Deadly `Hard Men' of IRA Unmasked: Terrorism Directed by Army Council

By Dettmer, Jamie | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

Deadly `Hard Men' of IRA Unmasked: Terrorism Directed by Army Council


Dettmer, Jamie, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


They are known in Northern Ireland as the "hard men." Deadly, dedicated and cunning, they maintain an unflinching commitment to the bomb and the bullet that goes back to the early 1970s.

Throughout their adult lives, which have been bent to the single-minded purpose of blowing the "Brits Out" of Ulster, they have had little exposure to anything beyond an arid regimen of sectarian warfare and prison.

They are key players in the world's most tenacious and effective terrorist machine, the Irish Republican Army, which once again has brought random murder to the streets of London.

Despite the celebrity status accorded Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in the United States, it isn't he who is heeded in the red-brick-terraced streets of Catholic west Belfast.

As in rural south Armagh's "bandit country" and in Londonderry's Bogside district - heartlands of Irish republicanism - it is the hard men who finally give the marching orders.

As British, Irish and American officials scramble to try to get peace negotiations back on track, The Washington Times has secured the identities of some of the movers and shakers in the IRA. Intelligence sources north and south of the border separating Ulster from the Republic of Ireland helped in identifying them.

According to the sources, the IRA's ruling Army Council is made up of Gerry "Blue Boy" Kelly, Brian Keenan, Kevin McKenna, Dermot Finucane, Ciaran Chambers, Sean "Spike" Murray and another man who cannot be named.

Other influential Republican figures include Brian Gillen, who has been named in the British Parliament as "the commander of the IRA in Belfast"; Patrick "Slab" Murphy, who lost a major libel action in Dublin after being named as a top IRA man by the London Sunday Times; and Bobby "Big Bob" Storey, who was arrested by the British in 1973 when he was only 17 and who went on to help organize with Kelly a mass escape from Northern Ireland's Maze Prison in 1983.

Irish Republican sources say the most influential figures on the Army Council are the Belfast-born duo Kelly and Keenan, closely followed by McKenna and Murray. McKenna was appointed the IRA's chief of staff in 1991 but is believed to be suffering from cancer and slowly handing his responsibilities to Murray.

The tall, bespectacled Kelly, 41, joined the IRA when he was only 18. He has spent 13 of the past 23 years in jail. In 1973, he was convicted for his role in an eight-man team responsible for the first IRA bomb attacks in England.

Keenan, another old-timer, was like Kelly highly skeptical of the peace process, say Irish sources. At 54, he is considered the most able of the IRA's military tacticians; he masterminded a campaign of bombings and shootings in Britain in the 1970s and was jailed for 18 years.

One of the few committed Marxists of the IRA top men, he developed the first IRA links with Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and had close contacts with the intelligence services of communist East Germany. Sources say McKenna has always been a staunch advocate of "physical force" and an opponent of political strategies to unite Ireland. He has been jailed three times in the Irish Republic and is wanted on a variety of charges in Northern Ireland, although currently he lives openly in the Irish Republic's county of Monaghan.

Murray, formerly the Northern commander of the IRA, is the rising star on the Army Council, say Irish police sources. …

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