The counter-insurgency and anti-terrorist laws of Ireland and the United Kingdom are notoriously pervasive, allowing the authorities in both countries to interpret their application in the widest possible manner. The UK’s controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, in particular, grants the British state extraordinary powers over the rights of its citizens or communities. Freedom of expression, as Americans might know it, comes a poor second place to the perceived needs of national security. That in part explains why the latest propaganda images from the would Republican Resistance in the UK-administered north-east of Ireland have emerged in such a circuitous manner: a video taken and played back on a mobile phone, recorded on a tablet and uploaded to Twitter and Facebook. No doubt the original video will emerge in time but for now it is the poor quality recording released on Monday evening that concerns us, and apparently much of the paranoid unionist and British press.
The thirty-two second clip shows three volunteers of the so-called New Irish Republican Army (NIRA) on “patrol” in the Ardoyne district of north Belfast, in the UK-occupied Six Counties. All three wear civilian clothing, in what has become de facto insurgent garb over the last few years: hooded jackets, tracksuit bottoms, runners, black balaclava or ski masks and white gloves (to thwart forensic examinations). One of the individuals is carrying an RPG-7 anti-armour rocket launcher while another carries a Kalashnikov-style assault rifle, probably an AK47/AKM variant. The third guerrilla is also armed with an assault rifle though the images are too blurry to readily identify it. A guess would be a Heckler & Koch G3, a favoured weapon among Irish insurgents though in very short supply. All of the arms almost certainly come from the former arsenals of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which fought Britain to a military stalemate in the guerrilla conflict or so-called “Troubles” in the north-east of Ireland from 1966 to 2005.
While one can dismiss the claims of “patrolling”, the recording illustrates the growing presence of the NIRA in regions like north and west Belfast, north Armagh and east Tyrone, the city of Derry, as well as nationally in Dublin and parts of Donegal and Louth. However the images also illustrate the underground movement’s weaknesses, its lack of personnel and equipment, and its almost total reliance on requisitioned PIRA munitions for its military needs (not to mention a conspicuous lack of popular support or sympathy across the country). In such circumstances propaganda demonstrations like that featured above and disseminated on social media over the last twenty-four hours seem somewhat pointless.