A radical change in strategy by Óglaigh na hÉireann (ÓnaÉ), the small insurgent group active in the United Kingdom’s legacy colony on the island of Ireland, has been the subject of speculation since at least April of last year. In early 2017 the Republican Network for Unity (RNU), the political party associated with the grouping, indicated that the guerrillas were debating the efficacy of continued armed struggle against the UK’s presence in the disputed region. So today’s announcement of a ceasefire by ÓnaÉ via the Belfast-based Irish News, brought about with the help of trade union figures Peter Bunting and Conal McFeely, and the Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív, did not come as a complete surprise.
The insurgent movement, the “(Military) Volunteers of Ireland”, was founded nine years ago by former members of the Irish Republican Army frustrated with the slow pace of change in the British-administered Six Counties, following the IRA’s final military ceasefire in 1997 and formal cessation of operations in 2005. Since 2009 it has carried out a scattering of non-fatal attacks against symbolic targets associated with the UK presence in the territory, the majority hitting the Police Service of Northern Ireland or PSNI, the local paramilitary police force. By its own admission, at no point did ÓnaÉ’s operations pose any real threat to Britain’s control of the area.
The full statement by Óglaigh na hÉireann (hereafter, erroneously abbreviated as ONH) follows below:
The leadership of ONH sends solidarity to our Volunteers, friends and imprisoned comrades.
The movement announced last year that we were involved in an internal review over the future of republican struggle and our own involvement in that struggle.
The internal review examined the pros and cons of the politics and tactics of armed struggle to achieve our objectives, within the current political, social and economic environment facing the communities we seek to represent.
ONH accept that the right of the Irish people to use armed, disciplined force to end the violation of Irish national sovereignty is unquestionable.
Our review has concluded that, at this time, the environment is not conducive to armed conflict. Therefore the leadership of ONH are announcing that, with immediate effect, we will suspend all armed actions against the British state.
The leadership and Volunteers of ONH remain unbowed and unbroken. We will continue to protect our membership and base as we move forward in a spirit of unity and determination to achieve our political goals.
A lack of military resources or popular support crippled the ÓnaÉ campaign from the get-go. From 2015 onward a unilateral truce of some sort seemed inevitable as it suffered repetitive setbacks and the detention of its senior leaders. That of course does not mean that low-level armed resistance to the United Kingdom’s historical occupation of the north-eastern part of Ireland is over (this ceasefire is a “suspension” of armed activities by Óglaigh na hÉireann rather than a permanent cessation, a crucial open-ended point in light of the disruption which will stem from Britain’s exit from the European Union).
The main insurgent or “Dissident” movement, the media-dubbed New IRA, still exists, albeit equally limited in its capacities, as does the minuscule Continuity IRA. Both are hampered, and tarnished, by links to apolitical criminality elsewhere in the country, quite unrelated to military actions in the north (a situation the veteran leadership of ÓnaÉ sought to avoid). There is also the obscure, Belfast-located Arm na Poblachta, the “Army of the Republic”, which may be an opposition splinter of Óglaigh na hÉireann itself. Finally, the Irish National Liberation Army, the INLA, has become a notable attendee at various propaganda and publicity events organised by its political wing, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, despite its longstanding ceasefire.