Three dissident republican groups have announced their intention to merge and continue an armed campaign.
The Real IRA, Londonderry vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) and a loose grouping of independent dissidents plan to reclaim the banner of the IRA, the Guardian reported.
RAAD and the Real IRA will now cease to exist, one source close to the dissidents told the newspaper.
The Real IRA has been in existence since the 1990s, when it was responsible for the Omagh bombing which killed 29 people in the County Tyrone town. RAAD has emerged in recent years in Londonderry, where its original declared purpose was to take violent action against those allegedly involved in the city's drugs trade.
Most of the smaller groups aligned in the new arrangement have no formal name, though some have adopted the traditional republican title of Irish Republican Army. The leaders of the new combination style themselves "IRA army council" in imitation of the title previously used by the now-defunct mainstream IRA.
In a statement issued to the newspaper from ‘the IRA Army Council’, the new terror group said the three strands of dissident republicanism “have come together within a unified structure, under a single leadership, subservient to the constitution of the Irish Republican Army”.
In a scarcely-veiled criticism of Sinn Fein, they said “the Irish people have been sold a phoney peace, rubber-stamped by a token legislature in Stormont” and noted the “failure among the leadership of Irish nationalism”.
The statement added: “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.”
Security sources last night appeared reasonably relaxed about the new development, with no obvious nervousness that it would lead to an upsurge of violence.
While the violent dissidents have been on the go since the 1990s, they have been largely kept in check in the past few years as the police, Army and MI5 have devoted significant extra resources to maintaining surveillance on them.
Statement in full
"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 Army Council ... IRA."