Volunteers of the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) armed with AKM and AK-47 assault rifles, British Occupied North of Ireland, 2011

Well, given the rumours and rumblings, and perhaps not unrelated to the recent shooting of a (former?) prominent member of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee (32CSM) in Derry, we have a claim that a majority of Resistance Republicans have come together to form a new or united Irish Republican Army with the current membership and organisation of the Real IRA at its core.

Henry McDonald in the Guardian newspaper (an occasional conduit for Real IRA statements) details the story:

“Three of the four main dissident republican terror groups in Northern Ireland are to merge and reclaim the banner of the IRA, in a major escalation of attempts to destabilise power sharing.

The Real IRA has been joined by Republican Action Against Drugs, which has been running a violent vigilante campaign in Derry, and a loose coalition of independent armed republican groups – leaving only the Continuity IRA outside the group.

In a statement released to the Guardian, the new organisation claimed it had formed a “unified structure, under a single leadership”. It said the organisation would be “subservient to the constitution of the Irish Republican Army”.

Republican sources have told the Guardian that the new paramilitary force includes several hundred armed dissidents, including some former members of the now disbanded Provisional IRA who have been conducting a campaign of shooting and forcible exiling of men in Derry City, whom they accuse of drug dealing.

It also includes what the statement described as “non-conformist republicans” – smaller independent groups from Belfast and rural parts of Northern Ireland.

Republican Action Against Drugs and the Real IRA will now cease to exist, one source close to the dissidents said.

The recruitment of Republican Action Against Drugs activists in Derry marks a major step up in the terror campaign in the city. Dozens of former Provisional IRA members have been involved in shooting and intimidating mainly young Catholic men whom they accuse of drug dealing in Derry.

Republican Action Against Drugs’ campaign has become notorious around the world since an investigation by the Guardian earlier this year into the wave of shootings and forced expulsions in Northern Ireland’s second city.

Until this week there were four separate violent groups opposed to Sinn Féin’s peace strategy. As a result of this merger three republican terror groups have become one, reclaiming the banner of the IRA:

The Real IRA was formed out of a split within the Provisional IRA (PIRA) in 1997 and was responsible for the Omagh atrocity a year later.

Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) – a group comprising ex-PIRA members whose purpose was to run an armed vigilante campaign against drug dealers. It has agreed to coalesce with other anti-ceasefire republicans.

Independent republican factions – until now an amalgam of terror groups operating in Northern Ireland. They are sometimes referred to collectively as Óglaigh na hÉireann.

Continuity IRA, the fourth republican faction, remains wholly independent.”

Real IRA colour party

McDonald describes how he was given the statement:

“In the dark isolation of a dirt track just across the border in the Irish republic the 15 minutes seemed like a lifetime. I had been dropped near a disused farmhouse after being driven at top speed out of Derry city centre close to the Bogside, the neighbourhood that bears most of the scars of the Troubles.

The instructions were firm, the tone cold: walk down, parallel to the city’s ancient walls, wait for a car to stop, get in, say nothing and be taken to the destination.

Once delivered I was left in the darkness with only a few distant lights from a farmhouse giving off a faint glow in the distance.

Another vehicle pulled up. A man I had never seen before got out and handed over a typed statement revealing that the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and an amalgam of other disparate armed republican groups, were coalescing into a single unified force.

After the contents of the statement were taken on a notepad the communiqué was burned at the side of the road. There were no mobile phones or recording devices allowed at this bizarre encounter. The digital era is perceived as posing new threats to the security of terror groups in Ireland in terms of their being tracked and covertly recorded.

Up till this week anti-ceasefire republicanism had been almost fatally weakened by two factors: lack of support within nationalist communities and the disparate, fractious, nature of these factions.

They have tried to address the first difficulty by attempting to build a support base in working-class housing estates such as Derry’s Creggan, Galliagh and Bogside.

The terror campaign by Republican Action Against Drugs, with the shooting and forcible exiling of young men accused (without any judge, jury or legal framework) of drug dealing, is partly designed to create sympathy among communities fearful that harder drugs could flood into their areas.

