Wednesday 23 October 2019

IRA chief, outspoken critic of terrorism and wanted man in global forgery conspiracy

Committed socialist: Seán Garland at a protest for the release of peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy outside Leinster House in 2014. Photo: Tom Burke
Committed socialist: Seán Garland at a protest for the release of peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy outside Leinster House in 2014. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

It was an alleged plot that read like a spy thriller - a former IRA chief accused of conspiring with North Korea and Russian agents to circulate counterfeit dollars.

Seán Garland, who has died aged 84, always insisted he was innocent of the claims made about him by the US Secret Service.

But the alleged 'super-dollar' forgery case is not the only controversy Mr Garland faced during his long career as a paramilitary and politician.

He joined the IRA in his youth and was involved in its Border campaign that resulted in loss of lives from the 1950s and 1960s. He was also involved in bringing about the Official IRA ceasefire in 1972.

Mr Garland was brought up in the tenements of north inner city Dublin and was largely self-educated having left school early.

Siptu spokesman Scott Millar is the co-author of 'The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party'. He describes Mr Garland as an "immensely important figure" in the development of Irish Republicanism and later left-wing politics in Ireland.

He said Mr Garland established himself as one of the IRA's "most valued operators" who helped organise armed raids on bases in Northern Ireland during the Border campaign of 1956 to 1962.

However, Mr Millar said that Mr Garland was ready to reassess the aims and tactics of the Republican movement by the end of that ill-fated campaign.

He said that following the split within the IRA in 1969 which created the Provisionals, Mr Garland became an outspoken critic of terrorism as a tactic. But Mr Millar says this did not mean he ever lost a belief in the possible need for force to drive major political change. Mr Millar said that Mr Garland was the driving force behind the development of the Official Republican movement into the hard-left Workers' Party during the 1970s, and he remained its dominant back-room figure in the 1980s and 1990s.

He said: "Although often portrayed as a dour 'hard man' by political opponents, in person Seán had a charismatic warm personality and a wry sense of humour, as well as quite a shy manner."

In his later years, Mr Garland was embroiled in the 'super-dollar' saga.

He was accused by US authorities of conspiring to circulate high quality counterfeit notes in a bid to undermine the US currency.

It was alleged that the notes were traced by the US Secret Service to a printing press in North Korea and Mr Garland's involvement become known when fake bills began turning up in Dublin in the 1990s.

It was also claimed that in the late 1990s he travelled to Moscow to smuggle the currency to Dublin as part of a plot to distribute the cash throughout Europe.

Mr Garland was arrested in Belfast in 2005 but fled to Dublin when he was released on bail.

In 2012, Mr Garland - who always denied the claims - won his battle against extradition to the United States.

Workers Party councillor Éilis Ryan remembers Mr Garland as an "incredibly intelligent man" who applied this "to thinking about how Ireland could be made a better country."

She said: "He brought the Republican movement from a stage of having absolutely no engagement in electoral politics to having seven TDs in the late 80s" and described this as "an extraordinary feat in a conservative Catholic country".

She maintained that this was the "bulk of his work" and insisted that he "contributed to preventing bloodshed" in arguing it was possible to fight for a socialist Ireland without killing.

Mr Garland died following a long illness and is survived by his wife Mary, daughter Caoimhe and his brother James.

Irish Independent

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