The Nolan Show
BBC Radio Ulster
3 November 2016
Stephen Nolan (SN) interviews former IRA Intelligence Director Kieran Conway (KC) via telephone from Dublin and has Ulster Unionist Party justice spokesperson Doug Beattie (DB) on the line from Belfast. (The Nolan Show advises: ‘Please note this programme has been edited since transmission.‘ – Ed.)
SN: Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie has said he’s disgusted at a BBC interview with a former IRA intelligence officer, Kieran Conway, has said he had participated in a number of armed robberies in England, half a dozen commercial bombings and shootings including a number where soldiers were killed. Mr. Beattie, who is his party’s justice spokesperson, has asked the Minister for Justice and the Chief Constable what action they intend to take following these revelations. I’ve been speaking to Doug Beattie and Kieran Conway and I started by asking Kieran Conway what he did in the IRA.
KC: I participated in IRA operations as you’d expect an IRA man to do.
SN: Can you give me a sense of what some of those operations were?
KC: No, I described them in my book and in various interviews. I participated in gun battles with British soldiers. In a number of them soldiers had died though I can’t be sure if it was my bullet that caused the damage. I participated in a very small number of commercial bombings and I did armed robberies in England and I engaged in all sorts of other IRA activity.
SN: And when you say you involved yourself in commercial bombings – did you plant bombs?
KC: I planted a couple, yeah.
SN: So you carried a bomb into a commercial area and set it down, did you?
KC: I did, yeah. I’m not prepared to go into any more detail on that yet but I did a number of commercial bombings, a very small number.
SN: And what was in your head when you’re leaving a bomb in the middle of an area where there are civilians?
KC: Well your main concern would be that no civilians got hurt and after that you would be concerned about your own get away and it would be in that order.
SN: How can you leave a bomb, Kieran, in a commercial area and pretend that you’re concerned about civilians?
KC: Well no civilians were ever hurt or far less killed in any bombing that I participated in and I’m very grateful for that because I (crosstalk) (inaudible)
SN: But they could have been, couldn’t they, if it’s a commercial…
KC: …clearly they’re dangerous things…
SN: …Yeah, if you mean a commercial area…
KC: …actually no, they couldn’t…
SN: ….if you mean a commercial area you mean…
KC : …(crosstalk) (inaudible)…
SN: …you mean where people shop are, right?
KC: …they couldn’t because of the precautions that were taken.
SN: But you left the bomb where shops were – where people shop?
KC: Yeah, well on occasions these were at night when the street were deserted and on maybe just one occasion it was in daylight – daytime – and there would be police and a warning was phoned in and the area was definitely cleared.
SN: Well that was very good of you to give a warning.
KC: Yeah well, that’s what the IRA always tried to do. There were mistakes – most notoriously Birmingham, Coleraine – a number of others which just don’t come to mind at the moment – incidents like Claudy where they couldn’t find a functioning phone box, the telephone exchange had been blown up the previous week – so yeah it was IRA policy to give a warning, very, very strict policy, and there were always investigations if bombs killed civilians and people were court-martialled, if necessary, for being careless.
SN: I was being facetious when I said it was very good of you, of course, because to…
KC: …No, no – I understand that.
SN: Yeah. To take the risk of leaving – I just , I’m trying to understand how someone like you sleeps in your bed at night when you know you leave a bomb down and men, women, children might get blown to smithereens.
KC: Well men, women and children did not…
SN: …they might have though.
KC: …as a matter of fact. No, they might not because, as I said, suitable precautions were taken and in the one incident where it was a daylight bombing and there was people in the street the area was cleared following a warning given to the authorities.
SN: And you committed armed robbery with the IRA?
KC: I did.
SN: Robbing what type of institutions?
KC: Banks, factories for wages – things of that sort.
SN: So you pointed a gun at someone working a nine to five job?
KC: Yeah. With some regret – not a very nice thing to do but the IRA needed money and those things happen during revolutions. Armed robberies have a long and perfectly respectable history within the revolutionary tradition as revolutionaries need money – they have to get it somewhere.
SN: So to hell with the person that’s traumatised for the rest of their life.
KC: Well look yeah, it’s unfortunate but yeah – that’s the way it is during war or revolution.
SN: You call yourself a soldier?
KC: I do. I do most definitely. We were engaged in a just war which ended badly for us – in total defeat. But yeah, that’s what we were engaged in as far as I’m concerned. I feel no guilt or remorse or anything except that I feel a general remorse because the outcome that has been achieved could have been achieved without the spilling of a single drop of anybody’s blood. So all of that were a waste, a waste of life, completely unnecessary and in that respect should not have happened.
