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.”