29 July 2005

Statement tripped up by technology

Belfast Telegraph

**Actually, according to my records, the statement was posted on DI shortly before 12.30pm

By Senan Molony
29 July 2005

'P. O'Neill', that mystery man, has gone upmarket. The production of an IRA statement on video is the first filmed IRA press initiative since leaders appeared at a secret press conference to signal that internment in 1972 had failed.

Long-time IRA prisoner Seanna Walsh read out the IRA statement on a DVD distributed to broadcast media.

A former prisonmate of Bobby Sands, he was carefully chosen to appeal to the heartland of volunteers, having spent a total of 21 years in prison.

First arrested as a 16-year-old in 1973 while robbing a bank, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Released in May 1976, he was free for only three months when he was charged with possession of a rifle.

Sentenced to ten years, Mr Walsh joined the blanket protest when he arrived in the H-Blocks, where he remained for seven years and seven months.

He was then caught making explosives and mortar bombs and was sentenced to 22 years. He was released under the Good Friday Agreement, aged 42, having spent over half his life in jail. A former Officer Commanding IRA prisoners, Mr Walsh was dressed in a plain white shirt, with no paramilitary trappings anywhere visible.

However, the IRA's surprising use of a DVD was overshadowed by the manner in which the statement leaked out.

The momentous declaration was intended to be released at 2pm. Copies were distributed to select media from 10am, with an emphasis on the strict embargo to the afternoon.

But in fact the statement leaked out through the same technology the IRA has sought to harness. Shortly after 12.30pm, the embargoed statement was posted in error on the website of the Republican newspaper, 'Daily Ireland'. Within minutes Sinn Fein sources telephoned the newspaper asking for the material to be removed.

The story was pulled - but in the meantime it had been seen by journalists hungrily scanning all news media. The news that the IRA's war was over was now in the public domain.

At 12.49pm, RTE radio broke into the John Creedon programme to bring a newsflash from the newsroom.

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