SN: So people like you call yourselves soldiers and yet you said, just a matter of moments ago, that you take a weapon, you take a gun – did you point it at women?
SN: …in some of these jobs?
KC: No…I was in a couple of banks where there would have been women cashiers – none of them were directly affected though…
SN: So you just pointed them at men then that might still to this day have the post-traumatic stress disorder because of people like you.
KC: You just held the gun, you just pointed the gun and yelled in the direction of the person that you wanted to rob.
SN: Yeah. I just try to understand how you then go home and live a life after you’ve done that to another human being. You know, that’s not war, is it? That’s not war.
KC: Well look – I mean look at what the British did during World War II. Look at something like Dresden, you know, warring (inaudible) deliberately decide to slaughter civilians – three hundred thousand killed in massive fire bombs you know – that’s the real thing – at least we gave warnings.
SN: Doug Beattie, what’s your reaction so far to what you’ve heard already?
DB: You know, I understand the nature of conflict but when I use the word disgusted, and I don’t use that word lightly, I’ve actually been staggered. What we’re talking about here – is a man you’re talking to on the other end of the phone who knew about the Birmingham bombing – who planted the bombs, who planned it, who debriefed them – twenty-one people dead, a hundred and eighty-seven injured, six innocent men going to jail for life and he knew about it and said nothing. He’s already admitted himself that he knows about at least a dozen war crimes and he’s not willing to say who done that. Does he know who killed Jean McConville? Does he know anything about the Stakeknife incident?
He has openly said, himself, that he has attempted to murder and possibly even murdered British soldiers. Now how on earth is this man not behind bars for what he’s done and what he’s said about withholding information? I am staggered. I am staggered that the Republic justice system has not got hold of this guy by the scruff of the neck. I am staggered that the British government hasn’t tried to extradite him and I would want to know: Does this man hold a comfort letter? Does he have an OTR letter? What gives him such a brazen attitude that he can sit here and quite openly say he’s done what he’s done?
SN: Well, did you have an on-the-run letter, Kieran?
KC: No, I don’t. The only people that would have got those were people who sided with the leadership – I would not be such a person.
SN: Why do you think you haven’t been extradited?
KC: Well you can’t be extradited for questioning. I mean there’s no evidence against me other than what’s in my book. Now I could be charged with IRA membership, that is certainly possible but as for being charged with – that would be up for debate.
SN: You’ve just said openly on this programme you’ve been engaged in armed robbery.
KC: Yeah well look, I mean they would have to charge me with armed robbery at a place unknown, on a date unknown, of people unknown you know, I mean that’d be a stretch even for the British justice system. There’s no evidence….
SN: You think you’re clever, don’t you?
KC: …unless I chose to make a… No, not particularly. There’s no evidence unless I chose to make a confession and I certainly won’t be doing that.
SN: Do you know who was involved in the Birmingham Pub bombings?
KC: I do. And so does everybody else. It’s public knowledge. It’s been published several times. It’s been on television – the names of the people. The only bit of information that I have, which would not be of any material use to the authorities, is the name of the second man who did the debrief. He is an IRA man that is still living and I won’t name him.
SN: Why not?
KC: Because I simply do not finger IRA men.
SN: So you’ve written a book about all of this – I’m actually minded to think is any of this true? Are you just trying to sell a book? Do you like the attention to such an extent that maybe you didn’t do any of this?
KC: No. The book, its contents, are all true. It hasn’t been challenged by anybody. As I said, it’s a truthful memoir.
SN: Have you killed people?
KC: I don’t know. I say that in the book and I’ve said it repeatedly in the dozens of interviews I’ve done since.
SN: What do you mean you don’t know?
KC: I don’t know. I was present when British soldiers died in gun battles but I can’t be sure that it was my bullet that caused the damage.
SN: So you were complicit in it?
KC: Yes. I was an IRA activist. That’s what IRA activists did.
SN: How many people might you have you killed?
KC: Very few.
DB: Stephen, if I can jump in here – Now let’s put this into the narrative that Kieran is using – let’s put this as a narrative as a war. Okay so I’m a soldier and I go out on the ground, I have a rifle in my hand and I know that the likes of Kieran is going to try and kill me. Fine. I’m happy with that. And do you know what? Within the rules of engagement if I get Kieran with a weapon within my sights I’m going to kill him. That’s fine – I can live with that if that’s the narrative he wants to use. But he is saying he knows about war crimes. This is the abduction, the torturing, the murdering of civilians and he knows about it and he’s not going to tell us? Now there needs to be action purely on that if nothing else. So whatever narrative Kieran wants to use he can’t justify knowing about war crimes and not telling the authorities about those war crimes. There are families out there – and we just seen it yesterday – the families of the missing who are still waiting to get their loved ones bodies back. Does he know anything about that? If he does he needs to go to the authorities and he needs to tell them.
