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New Myths of the Peace Process No. 3: The 1987 PIRA “Tet Offensive”or ‘one last push’… January 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in New Myths of the Troubles.


Here is a myth that has been beloved of dissident Republicans, and I’ve touched on it once or twice before. It runs something along the lines of the following. In 1987 PIRA was well armed, well organised and in a strong position to take on the British security forces. Various sources indicate that there was some thought given to a “Tet Offensive” style operation which would have carved out a ‘liberated’ zone in Armagh free from British Army and security forces control. The nature of this offensive is somewhat unclear, the idea being either to hold territory for its exemplary effect or to make the cost of retaking it so high that the British would be forced to shift towards withdrawal due to public pressure, but dissidents often point to the example of Jim Lynagh (Lynagh was killed in May 1987 with seven other PIRA members during an SAS ambush as he and the others attempted to attack an RUC station in the town of Loughall in Armagh) who proposed, and in some respects was actually involved in nascent, ‘flying columns’. Ed Moloney in A Secret History of the IRA proposes that these would ‘consist of perhaps twenty or thirty trusted activists, which would be based deep in the South, with its own dedicated training facilities. The column would never break camp, in a conscious imitation fo the flying columns that had run the British ragged during the 1919-21 conflict. This was meant to ensure that it would be more secure [from informers]. The column would strike three to five times a year… satellite groups would all the while attack on a harrassment basis…’.

The myth has, in many respects, something close to the Weimar narrative of the ‘stab in the back’. In this case it is those who followed the Peace Process route – Adams and McGuinness who are portrayed as either being corrupted in some sense, unable to see what was going on, or worse. Although a critic of the armed struggle I treat this on the terms with which those who propound it propound it, so to speak. It should not be read in any sense as other than an analysis along utilitarian lines, and in no way represents a justification or apologia for the armed struggle. Indeed, if anything it demonstrates the essential futility of that struggle as time passed.

So…. just how serious was this proposed offensive? Or more importantly, whether serious or not just how feasible was such an offensive?

Firstly the idea has intrigued me since I read about it in The Fight for Peace by Eamon Mallie and David McKittrick. There they wrote that:

… it is now known that the IRA army council seriously considered what senior republicans described among themselves as ‘the Tet offensive’ option. This was a reference to the sudden Vietcong switch of tactics in the Vietnam war from guerrilla hit-and-run actions to standing and fighting in pitched battles. The Americans had been taken by surprise; the IRA wondered if they could surprise the British in the same way.

The era of the hunger strike and the anti-British sentiment which it generated had provided a stream of new recruits to the republican cause. The huge Libyan arsenal then gave the IRA unprecedented potential for wreaking havoc. It had virtually unlimited numbers of rifles; it had heavy machine guns firing armour-piercing rounds which could cut through even protected police vehicles; it had powerful Semtex plastic explosive; it had SAM-7 missiles and anti-aircraft guns capapble of downing helicopters and planes; it even had flame-thrower, which could propel a jet of Napalm like flame up to 80 years…

With such weapons the AC examined the option of … escalating into a more open form of warfare. A republican source said ‘Consideration was given to open confrontation… Ground to air missiles were coming in and there was aview that with all this gear the campaign should be stepped up.

A Tet offensive was a runner. They very seriously tested it – they put different areas on full alert on seek and destroy missions. The idea was to take on the army on roads and at fortifications with fifty to sixty IRA members invovlved at a time and to attack helicopters’. The option was, however, discarded, a senior IRA members explaining; ‘We could do, say, six months’ intense fighting, with heavy casualties on both sides, but the consensus in the IRA is that it wouldn’t work. The big bang wouldn’t do it’.

The key was the arms from Libya. Still, you’ll be hard pressed to find much detail about any of this, perhaps unsurprising due to the fact these were covert actions by an illegal organisation. Which leads us to an unlikely source (well, to my mind, but read on and judge for yourself). For it is -again – Ed Moloney in A Secret History of the IRA (and I have to applaud him for an even more readable updated version, whatever my qualms about his interpretations) who proves to be our most useful commentator on this period, and that’s ironic for two reasons. Firstly because in certain circles his Secret History is taken almost as the Bible of anti-Adams thinking for some of the larger conclusions it appears to draw, and secondly because it appears on close reading to say almost the opposite of what those who invest such faith in it believe.

On the issue of the Libyans Moloney writes:

So it was that as the Libyan venture was being organized, the IRA set about planning a major escalation of violence, something that would jolt Britain into reconsidering its options. The plan was modeled on the Tet offensive launched by the Vietcong in January 1968 when guerilla forces mounted a widespread and unexpected assault on US forces throughout the country. The Tet offensive is credited with beginning the end of American involvement in that part of Southeast Asia by convincing a decisive section of US public opinion that the war against North Vietnam was unwinnable. The IRA hoped to do the same with the British public.

The sense amongst the IRA was that:

‘By inflicting such big casualties, you’d get the support of radical governments elsewhere in the world,’ recalled the same source.

However, with the capture of the Eksund there was a rethink.

The capture of the Eksund changed everything…The more astute of the IRA leaders fully realized the consequences. ‘It was over, and it led directly to a stalemate situation which then fed into the peace process’. The IRA’s grassroots were jubilant over the organizations newfound strength, but even this was illusory. The IRA had lots of weapons, but it was by no means certain that they were the best that could be had. The value of the AK-47s, for example, had been exaggerated. ‘The volunteers thought they could fire round corners,’ remembered the same source. The heavy Soviet machine guns were pretty much useless. ‘They took three men to carry and only fired eighty rounds to a belt; they fired too slow,’ recalled a rural IRA activists. The SAM-7s were virtually obsolete. They dated back to the 1960s, and the batteries and firing mechanisms were dead and useless. Without Libyan assistance, and that was cut off when the Eksund was lost, they could not be replaced , and the SAM-7s stayed in their dumps.

But even this betrays a certain lack of realism. Support might be one thing, note however that the Soviet Union was always remarkably circumspect about PIRA, but tangible assistance would be quite another.
Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the idea was raised and subsequently dismissed in order to demonstrate the paucity of the armed struggle as a means of prosecuting change on the island. What better way to shift the discussion by putting forward an option that was but an exaggeration (at least as Lynagh saw it) of then current tactics in order for it to be – however reluctantly – put aside.
It’s also important to note how the Tet Offensive has become intertwined with the thinking of Lynagh. On the wiki entry of Pádraig McKearney, one of those killed at Loughall with Jim Lynagh, there is an entry:

His views were very close to those of Jim Lynagh, an IRA commander from County Monaghan, who devised a Maoist guerrilla strategy adapted to Irish conditions with the intent of creating liberated zones.

Further in that entry it is noted:


Note 1: The “Third Phase” in Provisional IRA thinking represented an escalation of the conflict in Northern Ireland with eventual aim of using conventional warfare by taking and holding “liberated zones” along the border. Due to a number of factors, including the loss of experienced activists at Loughgall and the interception of 150 tonnes of Libyan weaponry aboard the Eksund ship, this strategy was never carried out. (See also: Provisional IRA arms importation and Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997)

Peter Taylor in Provos has an interesting point where he also argues that the IRA was energized by the ‘mass break-out of senior IRA prisoners from the Maze on 25 September 1983. The escape was important, not just to fulfill an IRA prisoners first duty (to escape), but to provide experienced men to regenerate the campaign outside’.

