Belfast Telegraph

Shadow of a gunman ... ex-IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre on his friend Lyra McKee, being intimidated by Sinn Fein, and why the idea of his children following him into jail drives him to distraction

The paramilitary-turned-writer talks about his opposition to the peace process, that republicans should be allowed to commemorate former terrorists and why he won't apologise for shooting a man dead in 1976

Anthony McIntyre and wife Carrie in 2012
Anthony McIntyre and wife Carrie in 2012
Anthony McIntyre
Journalist Ed Moloney and Carrie McInytre, wife of Anthony McIntyre, after their US hearing about Boston College tapes
Gerry Adams
Lyra McKee

By Laurence White

Anthony McIntyre (61) is a former IRA man who served 18 years in jail for the murder of a UVF man in 1976. But he left Sinn Fein after it signed up to the Good Friday Agreement and has been a vocal critic of the party. He is a co-founder of The Blanket website and The Pensive Quill blog, which carry a wide range of views on political developments in Northern Ireland.

McIntyre gained a PhD after leaving prison and is regarded as an important voice in questioning republican circles. He describes himself as anti-violence, but not a pacifist.

Q. You were a friend of murdered journalist Lyra McKee. How did that come about?

A. I was introduced to her by a contributor to my website The Pensive Quill. That was about six years ago and we used to meet occasionally to go for a pint in places like Drogheda, Belfast and Dublin.

She told me in February that she planned to move to Derry as there was a special woman in her life and that we would have to get out for a drink to celebrate.

Then I saw a post about her engagement and I wrote wishing her well. That was a week before she died and was the last contact I had with her.

Q. Would you ask people to give information on the killing of Lyra McKee to the PSNI?

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A. I have never asked people to give information to the PSNI. I oppose them politically and I wouldn't give them information.

If I asked people to go forward with information there would be a risk to life, as this is a force which cannot be trusted with information.

If I had information I would make it available to the National Union of Journalists. If the PSNI want information from the public, then they should give information to the public on the agents they are running in Derry. Then we would have a much better understanding of Lyra McKee's killing.

I would be a conscientious objector in giving information to the PSNI.

However, if people go to the police with information, I would not be calling them informers. I would have no feeling about them.

I have no sympathy for Lyra McKee's killer. The public have the right to demand that they should be protected from those who would kill them.

Q. She had written a very powerful piece, 'A letter to myself at 14'. What would you have written in such a letter?

A. I only saw this for the first time the day after her murder and we carried it on our website. It was a very powerful article and by the end of that day we had 50,000 page views of our blog.

I have never thought of what I would include in a similar letter to my teenage self. The first thing I would say is: be glad that you are not young enough to know everything.

I look at my children - one is 13, one 18 - and I think back to when I was a teenager. I had gone into prison for the first time at 16 and came out again at 18. The thought of my children doing anything like I was doing drives me to distraction.

Q. Do you regard those years you spent in prison - 18 years for murder - as a wasted youth?

A. I was in the IRA and I didn't join to read books or play tiddlywinks. I accepted I was in an organisation that took life, that was involved in a guerrilla war against the British state. It was a very violent period.

I don't regard myself as a different Anthony McIntyre then. I lived a life differently and I developed in ways I might not have if I had not been in prison. Sometimes you have to make a virtue out of necessity and I met some of my best friends in prison and on the blanket.

I don't look back aghast at myself. I don't feel sorry for myself and I don't make any political apology for being part of the IRA campaign.

Q. Yet you are very critical of that campaign.

A. Yes, I have reflected on it. Republicans have reflected more than many on the British side. The winners of any conflict don't have to reflect. It is the losers who have to think how could they have done things differently.

Given the minimum amount we settled for and the number of lives lost, I would like to have done things differently.

The difference between what was on offer in 1974 and what was accepted in 1998 did not justify the loss of one life. Had the IRA conveyed to the British state how little it was prepared to settle for, the British state would have moved heaven and earth to give it to us.

If the IRA had said it was prepared to drop its campaign of coercion for the unionist demand of consent could the British have moved the unionists more towards the 1974 power-sharing proposals?

I believe the unionist reaction was less against power-sharing and more against the notion of an Irish dimension.

The IRA was a manifestation of insurrectional energy within the nationalist community at that time, a reaction to how the British behaved here.

To bring the IRA campaign to an end, the British only had to modify their behaviour a little.

Q. In a recent article you argued that the Provisional IRA had handed on the intellectual and ideological template which has been taken up by the New IRA.

A. The problem with the IRA campaign was that, once it was started, you were never sure where it would go. In spite of the fact that many people in the IRA were interested in idealism and social justice, it violated more rights than it could ever assert. For that reason the IRA was wrong.

The New IRA's physical force republicanism, when everything else is shaken down, says: "We have the right to kill you and you have no right not to be killed by us." That is a serious mental aberration and should have no standing.

