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Political process will not deliver a united Ireland - Billy McKee

Billy McKee pictured outside Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne where he regularly attends Mass. Picture by by Mal McCann 
Connla Young

A FOUNDING member of the Provisional IRA has said he believes the current political process in the north will not lead to a united Ireland.

Belfast man Billy McKee was speaking as republicans across Ireland gathered in recent days to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

The 94-year-old is an iconic figure within republicanism, although he remains a fierce critic of Sinn Féin’s peace strategy and the party’s leadership.

He believes the current political process will not lead to an independent Ireland.

"Fianna Fail did the same thing, Fine Gael, they went that way in 1922 and near 100 years and we are still under British rule," he said.

Born just months after partition in 1921, Mr McKee has been an active republican since the 1930s.

He joined the IRA’s youth wing, Na Fianna hÉireann in 1936 at the age of 15, and was imprisoned in every decade between the 1930s and the 1970s.

The veteran republican remains staunchly critical of Sinn Féin and its involvement in the Provisional IRA's decision to decommission its weapons over a decade ago.

He also remains angry over the decision to disarm.

"The main thing is them weapons belonged to the republican movement and if they wanted to drop out and go political that was up to themselves," he said.

"I or none of the other republicans would have had any objections, go and do what they wanted to do, but they had no right to hand those weapons over, that was treachery.

"I condemn it and I condemn them."

Viewed as an uncompromising physical force republican, he was instrumental in the establishment and growth of the Provisional IRA in Belfast during the 1970s.

He claims that a paramilitary campaign is justified.

"England had to get out of different countries so they have to get out of Ireland too," he said.

"She took it by force and we have to use force to get it back."

Mr McKee has no regrets about his past.

"If I was the young man today I would be with the group that would be the proper IRA," he said.

"I would never condemn them in any way, my heart and soul is with them."

He was due at a National Republican Commemoration Committee parade in Coalisland on Easter Sunday but was unable to attend due to ill health.

Mr McKee said that while the IRA "may be weaker" today he doesn't believe republicanism has been diluted in recent years.

In 1971 he was one of several republicans who defended St Matthew's Church in the Short Strand area of east Belfast from a loyalist mob.

Two loyalists and one republican were killed during what became known as the `Battle of Short Strand'.

Two years earlier, loyalists had burned down dozens of Catholic homes in Bombay Street in west Belfast and later tried to target Clonard Monastery.

A small group of armed republicans a defended the streets around the monastery.

"Bombay Street came out of the blue, there was no-one kicking up a row," Mr McKee said.

"There was no actual hassle from the Catholic side, the next night they came down to do the same at Clonard and only there was about five or six lads there and they opened up and cleared them. They would have burned Clonard and the chapel."

Mr McKee said the IRA barely existed in Belfast at the time and the defence of nationalist areas was left to poorly armed individual republicans.

"There was a group called themselves the IRA but actually they were attached to Cathal Goulding who was known to be an out and out communist who was in touch with Russia.

"When the Troubles broke out there was no IRA," he said.

During this time Mr McKee helped establish the Provisional IRA which ended its campaign in 2005.

He said he didn't know when a united Ireland would come.

"I haven't a clue. How long did we have to wait to get 26 counties - 800 years," he said.

"If there is any Irishness in the Irish nation they will keep on looking for it and I would do it by hook or by crook."

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