'New IRA' ... publicity stunt or real cause for concern?
Politicians slam plan to merge dissident groups
An announcement that dissident groups have formed a single, new version of the IRA has been dismissed as a publicity stunt.
Sources in the new organisation told the Belfast Telegraph that they had joined forces to end “the confusion” in republican heartlands created by the existence of a myriad of dissident groups, and that they would target police officers and soldiers.
The Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), and a group of independent republicans — responsible for the Massereene soldier killings and murdering police officer Ronan Kerr — have merged to form a single organisation calling itself the IRA.
But both unionist and nationalist politicians have slammed the creation of the new terror group.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Regardless of the brand of republicanism their terror is wrong and will not win. Northern Ireland is moving forward and no one wants to be dragged back to the dark days of the Troubles.”
Ulster Unionist Party justice spokesman Tom Elliott MLA said: “This latest attempt by dissident republicans to form yet another ‘new IRA’ highlights the lengths that they will go to in order to create destruction within our society.”
Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein MLA for North Belfast, said that the merger will not achieve anything.
But a source within the new group told this newspaper: “By coming together we now offer a much more credible republican alternative to the Provisional movement. We will build on that to present a stronger challenge to British rule, and the implementation of British rule, in Ireland.
“The existence of so many republican organisations before played into the hands of our opponents who could point to our divisions and dismiss us all as micro- groups,” he explained.
“That is no longer the case. Our unity is our strength,” the source said. He added that the new IRA’s main targets would be British soldiers and PSNI officers.
He agreed that the paramilitary group would be limited to mounting sporadic attacks and was incapable of waging a sustained campaign of violence as the Provisional IRA had.
“Those days are gone. Our aim is to disrupt Britain’s normalisation policy. We do not need to carry out military operations every day or every week to do so.
“The very existence of continuing armed struggle highlights the lie that the conflict is over and everything is settled. It shows there still are people here prepared to challenge British rule.”
The formation of a single, new IRA has its roots in co-operation between independent republican prisoners and Real IRA inmates in Maghaberry prison.
The two groups had formed an increasingly close and friendly working relationship in the jail.
On the outside, there had also been growing co-operation between the Real IRA and independent republicans.
The Real IRA provided the weapons for Massereene, but the attack was carried out by independent republicans.
This group of independent republicans — made up of ex-Provisional IRA members who had also called themselves the IRA — had recently posed the deadliest threat to the security forces.
They were responsible for the attempted murder of PSNI officer Peadar Heffron and the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr.
This group — along with the Real IRA and RAAD — decided to bring their co-operation to a new level by dissolving their organisations to form a new, single entity.
Sources said that moves to stand down the three groups in order to set up a single, combined command structure and army council began in January.
Each group brought its separate “strengths” to the merger.
The Real IRA had a sizeable membership across Northern Ireland and in parts of the Republic — with a high proportion of young activists. It was the best armed of the three organisations.
The independent group of republicans — which almost entirely consisted of seasoned ex-Provisional IRA members — brings with it a range of deadly expertise and experience.
The Continuity IRA and another republican paramilitary group, Oglaigh na hEireann, will continue to exist separately.
The new IRA presents the greatest threat in Belfast, Derry, South Down, Lurgan and Tyrone.
The security forces will be watching avidly to gauge the group’s capabilities.
Despite its high-profile emergence, the impact of the new IRA and the level of support it will receive in republican communities, remain to be seen.
Nobody wants this, says mother of man gunned down
By Brendan McDaid and Lesley-Anne McKeown
The mother of a Londonderry man shot dead by Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) said she was disgusted that the killer vigilante group was uniting with other dissidents.
Donna Smith, whose son Andrew (right) was shot dead by RAAD at his home in Donegal in February, said the banding together of it and the Real IRA and a third dissident grouping would only serve to heighten fear and tensions in the community.
She also claimed police had done “virtually nothing” to get to grips with RAAD in Derry.
“This announcement is disturbing to say the least. I can’t actually take it in that they have all amalgamated. What is the reason behind this now?”
