I fought the war but the war is over says Lynch

Published: 26 Mar 2009 09:000 comments

A former IRA commander says there is no place for violence in modern Irish politics and attacks dissident republican terrorists who murdered two soldiers and a police officer as 'misguided' and 'wrong'.

Sean Lynch.

Sean Lynch was Officer Commanding the Provisional IRA in the Maze Prison from 1992 until 1995 and is now chairman of Sinn Fein in Fermanagh.

Responding to dissident republican criticism of himself and his party"s involvement in the Peace Process he has admitted for the first time to having been engaged in the 'armed struggle'.

In April 1986 he was seriously wounded and fellow IRA member Seamus McElwaine shot dead when the SAS opened fire on them as they prepared to ambush a passing army patrol with a huge land mine on the Lisnaskea to Rosslea road. Mr. Lynch was arrested and jailed for 25 years. He was released in October 1995 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, having served all but two weeks of his sentence.

Until now he has refused to say what he was doing that day near Rosslea, other than that he was engaged in activities consistent with the republican campaign to end British rule in Ireland.

However, in the wake of the murders of two soldiers in Antrim and a police officer in Lurgan he has hit out at the dissidents and their use of violence.

'I know the implications of war,' he states. 'I was a member of the IRA and I fought the war. However, that war is now over.

'You can"t be blasè about war. Conditions must exist for war. Regardless of what many people think, many tens of thousands supported the IRA campaign. There"s minimal support for the dissidents. They"re misguided and their wrong,' he maintains.

Mr. Lynch, from Baltreagh, Lisnaskea, joined the Provisional IRA in the early "70s.

'When I joined there was no visible, peaceful, political way forward for those seeking their rights in the six counties, or bringing about the re-unification of Ireland,' he says.

Since his release from prison he has worked for Sinn Fein and was director of elections for Michelle Gildernew when she won the Westminster seat of Fermanagh and South Tyrone for the party in 2005.

'I have defended and promoted the Sinn Fein peace strategy since its inception and I make no apology for doing so,' he stresses.

'The defence of the peace process is never more important than it is now following the recent attacks in Lurgan and Antrim,' says Mr. Lynch.

'The two attacks were a direct assault upon the Irish Peace Process. The vast majority of people are opposed to what happened; the political institutions and Sinn Fein are as much a target of those who carried out the attacks as those they killed and injured. They must be resisted politically, democratically and peacefully. Their actions have no place in Ireland today and will only hinder the campaign for a united Ireland,' he maintains.

He says the North of Ireland today bears no comparison to the 'one party sectarian state' in which he grew up, where 'unionists dominated and discriminated' and 'nationalists were second class citizens, denied rights in their own country'.

Mr. Lynch says: 'The Peace Process and republicans have changed all that. Over the past 15 years, huge time, effort, patience and pain have been invested in the process of bringing permanent peace between the peoples of this island and our closest neighbour. The progress to date has been hard-won and indeed our achievements have been hailed around the world as a successful model for those nations and peoples seeking a way out of conflict.

'Those republicans who oppose Sinn Fein have no strategy or vision to move us towards a new, peaceful Ireland,' he states.

He points at the failure of rival republicans to challenge Sinn Fein politically, at the ballot box, as evidence that they have little support.

'Their existence only assists those forces who wish to drag us back into the mire of conflict,' he argues. 'They want to destroy the hard-won progress of recent years. The progress made for the people of this island and the people of the North cannot be surrendered.

'Whilst the process is not perfect and even difficult at times, the political institutions are a forum for all sections of our community to unite in an effort to make politics work, to set aside old divisions and differences in an on-going process, to build peace based on equality,' says Mr. Lynch.

'The Sinn Fein peace strategy has been hugely successful. The Orange State, as I knew it, is gone. The political relationships on the island are being redefined. The union is hollowed out as an increasingly confident nationalist community takes co-ownership of the Northern and All-Ireland Institutions. The Irish language and national identity in the six counties is vibrant. I have five nieces and nephews under the age of 10 who are fluent Gaelic speakers and proud of their cultural identity. The North is being demilitarised, the police are coming under the account of Irish people rather than British securicrats,' he adds.

'I remain an unrepentant republican who has spent my adult life struggling to achieve the republican objective. The conditions for armed struggle no longer exist. That struggle can only be pursued by peaceful and democratic means. The people of Ireland are in a new place today and there is no space in that place for those who wish a return to the old days. The Peace Process is the only way forward,' insists the former IRA leader.

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