The period of ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland called ‘The Troubles’ is often cited to have ended with the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998 and its endorsement in the form of referendum by the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. At the end of the 30 year conflict 3,485 people had been killed by various armed groups the vast majority, 2,048, by Irish Republican paramilitaries who sought to remove British claim to Northern Ireland and reinstate a 32 county United Ireland (Sutton 2002). The Belfast Agreement represented a new direction for Irish Republicans. Sinn Féin the political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) persuaded the majority of Irish Republicans to follow them on a purely political path to the goal of a United Ireland. The IRA was on ceasefire from 1997 and this paved the way for Unionist (those in favour of continued British rule of Northern Ireland) and Nationalist (those seeking to remove British rule and the implementation of a United Ireland) politicians to work together along with the British and Irish governments to reach a compromise agreement to end the armed conflict. The IRA reluctantly accepted the need to decommission weapons and by 2005 had “put all its arms beyond use” (Independent International Commission on Decommissioning 2005). However despite the end of armed conflict by the IRA other factions of Irish Republican paramilitaries continue the armed campaign to this day. Since the end of the conflict on 10th April 1998 (the signing of the Belfast agreement) to the end of 2010 there has been 62 killings linked to Republican paramilitaries the vast majority of these have been carried out by the Real Irish Republican Army (rIRA) (Sutton 2010). On top of this there continues to be shootings, bombings, punishment beatings and civil unrest orcastrated by the Republican paramilitaries. The escalation of the Republican campaign in the past few years has seen the killing of two soldiers and a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as well as the return of the car bomb. These dissident Republican paramilitary groups (those who do not support the Belfast Agreement) have made clear their intent to continue armed conflict:
We [rIRA] cannot envisage a ceasefire in any circumstances other than in which a declaration of intent to withdraw from the occupied Six-Counties [Northern Ireland] is made by the British Government. (Melaugh 2010f)
The Real Irish Republican Army (rIRA) were formed in November 1997 by disgruntled members of the IRA who were opposed to the Belfast Agreement and the direction Sinn Féin were leading the Republican movement (Melaugh 2010b). The rIRA is an illegal organisation under United Kingdom and Irish law due to the use of “IRA” in the name and outlawed as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in the United States. In a written statement released in January 2003 the rIRA gave its most detailed reasoning for its formation (Melaugh 2010f). In it the organisation stated its primary aim was the same as the IRA’s; the reestablishment of a 32-County Irish Republic (United Ireland). The reasoning for the establishment of the rIRA as a breakaway group of the IRA was due to the presentation of the Belfast Agreement as being a stepping stone to a United Ireland by the “Provisional Movement”. By this they are referring to the collective role of Sinn Féin and those within the IRA Army Council (the governing body of the IRA) to present the Belfast Agreement as the only viable offer to a United Ireland. They claim that the Belfast Agreement was created in such a way that the outcome was always going to favour Unionism as the referendum in Northern Ireland to ratify the Agreement could veto the referendum in Ireland. Also they point out that the Agreement had to be acceptable and ratified by the British Government before being put to referendum (The Agreement). Within their statement they also attack Sinn Féin who have a large membership of ex-IRA members for betraying the cause of Irish Republicanism. In doing so they effectively alienated themselves from the IRA as an attack on Sinn Féin leadership is seen as an attack on the IRA due to the leader of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams’ IRA connections. At the time of the Belfast Agreement and even as late as 2005 some IRA members, journalists and security forces claimed that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness were still sitting on the IRA Army Council (Clarke 2005). The idea of the IRA leadership entering into a coalition government with Unionist leaders in a British executive and receiving large salaries from the British government created bitterness in the rIRA and hence their claim of betrayal by Sinn Féin and the IRA.