He continues…

Amongst them was Padraig McKearney, brother of Tommy McKearney and one of the architects of a new strategy in which police and army bases were to be attacked and destroyed in order to deny the ‘enemy’ the ground, thus forcing them to retreat ever further north. The Vietcong had pursued a similar strategy in Vietnam. As a local man, Francie Molloy understood the strategy and the reasons behind it.

“The Tyrone IRA would have been trying to do in Tyrone what Tom Barry’s Flying Columns did in Cork in 1920-21. They were typical republican guerrilla politics. I think what they were trying to do in a pretty targeted way was to removed what the British and unionists would see as the second line of defence, like the second border”.

Ed Moloney raises an interesting issue. Talking about Lynagh and McKearney he notes that their military critique ‘… opposed two tenets of the Army Council’s strategy as it was developed in the mid-to late 1980s, both closely associated with Adams concept of republican struggle: namely the notion that the IRA’s war was a piece of armed propaganda and that Britain would be forced to move when enough soldiers were killed.’ Now, this seems somewhat contradictory. One can oppose one or other of those contentions, but not both. A war that is in effect ‘armed propaganda’ does not strike one as being the sort of conflict where ‘enough soldiers’ will be killed to prompt a withdrawal. What the Lynagh/McKearney military critique also opposed was the “Long War” strategy, in the sense that it pushed for a shorter much much sharper conclusion to force the conflict to a head. In any event, Moloney quotes a former associate of Lynagh and McKearney as saying that:

[they] didn’t believe sending Brits home in boxes would work, because the British army wasn’t a conscript army…they were working on the basis that a radical departure had to be made. The idea was either total war or no war at all, to force the British out of their bases and make the place ungovernable. They said that either the IRA should take it to that level or finish with the war; killing the odd UDR man did nothing. They believe the “Green Book” was shit, that it was based upon the false idea that the IRA would be able to operate from its home base and at the same time be able to resist interrogation at Castlereagh. Their response was the enemy will not allow you to survive in his bosom. Would Castro have survived if he had been Havana rather than in the mountains? That was the question they asked.

The problem with this approach is self-evident. Conflict, indeed history itself, is shaped by what is possible. The PIRA campaign emerged as it did much because it was possible, possible in the sense that it depended upon a balance between many different forces and dynamics including, but not limited to, the ability of the British state to react, the input of Volunteers, available weaponry and behind it all the passive – or active – support and participation of the wider Republican/Nationalist community. Remove any one of those factors, or add another and the conflict would change its nature. But, it is the comparison between Cuba and the North which is most telling. Accepting that there were complexities on both sides (not least in Cuba being the participation of Communists in earlier Batista governments) an insurgency in the 1950s to overthrow a society without the crucial politico-religious divide in Northern Ireland was a very different insurgency to one conducted in the mid- to late 1980s in a surveillance saturated, divided societal context.
Note that blame in the wiki entry is placed on the ‘loss of experienced activists’. Eight in total. Was it seriously proposed that eight activists could form the nucleus of a force which would create ‘liberated zones’? In the Toby Harnden’s odd and not entirely convincing account of South Armagh, Bandit Country, (which is written from a staunchly British perspective) he notes that:

Lynagh was a great admirer of Tom (Slab) Murphy because he commanded what Lynagh described a ‘liberated zone’ in South Armagh. Having studied Mao’s writings during his five years in Portlaoise and an earlier spell in the Maze Lynagh believed that the IRA’s aims could be achieved through the creation of a series of liberated zones which would be secured by attacking remote security force bases in mainly nationalist areas and then pushing out the few remaining Protestants. Tom Murphy admired Lynagh’s military prowess but had little time for his theorising.

Vincent McKenna said: Lynagh was into Maoism and all that sort of shite because he’d had time to read in jail. The likes of Tom Murphy and Kevin McKenna had probably never read a book in their lives.

Even taking into account the bias that is inherent in the text it is perhaps a fair appraisal by some on the ground of the ‘theorising’.

And here a questions has to be asked. What would it take to take and hold ‘liberated’ zones even for a limited period? For a start one might suggest the necessity to have a neighbouring state willing to resupply and to provide shelter during military counter measures. And go look at a map. The terrain which was to be ‘liberated’ was quite tiny, relatively easy in the eyes of the British to contain.

Now, having said that, if the object of the exercise was to force a response that was disproportionate then, yes, it is possible that under the guise of establishing ‘liberated zones’ it might have been possible to provoke a security/military response of such enormity that it would near-permanently alienate nationalists in that area. Yet, all this was really an attempt to wind the clock back to 1970 – 1973 when the initial stages of the conflict were at their height and when one might argue there was the greatest level of mobilisation. Or wind it back to a completely imaginary period.

But there is a further contradiction. Moloney argues that ‘the offensive was daring and ambitious, but it suffered from a single flaw. Its success hinged on the IRA’s preserving the element of surprise.’ He continues that according to one activist “You were all supposed to wake up one morning, switch on the radio, and discover that mayhem had broken out everywhere…the impact was supposed to have been earth-shattering”.

Moloney suggests that ‘whoever betrayed the Eksund robbed the IRA of a priceless asset… the British soon knew exactly what weapons had been brought in, and they were quickly able to put countermeasures in place’. The SAM-7s intended to down helicopters ‘were rendered useless when the British installed electronic countermeasures on the helicopters [although some sources suggest they were never fit for purpose in the first place being already obsolete]…. the Russian-made DHSK machine guns were far too heavy to be [used against helicopters – although oddly enough they did manage, it is thought, to bring down at least two in the early 1990s] lugged around the countryside, robbing ASUs of vital speed and mobility…’

Moloney also suggests that the ‘SAM-7s were to be used against the helicopters, ideally cutting off South Armagh and leaving it under the effective control of the IRA. The threat against the helicopters would force the British to ground their aircraft and to use armored ground transport which would be vulnerable to heavy machine guns’. Unfortunately that seems to entail a contradiction. It entirely underestimates the resources available to the British in terms of men and material. Is the implication that surprise alone would render the British unable to institute the countermeasures referred to above? Hardly tenable. Or indeed that the British were entirely blind to the prospect of such arms making their way to the North (almost unbelievably a certain M. Gadaffi of Tripoli publicly spoke of his support for PIRA during the period of the shipments).

And this also assumes that PIRA could mount large scale widely dispersed actions simultaneously and successfully. Yet the actual history of the conflict suggests that for various reasons that was far from certain.

And to see how an history where the Eksund made it through, or PIRA ramped up anyhow we should look at the actuality of Tet-lite operations because these were the material upon which the ‘liberated zones’ would depend. Ed Moloney provides cold comfort as regards Loughall which was part of a campaign of attacks on RUC stations which had started in February 1985 with a mortar attack on Newry police station…

Certain features of the Loughall operation suggested the possibility of a more innocent explanation [than the machinations of informers]. Glaring mistakes were made in the planning and execution of the bombing that inadvertently could have put the British on the trail, mistakes that spoke of a reckless overconfidence and carelessness. There were, for instance, no probes made around Loughall before the attack. This was routine practice in South Armagh, where, before ambushes or other operations, sheepdogs were sent into adjoining fields to flush out undercover soldiers. Nor was there any effort to give the attackers the protection of covering fire just in case something went wrong. Such sloppiness at this late stage possibly indicated that other lapses had occurred earlier in the preparatory work and it is conceivable that this is how the British learned of the plan.

