Robbers prepared to kill hostages

Brian Rowan’s book Paisley and the Provos is out. Throughout the peace process, Rowan has been one of a select number of journalists favoured by the IRA to carry its key statements. The book carries interviews with a number of key players, including Martin McGuinness, who repeats his assertion that the bank robbery was not in the political interests of Sinn Fein. But it also carries Hugh Orde’s assessment of who was behind the robbery:

Although the robbery at the Northern’s Belfast HQ just before Christmas shattered confidence and wrecked attempts to revive the Stormont Assembly, the book also focuses on the IRA’s decision this year to call off its campaign and disarm. But Mr Orde gave a grim assessment of the lengths the raiders were ready to go to after taking over two households, one in west Belfast and the other in Loughinisland, Co Down, and ordering bank employees to help clear the vaults while their families were held at gunpoint.

“This was being seen as a great success within certain republican circles, and what was being forgotten was that there were some real victims in this,” he told Rowan. “People could have died. If people hadn’t complied they’d have happily killed them. This is what PIRA do. So, it was a particularly brutal and vicious robbery… This was a crime at the top end of violence. People will not recover from this. It was that brutal. This wasn’t some Robin Hood effort. This was people robbing people using maximum violence and fear of death to achieve their advantage.”

Several men have since been arrested and charged over the robbery, including one accused of the raid itself. He has denied any involvement. Days after the robbery Sir Hugh publicly blamed the IRA, and he told Rowan that no- one has seriously challenged him on his view.

“This (the IRA) is an organisation which is almost Stalinist in nature… The notion that a job like that could be carried out without authority is just off beam,” he said. Asked if it was sanctioned from the top, the Chief Constable added: “It had to be, had to be.”