INLA man feigned friendship but ordered my death
As the terror group recruits again, Jim Cusack recalls its bloody past and how he nearly became one of its victims
ASUMMONS to meet the INLA leadership in west Belfast over some disputed detail in a story about one of the terror group’s internal feuds, was not something that any journalist could feel comfortable about. It was, however, better to discuss the matter than be put on a hit list for assassination by the North’s most volatile and murderous organisation.
During one of their feuds in the mid-Eighties, I was called to the Springfield Road, home of the organisation’s spokesman. The house was under constant CCTV surveillance from the British Army base, so it was at least unlikely I would be killed there.
Arriving for the mid-afternoon meeting, it was clear that those inside were not prepared, and had had a very late night. One of the INLA men was wearing only soiled boxer shorts and a dirty Tshirt and was snorting cocaine off a saucer. The INLA leader Hugh Torney was asleep upstairs. The man in the kitchen offered a cup of tea and suggested I take a seat in the filthy living room where we chatted for a while. Torney then appeared unexpectedly, standing behind my sofa.
I was acutely aware of the fate of a Belfast INLA man in a previous feud. Gerard ‘Sparky’ Barkley, had been summoned to meet the then INLA leader, Dominic McGlinchey, in Dundalk in October 1983. Barkley did not suspect a trap and was sitting on a sofa in McGlinchey’s Dundalk house chatting to his wife, Mary, when McGlinchey emerged from the kitchen and shot him through the back of the head. The fact that I had reported that the McGlincheys had then carried Barkley’s body out to the back yard, cut his throat and drained the body of blood to make it lighter to transport away and bury, had apparently upset McGlinchey.
McGlinchey had sent an invitation to meet him in Dundalk, which I declined despite the apparent offer of an interview with Ireland’s most notorious killer.
Anyway, Torney was clearly angry that I had spoken to his opponents and kept saying: “I don’t know what to do about this.” But .eventually he calmed down, and the two, after a brief visit to the kitchen, returned in much better spirits and we worked out an agreeable statement for the paper.
The relationship with the INLA was a difficult one. They loved publicity but went mad when something appeared which didn’t suit their purposes. Torney’s sidekick, Jimmy Brown, once said their relationship with the newspapers was like that between men and women: “ You can’t live with them, can’t live without them.” While Brown was regularly on the phone, and while he feigned a kind of friendship, he had also once given orders for my murder.
I had been approached separately by three Catholic business people in west Belfast who had been told to hand over substantial sums of money to the INLA or be killed. Several others had also been similary approached, they said.
The INLA had a shipment of guns in France, but needed money to pay for them. I inadvertently mentioned to a colleague that I was pursuing the story. He stupidly mentioned it, while drinking in a republican club, to someone who, in turn, tipped off Brown. He ordered one of his henchmen to kill me if the story appeared. They were also to kill a completely innocent ex-INLA man who he had seen in my company, wrongly believing him to be the source.
The next morning the exINLA man crossed the city and frantically waved me down as I drove to work. Sitting in the car he asked if I was writing a story about the INLA “fundraising”. I told him I was and he told me that if I did we were both to be shot dead. (Brown and the henchman, Gino Gallagher, were both later shot dead in another round of INLA feuding in early 1996).
So too was Torney. So too was McGlinchey and his wife, And so was Gerard “Doctor Death” Steenson, Torney’s assassin-in-chief, all due to internal feuding.
