The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
David Lidington
Eamon Sweeney • 19 February 2004

David 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.

Speaking 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.

Although 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, "…I do not think there is any point in having improved relations with Libya if we are going to tiptoe around the difficult questions".

Linked 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 plane bombing.

News 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.

British 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.

Despite 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 at.

Numerous 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.

Whilst 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.

Of 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 parties alike.

As 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.

Yet 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 Muammar Gaddafi.

It 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.

Gaddafi 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.

Pre-decommissioning 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.

However 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.

Blair 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".

Additionally, 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.

The 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.

Semtex 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.

These 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.

Their 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?

The 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 not?



 

 

 

 

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Index: Current Articles



20 February 2004

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

A Malignant Menage a trois

Anthony McIntyre

 

On the Record
Kathleen O'Halloran

 

David Lidington
Eamon Sweeney

 

The Buck Stops Here
Brian Mór

 

Loyalist Racism and Terror Attacks
Paul Mallon

 

Foundations for Development Laid as Sinn Fein Goes Unionist
Eamonn McCann

 

All Are Targets
Mohammed Omer

 

Calendar of Events
Belfast Anti-War Movement

 

14 February 2004

 

GFA in the Toilet
Brian Mór

 

No Retreat
Glen Phillips

 

Terrorism and Democratic Society

Anthony McIntyre

 

SEA: The SWP and the Partition of Ireland
Paul Mallon

 

The "Free Trade" History Eraser: Honduras, Maquilas and Popular Protest in Latin America
Toni Solo

 

On A Street in America
Annie Higgins

 

The BBC and the Quiet Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians
Paul de Rooij

 

 

 

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