In the current situation the PSNI, for example, are political opponents of republicans but not enemies to be killed. Police officers and military people have ceased to be combatants.

The use of violence has to be strategic. I don't believe the current violence has anything to do with strategy, but is just following a tradition.

I am not a militarist. I don't believe in a military solution to complex political problems. Time causes people to think about problems and solve them in a different way.

Q. Yet you are also critical of Sinn Fein's adoption of the Good Friday Agreement?

A. The Good Friday Agreement is much better than the Bad Friday killing of Lyra McKee and preferable to physical force. But the GFA was never a republican strategy, or principle, and is based on a principle against which the IRA fought.

It mocks the very logic of the IRA campaign, which was a coercive campaign aimed at forcing Britain out of Northern Ireland irrespective of what the people of NI felt about it.

Now, the IRA, or Sinn Fein, says a united Ireland can only come about through those people's consent. What were the soldiers and policemen who died killed for?

Sinn Fein has just taken the clothing of the SDLP. We are not going to get a united Ireland as a result of the GFA.

I can understand anyone celebrating the GFA, but republicans celebrating the GFA is like turkeys celebrating Christmas.

Q. Are you opposed to the peace process?

A. My opposition to the peace process is not opposition to peace, but to the process. It is a political project meant to give something to one party - the unionists - to the detriment of all others. The unionists have secured the room, but have overreacted to the colour of the wallpaper; it is too green for them.

Nationalists have proven that they are more willing to go into a relationship with London than unionists are willing to go into a relationship with Dublin.

Q. Does Sinn Fein's continual commemoration of dead IRA volunteers, who may have committed horrible crimes, only continue friction between them and unionists?

A. Sinn Fein are merely trying to ensure that no one else can wear their clothing. I don't see anything wrong with commemorations for dead volunteers. I am not for suppressing the past. I don't think we should forget the past.

I believe people should be allowed to remember their dead.

I hold no truck for the Parachute Regiment, but I find it obnoxious that their loved ones are not able to plant wreaths at Narrow Water where 18 of them were killed without someone coming along and destroying them.

In the same way, I would never think of destroying Lenny Murphy's (leader of the Shankill Butchers) grave. His family and loved ones deserve somewhere to go and remember him.

I am not asking the state to celebrate dead IRA members, but I would ask them to tolerate such commemorations.

Q. What are your feelings about the Boston Tapes fiasco, where some tape-recorded oral histories from republicans and loyalists were handed over to the PSNI, even though they were meant to be kept secret until after the subjects' deaths?

A. The journalist Ed Moloney and myself were absolutely shafted. It was a great project conceptually, but went wrong procedurally. The handing over of the tapes caused me immense concern and grief and disappointment. It was an attempt at truth recovery.

Q. How do you think we should deal with the past?

A. I think we should forego the quest for truth recovery through prosecutions, so that we can get simple truth recovery. It should be about revelation, not retribution.

Very few people will be prosecuted and to pretend otherwise is to lead people up the garden path.

You could get some information through prosecutions, but it would not set the context - why something was done and who decided it should be done, for example.

The truth is going to come out in spite of people, not because of them.

Q. Have you ever been threatened because of your views and have you been afraid?

A. I certainly have felt fear. My wife Carrie and I and our two children have had Sinn Fein mobs picketing our homes - our previous one in Belfast and our current one in Drogheda - and members of the IRA leadership came to our home to intimidate us.

I have been accused of being involved in compiling the Boston Tapes in an attempt to get Gerry Adams (inset below) arrested and that created a certain environment.

There was always the possibility that we would be attacked. We worried about the children and I would go out of the house first in case someone decided to do something.

I don't put it about that we are brave and that we lived like Salman Rushdie. He renewed his Muslim faith in an effort to get a fatwa against him withdrawn. There is no chance of me becoming a Shinner, or a dissident, or a Catholic, or a Muslim.

Q. Do you ever think of the man you killed - a UVF member - or have regrets about that killing?

A. It is part of my past. I don't disassociate myself from it. I regarded him as a combatant. Loyalists tried to kill me in 1976 and my brother in 1994. Would I ever ask them to apologise for trying to kill me? No. I was a combatant.

For the same reason, I would not apologise for the killing I carried out. But I would ask them to apologise for trying to kill my brother. He was not a combatant.

I was in the IRA and don't have any political regrets from that period.

Would I rather not have killed anyone? Absolutely. I wish no one had been killed.

Q. So what do you do nowadays?

A. I write extensively, but I also edit a local community magazine, do voluntary work with the St Vincent de Paul Society, even though I am an atheist, and I work for a trade union in Dublin.

And after all these years and having read thousands of books, thanks to HM Prison Service, I recently have discovered the greatest book I have ever read - Hillsborough: The Truth by Professor Phil Scraton - about the death of 96 Liverpool football team supporters at an FA Cup match at Hillsborough stadium.

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