In their January 2003 statement they outline their claim to legitimacy and their ideology (Melaugh 2010f). In one of the questions posed to the rIRA the Belfast Agreement and the support for it by the majority of Irish people (71% in Northern Ireland and 94% in Ireland) is said to be evidence that the vast majority of people on the island wish for a peaceful non-violent resolution to the issue of a United Ireland (Whyte 2001). The insinuation is that the rIRA have no legitimacy in continuation of armed struggle. In response the rIRA claim that people had become weary of the conflict and had simply given up on Republican cause due to British media enticing them to vote for the Belfast Agreement as the only option for peace. The statement goes further and predicts that in the future the rIRA will be seen as the force that liberates Ireland from British rule. This gives us a sense of the determination of the rIRA. Despite the apparent unwillingness of the vast majority to support their actions they believe that they are continuing on a noble cause that they perceive many want but will not publicly support. The statement goes on to state that:
No guerrilla can exist without a support base – ours is considerable, certainly sufficient, principled and politically aware. (Melaugh 2010f)
Their claim to legitimacy therefore seems to be based on what they perceive is their historic right to use arms to defend Ireland and support that they suggest Nationalist and Republicans have for them. This claim at the time was unfounded but a recent survey has shown that 14% of Nationalists surveyed had “sympathy for the reasons” why the dissident Republican groups including the rIRA and the Continuity Irish Republican Army (cIRA) (a Republican paramilitary group splinter group of the IRA similar to the rIRA founded in 1986) continue to use violence (Melaugh 2010a) (BBC News 2010e). The issue of support and membership will be examined in more detail later in the prose. The rIRA claim to be non-sectarian. Within their statement they assure the Unionist population that their community is welcome in a United Ireland and even attempt to persuade them that they would be better off in a United Ireland (Melaugh 2010f).
During a meeting of senior IRA members in County Donegal on 10th October 1997 hardline elements within the organisation expressed their resentment of the IRAs ceasefire and the organisations willingness to participate in the Peace Process (the efforts of the British, Irish and American governments to create a political solution to the Troubles) along with Sinn Féin. Since the 20th July ceasefire dissident members of the IRA had continued paramilitary activities despite the organisations insistence. A large bomb was left at the Carrybridge Hotel, near Lisballaw, County Fermanagh at the end of July and a bomb exploded in Markethill, County Armagh, and caused extensive damage to buildings (Melaugh 2010d). At the meeting three members of the influential IRA Executive voiced their discontent and Kevin McKenna was voted off the panel followed two weeks later by the resignation of IRA Quartermaster General Michael McKevitt and his partner Bernadette Sands-Mckevitt. For ten years Michael McKevitt had been Quartermaster General in charge of procuring and arranging the safeguard of IRA weaponry (Boyne 1998). His defection was a blow to the IRA as it meant he could set up the rIRA in November 1997 with McKenna and Sands-McKevitt and with a ready supply of weapons he transferred from IRA arms dumps (Mooney and O’Toole 2004). Within a year the organisation was beginning to expand rapidly in Ireland with many senior members of the IRAs Southern Command joining due to the IRAs ceasefire and support and respect for McKevitt within Republican circles. The estimate of membership in August 1998 was somewhere in the region of 100 active members consisting of experienced ex-IRA members and young recruits from estates in Dublin. McKevitt self styled himself Chief of Staff and recruited experienced bomb-makers from the IRA including their top bomb maker. Other defectors from the IRA included two Quartermaster Generals, an entire active service unit from Tipperary and the former head of the Newry IRA (Boyne 1998). This wealth of experienced and young committed members was to be the building blocks for the rIRA.
According to Mooney and O’Toole (2004) the rIRA have adopted many of the organisational tactics of the IRA which were transferred over with McKevitt. The composition of the leadership is a seven member Army Council consisting of a Chief of Staff, Quartermaster General, Director of Training, Director of Operations, Director of Finance, Director of Publicity and Adjutant General. Groups of five - eight members operate in active service units keeping apart from other units and receiving orders directly from the Army Council in a bid to avoid any infiltrations by security force informants from gaining information that could bring down the entire organisation. This system proved on the most part successful for the IRA with informants being easily identified within a service unit and executed (Mooney and O’Toole 2004). Along with their armed force the rIRA are represented on the political front by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement headed by Francie Mackey and launched in December 1997 in Dublin. The early composition of the organisation consisted mainly of disaffected members of Sinn Féin who had either been dismissed from the party or left due to differences in opinion.
