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Media Panic – The Hysterical Press And The Continuity IRA

Volunteers of a Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) Active Service Unit, Ireland, 2012
Volunteers of a Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) Active Service Unit, Ireland, 2012. But which Continuity IRA? (Photo: Saoirse Nua)

A number of national and local newspapers are claiming that the small Continuity Irish Republican Army (or CIRA) has issued a threat against Irish citizens serving in the British Armed Forces, designating them as legitimate military targets. The reality, of course, is that this has always been the case. Military operations against the British Army or other branches of the British forces are unable to distinguish between British-born soldiers and those born outside of Britain. Numerous members of locally-raised British militias in Ireland, in particular the infamous Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and later Royal Irish Regiment (RIR), were killed in attacks by the Republican Resistance over the last four decades. All those who died or were injured were serving soldiers of the British Army and by virtue of being born on the island of Ireland they were also technically citizens of the nation-state of Ireland.

Some have claimed that these new threats represent a departure from a policy followed by the CIRA (and other Irish Republican guerilla organisations) originally implemented in the mid-1950s which restricted military operations in Ireland (that is south of the border). The most notable example of this principle was Army Standing Order Number Eight which precluded direct attacks on Óglaigh na hÉireann or the Irish Defence Forces. However a strict policy barring military operations in the south of Ireland was never formerly put in place nor, given the nature of the guerilla war, could it ever have been. And this is certainly not the first time that threats have been issued to Irish citizens serving in a British uniform, even in the recent past.

So, putting media hype to one side, the more important question relates to which organisation it is that is issuing these threats? We are told it is the Continuity Irish Republican Army, a Republican traditionalist breakaway from the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army which came about as the result of an acrimonious General Army Convention in September of 1986. Yet the CIRA itself has been subject to frequent internal divisions with two serious splits so far: the first in 2005-2006 and the second in 2010. The latter dispute (over political and military strategies as well as worries over the corrupting “criminalisation” of the organisation and the association of some activists with drug-gangs) eventually resulted in two rival Continuity IRAs, both of which maintain pockets of support dotted around the country. However neither can claim more than a hundred members between them (and that’s being generous).

The divisions in the CIRA were matched elsewhere with the minuscule political party Republican Sinn Féin or RSF (a 1986 split away from Provisional Sinn Féin), experiencing several challenges of its own. Of late so complicated have RSF divisions become that it is now difficult to know who or who isn’t a member of Republican Sinn Féin. There are least two (or possibly three) groups claiming the title. There are even two rival (but almost identical) newspapers, Saoirse and Saoirse Nua, and a dozen or so websites of unknown allegiance. One faction is headquartered in Dublin while its rival is based in Limerick and neither have made any real effort to establish a separate public identity, adding to the confusion for outsiders.

However both are currently busy publicising and briefing against the other. We have the “official” leader of “Dublin” RSF, Des Dalton, describing the rival “Limerick” RSF as a front for criminal gangs while one of the leaders of that latter Republican Sinn Féin rejects the Dublin-based RSF as falsely claiming the party title. Media reports about the Continuity IRA are all very well but it would help if the authors of the articles actually investigated those they were reporting on. Then we might be able to see the truth through the hysteria.

UPDATE 08/01/13: The Irish media finally catches up with the reporting here on An Sionnach Fionn. From The Limerick Leader:

“A WAR of words has erupted between dissident republicans in Limerick after threats were made against any Irish person who “dons a British Army uniform”.

However, Des Dalton, president of Republican Sinn Fein, has dismissed the statement saying those who took part in the commemoration were not members of his organisation.

“They are not Republican Sinn Fein. A number of them were dismissed from Republican Sinn Fein and they have been using our name and abusing our name over the last almost three years,” he said adding that he attended a separate commemoration ceremony at Mount Saint Lawrence on Sunday afternoon.

However, Joseph Lynch of Republican Sinn Fein in Limerick has reacted angrily to Mr Dalton’s claims insisting the event he organised was legitimate.

“They walked away from us two years ago and we carried on the traditions of Republican Sinn Fein and we hold that name,” Mr Lynch told the Limerick Chronicle.

