The INLA hasn't gone away either, you know . . .
Published 29/07/2007 | 00:00
GARDAI and the PSNI are growing increasingly concerned at the re-emergence of the extreme republican terrorist group the Irish National Liberation Army, suspected of carrying out two murders on either side of the border this year, grenade and gun attacks in Dublin, as well as public armed displays in the North.
In further defiance of the North's peace accord, the INLA has been recruiting and training young members, despite its claim to be officially on ceasefire. Like the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries, the INLA has benefited from the terms of the peace agreement in the North, having its prisoners released early and even receiving substantial "peace fund" grants to help rehabilitate ex-prisoners.
The latest development, involving a vicious hammer attack on a former Dublin IRA man, who was also a prominent Sinn Fein worker, in a south city-centre pub last Thursday week, is seen as the most serious escalation of the INLA's activities to date.
According to Garda sources, the INLA is now deliberately targeting a protection racket run by former members of the IRA in Dublin who have been receiving substantial payments from drug dealers in return for protecting them from rival gangs. The racket has been running for years in Dublin and, over the past decade, IRA hitmen have been involved in killing as many as 20 drug dealers who have been involved in disputes with drug gangs who have been paying protection money to the IRA.
Last Thursday week, a well-known INLA man calmly walked into a pub in the south city centre and set about a 46-year-old ex-IRA racketeer with a hammer. He also savagely beat a young local drug dealer who was sitting with the ex-IRA man. Their injuries were so bad that at first gardai and ambulance crews thought the injuries had been inflicted with a machete. It was the latest in a spate of incidents causing grave disquiet in the south city centre.
Gardai are having difficulty investigating the incident because even though the pub was busy and the INLA man was not wearing any mask or disguise, no one present has been prepared to co-operate with detectives. The area where the beating took place is already tense following a grenade attack by the same INLA gang on a house in the Spitalfields area in June.
According to republican sources, the INLA has targeted the Dublin drugs trade as a source of income to fund its growth in the North, something it has done in the past. During the Nineties the INLA in Dublin received substantial payments from John Gilligan's gang and carried out the murder of Martin Cahill on behalf of Gilligan. Gilligan struck up his relationship with the organisation while serving time in Portlaoise Prison with a number of leading INLA figures, including Dessie O'Hare.
In recent years, the INLA has been sidelined in Dublin, arising from its humiliation in a violent confrontation with members of a west Dublin drugs gang at a warehouse in Ballymount in October 1999. In the bloody confrontation, one member of the INLA gang, Patrick Campbell, 22, whose family were originally from west Belfast, died from injuries inflicted with a machete. The INLA carried out two revenge murders - of Patrick Neville, 31, who was shot dead in Inchicore in April 2000, and Donnie Draper, 25, shot dead in June 2003.
However, the INLA in Dublin went into decline following the arrest and imprisonment of its Dublin leader, Declan Duffy, and a number of other members. Duffy received a nine-year sentence for firearms possession and false imprisonment, being released three months ago.
According to senior Garda sources, the INLA is still determined to avenge the killing of Patrick Campbell and reverse the humiliation suffered at Ballymount.
As a relatively minor and unstable organisation, the INLA has not been a cause of great concern to police since the early Nineties when it effectively imploded in a series of bloody internal feuds in which most of its leading gunmen were killed by their own associates. However, a hard core has survived and is again gathering new recruits and threatening to exploit the situation left by the disbandment of the IRA.
In the North, it has become increasingly belligerent in its activities. Last Easter's annual INLA parade in west Belfast featured masked men in black combat uniforms. In Derry, a volley of shots was fired from Uzi submachineguns in front of cheering crowds of teenagers. There have also been armed displays at pubs and clubs.
Intelligence sources say there have been internal meetings at which the notion of a future return to "armed struggle" is believed to have been raised.
However, it is understood the current balance is in favour of continuing the ceasefire, mainly because the organisation is in no position to mount an armed campaign in the North.
The police believe that the INLA has still no central leadership but is composed of three factions, based in the Derry/Strabane area, Belfast and Dublin.
Both northern factions are strongly against the idea of any resumption of political violence but the position, if any, of the Dublin faction on the issue is unclear.