The leadership and composition of membership of the rIRA past 2003 is difficult to ascertain. In 2001 McKevitt and Liam Campbell rIRA Director of Operations were arrested and charged with membership of a terrorist organisation and sentenced to 20 years and 5 years respectively (Guardian.co.uk 2003) (Hopkins 2002). Whilst in prison McKevitt and other members of the rIRA released a statement calling on the organisation to disband (Melaugh 2002). In the statement it is strongly implied that the outside leadership was more interested in personal financial gain than the objective of a United Ireland. The outside leadership rebuked these claims calling the statement by McKevitt and his allies “treachery” (Melaugh 2010f). The split within the prison led to many within the rIRA backing Campbell for the leadership due to the perceived weakness of McKevitt as a leader. The split created two factions of the rIRA one directed by Campbell and a new group calling itself Óglaigh na hÉireann (oNh) which is run by the McKevitt faction under the leadership of Seamus McGrane and formed in 2005 (This is not to be confused with a cIRA splinter group in West Tyrone with the same name) (Rowan 2010) (Mooney & Clarke 2009). In an interview in November 2010 the relationship with the rIRA and other dissident groupings was described as “friendly and cordial” (Rowan 2010). It is widely recognised within Republican circles but not publicised that oNh has taken over many of the military tasks from the rIRA due to the saturation of the organisation with informers and security force intelligence on the group. It is unclear who is leader of the rIRA at present after the re-arrest of Campbell in 2009 (BBC News 2009a). A leaked government document in November 2009 suggested that John Connolly and Don Mullan two long serving rIRA members are currently leading the rIRA.
The issue of membership numbers in recent years is also surrounded in speculation although the membership base seems to have remained around 100-200 according to various sources, some however put the figure at 600 (Muldoon 2010). The latest report by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) set up to monitor paramilitary activity states that recruitment into the rIRA is an ongoing process (Twenty-fifth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission).
The timeline of events of the rIRA can be categorised into five stages for better understanding of the groups’ development and tactics. These are; (1) The formation of the organisation in October 1997 to ceasefire following the Omagh bombing on 18th August 1998, (2) August 1998 – 20th January 2000 was a period of ceasefire and build up to further armed activities, (3) 20th January 2000 – early 2003 was a period of steady bomb attacks in Northern Ireland and England ending with the split in the organisation, (4) early 2004 – February 2008 represented a period of restructuring and low level sporadic attacks, (5) from the announcement in February 2008 to present the rIRA has renewed their campaign with targeted attacks against security services and a declaration that economic institutions such as banks would now be targeted (McDonald 2010).
The rIRA began operations with a 300lb car bomb in Banbridge on the 7th January 1998 (BBC News 1998b). Following IRA protocol for planting bombs in civilian populated areas with the aim of causing economic damage the rIRA telephoned a recognised coded warning and the bomb was defused by the security services. This would be the first of several bomb attacks against commercial property and RUC targets leading up to the Omagh bomb on 15th August 1998. During the first eight months of their campaign they inflicted injury on 9 RUC officers but worryingly 37 civilians were also wounded (Melaugh 2010e). The signs were there that the rIRA was rather reckless with its targeting and this apparent unprofessionalism of the organisation would in August 1998 result in the largest single loss of life in one incident during the years of conflict. The bombing in Omagh town centre was presumably an attempt to cause economic damage however the operation was a disaster for the rIRA. IRA attacks with car bombs in town centres would usually operate with two cars. A car would be parked some hours before in the location where the bomb was to explode to ensure the bomb vehicle could swap position with the first car on arrival. This would be to ensure the bomb could be brought in and immediately placed in the target area (English 2003). On this occasion the bombers arrived in Omagh to park the car loaded with 500lb of explosives outside the courthouse based on a telephoned warning. However it is assumed that the bombers could not find a space outside the courthouse and instead primed the bomb and left it on Market Street some 400 metres further down the street from the courthouse (Dingley 2001). Confused warnings giving the location first as Omagh Courthouse then Main Street (which does not exist in Omagh) were telephoned to local news agencies and a charity. The confusion caused by these warnings meant that the RUC evacuated people away from the courthouse towards the bomb (BBC News 1998a). 29 people were killed in the explosion and a further 220 were injured (Melaugh 2010g). Condemnation for the attack came from all corners and significantly Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams condemned the attack unequivocally. This was the first time a Republican attack had been ‘condemned’ by Sinn Féin (Melaugh 2010g). This also marked the end of armed conflict by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) as they accepted civilian casualties were no longer acceptable consequences of armed conflict and this created speculation that they had provided bomb components for the operation along with support from the cIRA (Mooney and O’Toole 2004). The bomb attack also prompted strong criticism from the IRA who were at the time on ceasefire. It was reported that prominent members of the rIRA were visited in their homes shortly after by members of the IRA and warned that they were damaging the name of the IRA and that they would be shot if actions continued. No follow up to these threats occurred as an attack on rIRA members by the IRA could initiate a brutal Republican feud which could destabilise the Peace Process (Dingley 2001). On the 18th August 1998 two statements were released by the rIRA claiming responsibility for the Omagh bomb, apologizing for civilian causalities and calling an immediate ceasefire (McKenna, F 1998a&b). This marked a turning point of opinion in many quarters of Northern Ireland it was now clear that the rIRA and other dissident groups were completely isolated from the IRA and mainstream Republicanism and the damage to the reputation of the rIRA took some years to fix.
