The Observer


Only 26 republicans now held in the north

Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
Sunday August 29, 2004
The Observer

More republican prisoners are being held in jails in the Irish Republic than in their traditional battleground of Northern Ireland.

Ten years ago this weekend, when the world waited for the Provisionals' ceasefire, there were several hundred IRA and INLA inmates locked up in the Maze prison outside Belfast. But in a reversal of fortunes for republicanism, the number of dissidents held in southern jails now exceeds those imprisoned in Northern Ireland.

Former IRA prisoners described the new scenario as evidence of the futility of continuing the 'armed struggle'.

Figures obtained by The Observer show that there are 67 prisoners belonging to four different republican factions being held in Portlaoise top security jail and Castlerea open prison in the south.

The latest statistics from the Northern Ireland Prison Service reveal there are only 28 republican prisoners, all but two from the Real or Continuity IRAs. Republicans are outnumbered in northern prisons, with 44 loyalist inmates held there.

At Portlaoise there are 10 inmates aligned to the Continuity IRA, the faction closely linked to Republican Sinn Fein. A further 18 are under the command of Liam Campbell, a Real IRA commander and one of only two men sentenced in connection with the 1998 Omagh bomb massacre. Another 11 prisoners at Portlaoise are loyal to Michael McKevitt, founder of the Real IRA, who split from the Provisionals in November 1997. McKevitt and Campbell parted company after the former offered a ceasefire deal to the Irish state during his trial over a year ago. Campbell's faction regarded McKevitt's offer as a sell-out of republican principles and regard themselves as the true representatives of the Real IRA in the jail. A further seven prisoners are held on the terrorist wings of the jail but non-aligned to any faction.

In Castlerea open prison there are 11 prisoners connected to the Provisional IRA, including the four killers of Garda Jerry McCabe and five members of the Provos' Dublin Brigade convicted of armed robberies. Two INLA members, including Dessie 'The Border Fox' O'Hare, are also held at Castlerea.

Anthony McIntyre was serving a life sentence in the Maze prison 10 years ago when the IRA leadership was preparing for its historic ceasefire. Now a writer, co-founder of the republican website The Blanket and a critic of the Sinn Fein leadership, McIntyre compared those carrying on the 'armed struggle' to Japanese soldiers still waging conflict 30 years after the end of the Second World War. 'They are like those Japanese soldiers holed up in the Philippines 30 years later, still fighting the war despite the fact that Japan has moved on.'

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