While this at least partially skewers the idea that Loughall was some sort of demonstration of the unfeasibility of a serious armed offensive (by betraying it and therefore undercutting the exercise), it also implicitly points to a serious problem as regards ramping up the armed struggle. Simply put Lynagh and his unit, whatever their individual bravery, were simply not equipped to prosecute a serious war against hardened soldiers. And that is not to buy into some mythos about the capabilities of the British Army, but simply to suggest that the war that Lynagh was fighting was one which had been played out in the Border Campaign (which in itself was hardly a resounding military success), not the one they were actually engaged in against a technologically superior, better supplied, better quartered military formation with the political will to engage right back (particularly during the Thatcher era).

And as Brendan O Boyle has noted in The Long War the response by the British Army at Loughall represents an ‘extraordinary hardening’ of the conflict since it underscored that PIRA members would be shot without warning in the course of their activities.

Even within PIRA it appears that there were those who were dubious whether with or without the Eksund weaponry it was possible to mount such a campaign. Ed Moloney relates that:

The Army Council may have miscalculated the IRA’s ability to use the Libyan weaponry to best advantage. Not everyone in the IRA was convinced that the organisation had the wherewithal to deliver such an ambitious enterprise, as one middle-ranking commander recalled. “The strategy was to mount a massive campaign, but I had been going around the units and I was not convinced it would work,” he said. “We weren’t capable of that. There hadn’t been enough organization, and our security and training weren’t good enough. We didn’t have enough intelligence work done either. If we had tried to mount it, I think it would have been a disaster. I believed we needed a lot more time, but people had got carried away with all the heavy gear.” In a sense that did not matter, for the purpose of the Tet Offensive was, like that of its Vietnamese original, to show the world how deep and violent the opposition in Ireland was. After all, the Vietnamese had been given a bloody nose during their offensive, yet the violence had helped transform American public opinion.

That’s an interesting idea at the end of the quote, that any such offensive was to be demonstrative. But if so, then it was – arguably – as cynical as the idea that the war was continued while politically moves were made that would undercut it, which is the charge leveled at Adams and McGuinness, since those who proposed it then and still support it seem to believe it was a feasible option. And beyond that, when one considers that the RIRA appears to have been comprehensively penetrated by various security forces (including the FBI) the idea that a more overt or strengthened campaign by PIRA would have fared significantly better seems remote. Moreover, unlike the Vietnamese comparison where one saw an entire society mobilised against the United States the much more marginal position of the IRA within the Six Counties predicated against the levels of support that provided the foundation for the original ‘Tet Offensive’.

But let’s draw back a bit further. The main source here for the Tet Offensive option is Ed Moloney, and as I’ve pointed out, in certain circles his thoughts on the Peace Process are regarded as near incontrovertible.

But in page after page a close reading indicates – as with the helicopters, Loughall and indeed more importantly again the lack of security within PIRA – that there was never an option for total war along the lines of a Tet campaign. And why should this be a surprise? Because PIRA was not a traditional army – per se – but an entity that contained within itself aspects of an army and aspects of an insurgent grouping. Even the best weaponry and (as importantly) the best training would have been insufficient to leverage PIRA into a force capable of taking on and besting the British Army and certainly not in the absence of a largescale mobilisation of the Nationalist population. Across the three decades the only times such a mobilisation was seen was in the very early years and then in the early 1980s. The former mobilisation a troubling example because while it probably saw the largest numbers deployed by PIRA it also saw a huge attrition of numbers through actions and external pressures (a charge that the Northern leadership would make strongly against the former Southern based one when they took the helm). That latter mobilisation was conversely a political, not a military, mobilisation. And without the means to transmute that political mobilisation it was impossible for an armed campaign to sustain itself much beyond what was already happening on the ground. Nor is it tenable, even if we suppose that the ‘liberated zones’ idea was intended to be an exemplary rather than a sustained strategy, that conflict on the lines attributed to Lynagh would have necessarily drawn the response he sought from the Nationalist community if only because there was no clear political strategy to capitalise upon the establishment of these zones, zones that would be beaten back, it would appear, relatively quickly by the British. At best what political strategy there was seemed to be along the lines of seeking the reintroduction of internment in order to radicalise Nationalist opinion, or that the process of retaking those zones would so outrage Nationalists opinion that British rule would be undermined, and hoping that would open the North to complete chaos. But would that have happened? The Sinn Féin vote, an admittedly imprecise yardstick by which to measure Nationalist sentiment, had been in slow decline from 1984 through to 1992 which suggests that the hard edged face presented by the IRA was far from self-evidently a means of increasing support and that the response by the British didn’t of itself necessitate any positive political outcome. Nationalist opinion was already somewhat mollified by the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the remarkable sight of a Unionism seemingly unable to respond to the new rapprochement between London and Dublin. It might be slight progress forward – but even the minimal involvement of the Maryfield Secretariat suggested a very different context evolving from that previously. And on a practical level the attrition rate of IRA volunteers in this phase of the conflict was high. What would have been left of an organisation to actually put some shape on the chaos?

And this too is to completely ignore the political and physical environment beyond the limited and constrained discussions within the Army Council and the IRA itself.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, while but a pale shadow of a serious contribution to the process of developing a peaceful and wholly political context on the island, did signal a renewed interest on the part of the British state in reaching some sort of accommodation with the Republic of Ireland as regards the North. Indeed it’s hardly overly cynical to suggest that the British government played a twin-track approach of talking with Dublin while prosecuting a very hard edged war in order to in part assuage some Unionist concerns both before and after the AIA, particularly in the context of essentially ignoring those self-same Unionists during the negotiations that led to the AIA. Thatcher might well have been equally deaf to the pleas of Dublin in the early 1980s, but by 1985-7 it is clear that she was aware of the potential for disruption that a purely security solution would engender or one which did not gift Dublin some overt expression of interest. And most intriguingly was the development of something akin to a dismissal of Unionist opinion by her following the implementation of the AIA. Quite a turn around.

The British Army and security services were becoming increasingly adept at managing the security aspects of the conflict, containing them largely within the six counties and year by year increasing the levels of surveillance and intelligence operating both within the general environment and within the paramilitary group. Taylor notes that ‘…by the mid-eighties, the intelligence on which interceptions and ambushes were mounted was far more precise, with sophisticated electronic surveillance supplementing the information supplied by agents and informers within the IRA’s ranks’… Taylor posits that ‘the SAS went for, and largely achieved, ‘clean kills’ – the victims were armed – with the notable exception of the shooting of the three unarmed IRA Volunteers in Gibralter in 1988′.

Taylor also makes a crucial point. He argues that in the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s the SAS ‘devastated the Provisional IRA in Tyrone in a manner unlike anywhere else in the province’. He continues, ‘… such operations were on the whole difficult to carry out in urban areas like Belfast and Derry because of the risk to civilians and extremely difficult in South Armagh where the locals knew every suspicious-looking hedge, barn and ditch. Under the right circumstances rural areas like Tyrone offered a perfect killing field’.

