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Dissident interview was like a journey into the past...

The journey was in a car I had never been in before — with a driver I had never seen before, and would not recognise again. As we travelled, speaking only occasionally, it was a relief not to hear the click of the central locking.

In these situations, all kinds of things run through your mind.

It is unnerving, and is probably meant to be.

The journey ended at a house, in a street of many similar houses.

At the top of the stairs a man was waiting — his face covered by a scarf, and he wore a hat and gloves.

He was there to search me — to make sure I was not wired for sound. It is all part of the suspicion in this world of shadows.

My belt buckle was checked, my shoes, which I took off, and I was frisked from head to toe. I had pencils and a notebook — but had been instructed not to bring my mobile phone.

After the search, I entered a room where three men were standing — one more than I expected.

We shook hands, but the men did not introduce themselves by name.

I was told they were leadership representatives of Oglaigh na hEireann — one a member of its Army Council, the two others part of its General Headquarters Staff.

There was some type of scanning device in the room with amber and red lights, and the interview paused for a few moments when someone called at the front door of the house.

The conversation was matter-of-fact. It was face-to-face, questions and answers and the man who did most of the talking spoke without the aid of notes.

These were not written replies. There will be those who will dismiss what was said as dogma, who will read into this interview a mixture of arrogance and naivety — sheer bloody-mindedness.

At times it was chilling; callous, frightening, a cold conversation about war and terror, about attempts to kill and a clear determination to try again.

It was a journey into the past — except it was in the present.

When they talked of British withdrawal and a 32 county democratic socialist republic, I suggested it was a pipedream.

The retort that came back was that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness “sharing power in a partitionist Assembly, endorsing British policing, was also a pipedream”.

I spoke to them about their attempt to kill the police officer Peadar Heffron, asking: Is he not as Irish — more Irish — than those who make up your organisation?

“Absolutely not,” was the terse reply. “Irish history is littered with mercenaries who have worked for and implemented British laws.”

I suggested it was a war they could not win — and asked had killing become their cause, just to say, we haven’t sold out?

Also, in this part of the interview, I asked about Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams — are they legitimate targets?

“No,” was the response.

“Ireland has seen enough of feuds while the British sit back and happily watch it.”

The dissident groups will know the implications/consequences of any such feuding.

It would wake a sleeping IRA, which even after decommissioning is probably still well enough armed to put down any rival in the republican community.

Oglaigh na hEireann has developed under the security radar. It appears in intermittent bursts of activity, and knows it is not yet ready to fight an all-out war.

Knowing that, accepting that, makes this organisation more dangerous. It is not going to rush into a battle that would fail almost as soon as it began.

So, the threat it poses in the here and now is an ability to kill, to detonate bombs and to do damage.

A few days ago, I left that room in that house better informed about this organisation — but still absolutely convinced it is in a fight it cannot win.

The IRA, armed by Libya, came to realise that.

But what is worrying is that the men I met believe differently.

Their war is not over.

But who are they trying to persuade they can succeed?

Maybe it is themselves.

Read the interview here

Belfast Telegraph