SN: Do you know anything about that, Kieran?
KC: I don’t know anything about the ‘disappeared’. ‘Disappearing’ people was quite definitely a war crime. Another war crime is Kingsmills and the shooting of uninvolved Protestants was always a war crime. They were killed in, supposedly, in retaliation for UDA (Ulster Defence Association)/UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) attacks on Catholics but retaliation of that sort on civilians is forbidden by all laws of war and should not have occurred and were war crimes so there were more than the half, many, many more, than the half-dozen that I suggested there were. Another war crimes that was, fortunately, a short-lived use of human bombs by the IRA where people were strapped into vehicles with a large amount of explosives, directed to drive to a barracks or whatever and were then blown up by remote trigger. That was a war crime. Yeah, those are crimes.
DB: Absolutely, Kieran, and I lost a friend, Cyril Smith, by one of those human bombs that was (inaudible). As a soldier, if I know about a war crime I will report it. I will go out of my way to make sure that action is taken. If you call yourself a soldier, if you have any decency whatsoever, you should be going forward with any information you have of war crimes and passing it on. This nonsense of omerta within the IRA doesn’t really work.
KC: Well, I don’t have specific information. I’d imagine that the authorities do. For instance in relation to Kingsmills, possibly the most notorious of them, I was not in the IRA at the time so I just don’t know. And I don’t know about the ‘disappeared’ and I don’t know about any of the other assassination of (inaudible) etc etc that I’ve mentioned.
DB: But as a former intelligence officer, Kieran, you’ll know that every small piece of information can link to something bigger so therefore you should bring yourself up to Northern Ireland, hand yourself to the PSNI and let them question you about what you do know.
KC: Yeah. All I can do is to repeat that I don’t know anything.
DB: Could you not come up and let them question you? Let them ask you? Let them see if… (crosstalk) (inaudible)
KC: …No, if I come to Belfast I would expect that I might well be arrested and charged for membership back in the ’70’s and ’80’s because I’ve admitted in my book, I’ve said it in various interviews so there’d be plenty of evidence there. I wouldn’t be answering police questions. I’ve been in custody many times and I’ve never answered police questions.
SN: So why can’t – why can’t they…
KC: …but that is the only evidence against me is the evidence of myself that I was an IRA man and I participated in IRA…
SN: …So I’m trying to understand it. Maybe you could – you’re a lawyer now, Kieran, is that right?
KC: I am, yes.
SN: So educate me then – why can’t the authorities here in The North not extradite you based on the crime of IRA membership then?
KC: They could. I don’t know whether the courts in The South would give me up. They quite possibly would and (crosstalk) (inaudible)
SN: There hasn’t been an attempt to?
KC: No, but I knew I was taking that risk when I wrote the book and I went ahead and wrote it anyway. So yes, that’s something that is conceivable.
SN: I dare say there might be quite a few people listening to this today that would like to see a bomber like you in jail.
KC: Oh yeah, I’m quite sure there would be, yeah.
SN: So Doug…
KC: My view in all that, just to finish this, is that a conflict of this sort should end with a general amnesty that should include, for instance – and this is why the Republicans won’t go for it – it should include an amnesty for the soldiers that were involved in murder on Bloody Sunday and on other occasions. There should be blanket amnesty for everybody.
SN: Doug, why – have you asked the Minister for Justice why there’s no attempt to extradite this man?
DB: I’ve written to both the Minister for Justice and I’ve written to the Chief Constable. I spoke to the Minister of Justice late last night. She was just coming back from an event – she couldn’t say much but she intends to raise the issue with the Chief Constable herself and I await to see what the outcome is of that. Because I mean, you know until somebody stands up and boastfully sort of starts talking about what they’ve done with no real compassion but then that’s where the issue really lies here – that people are able to do this. And I really am disgusted. And I can accept narratives of different shapes and folds and I can accept that some people see it as a just war you know. But what of these six innocent people who were jailed for life for Birmingham even though the likes of Kieran they were innocent and allowed them to go to jail, you know – how can that be justified?
