How an IRA volunteer was radicalised against the backdrop of student revolts all over the world…

Just on the hoof, this is worth linking (not least because Anthony’s patient transcriber’s done us a favour in committing a longish HARD Talk interview to text). It’s Stephen Sackur interviewing Kieran Conway, now a defence lawyer in Dublin, formerly an IRA volunteer.

What’s particularly interesting is the part where he explains his transition from student to ‘soldier’

SS: Why?

KC: Well I went to university in 1968, the autumn of ’68, against the backdrop of student revolts all over the world, particularly Germany, France and to a lesser extent, the UK also the US, the Vietnam War, South Africa and so on. And although I didn’t join anything in the first year I took part in the many protests that took place. And then in 1969 The North blew up. The Catholic areas were attacked by a combination of RUC men, that’s the police force in The North, and Loyalists and many, many houses were burnt down. People were killed. People were injured. The IRA at the time was not in a good shape but they did defend some areas as best they could with very small numbers. That event led directly to the birth of the Provisionals who were people who were dissatisfied with the stance that the then-leadership of the IRA was taking. They broke away, formed the Provisionals, recruited and I eventually joined them.

SS: I can see how, in that period of ’68-’69 of revolutionary fervour on campuses across the world frankly – I can see how you’d get swept up in that and I think you saw yourself as a very radical socialist.

KC: Oh, yeah, yeah.

SS: I get all of that. But what I don’t get is your determination which you pushed all the way to going to Belfast but then even going to England to actually join an underground secret military organisation where you knew, and actually you sought out, the opportunity to use guns, to consider planting bombs, to commit acts of violence. That is one heck of a step!

KC: Well it was clear that a revolutionary situation had developed in Ireland and many people, everybody I knew, was either communist or anarchist, syndicalist in those days but…

SS: …Weren’t all of them just talk? And you acted.

KC: Yeah, I know that, yeah and I did act, yes. I’ve always been…

SS: …I mean you must have been prepared, even as a young man of twenty, to consider killing people.

KC: Oh, yeah, absolutely accepted that as part of the price, if you like, of joining the IRA – clearly people were going to be killed.

SS: And you were going to do it.

KC: Yes, I was quite prepared to do it, yeah.

This connection with student radicalism across the western world was much in evidence at the time, but rarely features in modern commentary on the events of the time. Much focus has been on civil rights, and in the particular the development of the SDLP by prominent figures in the NICRA.

The self-imposed limits of Conway’s evidence also provide further evidence of why no truth and reconciliation process is ever likely to provide any satisfactory material for the 1700+ victims of the Provisionals.