The period of rIRA ceasefire between August 1998 and April 2000 saw no known attacks by the organisation. It is believed that this period was spent procuring arms from Europe and training members for the renewal of their campaign which came on 6th April 2000 when a bomb exploded and caused damage to a British Army base in County Londonderry (BBC News 2000) (Mooney and O’Toole 2004). From 2000 to early 2004 the tactics of the rIRA changed from attacking economic targets in Northern Ireland to launching mortar and bomb attacks against RUC and British Army bases and patrols and disrupting cross border train travel which has been an ongoing tactic by the dissident groups. Mooney and O’Toole (2004) believe that this change in tactic was a direct consequence of Omagh and the fear of becoming further alienated by inflicting civilian casualties. This campaign proved relatively ineffective as only eight security personal were injured in Northern Ireland but there were two civilian fatalities (Melaugh 2010c). This period of the campaign 2000 - 2002 saw for the first time attacks by the rIRA in England designed as publicity attacks to raise international attention to their cause and to persuade former IRA members that they had the capability to take the fight to Britain (Mooney and O’Toole 2004). There were nine attacks or attempted attacks in England during this period the most high profile attacks being a rocket attack on the headquarters of British Intelligence MI6, a car bomb attack which injured seven people in London and a further car bomb attack outside BBC headquarters in London which caused significant damage. The attack on the BBC was viewed by some as a revenge attack for a television programme commissioned by the BBC which published the name of rIRA members suspected of involvement in the Omagh bomb (RTÉ News 2000) (BBC News (2001a&b).
rIRA activity began to subside with the arrest and imprisonment of its top leaders McKevitt and Campbell with only sporadic attacks and no successful bombs being detonated against security services. With Campbell imprisoned it seemed that the ability to create successful bombs had been severely disrupted. However two PSNI officers were shot and wounded in attacks in November 2007 and the organisation carried out a fire-bombing campaign against commercial premises in 2006 (BBC News 2007b) (BBC News 2006). During this period of lull in the campaign politicians in Northern Ireland along with British and Irish politicians had come to a new political agreement to compliment and expand the progress already made through the Belfast Agreement in 1998. The agreement which was formulated in October 2007 was a further landmark in the Peace Process. The result was the reinstatement of the Northern Ireland Assembly after a six year spell of Home Rule (direct governance from London) with Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) becoming First Minister and Martin McGuiness of Sinn Féin becoming deputy First Minister. This marked the acceptance of the DUP, the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland, to share power with Republicans and the formal recognition of the PSNI and courts in Northern Ireland by Sinn Féin (Agreement at St Andrews 2006). The Agreement also paved the way for the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Executive under the remit of the Justice Minister David Ford of the Alliance Party which is accepted as free of Unionist or Nationalist prejudices. The acceptance of the PSNI by Sinn Féin was viewed by the dissidents as the final betrayal of mainstream Republicanism after the decommissioning of all the IRAs weapons in September 2005 (Independent International Commission on Decommissioning 2005). The rIRA viewed the acceptance of the PSNI by Sinn Féin as acceptance of British forces in Northern Ireland and as treachery (Melaugh 2009).