The statement burnt at the side of the road revealed that the Real IRA, RAAD, along with a loose coalition of terror units that the media often referred to as Oghlaigh na hEireann [ASF: The correct title is Óglaigh na hÉireann or ÓnahÉ], have now united into a single command structure. It is estimated there could be up to several hundred activists. It is also clear they have expertise in making bombs, and among their ranks are possibly those who built the explosive devices that killed one Catholic police officer and severely wounded another.

The Continuity IRA remains outside this faction. It is the oldest of the anti peace-process republican groups, and alongside political allies in Republican Sinn Féin the members regard themselves as the sole bearer of the torch of traditional republicanism. CIRA is unlikely to be taking commands from the new paramilitary structure announced this week.

In cities like Derry youth unemployment is extremely high, jobs are scarce and there are few organisations outside the paramilitaries offering young men, in particular, any sense of belonging or direction. In the early 70s state repression, climaxing in Bloody Sunday, propelled a generation into the arms of the Provisional IRA. In the 21st century it is the recession that may prove to be the key recruitment driver for a new IRA emerging out of the factionalism and schisms of the dissident republicans.”

All very dramatic I’m sure, though I retain a degree of scepticism about both the statement and the motives of those (or at least some) involved. The full announcement from the “Army Council of the IRA” reads as follows:

“Following extensive consultations, Irish Republicans and a number of organisations involved in armed actions against the armed forces of the British Crown have come together within a unified structure, under a single leadership, subservient to the constitution of the Irish Republican Army.

The leadership of the Irish Republican Army remains committed to the full realisation of the ideals and principles enshrined in the Proclamation of 1916.

In recent years the establishment of a free and independent Ireland has suffered setbacks due to the failure among the leadership of Irish Nationalism and fractures within Republicanism. The root cause of conflict in our country is the subversion of the nation’s inalienable right to self-determination and this has yet to be addressed. Instead the Irish people have been sold a phoney peace, rubber-stamped by a token legislature in Stormont.

Non-conformist republicans are being subjected to harassment, arrest and violence by the Forces of the British Crown; others have been interned on the direction of an English overlord. It is Britain, not the IRA, which has chosen provocation and conflict.

The IRA’s mandate for armed struggle derives from Britain’s denial of the fundamental right of the Irish people to national self-determination and sovereignty – so long as Britain persists in its denial of national and democratic rights in Ireland the IRA will have to continue to assert those rights.

The necessity of armed struggle in pursuit of Irish freedom can be avoided through the removal of the British military presence in our country, the dismantling of their armed militias and the declaration of an internationally observed timescale that details the dismantling of British political interference in our country.

Signed the Army Council, Irish Republican Army”

Three members of Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), now united with the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) to form a self-styled new IRA, Derry, British Occupied North of Ireland

So, make of it what you will. As I said, I retain a degree of caution in relation to the story, not least given the fractious nature of many of the groups and people who make up the Resistance Republican movement, in all its diverse forms. Some rivalries (political, ideological, geographical and personal) run very deep indeed. There is also the incongruous matter of the apparently genuine anti-criminal Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) making common cause with the Real IRA, an organisation part of which has allowed itself to become a flag of convenience for major crime gangs in Ireland, particularly in the cities of Dublin and Limerick. That the Real IRA in this part of the country has become seriously corrupted through its willing association with gangsters is beyond doubt. And the excuse of the necessity of supporting the armed struggle in the Occupied North is (in their terms) short-sighted at best and fictitious at worse.

The likelihood of the Óglaigh na hÉireann, whether one organisation or a catch-all term for several Republican Resistance groups, of joining this new IRA is also questionable. Many operating under the banner of ÓnaÉ (or ÓÉ) come from more conservative rural areas with some very “traditionalist” Republican and Nationalist beliefs (that in some ways would be more at home in the ranks of the Continuity IRA). Others sport more radical, left-wing politics, particularly in Belfast and elsewhere, that would sit uneasy with the a-political stance of the Real IRA and its criminal fringe (not to mention some avowed militarists in the traditionalists’ camp).

I will return to all this later.

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