Despite their forays into actual acts of terrorism directed at the British Army, the political establishment or accent. It was with a mix of the RUC, death in Ireland’s horror and relief when he “republican socialist” army of pointed the gun at the side of national liberation was his head and shot himself. inevitably at the hands of Colm McPeake, 39, from west former associates. Belfast had spent the previous
Shortly before the last feud, few weeks wandering around in which Torney died in Milltown Cemetery, where 1996m, he had finally decided most of his former INLA he had made a mistake in not associates who were killed in shooting me that day in feuds were buried. He then Belfast. Again it was over some made the journey to Dublin detail in a story about one of and, for no known reason, his fallen comrades. His - walked into Fitzgibbon Street intentions, however, were to end his life. Former picked up by the Garda Special associates said he had been Branch who set up a guard overwrought with remorse around our house in Dublin about how so many of his oneand prevented the attack. time comrades had been killed
The interminable blood by their own, former friends. feuding ( the causes were McPeake had been at the mainly leadership disputes or centre of the INLA for years rows over money) had a weird and survived several attempts flashback at Fitzgibbon Street on his life by people he had Garda Station in Dublin in believed had been his February 2002. Gardai on duty comrades in the revolutionin the reception area were ary republican- socialist horrified when a man walked struggle to free Ireland from in, pulled out a gun and what he and his friends saw as shouted something incomprethe twin yoke of British hensible in a thick Belfast oppression in the North, and international capitalist domination in the South. He spent time in Paris in the 1970s and 1980s with likeminded revolutationaries, members of the French leftist terror group, Action Directe, and met members of Germany’s Red Army Faction and Baader-Meinhof.
In Ireland, the revolutionary socialism of the INLA and its political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, never evolved into anything other than an ugly violent transcript to the Northern Troubles. The mainly middleclass university revolutionaries in Dublin, who briefly flocked to the banner of republican socialism, gradually drifted away when they realised what a monster it had spawned in the INLA.
Feuding was a way of life in the INLA. Its founder, Seamus Costello from Bray, was assassinated in one of the first feuds with members of the Official IRA in 1977. Its intellectual leader in the North, Ronnie Bunting, a Protestant graduate of Queen’s University and son of Major Ronnie Bunting, one of Ian Paisley’s most devoted loyalist supporters, was shot dead by loyalists in his home in west Belfast in October 1980. At the time his life was already under threat from elements within his own movement and several of his close associates were subsequently murdered by their erstwhile comrades.
ALONG the way, the mainly middle-class revolutionaries spawned a small army of young killers from republican strongholds, who carried out some of the worst atrocities of the Troubles. It was INLA gunmen who opened fire on the prayer meeting at the Mountain Lodge Pentacostalist Hall at Darkley, in south Armagh, in November 1983, killing three of the congregation and injuring several others. An INLA bomb killed 11 young off-duty soldiers, four young woman and a 17-year-old youth who were attending a disco at the Droppin Well public house in Ballykelly, Co Derry, in December 1982.
The high- point in the INLA’s career, if it can be called that, was the murder of the Conservative Party’s Northern Ireland spokesman, Airey Neave, who died when a bomb exploded underneath his car in the underground carpark at the House of Commons in 1979. The INLA’s victims during the Troubles included 42 members of the security forces, mostly off- duty policemen, part-time soldiers or prison officers, 42 civilians and 29 of its own members. In the Republic, its initial activities of providing support for the “struggle” in the North fairly quickly descended into involvement in drugs and crime.
After the Belfast Agreement, the former republican revolutionaries accepted at least one remarkable bursary of Stg£400,000 for an ex-republican prisoners’ discussion group.
The INLA has never disarmed, and recently it has been trying to muscle in on the massively lucrative drugs trade in the south and west of the city, efforts which have been recently stymied by Garda operations. Garda and the PSNI believe the INLA carried out two murders this year — both of rival drug dealers, Roy Coddington, shot dead in Drogheda in March, and Brian McGlynn, shot dead in Derry in May.
At present there is said to be no central leadership, but INLA groups are recruiting and training young men in Derry, Belfast and the Craigavon area in the North. They are not very careful about who they recruit, according to local republicans. Few of the young recruits will have ever heard of the revolutary authors and figures, like Franz Fanon and Che Guevara, who inspired the revolutionaries of the Sixties and Seventies.
It would be hard to imagine a group more different to the ideological Marxists who founded the INLA. They demonstrate this regularly when, like all modern young proletariat yobs, they love to film their armed displays and rallies on their mobile picture phones and to post them onto Bebo from their PCs.
DOMINIC McGLINCHEY: Shot Gerard ‘Sparky’ Barkley in INLA feud