Gallagher talked last week about the political thinking
which led him to take part in the kidnapping of
Dr. Tiede Herrema 30 years ago this month.
Herrema, chief executive of the Dutch-owned Ferenka
factory in Limerick, was seized as he left home
on October 4th 1975. His captors demanded the release
of three IRA prisoners as the price of his safe
Gallagher says that the point of the kidnap was
to win the release of the prisoners without killing
gardai or prison warders.
Herrema was held hostage for 36 days before being
freed after a 18-day siege of a house at Monasterevin.,
Co. Kildare. Gallagher, then 28, from Donegal, and
Derry woman Marion Coyle, 21, were arrested at the
scene. They were sentenced the following year to
20 and 15 years respectively. Coyle was released
in 1985, Gallagher in 1990.
Gallagher is critical of IRA leaders of the time
and suggests that his unit operated with a degree
IRA volunteers were given basic training and
thrown in at the deep end against well-trained and
equipped British soldiers, he says. When
we asked for better and heavier weapons, excuses
came down from the top.
An IRA chartered plane carrying weapons
had disappeared over the Atlantic, an IRA weapons
purchaser had handed over £80,000 and landed
home with boxes filled with scrap, and so on. After
a while, we began to suspect that the leadership
was afraid to move the struggle on to a higher level
because they were nervous that the Free State Government
would close them down. It would be interesting to
have a case study done on how some senior IRA leaders
were placed where they were. At one stage we just
refused to tell them what we were about to do, in
case we were ambushed when we arrived to do our
Gallagher claims that in the early stages of the
Troubles, Free State representatives
had tried to encourage a number of Republicans to
assassinate leaders of the Official IRA---he doesnt
name the alleged targets---so as to create a leadership
politically more acceptable to the Dublin authorities.
This echoes an allegation last year by John White,
commander of the Official IRA in Derry in the same
period, that the late Captain James Kelly offered
him a large sum of money to arrange the assassination
of Official IRA leaders including Sean Garland,
the Workers Party president now fighting extradition
to the US on counterfeiting charges.
It was a bit like taking a stroll through
a reptile pit, says Gallagher of the period.
He says that Provisional chiefs at the time were
hugely sensitive to the effects of IRA operations
on their media image.
It was amazing to watch the top dog in the
IRA wade through a pile of newspaper articles before
he could decide on his response to what we had done
the night before. At that particular period I could
have steered IRA policy if I had been given editorial
control over Irish Press and Independent articles.
We had a leadership that was reacting instead of
The group I was part of tried to keep a distance
from the armchair generals, but in some instances
took orders directly from them. We made a pact to
help each other escape if we were imprisoned. The
first arrested was Kevin Mallon.
Mallon had been among 19 prisoners who blasted their
way out of Portlaoise prison in August 1974. Gallagher
had joined in the escape, having arrived in the
prison only the previous day. Mallon was recaptured
in Foxrock in January 1975. Mallon, Dr. Rose Dugdale
and James Hyland were the trio the kidnap was intended
He (Mallon) had considerable influence within
the IRA. We needed him free to help alter a leadership
that was leaking like a sieve and had left the organisation
Part of Gallaghers role in the IRA at the
time was to break prisoners out of jail. After the
August escape, he says, We tried to free others
by tunnelling from Portlaoise hospital under the
Dublin-Limerick road and into the jail. Sean Treacy,
myself and two others were removing foundation stones
from beneath the outer jail wall on the night Special
Branch and army raided our billet nearby and arrested
the day-shift who were asleep in the house.
A few months later, we borrowed an American-manufactured
truck and converted it into an armoured vehicle
capable of carrying 40 prisoners.
On St. Patricks Day 1975, Gallagher led an
operation during which electricity to the prison
was cut off and vehicles set alight around Portlaoise
to divert security forces. A number of gunmen opened
fire on prison sentry posts. However, the converted
lorry overheated and lost power after smashing down
the outer gate---Gallagher says that a mechanic
had accidentally cut a water pipe during the conversion---and
the engine died just a few feet short of the inner
gates behind which 40 IRA men were waiting.
Inside the prison, Tom Smith, a 28-year-old Dubliner
serving life, was shot dead---by panicky Free
State soldiers, says Gallagher. Two other
IRA prisoners were wounded, neither seriously.
After every escape or escape attempt,
Gallagher recalls, prison security was tightened
until it became impossible to free prisoners without
killing guards. And this, he says, brought
activists up against a contradiction in IRAs
The Provisional IRA was mainly created to
protect Six County Catholics who were under attack
from Loyalists. Against that background, we couldnt
justify an escape attempt which could cause the
death of an Irish guard, warder or soldier. New
tactics were needed. The specific tactic his
unit decided on, he says, was dictated by an analysis
of the changing structure and the resultant vulnerabilities
of the Southern State.
In the 70s, successive 26 County governments
had a weak economic programme. They sold out our
rich fishing waters during EEC negotiations and
failed to build a smelter to add value to the zinc
mine at Navan.
They offered a 10-year tax-free holiday to
multinational companies who set up shop in Ireland.
These companies employed thousands of workers but
rarely provided worthwhile training.
For instance, Ferenka came to Limerick to
make tyre walls. The process they brought with them
was obsolete and unprofitable. But, as their boss
let slip, Its cheaper to run at a loss
in Ireland than anywhere else in the world.
During their nine years tax holiday, AKZO, the parent
company of Ferenka, was developing a modern method
of manufacturing tyre walls which was to be sited
outside Europe in a low-wage economy. Apparently,
AKZO had no intention of allowing Ferenka to remain
in Limerick after tax breaks ended.
I knew that Government ministers of that period
were windy, and wouldnt get into their State-supplied
Mercs without first investigating the garda drivers
identity in case we had substituted our own chauffeur.
I decided to probe the weak spot by kidnapping an
executive of one of the multinationals and offering
to swap him for a few of my imprisoned friends.
The kidnap caused consternation. Within 24 hours,
trade union leaders had succeeded in calling off
an unofficial strike over pay which had halted production
at Ferenka. The following day, the union chiefs
led the workers on a march through Limerick denouncing
the kidnappers and demanding Herremas release.
Limerick mayor Thady Coughlan announced that he
was seeking an audience with the Pope to press for
direct Vatican intervention with the kidnappers.
The Provisional IRA leadership denied that any of
its members was involved.
Dr. Herrema was later made a Freeman of Limerick
and given honorary Irish citizenship.
In November 1977, the board of AKZO informed the
Department of Industry and Commerce that Ferenka
was to close. The plant ceased production the following
month with the loss of 1,400 jobs.