THE once extreme republican terror group, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), is finally set to announce its disbandment – seven years after the Provisional IRA said it had done so.
The group is notorious for its internal feuding and it is believed disagreements prevented a previous announced disbandment in 2009.
But the Sunday Independent has learned that remaining members of the group have finally managed some consensus and are heading towards a disbandment announcement. It is not known if it is accompanying such a statement with the surrender of weapons, which could lead to early release for its remaining six prisoners in the Republic and the North.
The organisation, formed by Republican socialist figure Seamus Costello, from Bray, Co Wicklow, in 1974, achieved something of a footnote in history for the assassination of Margaret Thatcher's close aide, Airey Neave, who was killed by a bomb which exploded under his car as he was driving out of the underground carpark in the House of Commons in March 1979.
It was also responsible for one of the worst atrocities in the Troubles when it detonated a bomb inside the Droppin' Well pub in Ballykelly, Co Derry, in December 1982. Seventeen people, 11 of them off-duty British soldiers, were killed. Five of the six civilians killed were young women.
Seamus Costello was murdered during a feud with the Official IRA, from which he had split to form the new organisation, in October 1977 in Dublin.
In its early years, the group established links with extreme leftist groups in Europe including the Baader Meinhof group in Germany and a similar group in France, Action Directe, who supplied the INLA with arms. The INLA's contact figure with Action Directe, Seamus Ruddy, was murdered in Paris in October 1977 by other INLA members. His body was secretly buried and has never been found.
Towards the end of the Troubles, the INLA broke up amid bloody feuding, with 15 of its own members killed in tit-for-tat assassinations.
Since the ending of the conflict in the North, the organisation has been largely involved in criminality in Dublin, extorting money from publicans and small-time criminals. It carried out three murders in revenge for the death of one of its members, Anthony Campbell, 22, who was killed during a fracas with a criminal gang in Ballymount, Dublin, in October 1999.
The organisation has continued to be involved in extortion rackets. Last month, it came under garda investigation after demands with threats were issued to the owner of a children's bouncy- castle-for-hire company.
Gardai also suspect the remains of the organisation – it is said to have had around 20 members in Dublin – was also involved in manufacturing pipe bombs and selling them to criminal gangs. During 2006-2007, it was involved in a series of attacks and violent incidents with south inner city Dublin drugs gangs including the one led by Freddie Thompson.
It is understood older members of the organisation in the North, embarrassed by the group in Dublin, have combined with the remaining prisoners to push for the disbandment and possible decommissioning move.
Its remaining prisoners are mostly nearing the end of their terms though one, Eugene Kelly, 47, received a 10-year sentence in July 2009 for possession of a gun and ammunition. Kelly had previously served 15 years of a life sentence for the murder of Dundalk publican Cecil Black, who died from injuries he received during a robbery in April 1992.
The INLA's most notorious figure was Dominic 'Mad Dog' McGlinchey, who joined the group after leaving the Provisional IRA in 1982.
He was arrested after a shoot-out with gardai at a safehouse at Newmarket on Fergus, Co Clare, in January 1987. While he was in prison his wife, Mary, was shot dead while bathing her young children at the family home in Dundalk. McGlinchey was shot dead by the same south Armagh gang in Drogheda in February 1994.
The Dublin INLA also had close associations with Dublin criminal John Traynor and through him became involved with the John Gilligan-led gang which carried out the murder of Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin.
Gardai believe Gilligan contracted the INLA, paying them €30,000 to murder Dublin gang figure Martin Cahill in August 1994. Gilligan owed Cahill money and decided to have him murdered rather than pay the debt.
It is not certain when exactly the group intends disbanding. Weapons decommissioning, as happened with the IRA, may also be a token affair. The only group to fully decommission all weapons was the Official IRA.