Is it unreasonable to posit that those ‘circumstances’ would proliferate across the Six Counties, and in particular in ‘liberated zones’ in a Tet style scenario?

None of this is to suggest that even a minimal Tet offensive using the weapons then available prior to the Eksund wouldn’t have assisted an increase in violence and wouldn’t have resulted in a higher profile for PIRA. It would have been a publicity coup at the very least to down a large number of helicopters (incidentally 3 or 4 helicopters were brought down subsequent to 1988). But in the actual history there was an increase in violence and as we’ve seen it was met with a heightened security response. Such an offensive would not have made the role of the British easier, but with Dublin onside the idea of covert bases ‘deep in the South’ seems like so much whistling in the dark, as does any thought that the southern side of a ‘liberated zone’ would afford refuge for any serious length of time. We’ve seen, unfortunately, in the more recent era how it is all too easy for groups to prosecute more minimal campaigns. But their scale, from the fire-bombing of shops to very sporadic bombings or attacks indicates the difficulties implicit in such activities and also their effective political paucity. Furthermore they do suggest that there was a self-limiting factor to any such campaign and one which was containable by the British state even before it set to working on more imaginative solutions in tandem with the Republic that could lead to its effective removal.

And success? Well that would have required a different, better prepared PIRA and perhaps a different Nationalist/Republican people. A people willing to gift that PIRA more in terms of blood and sweat. One or other. One or other, which, when all was said and done, simply did not exist. And ironically the analysis Lynagh and McKearney are credited with leads to one inescapable conclusion. They were correct. Total war or no war at all.


1. Tomaltach - January 29, 2008

Very interesting discussion. I must say I have always had a high regard for Moloney’s views. I loved his first edition of A Secret History. Was considering buying the new ed. According to you it’s worth it, not just a new dust jacket and a paragraph on Haughey?

Perhaps Moloney overstates the Tet offensive but as you show there were those who argued for a big push or a spectacular. It’s true that the level of support which the Viet Cong enjoyed was never available to PIRA and that in reality the British would have quickly contained any attempt at creating a liberated zone. But this is no reason to think it wasn’t seriously considered. After all, while there were always rational strategists in PIRA, it’s hard to argue that overall their decisions were based on any realistic chance of winning. In the end of course the rational strategists did win the argument, or at least won power within the organisation – and this led to winding down the military machine and winding up the politicial machine.


2. Phil - January 29, 2008

Fascinating stuff. I’m not sure Mao is the reference point behind the liberated zones idea, so much as the ‘prolonged people’s war’ theorised by the Vietnamese (and enthusiastically taken up by the saner elements in the Salvadorean guerrilla in the 80s, although not the Maoists; my source on this is James Dunkerley’s The long war).

What’s particularly strong about your argument is the way it not only unpacks the contradictions in this strategy, but traces them back to the historical situation those involved were starting from. In particular, you show how the idea of liberated areas had effectively collapsed back into ‘armed propaganda’ before it was even attempted. It’s a completely different strategy, and arguably a far superior one, but it’s also a strategy that presupposes a much more even balance of forces – more even than PIRA had ever known or ever would.

Having said all of that – and agreeing completely that these ideas should be treated as far as possible with respect and understanding for those who propounded them, if only because it makes the discussion more interesting – I do wonder what they were thinking. I mean, 1987 was 15 years after Motorman. Obviously rural bases in the Republic would be very different from Free Derry, but I think the end result would be pretty similar. They surely can’t have had any illusions about the severity of the likely British response, either. Loughgall was pretty shocking (speaking as someone who’s neither Irish nor a Provo sympathiser) but it didn’t come out of a blue sky – McKerr, Toman and Burns weren’t even armed when they were ambushed, and that was in 1982.

I wonder if it’s a case of organisational path-dependency – if you’re an Army you can’t say no to an offer of heavy weaponry, and if you’ve got a load of heavy weaponry you’ve got to think what you can do with it.


3. Hugh Green - January 29, 2008

I agree, fascinating analysis WBS.

Moloney rightly points out that Loughgall was not South Armagh. Thinking about Loughgall and its location (a few miles north of Armagh city and its army barracks: more Havana than the Sierra) I’m puzzled by the decision to attack it in the first place.You can have any amount of heavy weaponry at your disposal, but it doesn’t mean much if there is a risk of easy detection.

You would expect, therefore, that those involved would have exercised a greater degree of caution in preparations rather than the sloppiness Moloney describes. That is, if there were routine checks employed in South Armagh operations, what might have impelled these to be thrown out the window in the particular case of Loughgall? If it was indeed ‘reckless overconfidence’, as Moloney speculates, what would have given rise to that?


4. Eamonn - January 29, 2008

“it even had flame-thrower, which could propel a jet of Napalm like flame up to 80 years…”

Wow, I never knew that that Provos had cracked time travel.

Seriously though, there was no chance of a provo tet ever succeeding. Looking back we are inclined to think that the Americans were defeated solely by the efforts of a few peasants wearing black pyjamas and carrying AK47s. It wasn´t like that. Behind the Viet Cong were the regular armed forces of North Vietnam and behind them there was the Soviet Union which supplied vital kit like modern antiaircraft weapons. John McCain wasn´t shot down by a catapult…And the Tet offensive, in so far as it worked did so because of the effects, the long-term effects, it had on US public opinion. The attacking forces were rapidly destroyed by the Americans and Saigon didn´t fall till 7, (count them) years later.


5. Dec - January 29, 2008

A Tet type of offensive by the IRA in the late 80’s could have – at most – lasted a week. Max. The most apt comparsion that the IRA could have hoped for, indeed dreamed of, would be the Hezbollah/Israel conflict of 2006. The IRA raise their profile internationally, martyrs are created and the offensive enters Irish history (in years to come) as the 1987 rising.

Politically, and thats what this was about, its difficult to see a purpose. Yes the British may be surprised at the level of resistance, take flak for a heavy handed response but 18 months later “normality” would have returned. The difference would have been in the south, where the State would react with ferocity on republicans and internment would have been introduced.

The reason, I feel, that the Tet offensive/Adams betrayal/Loughgall informer thesis, as not so subtly hinted by Moloney in the original edition of the book, has become a theological belief by dissindent groups is that they need to believe the betraly theory to justify the logic of continued armed resistance.

Rather than unemotionally exmaining the military capacity and capabilities, the political support and the resources, including monetary, available to the IRA, measuring that against the British state and its allies if called upon, and logically concluding the sheer futility of “One big last push” they cling to the hope that “this time it will be different”. The belief that what will make the next phase in armed struggle successful, to them, isn’t about training, weaponary, tactics, mobility, intelligence, money, allies, options and technology but the fact that they will pursue a “pure” war free from informers and politicans.

It is this belief that I think the likes of Moloney and Suzanne Breen help fuel.


6. WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2008

Cheers for responses. One reason I tackled this is because Moloney is influential and his interpretation is passed on by some as ‘the’ reading of the history.

