully before a jury that the CIA were aware of their activities and monitored the line, echoing Michael Heseltine’s revelation of last October that the UK ‘begged’ the US government ‘to stop the cash flow to the IRA, minister after minister after minister, but the money kept coming.’
After several foiled attempts to import weapons in the 1970s, Gaddafi renewed support for the IRA following Britain’s decision to allow US jets to bomb Libya from its bases. Up to four Libyan arms shipments are known to have reached Ireland in 1986 and ’87 prior to the famous interception of the Eksund in October 1987. All Libyan contact with the Provisional IRA ended in 1992 with the eccentric Colonel denouncing bombings in London and his link with the Provos as a ‘mistake’. Furthermore it is estimated that at least 45% and possibly up to 60% of these shipments were subsequently recovered in searches by Irish security forces as part of Operation Silo in 1992.
That represents a window of six years in which Tripoli provided material to the IRA, reduced by Irish seizures, when Libya was certainly not the only supplier of explosives. We are all in the dark as to precisely which spectaculars involved Libyan gear. The only people who know where the Semtex they were handling came from are the people who composed the devices, just as they are the only people who – in the end – bear responsibility for the killings.
Tripoli is of course currently in the habit of handing out compensation and Washington invariably is not. But the British establishment and certain Ulster politicians must tread with extreme diligence. At worst the assumption seems to be that as Libya is in the process of paying out for its involvement in political violence – come and get a share of the spoils. Of course the families of those murdered are not motivated by money, only by justice for the massacre of their loved ones. The kernel of this odd development derives from the frustrated inability of relatives to prosecute the people who ordered and physically carried out IRA violence. As these people in the current dispensation remain untouchable, in one of the most unfortunate legacies of the Good Friday Agreement, it seems everyone but them can, and will be, held to account.
What of other settlements? One can’t help but feel the recent controversy surrounding the Eames-Bradley report’s suggestion to award £12,000 not just to victims but to families of everyone who had died in the Troubles (including volunteers) has preceded this debate in some way. If compensation from Libya is forthcoming relatives of people injured and killed by British Army guns and bullets must be entitled to pursue similar initiatives. Victims of Loyalist atrocities will also be entitled to compensation from Scottish, Canadian and especially South African quarters, all of which have at some stage provided significant amounts of weaponry to Loyalist paramilitaries.
If Libya’s treatment is anything to go by, the case also offers a salutary lesson for any troublesome Arab country contemplating the journey from rogue state to respectable détente with the West. Namely, that it would be unwise: you are liable to be slapped with large financial penalties as reward for compromise and renouncing the recent past, coming in under the avuncular arm of the West, and abandoning a nuclear programme – fine incentive to any other hostile state flirting with the notion of coming in from the heat!
The IRA was determined to use violence for political ends and would find whatever means they could to do so. Whoever could aid them in this pursuit, in terms of finance or armaments, would be availed of (in historical lineage the early organisation visited Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1925 for guns despite deep antipathy for atheistic communism). The conflict needed weapons. That Libya stuck out its hand is incidental; if Switzerland or Western Samoa had possessed and proffered arms, the Provisional IRA would have taken up the offer.
Once again the people who perhaps most need to be consulted on this matter can be found occupying the seat of power, running branches of devolved government where once they ran the war.
a piss poor piece, i’m afraid, and that becomes clear right at the start when, in an attempt to make the case that noraid was a bigger arms supplier than libya, connal parr states that arms supplies from the gaddafi regime did not reach ireland until ‘well into the 1980’s’.
in fact, as a cursory glance through the index of any decent historical account of the ira would demonstrate, libya began supplying weapons and cash to the ira as early as 1971/72. then chief of staff, joe cahill was arrested on board the claudia in march 1973, as the arms-laden ship neared the irish coast after one of several voyages from libya. the links between libya and the ira continued in the following years and the arms shipments intensified from 1983 onwards. tons of weapons and many millions of dollars were shipped and their combined aggregate dwarfed irish-american donations.
if mr parr wishes to make the case that irish-america is as responsible as libya for nourishing the ira, he would do better if he had done some basic research first.