Former senior leader of the Irish Republican Army
Brian Keenan, a commanding figure during the Irish Republican Army’s long march from war to peace, died of cancer Wednesday, the Sinn Fein party announced in Dublin. He was 66.
Keenan built up the IRA’s weapons arsenal in the 1970s, directed its bombing campaign in England and served on the IRA’s ruling army council for a decade, casting votes to break and call cease-fires in the 1990s.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams lauded Keenan as a key persuader atop the IRA command who understood the need to move into politics.
Keenan “was crucial in securing the support of the IRA leadership for the series of historic initiatives which sustained the peace process through its most difficult times,” Adams said.
Until his death, however, Keenan sent mixed signals on the IRA’s 2005 decisions to disarm and formally abandon a 1970-97 campaign that claimed 1,775 lives.
He had been the IRA’s most prominent critic of disarmament demands, insisting the move should not happen until the British north was united with the Irish Republic.
Keenan resigned from the seven-man army council after the 2005 peace moves, when his cancer was already advanced.
Born in 1942, Keenan was the son of a World War II veteran of Britain’s Royal Air Force.
He worked as a television repairman in England, then returned to his homeland in the mid-1960s just as a Roman Catholic civil rights movement was taking shape.
It soon provoked violent reaction from Northern Ireland’s Protestant government of the day. Riots and the deployment of British troops as peacekeepers followed.
Keenan joined the fledgling Provisional IRA in 1970, just as the outlawed group began bombing and shooting in hopes of toppling the Protestant government and forcing Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom.
He soon became responsible for supplying the Belfast IRA with weapons as its “quartermaster” and traveled to Libya in 1972 to open a lucrative arms supply line there.
Keenan was arrested in 1979 after police in London found his fingerprints on a bomb-making document. He spent the next 16 years in prison in England.
After winning parole, he joined the IRA’s army council. In 1999, Keenan was appointed an IRA representative in secret talks with the disarmament chief, Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain.
Keenan is survived by his wife, Chrissie; and six children.