“They are politically bankrupt. They are old people run by four old women from an office in Dublin and it annoys them to see that there are young people within Republican Sinn Fein carrying on the traditions of the movement,” he added.”



7 comments on “Media Panic – The Hysterical Press And The Continuity IRA

  1. EmmetRising_1803

    While ‘Saoirse’ (of the Dublin-based RSF) most ignore the other side in their publication, the utter level of vitriol of in ‘Saoirse Nua’ from the Limerick faction is extraordinary. I recall the one issue I read as basically accusing Dalton and his ilk of being some sort of British pawns being used to splinter the movement. The persepctive I got from one none unaligned republican is the Dublin crew are on their way out, but really debateable based on the attendence of the recent Ard Fheis. (Judging from ‘Saoirse’ mind).

    The impression I got from how the Limerick faction of RSF present themselves is not so much rigidly adhereing to Eire Nua, and open to allliances with other republicans.


    • The impression I get is that no one knows what is going on except those inside RSF and its offshoots but no one is willing to sit down and be really honest about things with outsiders like me. Instead we have all this “briefing” against each other with spin and counter-spin. Personally I believe RSF in all its manifestations has had its time. If individual members were wise they would walk away or seek other forms of Republican organisation.


      • EmmetRising_1803

        I particularly agree with that second-last sentence. I think when O’Bradaigh passes on, you’ll see it really wane and perhaps the younger generation by way of Dalton, Cait Trainor, etc. try to create something new out of what’s left. Just from this outsider (and amateur historian) perspective, those that encompass the Continuity Republican Movement really are the most interesting of those to have broken off from the Provos.


        • True, the “legitimist” tradition of Republicanism is fascinating and not without its allure for some. It has a sort of internal logic that one can see, though it doesn’t hold together when placed within the greater reality of later 20th and 21st century Irish history. And it is by no means the Realpolitik of (Provisional) Sinn Féin. Or indeed of éirígí or IRSP. “Sinn Féin” as a brand name is irretrievably lost to one particular political party. It is time for RSF in all its manifestations to move on and with it give up the nonsense of the non-recognition of the legitimacy of the nation-state of Ireland. Des Dalton has some ability, as does Cáit Trainor. They are wasting themselves in RSF as presently constituted when they could make a considerable contribution to Irish politics and society elsewhere.

          Good to see the media has finally caught up with me on the RSF / CIRA story 😉


          • EmmetRising_1803

            For my money, the best – and maybe only? – analysis of the Contos is from that ‘Legion of the Rearguard’ book by Martyn Frampton (three years out of date now mind you) – but there needs to be a more comprehensive study of them; their history, idealogy, and of their many splits and contradictions… as much as it might be a toxic subject for most contemporary historians.

            That linked article from your above post is both hilarious and sad – not only the war of words between both factions, but also the mention that RSF, RSF-Limerick, and SF all had seperate Sean South commemorations on the same day. Sean South, a soldier of OnH who fought and died in the last resistance struggle that the IRA (same organization you could trace a direct line from 1919 to then) fought together as a united organization before certain egos, tide of events and warring idealogies split it to warring factions and led to the set-up of rivals.

            Not surprising really that RSF seem to hold a particular regard and affinity for the Border Campaign, though worth noting a lot of the old guard from the ’86 walkout could trace their own time in the republican movement all the way back to it.


            • There is a job I wouldn’t envy! 😉

              It’s the same with the Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown. There are several different events depending on the party or organisation: Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Republican Sinn Féin, 32CSM, IRSP, etc. The Behan lad and his “when’s the split?” always comes to mind 😉

              But then other revolutionary movements are or weren’t much different. Look at the rivalry between Haganah and Irgun back in the day. Or try and follow the labyrinthine divisions of International communism and socialism in Europe in the 20th century.

              Though even the IRA of the Border Campaign had its factions (Christle, etc.). Not to mention Saor Uladh.

              It was not only the “old guard” of the 1986 split that could trace their history to the Border Campaign. Quite a few now resident in the Labour Party might have their memories too. However reluctant they might be to discuss them.


              • EmmetRising_1803

                Ah indeed on that last point, I recall Dessie Ellis’ recent observation on seeing former comrades on the government benches well. 😉


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