Weapons shipments, bombs and the victims - how Libya played its part in the Northern Ireland Troubles
As a committee of MPs recommends a compensation fund for victims of IRA bombings which used Libyan munitions, Michael McHugh answers some of the key questions.
Q. What was the IRA’s connection with Libya?
A. When Colonel Muammar Gaddafi took power in north Africa in 1969, his anti-colonial zeal drew him to the IRA’s anti-British and anti-imperialist message.
What was to become a 25-year relationship quickly developed into the provision of war material which was a boon to a poorly-equipped Provisional movement born the same year.
In 1973, the Irish Coastguard boarded the Claudia off the Irish coast carrying tonnes of weaponry from Libya.
But it was more than a decade before the Eksund was stopped by the French authorities.
It was on its way to Northern Ireland with around 1,000 AK-47 machine guns, more than 50 surface-to-air missiles and two tonnes of Semtex.
It is unknown how many other shipments got through.
Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: “In the 1980s and 1990s, Libya was probably the most serious state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”
Q. What did the Provisionals use the weapons for?
A. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said: “There is no doubt that the weapons, funding, training, and explosives that Colonel Gaddafi provided to the Provisional IRA over the course of 25 years both extended and exacerbated the Northern Ireland Troubles, and caused enormous human suffering.”
The committee said shipments of arms like the Semtex explosive made possible a deadly bombing campaign from the late 1980s that included atrocities at Enniskillen, Warrington and the London Docklands, among many others. On November 8, 1987, a bomb using Semtex killed 11 people during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Enniskillen.
On April 10, 1992, a 45kg bomb using Semtex detonated outside the Baltic Exchange in the City of London, killing three and injuring more than 90 others.
On March 20, 1993, a bomb containing Semtex was detonated in Warrington, resulting in the death of two children, Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball.
On February 9, 1996, the Provisional IRA broke its ceasefire when it detonated a bomb in the Docklands area of London, killing two people and injuring around 100.
Q. What are the victims seeking?
A. Colonel Gaddafi paid substantial compensation to victims of terrorism who held US, French and German citizenship as a consequence of his support and involvement in the attacks.
British victims want the same treatment from the post-Arab Spring authorities and are demanding more support from their own government.
President of the Docklands Victims Association Jonathan Ganesh said all the victims were continually abandoned.
He said he hoped whoever is elected to power in June will rectify this “moral injustice” as all human life is equal regardless of race, religion and nationality.
Q. And what about what happens now?
A. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has published its inquiry report and recommended a compensation fund be established by the end of the year if progress is not made with Libya with a view to retrieving the money from the Arabs at a later date.
The next government after June 8 will have to consider the report and respond to its recommendations.
Victims across the UK will be watching to see whether they are acted upon.