Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: New IRA phrase echoing Brighton blast likely carefully chosen

The New IRA were behind the device planted under a police officer’s car
The New IRA were behind the device planted under a police officer’s car
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The words of the New IRA claiming responsibility for trying to kill a senior PSNI officer were distinctly old ones.

"We were unlucky this time but we only have to be lucky once," it said. Wind back the clock 35 years and here's what another IRA said in its statement admitting the Brighton bomb.

"Remember, we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always," the Provisionals declared. So that phrase in the New IRA's claim of responsibility to The Irish News, for planting the device found under the policeman's car at an east Belfast golf club last weekend, was likely carefully chosen. The New IRA is keen to present itself as following in the footsteps of the bigger and more powerful one that preceded it.

The statement was signed 'T O'Neill', perhaps the son or younger brother of P O'Neill whose name haunted Northern Ireland for 30 years. His grandfather, S O'Neill, used to sign Belfast IRA statements in the 1940s.

Those responsible for trying to murder the PSNI officer are asserting their continuity with past republican armed campaigns, just as the Provisional IRA did in its early days.

The New IRA is presenting itself not as an aberration on the political landscape, but as an organisation following in the family tradition.

No matter how uncomfortable it is for the Sinn Fein leadership, it is impossible to deny the ideological link between the two IRAs.

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Both are or were prepared to use the bomb and bullet to further the goal of Irish unity. Both do or did deny all legitimacy to the Northern Ireland state. Both claim or claimed a historical mandate as opposed to one connected to the current will of the people.

Here is the New IRA's 2012 statement declaring its formation: "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." That could easily have been a Provo statement of the 1970s or '80s.

The mercury tilt switch device which the New IRA used was a mainstay of its predecessor's campaign. The RUC and UDR members who lost their lives or limbs are testimony to its deadly employment.

The New IRA faced widespread public revulsion following the killing of Lyra McKee two months ago. But a ceasefire was no more on the cards than it was for the Provisionals when they shot or blew up civilians during the Troubles.

Yet despite the doctrinal similarities between the two organisations, they operate in very different worlds. In 1983, the year before the Brighton bomb, Sinn Fein secured 103,000 votes (13%) across Northern Ireland. Gerry Adams was elected MP for West Belfast.

Saoradh doesn't contest elections, but if it did the party would attract a tiny fraction of that support and be fortunate to have a councillor elected. The Provisional IRA's words "we only have to be lucky once" gave real cause for concern given the extensive and sustained campaign it waged.

In its seven-year existence, the New IRA has killed three people it would deem "legitimate targets" - PSNI officer Ronan Kerr and prison officers David Black and Adrian Ismay. While the suffering inflicted on their families knows no end, the death toll indicates the paramilitary group's limited capabilities.

Unfortunately for the PSNI, not all its members may in future be as "lucky" as the officer last weekend. But a lack of significant support in its own community, massively improved surveillance technology, and effective intelligence gathering means that the security services are well on top of the New IRA's low-level campaign.

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