Dec, I think your points about the rationale that underpins the liking for the Tet Offensive (and I should have made more on that score of the ‘flying columns’ idea, since 32CSM supporters believe that was a serious tactic) are absolutely right and much more succintly make the point I was trying to make in a more long-winded fashion. The chimera of a ‘pure’ war is just that, a chimera. One of the most interesting aspects of say 32CSM is their wish to do what you describe – pare away the political, reduce the complexity and arrive at a few self-contained points that are attractive in their simplicity but lose all traction on reality once scaled up. Hence their concentration on ‘sovereignty’ as the basic aspect of the conflict. Surely, it is indeed an aspect, but only one of many and not one that overwhelms all others by it’s innate authority.

Eamonn, a very good point about the reality of an offensive and one I didn’t want to address any further in the original post if only because I didn’t have the energy. But the ‘Tet’ concept is a misconception of the reality of the original both in terms of actuality and effect. I’d always thought that any serious armed engagement with the British state forces would have seen PIRA routed, as Dec says probably within a week. Sorry for the timetravel, this transcribing thing is difficult…

Hugh, the idea that the Loughall unit was betrayed (as it was one presumes) also feeds into ideas that care wasn’t taken during th operation leading to just that sense of ‘reckless overconfidence’. Problem with that is that reckless overconfidence is the bane of any armed conflict. As the saying goes, there’s old soldiers and bold soldiers but no old bold soldiers. If this was the creme de la creme they simply shouldn’t have made such unbelievably obvious errors particularly in the context of potentially engaging with a ruthless and well-equipped army. But this sort of making it up as it goes along was a feature of many more PIRA operations.

Phil. That’s another good point, re Mao/Long War. I wonder was that a confusion – a sort of.. ahem… chinese whispers… in interpretation from those who dealt with Lynagh and simply didn’t take in what he was trying to say? Your last question is the real puzzle. In any conflict I’d have thought that a certain pragmatism was necessary.. if only at the level of ‘can this work?’. The IRA Tet offensive, as the other comments here address, just doesn’t seem that feasible, leading to PIRA being brushed off the table, broken as a physical force and arguably a political one… I also wonder was the very dark path the conflict was taking at this point precisely because the political track, or the only one that has ever really counted in the big picture (London and Dublin working together), was back on line in the form of the AIA and the more clued in members of PIRA realised this but broke in two directions, one path hoping against hope that ramping the conflict up would lead to some sort of outcome and the other thinking ‘well, perhaps now is the time to engage’. One other aspect of the dissident narrative is a sort of hopelessness and rage at the lack of inclination of the Irish people North and South to rise up. This is particularly pointed amongst RSF supporters. There is a real fear there that within a shortish time period there will be no wish to alter the status quo. Hence the occasional exemplary actions. I think they might be right.

Tomaltach…the point about rational strategists is an interesting one. I think this is at the root of the conflict from the Republican side. It can be boiled down to what was the outcome that was wanted and what were the means employed to arrive at that outcome? The idea of an outright ‘win’ seems to me to be unfeasible, but… that discounts again the sort of sentiment that we saw under the southern leadership and later in RSF, which I refer to directly above, of the violence almost being a badge of honour for the nation, an indication that the spirit still lives. That’s a very seductive message because it can be sustained even under the most oppressive or arid conditions. I’ll bet that if we were able to examine the changing thoughts of those at the hard end a surprising number of todays rational strategists were yesterday in the national spirit camp.


7. Eamonn - January 29, 2008

“The most apt comparsion that the IRA could have hoped for, indeed dreamed of, would be the Hezbollah/Israel conflict of 2006.”

dreams indeed. Hezollah in 2006, courtesy of Iran had: the latest Russian “Kornet” antitank missiles with two stage warheads, able to destroy Israel’s ” “Merkava ” main battle tanks, modern anti-shipping missiles, one of them hit and nearly sunk the “Hanit”, the flagship of the Israeli navy, many thousands of unguided ground-to-ground rockets which they had had years to build concealed firing positions for. Off their own bat they used the years between the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 and the 2006 war to build secure bunkers, storage facilities etc.

To summarise, Hezbollah had a generous foreign patron and 6 years to prepare a territory over which their enemy had no control.

So any comparison with Provos, even at the height of their powers would be absurd


8. WorldbyStorm - January 29, 2008

In fairness he did say ‘dreamed of’. I think there are considerable differences between the two, but oddly one of those differences being the basic fact that the conflict in the North was of a much lower level than that in Israel/Palestine and therefore certain events had a greater hold on the public imagination than they might have elsewhere in the world. A massive successful assault by PIRA, near-impossible as I hope I’ve demonstrated that would be, would still be an ‘event’. Just not necessarily leading to any of the outcomes they imagined.


9. Justin - January 30, 2008

Fascinating. I haven’t read much on this subject since the peace process started moving, so it was interesting to discover that there were elements inside the Provos who took another tack to the “armed propaganda” approach favoured by Adams and promoted publicly by PSF in general.

At the time I saw no end to the violence, since the Union plainly wasn’t going to be budged and “armed propaganda” has no strategic military ends in sight.( It’s a bit like the “war on terror” concept.) It is interesting to note that there were elements who were thinking of taking over chunks of land and who realised, as you note, that no war or Total War were the real alternatives and that killing and bombing for reasons of propaganda was worthless (not to say counterproductive and plain wrong).


10. Ed Hayes - January 30, 2008

What I remember vividly about the late 1980s rank and file Provos (SF and by and large IRA) in both Dublin and London was their obsession with bringing down helicopters. I was told, on numerous occasions that one or two choppers shot down and the Brits would leave. This in retrospect is utterly ridiculous; because I think they did actually bring a couple down for a start. But people seemed to believe it and clung to it. There was also a culture, which still exists, of glorification in posters, calenders etc of gunmen/women and AK47s, RPGs and machine guns. So I’m sure lots of people thought a Tet was on.


11. Idris - January 30, 2008

AFAICR, the only time they brought down a chopper was when they had a lucky hit on one that was landing at an RUC base they’d just fired one of the standard homemade mortars at (I hope my syntax wasn’t too convoluted there). Even so, the pilot managed to land successfully.


12. Justin - January 30, 2008

“So I’m sure lots of people thought a Tet was on.”

Perhaps so, but I don’t ever recall PSF spokespeople making Tet comparisons.Although the Provos attempted to make parts of west Belfast and South Armagh unpoliceable (except by themselves),I don’t recall any of them declaring that large areas of land could in short order be withdrawn from NI and put under some new kind of administration. The Provo campaign was based on the armed propaganda notion whereby armed actions weren’t connected strategically but rather it was hoped that the Brits would cave in by attrittion., In other words, the murder of a policeman in Belfast and the bombing of a town centre in South Down were not part of a joined-up campaign to gain bits of territory but rather an attempt to exhaust the Brit’s willingness to hold on to NI.

As WBS suggests, a Tet approach wouldn’t have worked. And the “armed propaganda” aproach failed miserably on its own terms. What a f***ing waste.


13. WorldbyStorm - January 30, 2008

I thought they brought down at least two… The culture Ed refers to is one that I think really bought into the struggle aspect of the conflict, but was somewhat different to the ‘spirit’ aspect as exemplified by RSF. Interesting to consider the different strands…


14. Toby Harnden - January 30, 2008

What? Have you read the book?

You state: “In the Toby Harnden’s odd and not entirely convincing account of South Armagh, Bandit Country, (which is written from a staunchly British perspective)”.

