Hugh Torney (Irish republican)

This article is about the Irish National Liberation Army member. For other people with the name, see Hugh Torney.

Hugh Torney (c.1954 – 3 September 1996) was an Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) paramilitary leader best known for his activities on behalf of the INLA and Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) in a feud with the Irish People's Liberation Organisation (IPLO), a grouping composed of disgruntled former INLA members, in the mid-1980s.

Early years

In his youth Torney had been a member of the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) and as early as 1970 he was injured on duty along with fellow OIRA member Jackie Goodman when both were wounded during an attack on the Henry Taggart British Army base in Ballymurphy, Belfast.[1] He switched allegiance to the INLA around the formation of that group in 1974. Being held in Long Kesh at the time, Torney officially declared his loyalty to the IRSP on 12 December 1974.[2]


Around 1984 Torney was one of a number of leading INLA members in Belfast to be imprisoned on the evidence of "supergrass" Harry Kirkpatrick. During the absence of Torney and the other leaders the INLA in Belfast came under the command of Tom McCartan, a close ally of Dominic McGlinchey. Under McCartan the Belfast INLA moved into extortion and racketeering, damaging their popular support and opening up the possibility of a wider feud with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which controlled much of the Belfast rackets.[3] McCartan and the increasingly "anti-social" direction taken by the group under his leadership was met with anger by Torney and the others held in prison and led to a factionalisation of the INLA in prison. One group under Gerard Steenson favoured liquidating the INLA altogether, a second under John "Jap" O'Reilly, to which Torney belonged, favoured reform of the organisation and a third, loyal to Tom McAllister, vacillated between Steenson and O'Reilly.[4]

Following the formation of the Irish People's Liberation Organisation (IPLO) in 1986 by Steenson and his supporters, Torney was identified, along with O'Reilly, Peter Stewart and Thomas 'Ta' Power, as one of their top INLA targets.[5] In January 1987 Torney went with O'Reilly, Stewart and Power to a summit at a Rosnaree hotel put together by Tom McAllister in an attempt to bring about an accord between the two factions. However the IPLO took advantage of the opportunity by instead sending two gunmen to the hotel. O'Reilly and Power were killed in the attack with Stewart and Torney surviving with injuries. Torney was shot in the hand but otherwise escaped with minor wounds.[6]

Chief of Staff

Nicknamed Cueball Torney, he became chief of staff in the mid-to-late 1980s as much by default rather than by design. Loyalist sectarian murders were bearing heavily on the Catholic/nationalist community and Torney struggled to hold back reactionary elements within his grouping. A competent military operator, Torney oversaw the reorganisation of the INLA's political wing (the IRSP), considering it more important than the military structuring of the INLA. The Starry Plough newspaper re-emerged as a vehicle for socialist republican and Marxist discussion (a policy that had been advocated in Ta Power's analysis). Paradoxically, Torney, John Fennell and Gino Gallagher had combined in a major INLA operation with the shooting dead of several UVF members on the Shankill Road, including brigade officer Trevor King.

Torney's role in the killings of King and his allies led to a failed attempt on his own life in September 1994. UVF gunmen occupied Torney's Lower Falls home and held his family hostage while they awaited Torney's return. However the INLA leader, who had a reputation for being especially guarded about his personal safety, got wind of the event and did not return home, resulting in the UVF members abandoning their attempt and releasing Torney's family.[7]


On 5 April 1995 Torney was arrested by Garda Síochána as he was travelling in a van heading towards Belfast. The police fired stun grenades at the vehicle and arrested the four men inside, also discovering six assault rifles, twenty handguns and 2000 rounds of ammunition.[8] Following his arrest Torney stated in a Dublin court that there was a "de facto" INLA ceasefire being observed; although, it was a non-consultative decision with the membership, it was generally regarded as the case following Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) recent "cessation of hostilities".[9] In Torney's absence there was a coup d'etat and he was replaced as head of the INLA by Gino Gallagher, who up to that point had been deputy Chief of Staff to Torney.[9] Torney and his gang (known as the INLA-GHQ) assassinated Gallagher in January 1996.

Torney himself was shot and killed on 3 September 1996 by supporters of the Gallagher faction. With Torney dead the INLA-GHQ faction announced it was to disband on 9 September.[10] He was 42 at the time of his death.[11] Torney and Gallagher had been two of six people killed during the feud, including INLA and IRSP founder member John Fennell, as well as Dessie McCleery and Francis Shannon.[10]


  1. Jack Holland & Henry McDonald, INLA: Deadly Divisions, Torc, 1994, p. 189
  2. Brian Hanley & Scott Millar, The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party
  3. Holland & McDonald, INLA, p. 255
  4. Holland & McDonald, INLA, p. 262
  5. Holland & McDonald, INLA, p. 282
  6. Holland & McDonald, INLA, pp. 283-285
  7. Cusack, Jim & McDonald, Henry (1997). UVF. Poolbeg, pp. 316-17
  8. Edward F. Mickolus, Susan L. Simmons, Terrorism, 1992-1995: A Chronology of Events and a Selectively Annotated Bibliography, ABC-CLIO, 1997, p. 798
  9. 1 2 Lord Maclean, The Billy Wright Inquiry, Report, The Stationery Office, 2010, p. 47
  10. 1 2 Paramilitary Feuds in Northern Ireland - A Chronology of Events
  11. Sutton Index of Deaths 1996
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