Ms Smith, who has been a leading voice in the Not In Our Name campaign formed in Derry after her son was killed and dozens of others wounded by RAAD, said the groups banding together had the potential to drag Northern Ireland backwards.
“Nobody wants this,” she said. “It was bad enough years ago and are they going to start this up again now?
“I grew up in the Troubles and I don’t want this starting up again. I never ever thought any of my children would be shot dead.
“Why are they starting this up now when the majority of people don’t want it?”
Ms Smith said she wanted to see more being done to tackle the activities of the dissident group which murdered her son.
“Police have to do more on the ground. I don’t know what is going on in this town.” The PSNI responded saying: “The investigation into the murder of Andrew Allen is being conducted by An Garda Siochana with assistance from the PSNI.”
Meanwhile, the dissident merger has been slammed from all sides.
Although regarded by most as sinister propaganda, both unionists and nationalists have warned that the threats from the new republican faction — a rebranded IRA — cannot be completely dismissed.
“We do not know if this is pure propaganda or if there is any substance to these statements,” said DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson.
“But — let’s be clear — dissident republicans in whatever guise are not going to succeed in dragging Northern Ireland back to the past.
“They have no public support, they have no political agenda beyond fantasy and they are not going to succeed.”
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said dissidents lacked a strategy
“This latest move appears to be more to do with egos and personal fiefdoms than anything else. That is not to say that they cannot be dangerous,” he added.
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said he was “appalled and horrified”, adding: “This indicates that they are upping it a gear and are going on the offensive.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott said: “I have always had concern that some of these groups have been assisted by the mainstream IRA.
“There is no doubt that the capability of the dissidents has come from the mainstream Provisionals.”
The Alliance Party’s Naomi Long said: “People in Northern Ireland do not want to go back to the way things were and have made a very clear statement that they want to move forward.”
Coalition of terror may talk big but it cannot deliver
By Brian Rown
This statement talks big in terms of intentions and demands. But those who wrote it know that this new dissident coalition cannot deliver on its words; that it has neither the military firepower nor strategic brainpower to see this project through.
Yes, it could kill someone today, tomorrow or the next day, but such violence will not achieve the British military and political withdrawal it seeks and demands.
The political agreements have been made, and a united Ireland is only achievable if unionists can be persuaded.
What we are watching is a development in which some of the dissidents have knit together their titles, guns and numbers.
But they have not the Libyan supplies once delivered to the IRA, the structures, finance, expertise, support and all the other things that are needed to sustain a war.
And the lie in this statement is that this is known and not expressed.
The coalition involves RAAD, the Real IRA and up-to-now ‘unaffiliated’ dissidents who were not card-carrying members of any of the organisations, but who have co-operated with them all.
An example was the attack at Massereene barracks in 2009.
That so-called operation involved Real IRA guns, bullets that came from elsewhere and ‘unaffiliated’ gunmen.
So, joined-up attacks, co-operation, sharing resources, money, and engineering know-how in the making of bombs, none of this is new.
What these announced arrangements will do is formalise what already was happening.
Not all dissidents have joined the coalition.
Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) and the Continuity IRA are standing outside, and these dividing lines mirror what has been happening inside Maghaberry jail.
There the Real IRA and ‘independent’ or ‘unaffiliated’ dissidents share a ‘Republican Collective Landing’, creating distance between themselves and ONH and Continuity IRA prisoners.
So, inside and outside the jail we are looking at a fractured world.
What this coalition brings together are different bits of a threat that has been out there for some time and which is assessed as “severe”.
They may try to launch themselves with an attack to go with the words, and this is the immediate danger.
But is this a game changer?
It will take time to answer that question, a proper assessment requiring an analysis of a period of activity, rather than something judged on one statement or one action.
The intelligence agencies have been watching the contacts and listening to the conversations for quite some time.
A number of the dissident ‘A Teams’ have been arrested and “conspiracies broken up”.
And this is a world in which simultaneous reaching out and splitting can be regularly observed.
In other words, these groups can be friends one day and enemies the next.