By Jack Holland
The recent claim from a spokesman for the Irish Republican Socialist Party that information has been given to the French police about the whereabouts of the body of Seamus Ruddy, a former IRSP member missing since 1985, promises to bring to a conclusion a grisly tale of betrayal and murder.
French police have reportedly been searching a forested area outside the French city of Rouen in Normandy, about 50 miles northwest of Paris, where his remains have allegedly been buried.
Ruddy disappeared in late May 1985 in Paris, after a meeting with three leading members of the Irish National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the IRSP. The three were searching for arms and believed that Ruddy, who had previously been involved in smuggling guns and explosives into Ireland, knew where they could be found. At the time, the INLA denied that it was involved with his disappearance and resisted pressure from the Ruddy family to help it locate his whereabouts.
However, it was widely believed that INLA had murdered Ruddy and buried him somewhere outside of Paris, where he had been living and working as a teacher since 1983.
In late 1993, a former high-ranking member of the INLA, Peter Stewart, admitted that the INLA had killed Ruddy. In 1994, the INLA, then under the command of Hugh Torney, gave private reassurances that it would help locate Ruddy’s body. It did so only after being approached by several former INLA activists who were demanding that the matter be settled. But it was not until December 1995 that the organization publicly acknowledged Ruddy was dead.
In the Belfast Irish News, Gino Gallagher, then chief of staff of the INLA said: "We are acutely aware of the pain and anguish suffered by the family of Seamus Ruddy as a result of his disappearance. We accept that he is dead and we are currently attempting to use our influence to ascertain the whereabouts of his remains so they can be returned to his family and buried."
However, within weeks, the INLA was convulsed by a feud when Torney ordered the death of Gallagher, who was shot dead in January 1996. Gallagher’s supporters struck back. Altogether, six people were killed, including Torney himself in September 1996. The search for Ruddy’s body was postponed.
The circumstances surrounding Ruddy’s death and disappearance remain murky. But it is known that two of the three involved in his murder and disappearance are dead. They are John O’Reilly and Peter Stewart. The third, a suspect in the murder of a policeman in Dublin, was on the run in France since early 1982 but returned three years ago to Ireland, where he is currently imprisoned for a robbery offense.
At the time of Ruddy’s death, O’Reilly was attempting to impose his authority on the INLA as its new chief of staff. He knew of Ruddy’s past links in the INLA’s arms smuggling network — it had been Ruddy who, in 1978, smuggled the explosives into Ireland that would later be used in the spectacular assassination of Conservative Party Chairman Airey Neave. But in 1985, Ruddy had long since cut his links with the organization. Ruddy was wary of meeting with O’Reilly and his supporters but after having been reassured by an intermediary that he would be safe, he agreed to see them. However, this did not stop his killers from beating him and then burying his body in an old INLA arms dump outside Rouen. It is believed they did this with the assistance of Direct Action, the French terrorist group which at the time was involved in a series of bomb attacks and which had carried out several robberies in France in collaboration with the INLA.
After Ruddy’s disappearance, a group of schoolchildren found clothes near a small village outside of Rouen. Ruddy’s sister Anne Morgan later identified the clothes as belonging to her brother. She alleged that when she went to France to identify them, she was "threatened with death" by O’Reilly.
O’Reilly was gunned down in 1987 during an INLA feud. It is believed he was killed partly in revenge for the murder of Ruddy, who remained a well-liked and popular figure within the IRSP and INLA.