And then in the next breath you describe a “fair” appraisal of how Lynagh’s views were received: “Even taking into account the bias that is inherent in the text it is perhaps a fair appraisal by some on the ground ”

You can read the reviews here, most of them by people who would be pretty quick to jump on a “biased Brit” perspective: http://www.tobyharnden.com/reviews_bandit_country.htm


15. Eamonn - January 30, 2008

I’ve read Harnden’s book and I think it’s very insightful on the military aspects of the conflict


16. Mick Brody - January 30, 2008

but was somewhat different to the ’spirit’ aspect as exemplified by RSF

expand on this please.


17. WorldbyStorm - January 30, 2008

I have indeed read the book. Two points, firstly can I suggest that you’re misinterpreting what I wrote… I felt that the account of Lynagh – two mentions in 550 odd pages, and indeed the Eksund which also got two pages devoted to it, was too little for an event, and indeed a personality, that must have shaped the direction of the conflict in that period and directly in Armagh, hence my use of the term unconvincing. My point about bias should have been more clear, I was talking about the quote from McKenna who I presume would be an unreliable narrator. As for an anti-British bias, well being born in London (where admittedly I lived a grand total of a year before coming to Dublin) and having a parent from Birmingham, I’ve got to say, I’m unused to that particular charge.

Mick, my point there is that RSF depends upon a form of Republican legitimisation which is quite different in nature to that of say, 32CSM, and to my mind has a quasi mystical component.


18. Tom Griffin - February 1, 2008

The ‘Moloney thesis’ is popular in some very strange quarters:

“In perceiving as much, he [Anthony McIntyre] might be said to be a firm adherent of the ‘Moloney’ school, which sees in Ed Moloney’s A Secret History of the IRA, (which portrayed a cunning and dishonest republican leadership misleading its followers), the most accurate account yet of what the ‘peace process’ has been truly about.”

From the Henry Jackson Society, no less.


19. WorldbyStorm - February 1, 2008

The HJ Society… 🙂 and yet I don’t really quibble with Moloney’s data – which strikes me as credible – it’s purely his analysis. I reread his Secret History recently and started to compile some sentences from it which when placed together create the impression of events/personalities generating the approach McIntyre would adhere to… it makes for interesting reading…


20. John O'Neill - February 1, 2008

WBS mentioned Anthony McIntyre. Readers might be interested in an article on his website – a Liam Clarke interview with the recently deceased John Kelly PIRA founder that was given on condition that it wouldn’t be published until Charlie Haughey was dead.

http://lark.phoblacht.net/JKLC240907 html


21. Garibaldy - February 1, 2008

Paul Bew is a patron of the HJ Society, and its thinking (if that’s not too strong a word) on NI is influenced by his analysis. And I think he supervised McIntyre’s thesis.

Moloney’s Secret History is very interesting and has some great stuff, but the idea tha Adams was pulling the strings from the mid to late 70s for peace is just not credible.


22. Idris - February 1, 2008

Moloney’s book is one of the best yet on NI, especially given that we do not yet have a definitive history of the struggle/conflict/war/ late unpleasantness.

But the basic problem with his apparent implicit thesis – that the Machiavellian cynics Adams and McGuiness led the republican movement up the garden path for several decades – is that for such a plan to function there would have to have been a level of predictability in the system. To put it another way, A and McG wouldn’t have been able to plan that far ahead, given the prevalence of ‘events, dear boy, events’ in the Northern Irish scene. I’d say their ultimate position evolved (like everyone else’s) from responding at given points to the various wild cards which NI politics threw up.

(by the way, I’m rarely happy with anything I write on or off the net: if anyone thinks I’m making no sense at all, I’d be happy to hear it).


23. Joe - February 1, 2008

Hugh Green: “That is, if there were routine checks employed in South Armagh operations, what might have impelled these to be thrown out the window in the particular case of Loughgall? ”

This throws up a crucial point. Loughgall was not “occupied territory” but “enemy territory”. The local population is unionist afaik so the routine checks which might be done in Sth Armagh (someone mentioned getting the local farmers dogs to sniff for undercover soldiers) couldn’t be done in Loughgall – because the local people would be on the side of the undercover soldiers.

The crucial point being that the majority of the population of Northern Ireland which Lynagh and his comrades wanted to “liberate” didn’t want to be “liberated” – and that’s putting it mildly.


24. CL - February 1, 2008

Idris I believe you’re right: A and McG, given the vagaries of the situation, couldn’t possibly have planned so far ahead. What did remain constant was Britain’s policy objective-pacification and maintaining the constitutional status. Militarily and politically A and McG were defeated by Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign.
Macintyre’s forthcoming book should be interesting (intro by Ed. Moloney). Macintyre’s thesis was written under the supervision of the neocon Unionist, Lord Bew. It analyses the IRA from an Althusserian structuralist standpoint. Perry O’Gorman Anderson effectively skewered such idealist structuralist nonsense years ago. And he did so using the materialist epistemology of Karl Marx. But the book should be interesting reading.


25. eamonnmcdonagh - February 1, 2008

“It analyses the IRA from an Althusserian structuralist standpoint. ”

I can hardly wait…


26. Mick Hall - February 2, 2008


This is a really excellent piece thanks; in some ways the Provos did get their Tet offensive, only it happened in London not Ireland, for it is hard to deny that the bombs in the City of London and later Dockland’s-Canary Wharf ratcheted up the war in British eyes to the level of must be concluded. Whereas prior to these events it was more of a case of Ulsterization, hold and contain.

As to the weapons from Libya being outdated and faulty I do not buy into that, as they were allegedly checked out and their loading overseen by a top Provo armorer; and unless he was the informer I cannot believe he would allow the shipping of weapons and other armaments in the condition that has been described.

I feel this take on these weapons may have had more to do with current politics, i e Murmur Gaddafi never really damaged the interest of the UK by supply the IRA etc.

As to Toby Harnden and Ed Moloney’s books, myself I think they are both very informative and are two of the better books written about this period. Harnden was undoubtedly one of the first to portray the S/A Provos in a more accurate light, for up until then [and since] they have been portrayed as smugglers, criminal, lowlifes and god fathers, whereas Toby portrays them as soldiers who understand their craft.

The reason that has been given above for failure of the Provos to step up a gear, [call it Tet offensive, whatever?] are the very reason why mounting an armed campaign is no longer a viable option to unite Ireland politically. Although I can well understand the reasoning behind the CIRA, which basically boils down to having the right to bear arms whilst the British hold the north by force of arms.


27. WorldbyStorm - February 2, 2008

I’d completely agree Mick. The UK campaign was… I suspect, the most ‘successful’ in terms of political leverage of the era. And don’t forget Manchester. However… it could only go so far. As long as there were minimal casualties it was possible for the political track to still be pursued. In the context of mass casualties that would be a very different situation. I like Harnden’s book too, and there is some great info there, just I’m not gone on all the analysis (as with Moloney). I particularly dislike the suggestion in the last chapter where it seems to imply it was timeless (although I agree that a certain element was a response to authority per se… hence the short shrift the Southern authorities got as well)… I don’t believe anything is really ‘timeless’.

You put your finger on the nature of CIRA. It’s that sort of ‘legitimisation’ that sustains it. But… it’s far from an uncontentious thesis they have…


28. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008


On the LIbya thing, I;d say never look a gift horse in the mouth applies, especially when more gifts might follow.

