The December 1969 split within the IRA left the Provisional's as a growing force, and as the conflict reached severe proportions in 1972, the Provisional's arose the dominant force, carrying the mantle of the IRA following the Officials ceasefire the same year. This left those remaining within the Officials feeling the need for some political rethinking, and a sense of direction in strategy. For some, there was only one course open, a return to the militant stance. They felt the leadership had failed them, and thus the Irish Republican Socialist Party came into being in December 1974. They provided an outlet for those ‘Officials’ who wished to return to armed struggle. The climax of this internal split came in April 1975 when it overflowed into a feud resulting in the death of the Officials officer commanding, Billy McMillen.
The IRSP’s military wing, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) had sprung on to the political landscape. Their numbers were never to reach a scale to match the IRA, but they would leave their mark on the history of the Irish conflict.
They drew their recruits mainly from the lower Falls, the Market and South Derry. Members engaged in sniping and bombings and their presence was consumed into the daily on going ‘Ulster Conflict’, until one day in March 1979, when a bomb explosion in the heart of London shook the British establishment. Airey Neave, the Conservative spokesman on the North was killed in a bobby trap explosion within the House of Commons carpark. He was a personal friend of the Margaret Thatcher, who became Prime Minister two months later, and a war hero.
Despite by now having experienced IRA bombings in their country, Airey Neave’s death struck home. The killing was claimed by the INLA for what they said was his rapid militarist calls for more repression against the Irish people. (This was at a time before the IRA attacks at the Brighton Hotel where the Conservative Government were holding a conference and the mortar attack on 10 Downing Street during a War cabinet meeting) and such an attack within the compound of the British House of Commons, sent shock waves through the British Government. The same year the IRA killed Lord Mountbatten, the Queen’s uncle. Two years later, during the Hunger Strikes,
Thatcher would not forget both killings and they obviously had a strong bearing on her opposition to political status. In 1982, the INLA were responsible for 30 deaths 17 of whom died in an explosion at the Droppin Well in Ballykelly, Co. Derry on the 6th of December.
The bar was used by off duty British troops from the nearby Shackleton Barrack, which dominates the garrison village. They also carried out several attacks on Loyalist paramilitary figures and Unionist politicians. Their first victim was Loyalist John McKeague, said to have been killed by members of a small INLA unit operating from the Short Strand. These attacks would continue until their ceasefire in August 1998 with one of their last victims being the notorious Loyalist killer Billy Wright who they shot dead inside the H. Blocks.
But the organisation was plagued by internal feuding, often sparked by personality problems or policy direction. These disputes resulted in some of the best figures within the organisation dying at the hands of former comrades, while during the 1981 hunger strike, three of the ten came from the INLA whose prisoners numbered some 28, against the IRA’s 380.
When they called their ceasefire in August 1998, they apologised for any innocent deaths they may have caused, but refused to apologise for their war against the “British and their Loyalists associates.”
On the main INLA plot in Milltown one name that stands out is that of Ronnie Bunting, one of the organisations founding members.
His background was not in the mould of the normal INLA member. He arose from a middle class Protestant background, his father being ex-British Army and hard line Unionist stalwart Major Bunting.
Ronnie Graduated from Queen’s University to become a school teacher, but at the same time he grew into socialism and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement in 1968. When the conflict broke out in 1969, his experience of witnessing social injustice and sectarian pogroms, caused him to join the IRA.
He was interned between November 1971 and April 1972 and had been active around the lower Falls area. When his political thinking moved him towards the IRSP. he was shot and wounded by the Official’s in March 1975 after the split. But when the end came on the night of 15th October 1980, no shade of Republicanism were responsible for his death, as an assassination squad broke into his home in the heart of Andersonstown, and with uthless military precision shot and killed Ronnie Bunting and his close associate Noel Lyttle, a member of the IRSP National H. Block Committee. Lyttle had just been released from the Castlereagh Interrogation Centre and was staying with the Bunting’s. It was clear those who carried out the killings knew they were in a position to remove two of the IRSP’s leading figures in one attack.
At the inquest Bunting’s father said of his son:- He was a virtuous and high minded man who had a keen sense of social justice and fought oppression and injustice where ever he saw it. Ironic words from a man who once walked side by side with Ian Paisley, and died three years later having turned his back on politics.
The Irish People’s Liberation Organisation was established in 1986-87 after breaking away from the INLA. Two of their most prominent members are named on this memorial, Gerard Steenson and Martin O’Prey. Steenson was shot dead by the INLA in March 1987 while O’Prey was shot dead by loyalists in August 1981. The other names on the memorial are those of Patrick Sullivan and Connor Maguire. The IPLO were forced to disband by the IRA in 1992.