Cahill, veteran of IRA, dies at 84

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The Independent Online

Joe Cahill, one of the veterans of violent Irish republicanism, who escaped the noose more than 60 years ago, has died in his Belfast home, aged 84.

The cause of his death dated back to his work in Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyards in the 1950s: his lungs were ravaged by asbestosis.

After an IRA career spanning more than half a century, Cahill was a pivotal figure in the political moves that brought about the ceasefire in the 1990s.

It is doubtful whether Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness would have been able to redirect the Republican movement into political channels without Cahill's consistent backing. He was the most important link between the Provisional IRA, founded in the north in 1969, and old pre-war organisation, which had become almost defunct by the early 1960s.

He owed much of his prestige to being one of eight young IRA volunteers who tangled with the Royal Ulster Constabulary during Easter 1942 to draw attention away from Belfast parades marking the Easter rising. All such demonstrations were illegal then. The volunteers were arrested after a gunfight in which an RUC constable, Patrick Murphy, was killed. Five of the six men in the group were reprieved after their 18-year-old leader, Tom Williams, claimed sole responsibility for the shooting.

Cahill, who spent seven years in prison, took part in the IRA campaign in 1956-62, but later broke with the Marxist leadership. He was the first Belfast commander of the Provisional IRA, and organised its contact with the Libyan President, Muammar Gaddafi; his attempts at smuggling arms from Libya landed him another two years in jail.In the 1980s, he was treasurer of Sinn Fein.

Born a year before the partition of Ireland, Cahill came from a fiercely republican family. He is survived by his wife, Annie, and seven children.