Updated: 16/01/17 : 06:37:00
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Sligo arms find aftermath still chases IRA

Special Report

The seizure thirty years ago of IRA arms in Sligo hasn't gone away you know.

Over sixty weapons, including Kalashnikov assault rifles from Libya, were captured by Gardai in January 1986 at two locations in Sligo.

Four months later the IRA quartermaster in charge of the arms dumped near Strandhill and Gurteen was, in their grisly words, ''executed.''

The body of Frank Hegarty was found, in the pouring rain, dumped on a roadside near Castlederg in Co Tyrone, pictured.

His eyes were taped and he had been shot in the back of the head, said contemporary news accounts.

Hegarty had been first recruited to the paramilitary ranks in the 1970s by Martin McGuinness in his native Derry.

That was not in dispute but everything in the aftermath of the biggest weapons find ever in Sligo was, and still is, disputed.

For instance, several members of Hegarty's family say he was invited back from England by Martin McGuinness.

McGuinness has repeatedly insisted he was no longer in the IRA in 1986, that he had left a dozen years earlier and had no role in these events.

Hegarty had fled overnight after those January 1986 arms finds in Sligo and a third temporary dump discovery in north Roscommon.

Attracted Attention

After decades of largely being ignored, the Sligo saga has in more recent years attracted attention from some of the most senior journalists in Ireland and the UK.

These include Suzanne Breen of the Irish Mail on Sunday, Peter Murtagh of The Irish Times and Ed Moloney.

Moloney was Northern Editor of the defunct Sunday Tribune, a historian, author and extensive online blogger.

The late Ian Paisley, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) founder also raised Hegarty's case in the British House of Commons.

Others, too, have written, including ex BBC security specialist Andrew Gilligan for The Daily Telegraph and Kathryn Johnston, biographer, in the Belfast Telegraph this past week.

Deserve Truth

Johnston has advocated that McGuinness legacy, after he leaves politics, would be set if he were now to lead a 'truth recovery' process.

Said Johnston: ''The families of the victims who are still desperately pursuing clues for the motives behind the attacks on their loved ones, who are still haunted by imaginings of how they lost their lives, and most of all those families of the Disappeared, deserve the truth, no matter how brutal that may be.''

Yesterday, Moloney returned to the subject of Frank Hegarty, the IRA man ''executed'' after those Sligo weapons seizures, in The Sunday Business Post.

But first Peter Murtagh of The Irish Times, who in 2011 said he was stymied from investigating the issue when he went to Derry one month after the 1986 slaying.

Murtagh wrote in 2011: ''After his murder, the IRA claimed Hegarty had revealed to the authorities the whereabouts of three arms dumps, one in Roscommon (near Croghan) and two in Sligo (at Gurteen and Coolera). 

''In dawn raids on January 26th, Gardai had arrested five men and found thousands of bullets and some 130 guns, 60 of them Kalashnikov assault rifles. 

''If the IRA’s accusation is true, Hegarty probably saved the lives of many people.''

From Libya

Added Peter Murtagh: ''The IRA claimed the arms were from Libya. 

''In a characteristically pompous and self-regarding statement,'' said Murtagh, ''the organisation explained itself thus: 'We have now executed Mr Frank Hegarty.'

''Responsibility for the danger in which he finally placed himself rests not with his handler or the British government but with the Dublin government, now a partner with Britain in the recruiting of agents and spies,'' Murtagh recalled the 1986 IRA statement said.

Disturbing Case

Yesterday, in an assessment of Martin McGuinness' political and paramilitary career, Ed Moloney argued it had escaped the same scrutiny as that of Gerry Adams.

Said Moloney yesterday: ''McGuinness own equally controversial republican career has escaped the same scrutiny, not least the disturbing 1986 case of Frank Hegarty.....''

McGuinness has always denied roles in any of those 1986 incidents.

He has also never been questioned by security services, North or south, about those events. 

He dealt with some earlier IRA activity during his 2011 bid to become President of Ireland.

Make Peace

'‘I didn’t say I never fired a gun,'' he told the Irish Mail: ''I was in the IRA. There were battles on the streets of Derry.''

Asked at that time if he had ever killed anyone, he answered no.

Added McGuinness: ''And I do think some people in the media down here, some elements…..need to think about peacemaking and how they make their peace with me.’'