Ireland Revisited: Part 22
Wright’s murder created major instability in Northern Ireland and the LVF began its revenge for Wright’s death within hours. The night of his murder, LVF gunmen opened fire inside the Glengannon Hotel, where nearly 500 Catholic teenagers were enjoying a disco.
Three innocent civilians were injured and a former Provisional IRA man was killed. Wright’s close friend Mark Fulton took over the leadership of the LVF and declared a ceasefire in May 1998. In December 1998 the LVF became the first paramilitary group on either side of the divide to decommission some of its weapons to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.
Loyalist feuds between the LVF and UVF continued however, claiming many victims in the following years. Martin O’Hagan, the Sunday World investigative journalist who labelled Billy Wright as “King Rat” was also murdered in 2001 by the Red Hand Defenders; a group believed to be a cover name for the LVF and UDA. O’Hagan was a journalist especially despised by Billy Wright, as O’Hagan frequently exposed details of Wright and his LVF operations along with details of Wright’s personal life.
The Real IRA, or Oglaigh na hEireann, formed in 1997 following a split in the Provisional IRA after disagreements about the peace process. After a Provisional IRA General Army Convention in Co. Donegal, Quarter Master Michael McKevitt, also a member of the 12-man Provisional IRA Executive, denounced the Provisional leadership and demanded an end to the ceasefire and all participation in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
He, along with his high profile wife Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, the sister of hunger striker Bobby Sands, got voted off the PIRA Army Council along with Kevin McKenna. The three resigned, along with several other members of the Provisional IRA and in November 1997 they held a meeting in Co. Meath and founded the Real IRA.
The organization immediately attracted disaffected members of the Provisional IRA, particularly in the republican strongholds of South Armagh, Tyrone, and Fermanagh. Similar to the Provisional IRA frequently using Sinn Fein as their political voice, the Real IRA formed the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, led by Bernadette Sands-McKevitt.
Sands-McKevitt said later in an interview that; “Bobby (Sands) did not die for cross-border bodies with executive powers. He did not die for nationalists to be equal British citizens within the Northern Ireland state”. The Real IRA’s first operation was a bomb in Banbridge on 7th January 1998, when they placed a 300lb bomb in a car, only to be thwarted by the security forces.
The Real IRA carried out further attacks in Newtownhamilton and Newry and a 500lb bomb exploded in Banbridge on 1st August injuring 35 people and causing £3.5m damage. Up until this point, the Real IRA had, in terms of its own ambitions anyway, achieved anything which could be considered a ‘success’.
The group was infiltrated with informers and the Real IRA was temporarily affected after arrests to key members North and South of the border. The British and Irish Governments though, knew the Real IRA posed a major threat to the peace process and believed the group was planning something major.
This assessment proved to be correct and on 15th August 1998 the Real IRA carried out a bomb attack in Omagh which would have devastating consequences…
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