On the British bombings, I think this can be well overplayed. The reason London wanted the Provos involved in talks was because they held around 10% of the vote more than because of any damage to property. The ring of steel had cut off the ability to hit the city, while Warrington had damaged the Provos immensely in the eyes of southern and even local opinion. Bombing to the negotiation table hadn’t worked when the Provos had no electoral support, and without it wouldn’t have made a difference in the 1990s.


29. WorldbyStorm - February 2, 2008

That’s an interesting point. I’d certainly agree that the vote share was crucial and I’d also agree that there were clear limitations to how far bombings in the UK could be continued. Some would get through, but fewer and fewer. My own feeling is that however much the armed struggle was futile before the early 1990s it had certainly lost most of its utility by 1992 or so. In any case a further question is necessary. How many Canary Wharfs would have altered the fundamental nature of the GFA? Would five have brought more cross border links? Fifty some sort of codified joint sovereignty? To put the question it is to recognise how absurd it is to try to relate political policies (or achievement of same) to acts of violence. Which is what undercuts the one last push thesis completely. At the end of the day the destination was always going to be a table with Unionists sitting at it with whatever demands they had themselves… Militarists might like to wish away that table – or rather those sitting at it, but it and they would still exist under almost all conceivable circumstances (which points up the truth of Joe’s comment earlier. What was the point of a liberated zone which didn’t recognise the nature of those within it?).


CeasefireMagazine - March 11, 2010

“Moloney also suggests that the ‘SAM-7s were to be used against the helicopters, ideally cutting off South Armagh and leaving it under the effective control of the IRA. The threat against the helicopters would force the British to ground their aircraft and to use armored ground transport which would be vulnerable to heavy machine guns’. Unfortunately that seems to entail a contradiction. It entirely underestimates the resources available to the British in terms of men and material”
British soldiers were entirely unable to patrol South Armagh due to the strength of the South Armagh Brigade so they had to do all their fly in all their supplies and do all their surveillance using Helicopters resulting in SA having the busiest Helicopter base in Europe. The shooting down of these helicopters would have undoubtably resulted in SA becoming a completely autonomous and there would have been nothing the British Army could have done about it. Given the current dire helicopter shortage they are currently facing in Afghanistan had the war continued this would have had an incredible effect on the British Army’s ability to wage war in general.

The effect the Bishopsgate bomb (prepared in South Armagh) was to force the british government into direct negotiations and make the Downing Street Declaration. After which the IRA went on its first Ceasefire, the British Goverment constructed the “ring of steel” of security round London (still in place) and refused to further negotiations until the IRA disarmed. The IRA then went back to war and managed to bomb Canary Wharf (again, the bomb was prepared in south armagh) which forced the british government back into negotiations despite the IRA not disarming (the fact there was a labour government is irrelevent, just remember Jim Callaghans electoral pact with the UUP and his disasterous policies in NI which led to the independent repubicans to “abstain in person” and the SDLP to support a vote of confidence in the labour government knowing full well it would lead to a tory government).
It is thus obvious what the point of a “liberated zone” was and what the docklands and canary wharf bombs acheived. It seems quite clear to me that had the IRA continued to commit such attacks then an eventual British Withdrawal could have been a likely outcome. Wether they were able to remains not so clear


30. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008

Didn;t somebody (possibly Maloney or Richard English) suggest that the liberated zones were also to be purged of unsmypathetic population elements?


31. WorldbyStorm - February 2, 2008

Wasn’t it Moloney? There’s nothing like pushing a problem to one side as a means of ignoring its (or their) existence. Out of sight, out of mind. Ironically, precisely the same attitude as the South had to the North and indeed Britain also for much of the 20th century…


32. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008

You’re totally right on the attitude. And that turned really well. At least the UDA had a plan for unsympathetic population elements – nullification I believe was the word used.


33. WorldbyStorm - February 2, 2008

‘nullification’… vile…


34. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008

Yeah. More entertaining was the debate that followed on whether it was a real word or not; and if so, who had taught it to the UDA.


35. WorldbyStorm - February 2, 2008

Where did you hear about this?


36. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008

There was a document found in the early to mid 1990s with the UDA’s plan for a doomsday scenario. I think Brian Rowan might have broken the story, but I can’t remember exactly. It received a lot of coverage in the press and media at the time.


37. WorldbyStorm - February 2, 2008

I’ll have to look it up.


38. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008

Yeah looking now. No luck on CAIN, or google. Thought nullification of catholics northern ireland did turn up a US undergrad thesis on Provo prison writings with an entertaining version of Irish history as background to the Troubles. I’ll try sunday life


39. Mick Hall - February 2, 2008

War is an extension of politics, it does not replace politics; and that is where some Republican’s go wrong. By a quirk of coincidence I was on the scene shortly after both the barrack buster bombing of Downing St and the lorry bomb at the Baltic Exchange, and these events were a step up, in the latter case the destruction was massive, it was something London had not seen since WW2.

There is no doubt in my mind that there were political consequences from this bombing, the more so when the Provos proved they could repeat it by moving outside the ring of steal into Dockland’s.

After Canary Wharf Garibaldy is correct, it was never a question of one more heave, not least because looking back it is pretty obvious that by then [almost] all sides had come to agree that this war must end, otherwise all parties would all end up blind.[if you get my drift]


40. WorldbyStorm - February 2, 2008

Certainly the militarisation of London during that period, in terms of massive security was considerable. But as you say Mick, it was already close to endgame. I think that’s a very important point, extension, not replacement.

Cheers for that Garibaldy…


41. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008

No luck in the Sunday Life/Belfast Telegraph or the Irish News archives. Though they go back only to 1995 and 1996, so if it was earlier, can’t see how I’ll find it.


42. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008

UDA nullification on google has turned stuff up. Including this which says it was produced in 1994. Which does chime with my memory of it being quite close to a ceasefire.



43. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008

Also this from our friends in the weekly worker referring to it from 1999



44. Phil - February 2, 2008

The reason London wanted the Provos involved in talks was because they held around 10% of the vote more than because of any damage to property.

I don’t believe so. I’ll try and dig up actual references for this, but my impression (based on research to back up a terrorism course I’ve been involved in teaching) was that Canary Wharf made a real difference to the pace of the ‘peace process’.

But by this point we’re not talking about exemplary actions or even armed propaganda – the value of the CW bomb was simply economic nuisance value. Tet it ain’t. And this is specifically the CW bomb, not British bombs as a general thing. In particular, I don’t think the Manchester bomb made much difference either way, not least because it probably stimulated the local economy more than it damaged it.


45. Garibaldy - February 2, 2008

I think we’re talking at cross purposes about the bombs. I’m talking about ones like the Baltic Exchange and Bishopsgate before the 1994 ceasefire, whereas Canary Wharf ended that ceasefire, and the Provos then waited out the British General Election, when Blair and Mowlam created new momentum. There was an attempt to bomb Canary Wharf before the 1994 ceasefire, but it was foiled.

Anyway, the point I’m making being that no matter what level of violence the Provos could have achieved, they what not have been brought to the negotiating table without substantial political support. Noises about a ceasefire were being made a couple of years in advance, so John Major’s government was talking to them despite rather than because of the bombings. In terms of focusing minds to bring things to an end, I’d say that events like the Shankill bombing, Greysteel, and the mass demonstrations that had taken place in the south after Warrington and then in the North organised by the ICTU and the local morning papers were more important. By 1994, it was a case of when, not if.


