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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 July 2005, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Looking to the past for clues
When the IRA gives its response to Gerry Adams' call for it to abandon armed struggle many people are hoping the organisation will announce it is disbanding.

But as the BBC's News website's Marie Irvine reports, there could be clues in the past about the IRA's likely future response.

IRA wall mural
If there are hints in history about the move the IRA will make they are perhaps found 50 years back as its last campaign was coming to an end.

The border campaign of 1956-62 was also known in the planning stages as Operation Harvest. It was mainly confined to border areas and saw gun and bomb attacks on police stations and British military installations.

The BBC was even attacked in December 1956 as IRA men blew up a transmitter in Londonderry.

Training camp

But the violence was contained by the Irish and British governments of the day which both introduced internment for a time.

Most importantly it drew dismally little support from the beginning among the public and, on the ground, among republican sympathisers.

Veteran IRA man Joe Cahill who died in 2004

As IRA leader Joe Cahill, now dead, told the BBC many years later, this was their biggest problem: "We didn't have the support of the ordinary people and without the support of the ordinary people we were doomed to failure."

John Kelly was an 18-year-old IRA "volunteer" in the summer of 1956.

He knew something was up when he was sent to a training camp in the Wicklow Mountains and his hunch was right.

"I was based in County Tyrone, totally different to Belfast where I was reared but I was the only person prepared to go on active service from round my area."

In Tyrone he organised other volunteers for the campaign but a few months into it he was arrested in Pomeroy while lying out with his unit in an abandoned cottage.

Attempted escape

"We had no billet, nowhere to stay," he says, referring to the lack of "safe houses" available to the IRA at that time.

After his arrest, John Kelly spent the rest of the campaign in prison, trying and failing to escape from Crumlin Road prison on one occasion.

But he remembers wide consultation within the IRA before it finally called off the violence in 1962.

Headline news as the IRA stood down its members
A public statement was drafted by Chief of Staff Ruairi O'Bradaigh and released to the media on 26 February 1962.

It said: "Instructions issued to Volunteers of the Active Service Units and of local units in the occupied area have now been carried out.

"All arms and other material have been dumped and all full-time Active Service Volunteers have been withdrawn."

The statement later continued: "Foremost among the factors motivating this course of action has been the attitude of the general public whose minds have been deliberately distracted from the supreme issue facing the Irish people - the unity and freedom of Ireland."

'Pike in the thatch'

But the statement also referred "with confidence to the final and victorious phase of the struggle for the full freedom of Ireland."

In other words no disbandment.

Now veteran republican John Kelly, who parted company with Sinn Fein several years ago over what he sees as their "deceit and philosophy of creative ambiguity", has definite views on what the IRA might say or not say this time.

"They will never use the word disband," he says.

"The semantics will have to be of the nature that they are not surrendering and they might want to hold onto some of their structures, the "pike in the thatch".

It's an old republican expression, he says, which implies there always needs to be a fall-back position.

But perhaps now, unlike then, politics is the fall-back position?

Gerry Adams
The Sinn Fein leadership of 2005

In the 1950s Sinn Fein won the two Westminster seats of Mid-Ulster and Fermanagh-South Tyrone. They also won four seats in the Irish parliament, the Dail.

But by 1961, all the seats were gone. There was no electoral success for republicans to build on in their goal of a united Ireland.

At the present time, Sinn Fein has five seats in the Dail and five at Westminster. Its political fortunes have never been stronger.

Within republicanism there is an appetite for politics and outside the movement in the wider community there is a hunger for it to entirely embrace democratic methods.


John Kelly thinks the main difference between the past and the present day is the mistrust with which he says the Sinn Fein/IRA leadership is held by the wider community.

"The view I have about that is that in 1962, people accepted the honour of the republican movement.

"People don't believe them any more - that's the dreadful position they're in because of the denials over things like the Northern Bank robbery and the Disappeared."

Kelly believes the IRA should have stood itself down in 1994 when it called its ceasefire and says they must now finish the job they started in 1994.

"They should have said then what they are going to have to say now."

Although reticent to comment, many republicans will disagree with John Kelly's assessment of the level of trust in the leadership.

They point to the increased electoral mandate of Sinn Fein as evidence to the contrary.

A senior republican told the BBC news website: "It's going to be a managed disengagement by the IRA. They aren't just going to switch off the light and leave the stage.

"Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness with the IRA army council have to manage their departure."






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