Joe Brolly's 'pride' in INLA hunger striker Kevin Lynch will make it hard for unionists to work with him
Published 22/10/2013 | 09:00
When lauding the memory of INLA hunger striker Kevin Lynch – one of three republican socialist prisoners who died in the 1981 death fast – Joe Brolly is surely aware of the record of the organisation the Dungiven hurler served in.
What is not so clear is whether Brolly thought through the consequences of what he has been defending.
For someone who has won much-deserved admiration for his organ donation campaigning, his remarks are going to make it extremely difficult for political, or civic, unionism to work with him.
Between two high-profile assassinations of political opponents in 1979 and 1997 lies a trail of blood – mainly flowing from civilians, including large numbers from the nationalist community as well as many of its own members.
The INLA will be remembered for three main things: the killings of Margaret Thatcher's aide, Airey Neave, and Billy 'King Rat' Wright, as well as recurring bursts of bloody fratricidal feuds.
Even such a 'spectacular' as the murder of Wright inside the Maze in December 1997 is coloured by the INLA's reputation for internal wars and shifting personal alliances.
The INLA 'celebrated' killing Wright by printing T-shirts they made with the shape of an H-block and a rat caught inside the giant letter alongside the legend: "It's a rat trap Billy and you've been caught".
The irony being that the words come from the Boomtown Rats' Number One hit Rat Trap. Frontman, Bob Geldof, once denounced the INLA as being a "bunch of creeps" for placing a bomb near Windsor Park before a Northern Ireland-England game in the mid-1980s. However, it is worth remembering that the man who fired the fatal shots into Wright's body inside a prison van en route to a visit was Christopher 'Crip' McWilliams.
Up until Wright's murder, McWilliams was notorious for murdering a popular bar manager, Colm Mahon, inside Frames nightclub in Belfast in 1991.
Colm Mahon's only 'crime' had been to ask McWilliams to leave the bar because of increasingly raucous behaviour from him and other members of the INLA off-shoot, the Irish People's Liberation Organisation (IPLO).
For standing up to a group of IPLO members, the innocent bar manager lost his life. McWilliams was originally in jail for murdering Colm Mahon and, up until he volunteered to carry out the Wright murder, was isolated and treated with contempt by many INLA veterans, both inside and out of jail.
Whatever Kevin Lynch's contribution to Dungiven and Derry hurling, the list of victims of the organisation of which he was an active member is long.
It includes Sunday school teachers, a rural postmistress, three elderly members of an evangelical Protestant church; four young women blown up at Ballykelly (whom the organisation contemptuously dismissed as "cohorts" of British soldiers) and two boys killed in a booby-trap bomb.
Lynch himself was sentenced to 10 years for stealing shotguns, taking part in a punishment shooting and conspiring to take arms from the security forces.
He joined the hunger strike on May 23, 1981 and died 71 days later.
This author recalls a chilling encounter with three top INLA members from what was known in 1987 as the 'GHQ faction' of the movement.
The trio had survived the 1987 feud, which had been prompted, in part, by the kidnapping, torture, murder and secret burial of Seamus Ruddy in Paris as the GHQ group tried to seize control of INLA's gun-running operations from Europe.
They fought a bitter power-struggle with their rivals in the so-called 'Army Council' faction, which was later to morph into the IPLO. The survivors from the GHQ group who kept on the INLA name included Hugh 'Cueball' Torney, Gino Gallagher and John Fennell – the trio who met this author in the spring of 1994.
They wanted to tell their side of the organisation's history. They feared that many of Jack Holland and this writer's sources came from the opposing faction.
Yet within a couple of years all three men were dead – slain not by their hated Ulster loyalist enemies, or the British state, but rather by each other
Torney had Gallagher shot dead in a Falls Road dole office fearing he was about to be deposed as INLA leader for unilaterally calling a ceasefire from a Dublin courthouse after being caught with weapons in the Republic. The faction that supported Gallagher's attempted putsch then carried out one of the most gruesome killings of the 1990s.
They tracked John Fennell down to a caravan park in Bundoran and battered him to death using breeze-blocks.
Finally, Torney himself was cornered in Lurgan and shot dead just days after his second-in-command, Dessie McCleary had been gunned down in front of young children enjoying a post-Holy Communion meal inside a Belfast pizza parlour.
In between these fratricidal slayings, the anti-Torney group managed to shoot dead nine-year-old Barbara McAlorum in a gun attack on her Belfast home.
The innocent little girl, who was deaf and dumb from birth, was later buried in her Holy Communion dress.
If there was ever an image that represented the tragic futility of the so-called 'armed struggle' during the last 40 years it was captured in the sight of a young child being carried from her home in a white coffin.
Whatever Joe Brolly's "pride" in Kevin Lynch's achievements on the hurling field, the hunger striker's INLA involvement makes it unlikely civic unionism will look at the organ donation campaigner in quite the same light again.