46. Starkadder - February 3, 2008

“….There was a document found in the early to mid 1990s with the UDA’s plan for a doomsday scenario. I think Brian Rowan might have broken the story, but I can’t remember exactly. It received a lot of coverage in the press and media at the time.”

The infamous loyalist “Doomsday” document is described in
the book “Crimes of Loyalty” by Ian S. Wood. It was discussed
in public by Unionists Sammy Wilson and Raymond Smallwoods.
There were also warnings about an SDLP/SF “Pan-Nationalist
Front”-maybe that’s where the Cruiser got the term?


47. Garibaldy - February 3, 2008

I might be totally wrong about this, but was the phrase pan-nationalism first used by Adams (including the Dublin government), and then the pan nationalist front terminology was created?


48. Starkadder - February 3, 2008

A quick Google search revealed that the phrase “pan-nationalist
front” was mainly used by Unionist commentators like Paisley
and the Cruiser.


49. Garibaldy - February 3, 2008

Yeah definitely. The loyalists did love it too as a justification for random sectarian attacks, and for some against SDLP people. It probably was irresponsible of people like the Cruiser to use it. The perception of a pan-nationalist front was, I have to say, not entirely without some truth in it in the run up to the GFA, though not after.


50. Mick Hall - February 3, 2008

“The perception of a pan-nationalist front was, I have to say, not entirely without some truth in it in the run up to the GFA, though not after.”


Your right about the Pan Nationalist Front, and ‘front’ is exactly what it was, for once it achieved its aim, which was to entice the PRM into the mainstream, it evaporated as quickly as it came into being.


51. Garibaldy - February 3, 2008


Just saw this from you on the Indymedia thread where this is being disucssed (I’m not registered there so can’tpost there)

“Incidentally, it’s certainly not a WP analysis (whatever that might be at this stage) and as it happens I’ve been criticised by WP members past and present for presenting too Republican a view of the conflict.”

Are you sure you weren’t criticised for presenting an insufficiently republican and too nationalist point of view? 😉


52. Garibaldy - February 3, 2008


The Provos were beating down the doors of the mainstream to get in, rather than being waylaid by crafty moderates.

Although in fairness, I wonder if many of those fighting in 1994 would have settled for what they have now if told back then. I think a majority would have, though a large minority would still be at it. But it was their own leadership that strung them along. And thank fuck they did.


53. Worldbystorm - February 3, 2008

Indeed Garibaldy… I think I might have been! 🙂 But in fairness doesn’t it show just how tricky the terms are? 32CSM are convinced that their reliance on sovereignty (or rather a sort of Westphalian version of same) is the epitome of Republicanism. RSF, which another person on that thread is a supporter of, has a to my mind version of Republicanism which is effectively nationalist as you describe.


54. Garibaldy - February 3, 2008

It does show how tricky the terms are. Though as we’ve been discusssing on another issue, linguistic struggle is important, especially as in this case it’s also about political and philosophical struggle.

The 32CSM people do make me laugh. They lack any political analysis whatsoever and have alighted on the sovereighty issue to make themselves look sophisticated. The UN thing was particularly laughable in this day and age. Meanwhile the likes of your man from Derry show them for what they really are. Ó Brádaigh’s speech at that thing was like something from the C19th. He’s a Carlyean really.


55. Garibaldy - February 3, 2008

Carlylean even


56. WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2008

Agree completely re language.

smiffy of these parts has had some interesting discussions with 32CSM people over on P.ie as to who in the UN took the document, how it was processed and what functional impact it had whatsoever. It’s a very self-referential way of conducting politics… you’ll see on indymedia how their justification is to refer back to their own docs… Who was the guy from Derry? Ó B is different in some respects. Carlylean – that’s pretty apt. Did you read the biog?


57. Garibaldy - February 3, 2008

Your man from Derry is the guy Donnelly who gave an interview to the Sunday Times I think it was last week. Although I see an interview in the Tribune with two members of their army council saying the opposite of what he said about uniting with other groups.
Haven;t read the biography. Might read it in a library sometime, but from a quick flickthrough it looked like a haiography. Does it mention anything about eating soap in the showers while on hunger strike?


58. WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2008

Ah, yeah, the plea for them all to join together. Thought they split apart in the 1980s over certain issues.

I don’t think that was Ó B, wasn’t that SMcS? In fairness while it has its sympathies – which are clearly not mine – it’s very interesting.


59. Garibaldy - February 3, 2008

Different names and same rumour. Quel surprise.

On the interviews, these people are Hibernians, no more no less. As you say, they operate only in their own terms – perhaps one group who might accurately be described as solipsistic.


60. Cas - February 3, 2008

I am hoping to speak with Rayner O’Connor Lysaght. Can you help?


61. Cas - February 3, 2008

does anyone have an e-mail for him?


62. WorldbyStorm - February 3, 2008

Not me.


63. Starkadder - February 3, 2008

Cas, DRO’CL often writes for the Socialist Democracy website:
maybe they can help you contact him.



64. WorldbyStorm - February 4, 2008

What Starkadder says… 🙂


65. Starkadder - February 4, 2008

Starkadder knows everything!!

(Except how to get a girlfriend 😦 ).


66. WorldbyStorm - February 4, 2008

Socialism will help you…

(well, going to long winded turgid meetings and meeting other people who happen to be female who are keen to avoid said long winded turgid meetings) 😉


67. Never apologise. But do explain. Sinn Féin and the dissidents. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - April 23, 2009

[…] I’ve dealt with some of the myths which sustain dissident Republicanism. There is the one of a ‘better’ more intensive war. And here was that myth addressed, not in full – no doubt that will come later and sporadically, but […]


68. shooglynifty - September 15, 2012

”through even protected police vehicles; it had powerful Semtex plastic explosive; it had SAM-7 missiles and anti-aircraft guns capapble of downing helicopters and planes; it even had flame-thrower, which could propel a jet of Napalm like flame up to 80 years…”

Some Flame thrower, 80 years. Must it run on a constant stream of Napalm like fuel or will the one short burst carry it through 4 decades?


WorldbyStorm - September 15, 2012

Yep, a wondrous weapon. No doubt about it.


69. James oflanagan - August 24, 2014

Slap murphy is the god of red diesel keep it coming to Coventry


70. theworkersdreadnought - October 23, 2014

I would like to thank everyone for this discussion, however, I was wondering where Lynagh actually spelled out his strategy. Is there any document that he and his compatriots produced? I ask because I have looked at a number of the books mentioned above, and none of them provide a clear citation for where they have derived this strategy from.


WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2014

That is a great question twd. I’ve only heard of it second hand too.

Liked by 1 person

71. eyelash Extensions before And after pictures - January 26, 2015

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72. theworkersdreadnought - March 1, 2015

Sorry, I don’t know where to post this but I was wondering whether someone could please recommend a good history of the IRA? I have seen on this thread that Moloney’s Secret History, because of his anti-Adam’s account, needs to be read with a critical eye, and was wondering whether there was a good comprehensive “left” account of the IRA? Opinions on Coogan?


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