‘Dissident republicans must learn from what happened’, says ex-IRA man

The scene at the top of Chichester Street in Belfast City Centre beside Victoria Square where a car bomb partially exploded last year.
The scene at the top of Chichester Street in Belfast City Centre beside Victoria Square where a car bomb partially exploded last year.

A former republican prisoner who was suspended and dismissed from the IRA when he was in his 20s for publicly highlighting “the sectarian turn of the campaign”, has now said dissident republicans “must adhere to the lessons of the past”.

Martin McAllister, 59, from a strong republican background in Crossmaglen said at the start of the Troubles “none of us were aware of where it would lead us because you cannot predict that”.

Martin McAllister

Martin McAllister

“I found myself in the Kesh and in 1976 I got suspended and dismissed from the IRA because I wrote outside against the wishes of the OC complaining about the sectarian turn of the IRA campaign,” he said.

“I wrote this because I was basically sick the night Kingsmills happened. Kingsmills was and is and remains a war crime. You cannot have it both ways. As was Teebane, Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday.

“I had a short involvement with the republican movement, when I was young and naive. But I learned and have stood back from it now for 40 years. When I joined I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight, but dissidents do.”

Mr McAllister - a fervent campaigner against criminality in south Armagh - added: “Dissidents have a huge advantage over the people in 1970 and 71. We didn’t know what was going to happen then. Now it is in black and white and we know it filled the jails and the graveyards. We are at a crossroads situation again, only there are enough blockheads out there not to see it.

“Dissidents need to do an analysis of the last 40 years. Some of them are clever enough to do that too, but there are elements who are only interested in criminality.”

He said the “ignorance of what happened in the past” is fuelled by “political parties who use the past as some kind of gospel to justify where they are today”.

“They trawl the graveyards and trawl history with a pick and a shovel and exhume the bodies of the people who were killed as some kind of justification for where they stand now in their minds.

“Nobody has a monopoly on being right here in all of this. But you cannot take a person’s life because of their religious or political conviction. That is where we lose reality and where we lose the proper interpretation of republicanism.”

Mr McAllister, who three years ago accompanied Chief Constable Matt Baggott around Crossmaglen to try to bring normal policing to the area, said: “The PSNI should be acceptable to all concerned. They are nothing more than policemen and not the colonial police.”

He said he believed there has been “wrong on both sides - unionist and nationalist”.

“McGuinness and Robinson obviously have no time for each other,” he said. “They seem to have fictional harmony and it is absolute nonsense. Both sides could solve each other’s problems.

“I think the marching of Orangemen should be allowed as long as people are educated. You can go to Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan and the locals are out and you can have a great day. Unionists also need to point out to loyalists and others the Union is copper fastened within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. We have no real politics in Stormont, what we have is a situation with each party disrupting any useful legislation that the other side wants to enact to the point where there is an awful despondency among ordinary people.

“The late David Ervine was as big a loss to nationalism as he was to unionism. He was a very pragmatic man. He is a huge loss to the people of the six counties and I don’t think we would be where we are had he been about because he had a huge influence within unionism.”

He added that “something as benign as political correctness” 40 years ago may have painted a different landscape.

“Political correctness is a very potent weapon, but it would have left us in a better position today and there may never have been a shot fired.

“We have inflicted 95 per cent of this on ourselves. Not one life was worth it.”