During the 1981 hunger strike, Seamus Ruddy gave The Irish Times a couple of great leads for stories during that long, seemingly endless protest, contributing in a small way to a bountiful summer of exclusives for the Times‘ Belfast office (myself, Andy Pollak and Fionnuala O’Connor).
I was grateful for the stories but always found him to be a decent enough fellow to boot and for that reason alone I am glad that at long last his remains have been found.
He also struck me as one of the more politically astute characters in the IRSP/INLA and I wondered whether or for how long he would have stayed in that group. I was surprised to discover that he was still associated when he was ‘disappeared’ in 1985.
Looking at the matter from a distance, it seems that those who knew where he had been buried could have revealed the necessary details long before this, but for reasons that defy understanding kept silent, adding immeasurably to his family’s torment.
There was no doubt in my mind that in talking to The Irish Times in the summer of 1981, Ruddy was at least partly motivated by frustration at the behaviour of the Provos, with whom the INLA prisoners were sharing the protest, ostensibly as equals.
In practice Sinn Fein called the shots, excluding the IRSP/INLA at key moments from both information and decisions – and ultimately much of the subsequent narrative of the hunger strike, which is often portrayed as an exclusively IRA affair.
The bad feelings between them over the hunger strikes have persisted and most recently found expression in anger over Richard O’Rawe’s revelations that the Provos sabotaged an effort from the British side to end the protest in the run up to the death of Joe McDonnell. It seems all this happened behind the IRSP/INLA’s backs.
The discovery of Seamus Ruddy’s remains means that the number of ‘disappeared’ still to be found has dwindled to four: IRA intelligence officer, Joe Lynskey, the first to be hidden in a secret grave; Columba McVeigh and Capt Robert Nairac, both ‘disappeared by the IRA; and Lisa Dorrian, a Catholic girl ‘disappeared’ by Loyalists.
The full story of how and why Seamus Ruddy met his death has yet to be told but there’s no doubt that he was a victim of the collective madness, feuding and general barbarity that engulfed the INLA in the 1980’s (not that these were exactly refined individuals in the 1970’s either).
One day people will look back and wonder how on earth such things came to happen.