Belfast Telegraph

Threat of violence remains but the IRA's war is over

Dissidents have the ability to kill - not the capacity to sustain and win a war, says Brian Rowan

If you looked as the parade made its way along the Falls Road in west Belfast, and then as it gathered at the republican plot in Milltown Cemetery, you could see the faces of the IRA.

One of the most senior leaders in its 'war', Sean 'Spike' Murray, was there - as was Bobby Storey, a man linked in intelligence assessments to a number of the IRA's so-called 'spectaculars'.

Others in the crowd were one-time jail leaders Padraic Wilson and Jim McVeigh, Seanna Walsh, who in 2005 read the IRA endgame statement declaring the 'war' over, and Laurence McKeown, one of the hunger strikers of 1981.

Another of the men who was part of that jail protest 30 years ago was Pat Sheehan, the main speaker at this republican commemoration on Easter Sunday.

But there was no sign of the self-styled new IRA - that group of republicans who, in a first statement to this newspaper, put their name to the recent murder of Catholic police constable Ronan Kerr.

Sheehan told his audience: "They will never achieve what the IRA achieved and they will never have the support that the IRA had."

There was applause as he spoke; and more applause a couple of days later in the heart of Ardoyne in north Belfast when Gerry Kelly repeated: "There is only one IRA."

The group behind the Ronan Kerr murder is not the IRA, but consists of men who, however they describe themselves now, have long been part of the dissident war-play.

Their names are on the tips of republican tongues - both dissident and mainstream.

The leader of the faction is Belfast-based with a history in the mainstream IRA. That was a long time ago.

According to informed sources, he then became "all but a member" of the dissident group Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH), but moved in another direction when he did not get the leadership and control he wanted. In recent days, he has been seen in the company of republicans in Lurgan. As far back as the attack on soldiers at Massereene Barracks in March 2009, the gunmen were in phone contact with him.

The killings were admitted in the name of the Real IRA, but there was a much wider involvement, including the group ONH and other republicans with no card-carrying affiliation to any of the dissident factions. These non-aligned republicans are now presenting themselves as the IRA.

They were identified in security briefings in 2009 as "a fourth [dissident] group that has no name"; as "a mixture [of individuals] . . . who dissent from the Sinn Fein line".

"They all believe fervently in the Green Book [the IRA's code]," a senior police source said, and they were making "their knowledge and expertise known" to others in the dissident world.

One of them - a close associate of the Belfast leader of this identified fourth faction - is suspected both by dissident and mainstream republicans of being an agent: a covert human intelligence source (CHIS).

The group poses a real threat, underscored in the murder of Ronan Kerr, but that threat has to be kept in context. It is an ability to kill - not a capacity to sustain and win a war.

The group is too small, too well-known. Could they kill another police officer? Yes, they could. But for what purpose? They cannot answer this question.

Dissidents will see the upcoming elections, yesterday's royal wedding and the Queen's visit to Ireland as opportunities in which to play their war-games; to make their news and headlines.

After Ronan Kerr's murder there have been the significant arms finds in Tyrone and in south Armagh.

There will be other weapons out there, but not the firepower or wherewithal to achieve a victory.

Pat Sheehan and Gerry Kelly are right: the dissidents don't have the support the IRA had and the vast majority of republicans know and accept that the war is over.

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