Northern Ireland

IRA raised peace talk with Libya in 1982

'The Padre, The True Story of the Irish Priest Who Armed the IRA'
'The Padre, The True Story of the Irish Priest Who Armed the IRA'

A former Catholic priest who acted as a link man between the IRA and the Libyan government has revealed how the republican movement was planning for peace in the early 1980s.

Patrick Ryan acted on behalf of the republican movement in its dealings with the African state during the 1970s and 80s.

The Padre, The True Story of the Irish Priest Who Armed the IRA, by award-winning BBC investigative journalist Jennifer O'Leary, sheds fresh light on the relationship between the IRA and the Libyan regime, led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

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For around two decades, Gaddafi provided weapons and cash to the republican movement.

Mr Ryan's involvement with the IRA and its campaign in Ireland, England and mainland Europe, as well as his role in the paramilitary group's bomb-making capacity, are also explored along with a failed attempt by the British government to extradite him in the late 1980s.

In the book Mr Ryan, who is now aged 93, talks about parting ways with the Catholic Church and why he started to work with the IRA, although he claims he was never a member of the organisation.

The former clergyman reveals that during a meeting in 1982 a colleague, known as The Duty Man, told Libyan intelligence officials that the republican movement was moving towards peace.

The meeting took place a year after the end of the 1981 hunger strike, which claimed the lives of 10 republicans as part of a protest for political status.

The republican movement had enjoyed a surge of support during the prison protest along with electoral success..

More than a decade later, the IRA called its 1994 ceasefire, with the Good Friday Agreement signed four years after that.

Read more:Who were the Provisional IRA?

Patrick Ryan
Patrick Ryan

Mr Ryan revealed how former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness wanted The Duty Man to visit Tripoli but that he first needed to be cleared by Libyan intelligence.

To facilitate this, Mr Ryan arranged a meeting with two Libyan intelligence officials in Paris.

"He came alive, he waxed on, talking about peace, about the war coming to an end and the two Libyans were sitting opposite us, taking it all in," Mr Ryan revealed.

"While he was rabbiting on about peace and politics, I sat looking across at the Libyans and I could see their faces turning whiter and whiter.

"I could see that this was not going down well."

Mr Ryan said The Duty Man was later refused permission to travel to Libya by its intelligence agencies.

He reveals that Mr McGuiness reacted badly to the news that his man had been blocked from entering Libya and after a sharp exchange Mr Ryan made the decision to end his involvement as a go-between.

Despite his departure the IRA continued its relationship with Libya, which resulted in a huge amount of weaponry being shipped to Ireland in the late 80s.

Jennifer O'Leary
Jennifer O'Leary

Ms O'Leary said the former priest was a man of many contradictions.

"His existence and part of his story were known but I guess his account and his telling of his story was something that he never thought he would probably ever do," she said.

Ms O'Leary said Mr Ryan's decision to tell his story was not taken on a "whim".

"He is a man of contradictions at every level, in terms of his life, in terms of the choices he has made and in terms of his reflections nowadays when he looks back on his involvement.

"Contradiction is at the very core of his character."

Ms O'Leary said the former priest has no regrets over his involvement with the republican movement.

"I guess what many people will find most startling and most hurtful for some people is the fact that he doesn't have any regrets," he said.

"I think there may be an expectation that he may have reflected on what he did and the loss of life and because he was a one-time Catholic priest that maybe those reflections would stray into something of a more forgiving or remorseful view.

"But that's not his view, he doesn't have any regrets."

'The Padre, The True Story of the Irish Priest Who Armed the IRA', published by Merrion Press will be launched at No Alibis Bookstore in south Belfast on Thursday, August 24, at 6pm.