Lidington, the Conservative party spokesman on Northern
Ireland informed us last weekend that he believed
that Tony Blair must direct a challenge to Colonel
Gaddafi about his country's past links to the IRA
when he travels to meet the Libyan President.
on BBC radio Ulster's "Inside Politics"
programme Lidington contended that Blair should be
"up front" with Gaddafi on this issue and
demand from him a full inventory of the weaponry supplied
to the IRA by the Colonels regime.
he welcomed the decision by the British governments
decision to welcome Libya back into the international
community, presumably because he is living in the
decreasingly forlorn assumption that his party may
one day soon have the mandate to act for his country
on such matters, Lidington continued by stating, "
do not think there is any point in having improved
relations with Libya if we are going to tiptoe around
the difficult questions".
to Mr. Lidington's pressurising of Blair on this point
of the supply of weaponry to the IRA by Libya is the
idea that Blair should seek financial compensation
for IRA victims from the Libyan government based presumably
on the fact that Gaddafi has sanctioned this type
of monetary renumeration for the victims of the Lockerbie
that the British Prime Minister is to meet Gaddafi
emerged early last week after a meeting between Tony
Blair and the Libyan Foreign minister Mohammed Abdulrahman
Shalgam. Significantly it was the first meeting a
official or at least public level between representatives
of both regimes since 1969.
foreign secretary Jack Straw would not be drawn on
Lidington's suggestions but did confirm that questions
would be asked in connection to the murder of police
woman Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in
London in 1984.
continuous speculation over the years only the IRA
know the full extent of it's weapons cache. Three
other men, John De Chastelain, Cyril Ramaphosa and
Marti Athisaari have seen some weaponry but for reasons
known to us all, and at the cost of the current political
impasse, are not and cannot say what they have looked
attempts have been made to estimate the size of the
IRA arsenal. These estimates were based on a number
of factors. Firstly, the weapons that are known to
have been used, secondly those weapons recovered by
the security forces and from intelligence gathered
from informers as well as intelligence gathered from
other security services across the globe as the Provisionals
attempted to procure the machinery of war.
no source can assess with total accuracy the depth
of the IRA arms stockpile, it's actions within the
six counties and beyond left the British in no doubt,
a long time ago, that it had enough to maintain a
protracted and devastating campaign for many decades
to come had it the will to do so.
course part of the relative inaccuracy in assessing
the amount of IRA weaponry is the reality that they
could create a range of deadly artillery and other
arms from within their own ranks. It is true that
bombs constituted mainly from commercial agricultural
fertilizers have been deployed more than the dreaded
Semtex explosive used so often as a political battering
ram against republicans by Unionist and other political
the north slid into conflict in the late 1960's the
IRA were reliant on a scant variety of outdated weapons
which were the remnants of previous campaigns. As
the 1970's progressed it became clear that as well
as the logistical support required to mount a concerted
war the Provisionals were gathering a variety of sophisticated
machinery, gathered chiefly from the traditional IRA
support base within the USA.
it was the acquisition in the 1980's of arms shipments
from the anti-British regime of Libya, headed up by
their charismatic leader and Sandhurst graduate Colonel
was these supplies that meant that the IRA could begin
a phase of sustained and concentrated attacks. The
first known contact between the IRA and Gaddafi was
discovered as early as 1973, when a ship laden with
guns, explosives and ammunition, the Claudia was intercepted
off the Irish coast.
himself was to later admit that he resumed contact
with the IRA in 1986 when the British assisted the
USA in the aerial bombing of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
It is believed that three shipments reached Ireland
and were secured in dumps before the French authorities
stopped another cargo of 150 tonnes on board the Eksund.
estimates set the IRA cache at several tonnes of Semtex,
five hundred AK-47's and the equivalent amount of
Aramlites. The amount of handguns in stock is basically
not possible to assess, and with weapons such as the
Russian Degtyarev as well as the American sniper rifle
the Barrett Light 50 as well as various types of rocket
launchers and surface-to-air missiles, it is easy
to see the gravity with which the IRA were treated
by the British.
the political mileage trying to be dragged from this
situation by David Lidington is basically the stuff
of superficial sound bites. The Conservative party
are at best foolish if they sincerely believe that
Blair will travel to meet the notoriously difficult
Gaddafi to demand to know why they supplied the IRA
with the bulk of it's armoury.
himself is on little more than a propaganda trip to
illustrate that both he and George Bush were correct
after all to invade and decimate Iraq. Gaddafi is
anything but a fool and knows that after a suitable
gap American and British militaristic attention would
have swiftly turned to him had he not sanctioned the
destruction of his "weapons of mass destruction".
although it is very unlikely that Gaddafi would ever
furnish Blair with an inventory of weaponry despatched
to Ireland in the 1970's and 1980's, assuming of course
he ever had one, Blair is highly unlikely to do anything
at the moment to upset either Sinn Fein or the IRA.
It was clear from the outset that the British and
Irish governments had received enough assurances from
the republican leadership that at the correct time,
and when all political value had been squeezed from
the IRA as a threatening spectre and as vote catchers,
that they and their
weaponry would dissipate into the ether.
nature of the conflict in the north also makes it
practically impossible to quantify who and who is
not a victim of IRA violence. In their calls for compensation
from Libya for victims of republican violence neither
Lidington nor for example fellow travellers Reg Empey
have ever specified whom they think qualifies.
for example was put into use in the Poppy Day bombing
of 1987 in Enniskillen. There can be no question that
these people were victims of a massacre, yet by the
same logic do the victims of the La Mon atrocity have
the same right to sue the petrol company because it
was their product that accelerated the incendiary
bombs left at the hotel that night.
are cold words but true words. A weapon no matter
what it's source cannot kill unless it is deployed
by someone to do just that. If for example we gave
credence to Lidington's argument then surely the relatives
of the Bloody Sunday victims would have fared better
by suing the arms manufacturers that made the 1972
version of the British Army's weapon of choice, the
SLR than spending a decade trying to get to the reasoning
behind the state sponsored killing of fourteen people.
have been countless Catholic victims of republican
violence, both indirect and very purposeful. Are they
included in the calls of Lidington, or as I suspect
has is ill thought out public relations stunt given
any real consideration to the opening of this especially
vile can of worms? Will the British government now
seek reparations from Germany for their soldiers killed
in Dublin in 1916 by German rifles? Will Blair demand
compensation for the victims of Armalites and M-60's
famously smuggled from the USA on board the QE2? What
about Spain and ETA, Slovakia, the former Czechoslovakia,
the former USSR, Bosnia and all other sources of IRA
weapons since it emerged over eighty years ago?
fact the David Lidington's Conservative party spent
the best part of to decades trying to deny that there
even was a war happening in the north but instead
set about aiding the attempted economic, mental and
physical destruction of one section of it's community,
reveals how pathetic the Tory party has really become.
Like their Unionist colleagues desperate for one last
hurrah and trailing as ever on the coat tails of any
attempt at progression, they are prepared to rake
over old ground instead of making the best of a very
bad situation. I wonder would Mr. Lidington be making
the same noises if he was actually in power; I think
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