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Revenge is a dish served cold

Allegations of a conspiracy by the British establishment to wipe out key republican socialists following the murder of top Tory Airey Neave by the INLA in 1979

Dr John Coulter • 25 October 2005

This month is the 25th anniversary of the deaths of four leading republicans in 1980, sparking allegations the British establishment set out to eliminate key figures from the republican socialist movement and the fledgling militant constitutional nationalist organisation, the Irish Independence Party.

The previous year, on 30 March, 1979, an INLA booby trap bomb killed the Conservative spokesman on Northern Ireland, former World War Two hero Airey Neave, at the heart of British democracy – in the House of Commons car park.

Neave had been the first British officer to escape from the notorious Nazi prisoner of war camp at Colditz castle in 1940 and later served indictments on leading Nazi Hermann Goring and other war criminals at Nuremberg.

But in the mid 1970s, he was one of the Tory Right-wingers who masterminded Margaret Thatcher’s leadership bid when she toppled former PM, the late Ted Heath as Conservative boss.

Had he lived, Thatcher would have appointed Neave as her Northern Secretary when she won the British General Election a few months later in 1979.

Given his war experience and hardline Right-wing views, Neave would not have adopted a ‘softly, softly’ approach to terrorism in the North, and would have been particularly sore on the republican movement.

Indeed, it has been suggested his tough policy on terrorism could have seen the introduction of internment of republican and loyalist suspects, and hot pursuit by the British army and RUC across the Irish border to trap IRA terrorists murdering Protestants and the security forces along the border counties.

As a former soldier, it was also believed he wanted to unleash the elite British SAS killer units against top IRA active service units, especially in south Armagh, east Tyrone and south Derry. It has also been suggested Neave was strongly in favour of a ‘shoot to kill’ official policy against known IRA members on both sides of the Irish border.

This pending ‘no nonsense’ policy made Neave a top target for republican extremists, but it was the INLA – not the Provos – which masterminded his murder.

However, it is believed his death provoked the British establishment into formulating a revenge policy against the republican socialist movement.

This was similar to the alleged revenge strategy adopted by Israel against the Palestinian organisation responsible for the murder of nearly a dozen of its athletes during the fateful 1972 Olympics massacre in Munich.

Israeli government-approved assassins reportedly traveled the globe to eliminate those from the extremist Black September Palestinian movement who had any connection with the Munich slaughter.

Within 18 months of Neave’s murder, three leading republican socialists had died violently – and all in mysterious circumstances.

The first to be murdered was 52-year-old Miriam Daly, a lecturer in political studies at Belfast’s Queen’s University who was a top member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the INLA’s political wing.

Apart from her role in the IRSP, she was also viewed as a key INLA strategist. A former member of Sinn Fein, the mother of two was married to another leading republican socialist, James Daly.

She was also a key member of the National H Blocks/Armagh Committee and was viewed as a formidable campaigner.

But on 26 June 1980, her body was found with her hands and feet bound. She had been killed by six fatal 9 mm shots to the head from a semi-automatic pistol. Whilst her killing was never claimed, the nationalist community blamed the UDA.

Given the clinical nature of her killing, another theory was that she was the victim of an SAS undercover squad. She is described on the INLA headstone in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery as a ‘volunteer’.

The SAS theory was fuelled on 15 October the same year when two other leading republican socialists – Ronnie Bunting and Noel Lyttle – were shot dead at the former’s Andersonstown home in the heart of republican Belfast.

Bunting was the son of former leading Paisleyite, the late Major Ronald Bunting. A Protestant by birth, Ronnie junior became director of intelligence on the INLA GHQ as well as adjutant of the Belfast Brigade. A school teacher by profession, Bunting has been viewed as the terrorist who planned the Neave assassination.

Lyttle was a political strategist who had assumed the role and responsibilities of Miriam Daly within the INLA following her killing a few months earlier. Again, whilst the UDA was blamed for the killings, the hands of the SAS were again suspected.

Bunting’s wife, Susan, was severely wounded in the double murder attack. Two weeks after her husband’s death, she said she had no doubt her husband and Lyttle had been killed by the SAS – a view also supported at the time by Paddy Devlin, a former SDLP chief whip and cabinet minister at Stormont.

The fourth militant nationalist to die in questionable circumstances was John Turnley, a Protestant and former British army officer, who became a devout republican. He was also a former SDLP member, but had risen to fame within republican ranks as a member of the National H Blocks Committee and founder of the militant, but constitutional Irish Independence Party.

Had he not been shot dead by the UDA on 4 June 1980, Larne councillor Turnley could have developed his IIP into the political position which Sinn Fein now holds. He was hit nine times in the body, leg and forearms in the east Antrim coastal village of Carnlough.

In March 1982, three UDA men from nearby Larne, including two brothers, were sentenced to life imprisonment One of the three claimed he had been working for the SAS. A fourth UDA man pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in jail, while another man was given a four-year sentence for holding the guns used in the killing.

Seven years later, the INLA was to be torn apart in what was to be a series of bloody internecine feuds. The first was sparked in 1987, and saw the deaths of 12 leading republican socialists – including three of the movement’s top strategists – Thomas ‘Ta’ Power in January 1987; Mary McGlinchey – wife of former INLA Chief of Staff, Dominic ‘Mad Dog’ McGlinchey – also in January 1987, and top gunman Gerard ‘Dr Death’ Steenson.

There has been some suggestion the republican socialist feuds were started by elements of the British establishment to wreck the movement once and for all.

In February 1994, Dominic McGlinchey himself was shot dead near his home in Drogheda. Three men got out of a Northern-registered car and punched and kicked him to the ground. He was then hit by 14 bullets, receiving wounds to both legs, neck, left arm, and chest before a final shot was fired at his head.

Probably one of the most notorious republican gunmen, McGlinchey was blamed for the Droppin’ Well pub bombing in December 1982 in which 17 people died and the attack on the Sunday evening service in November 1983 at Darkley Pentecostal Church in which three church elders died.

Another mysterious republican socialist death occurred in January 2002 when Donegal-born academic Mary Reid was found dead on a beach at the Isle of Doagh. She was a former IRSP member who was arrested in Paris in 1982 on terror charges, but cleared on appeal.

She was arrested with two others and the French army alleged it found a ‘death list’, three pistols and 500 grammes of explosives in the trio’s suburban Paris apartment.

In spite of protesting their innocence, the three were tried and sentenced to five years in prison, but they were released nine months later on appeal in 1983. French government agents subsequently admitted they had planted the explosives.

An inquest heard that Reid had drowned, but her family has contested this verdict. She had been a former editor of the IRSP journal, the Starry Plough. She had once claimed she was under threat of assassination from the British intelligence service, MI6.

Another leading republican socialist who was to meet his death in France was Seamus Ruddy, who had been an active member of both the IRSP and INLA. At one time, he was the party’s national organiser, but was linked with gun running.

His last known link with arms running was in late 1983 when the Gardai found documents on him relating to an arms shipment from Australia. He later vanished, but his body has never been found and it has been presumed he was a victim of another supposed internal feud.

Whilst the majority of the deaths detailed can be attributed to either loyalist murder gangs or internal fighting, the finger of suspicion has long been pointed at the British establishment that the killing were really a campaign of alleged revenge against the republican socialist cause in retaliation for the murder of one of the United Kingdom’s greatest war heroes – Neave.




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