The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) has said it is involved in a feud with Dublin criminals and has threatened to wipe out anyone who harms its members.
Declan Duffy, reputed to be the paramilitary group's Dublin commander, said yesterday the INLA would kill anyone who threatened him or hurt his family. "If any member of the INLA or our political wing is harmed, the INLA will wipe them out. If they think they can run off to Spain and live happy ever after, they should think again. They will be hunted down and executed," he said.
Gardai were forced to evacuate more than 100 residents of a street in Dublin's south inner-city last week when a grenade was thrown at a house. The Samaritans received a call to say more explosives had been left in the area but none were found. Gardai believe the INLA was behind the attack, which Duffy denied.
The INLA ceasefire is in danger of collapse because of its feud with Dublin criminals, which has involved beatings, shootings and the grenade attack. Gardai believe the Independent Monitoring Commission, set up to monitor paramilitary activity, will have no option but to declare the INLA ceasefire over in its next report.
Apart from vicious internecine feuds, the left-wing IRA splinter group is notorious for the murder of Airey Neave, the Tory MP, in a car bomb attack at the House of Commons in 1979. After declaring a ceasefire in 1998, all its prisoners were released, including the notorious Dessie O'Hare.
Duffy was officially warned by gardai yesterday that his life was is in "grave danger". Detectives believe he was behind a series of attacks on a south Dublin criminal gang who threatened him in a bar last week. Gardai suspect the INLA had attempted to extort money from the gang.
"I did not start any feud with them and I haven't carried out any attacks," Duffy said. "I am aware that they are trying to hire a gunman to kill me. They have approached criminals in Spain to do their dirty work but no-one will get involved."
His claims were endorsed by Eddie McGarrigle, of the Irish Republican Socialist party, the INLA's political wing. "There is ongoing tension between republican socialists and drug dealers in Dublin," he said. "We thought this tension had been sorted out, then the people involved got 'coked up' and came into a pub and started on Declan. But we took no action.
"The INLA is not going to throw a hand grenade onto a street in Dublin. If we are going to take military action against drug dealers, that is not the action we are going to take."
McGarrigle insisted that the INLA had not breached its ceasefire and was not involved in any paramilitary activity in the republic. He said the ceasefire would not be compromised even if the INLA carried out an attack on Dublin criminals.
"The INLA does not consider taking action against drug dealers to be a breach of its ceasefire, which is against the British forces in Northern Ireland. It does not extend to criminals. If anyone attacks the republican socialist movement, the INLA will defend them."
Duffy was freed from Castlerea prison two months ago after serving a nine-year sentence for his role in an incident in Ballymount in west Dublin in 1999 during which members of a criminal gang were stripped, beaten and interrogated by the INLA.
He obtained a degree in social sciences while in prison and said he hoped to become a drugs counsellor. Originally from south Armagh, Duffy comes from a staunch republican family. He joined the INLA in 1987 at 13, when his older brother Kevin was shot dead by the British Army.
He is wanted by the British authorities for involvement in the murder of Michael Newman, 33, a recruitment sergeant, in Derby in 1992. The victim was shot once in the head as he left work. The INLA admitted responsibility for the killing.