KC: It’s not true that I allowed them to go to jail or that the IRA allowed them to go to jail. The British justice system put them in jail. The British justice system knew that they were not guilty. They needed scapegoats and they chose them. The IRA said from the outset that they were innocent and they had nothing to do – they said it repeatedly.
DB: And the IRA didn’t admit carrying out the Birmingham bombings ’til you did it yourself, I believe, in 2014?
KC: No, no, that’s simply not the case. It was admitted many, many years ago.
SN: Do you think then the ease with which you talk about being involved in armed robbery, the ease with which you talk about shooting at people and Ach, yeah – you don’t know if you killed people or not, the ease with which you left a bomb in a commercial area, shops in other words – there might have been a woman pushing a pram beside that – maybe she wouldn’t have got away after your warning, might have been blown up, do you think you’ve got psychopathic tendencies?
KC: I don’t. Short answer.
SN: So process that in your head. You don’t really care if you’ve killed people or not.
KC: I’ve processed it. I’ve processed it. It’s not true. I was engaged in a war. Things happen in a war as I said… (crosstalk) (inaudible)
SN: Well ISIS, who put people in cages and burn them alive, think they’re engaged in a war.
KC: Yeah well – they’re engaged in – they’re most clearly engaged in a conflict but their means are ruthless and criminal.
SN: Possibly psychopathic.
KC: Yeah, I’m quite sure there are psychopaths in ISIS.
SN: But of course, you’re not one.
KC: No, I’m not. And if this interview is going to descend to that level of abuse we might simply call it a day.
SN: Oh, really? You’re getting sensitive now – you’re getting sensitive Mr. Bomber?
KC: No, no. But I’m sensitive to the charge of being a psychopath. I deny it.
SN: So you don’t like the hard questions.
KC: No, that’s not a hard question at all. That’s just common abuse.
SN: Really? Common abuse?
SN: From a man who planted bombs in commercial areas?
SN: Are you for real?
SN: What would you like me to say?
KC: I am for real, yeah but it’s not…
SN: …What would you like me to say?
KC: Frankly, I don’t care what you say. Look, I’m here to answer your questions and I’m doing so in as civil a manner as possible and I will react badly if I’m called a psychopath.
SN: Tough. The actions of a psychopath are those people that can inflict harm and injury and violence on another human being and they don’t feel the emotion associated with it. That’s why I feel it’s a legitimate question. Do you feel emotion? Does it weigh on your conscience? Do you find it difficult sleeping at night when you think about what you have done?
KC: No, I have no difficulty sleeping at night.
SN: Do you feel any sense of guilt?
KC: But as I said, as I said I have no sense of guilt except I have a huge general remorse in relation to everybody that was killed – British soldiers, RUC men, everyone – because, as I said, this conflict was not worth a drop of anybody’s blood.
SN: But in terms of you, personally – because I think we do need to individualise this – in terms of you personally, process for me why you think you don’t have any sense of guilt or remorse when you get those flashbacks of literally of leaving, the actual action of setting a bomb down and walking away. Tell me why that’s not ingrained in your mind?
KC: Well look – it was all a long time ago. I seldom think about it. I don’t really think about it unless I’m reminded in interviews like this. As far as I’m concerned I was engaged in a just war. And millions of soldiers have gone to war over the centuries, I’d imagine that a few of them did feel of remorse, do you know what I mean, and guilt over things that they did, but I’m not one of those. The vast majority of soldiers just get on with their lives when the war is over.
DB: Well, I have a conscience. I feel remorse. I’ve held a dying six year old in my hands and it weights on my conscience heavily. I’ve had difficulty sleeping at night – they’re the natural feelings of a soldier who’s had to engage in something terrible, a terrible conflict, and suffers the scars afterwards. But what Kieran’s describing is somebody who just doesn’t seem to care. And in fact, in his interview he said he happily, as a lawyer, defends dissident Republicans and he’s happy for the work. Now I don’t know what you read into that when he says he’s ‘happy for the work’ you know but there’s something severely wrong here. And do you know, what I can see in the likes Kieran feel they’ve moved on – and fine –and I think people should be allowed to move on but if they have information, if he really has information, then he needs to make that information known. To me it’s simple. And if it was me, if I knew information, if I told anybody that I could get information about a particular crime then I would be the first one who was going to be in front of the police to answer questions. And I think that Kieran needs to do that. Now, if it’s not going to be in front of the PSNI then it needs to be in front of the Garda but he needs to answer these questions. I think it’s incredibly important that he does.
SN: Okay. We’re going to have to leave it there. Kieran, thank you very much for talking to us today. Doug Beattie, thank you. (ends)