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Lord Laird: My Lords, I am delighted to have this opportunity to discuss some actions that concern Northern Ireland. There can be no doubt that almost everything has changed in Northern Ireland over the past 15 years. Most of the change is for the betterment of the Province’s people and I applaud those who have contributed to bringing about the massive improvement. However, dark clouds still remain not too far from the centre of political life in Northern Ireland. Terrorism of all types has not gone away, even if it has been much reduced. Recent tragic events have brought home in true relief the problems that still remain.
One major difficulty is that the Army Council of the IRA is still intact and active. Many of the major units of that organisation are still in operation. Another difficulty is that the plot unveiled by a former Minister of Justice in the Republic, Mr Michael McDowell, is still ongoing. The plot—I referred to it two years ago in your Lordships’ House—is the takeover of the Irish Republic’s main establishment by placing in its ranks IRA supporters as sleepers or moles. Mr McDowell indicated that the republican movement has already placed people in the top positions of authority: the PM’s office, the police force, the army, major sections of the Government and the media.
Recently strange things have happened, such as the hard line taken by the Republic’s Government against Protestant schools and the ban by the Irish Rugby Football Union after almost 90 years on British symbols at appropriate Irish international rugby matches. All this runs contra to the new atmosphere we all want on the island. In the case of rugby I, along with many in Ulster, am sickened at the introduction of politics into sport. I plead with the IRFU officials to introduce a policy of total equality for all in their dealings with the supporters and players and, by so doing, to remove politics.
One of the most serious incidents has too many shades of the past for us all: the brutal murder of Paul Quinn. It resulted from a dispute between Paul and a son of Vincent Traynor, a local IRA chief. Paul Quinn and some other youths from the area were involved in activities that did not go down well with the senior republican leadership in South Armagh, especially as this new breed of republicans is defying the leadership. It is now quite clear that Vincent had oversold the case against Paul.
Several weeks ago Traynor asked the republican leadership, including Peter and Patrick Quinn from Bog Road—no relations—who run most of the illegal fuel laundering plants in South Armagh for the IRA, to have Quinn executed. After consultation with PJ Carragher and his son Michael, the well known murderous sniper, Thomas “Slab” Murphy, the Provisionals’ commander in the area, Sean Gerard Hughes, known as “the Surgeon”, and James McArdle, permission for the execution was given. Almost 20 republicans were present at the murder as executioners, lookouts, drivers and so on. The eight or nine who conducted the execution were dressed in boiler suits and wore surgical gloves. All were IRA or former IRA members. It took almost half an hour for Paul to die. Every major bone in his body was broken. During the execution he cried for mercy.
Following the murder and the outcry from all parts, a meeting took place in Cullyhanna on Friday 2 November. Although “Slab” Murphy did not attend, a trusted lieutenant was there to speak on his behalf. To quell local discontent, and under pressure from the top, “Slab” offered to put a large amount of cash into the Cullyhanna area in the hope that buying people off with blood money would stop a rift between republicans in South Armagh. The involvement of the republican leadership in South Armagh in the planning, commission and now cover-up of this murder means that it is directly implicated. “Slab” also ordered that no one in the community was to speak to the Garda or PSNI. He was taking full responsibility for the incident because his close associates were involved.
Having felt that they had to blame someone, on 9 November, Friday night past, six armed IRA men went to the home of Vincent Traynor and forced their way in, but Vincent was not there. For the past week Vincent Traynor has been guarded by the police quick reaction force based at Crossmaglen and Newtownhamilton PSNI barracks. Responding to the visit, the QRF was at his house in a matter of minutes, but the IRA gang had gone. Vincent Traynor is now considered to be number one on the IRA hit list because he talked the leadership in South Armagh into the situation that saw the brutal and savage murder of Paul Quinn.
The blame for the murder and the subsequent situation has to lie with the IRA. The IRA veterans of South Armagh want to bring into line the young republicans of the area who are openly defying the leadership. Given those activities, “Slab” Murphy should have his bail in the Republic revoked, as he is now involved in the intimidation of witnesses. At his next court appearance, he should be held in custody while papers for his extradition to Northern Ireland are prepared.
Extreme republicans close to the IRA Army Council are trying to suggest that Paul Quinn’s family is being manipulated to create anti-Sinn Fein propaganda. This is not so. I have been contacted by a number of people and groups from the area who would not normally consider me as a friend asking that the police remove and prosecute those involved, and get them off the streets.
To clarify the situation, if any charges as a result of this murder are brought before the Irish courts, I have not influenced a potential jury by my remarks. It must be remembered that any court without a jury would be a special court. Both Governments need to deal with this type of criminal activity. To brush it under the carpet, as seems to many to be taking place, is just a short-term solution. The island of Ireland will never be at peace until illegal activities are tackled in full and equality is in total operation.
1 The remarks began at 7.02pm during the debate on the Queen's Speech.