The devolved government had collapsed after the events of Stormontgate in October 2002 after allegations of an IRA spy-ring within government buildings at Stormont, although no evidence was ever found. What did emerge was that one of Gerry Adams’ closest aides and head of administration Denis Donaldson was working as a British spy within Sinn Féin for twenty years (Chrisafis 2005). Donaldson admitted he was a spy after being outed by Gerry Adams in December 2005 (BBC News 2005) and went into hiding in County Donegal as informers in Sinn Féin/IRA were always hunted down and killed in accordance with the IRAs rules stated in their Green Book (IRA Green Book). He was gunned down and killed in his hiding place in a remote area of County Donegal in April 2006. At first suspicion lay with the IRA but in 2009 the rIRA released a statement claiming that they had carried out the assassination as the IRA had dissolved and were no longer active (Melaugh 2009). The veracity of this claim is in doubt as the rIRA could have simply allowed speculation to continue that the IRA had sanctioned the murder. The relationship between the IRA and rIRA as has been discussed was fraught and questions were raised as to why the rIRA would claim responsibility. It is unclear who sanctioned the murder but the suggestion is that as the statement was released in 2009 the rIRA may have been trying to further cement their claim to be the true Republican armed force and show that they have taken over from the IRA (Breen 2009).
With Sinn Féin now supporting the police and justice system in Northern Ireland the rIRA announced in February 2008 that after a three year period of reorganisation the group was now ready to recommence their armed campaign (Mullan 2008). Despite this announcement the only successful attack, in what was a relatively quiet year was an under-car bomb attack on a member of the PSNI (BBC News 2008). This form of targeted attack and three similar incidents by oNh showed that the dissident groups were beginning to become more detailed and careful in their operations. The targeting of specific security force personal proves that the rIRA and the other dissident groups have began to use surveillance techniques similar to those used by the IRA to pick carefully selected targets rather than carrying out opportunist attacks. The activities of the rIRA and oNh have in the past two years represented the most sustained and dangerous threat to security forces in Northern Ireland since the end of the Troubles (McDonald 2009).
The greatest success as far as the rIRA are concerned was their attack on Messereene Barracks in County Antrim on 7th March 2009. Two rIRA members waited outside the entrance to the barracks knowing that the soldiers had ordered a takeaway pizza from nearby Antrim town. When two pizza delivery men arrived at the gates of the barracks to exchange the pizzas the two rIRA men emerged from their parked car and offloaded sixty rounds from two assault rifles at the two delivery men and four soldiers. Two of the soldiers were killed and the other four men were wounded. These represented the first killings of soldiers in Northern Ireland for twelve years and came only days after a warning by the then police Chief Sir Hugh Orde that the threat from dissidents was at its highest in seven years (Nikkhah 2009). Less than 48 hours later the cIRA claimed responsibility for the shooting dead of a PSNI officer in Craigavon again the first killing of a police officer in Northern Ireland in eleven years (BBC News 2009b). Public rallies for peace were attended by thousands across Northern Ireland in the wake of the attacks which were condemned outright by all political parties in Stormont. Martin McGuiness branded the perpetrators of the two incidents as “traitors to the island of Ireland.” People were especially outraged by the statement released by the rIRA claiming that the shooting of the two pizza men was justified as they were “collaborating with the British by servicing them” (BBC News 2009c) (Sky News 2009). Sporadic attacks continued throughout the year but to date this has been the rIRA’s defining moment.
2010 saw a further escalation of rIRA attacks with five car bombs exploding with minor injuries sustained by three civilians and two police officers. Two of the attacks were outside police stations, one outside a courthouse, one at a bank and perhaps the most significant a no-warning car bomb outside the MI5 headquarters in Northern Ireland (BBC News (2010abcdf). These car bombings demonstrate that the rIRA has regained the ability to manufacture effective and deadly bombs. The targeting of the bank in Londonderry is a significant change of direction by the organisation. In an interview in 2010 they outlined their change of tactics from targeting security forces to economic targets (Reuters 2010). They have also been accused of orchestrating street disturbances with seasonal July rioting in Belfast being the most violent in years with shots being fired at police officers (BBC News 2010g).
The tactics used against the rIRA to disrupt activities and bring down the organisation are similar to the tactics used to in the past to tackle the IRA and other paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. Due to the threat of attack on anyone who assists the security services by the rIRA the public have long been reluctant to assist in offering information on the organisation. This can be interpreted especially in Republican areas as tacit support for the rIRA and indeed the organisation have used this to claim legitimacy however the reality is that the security services in Northern Ireland had their reputation tarnished during the Troubles. Collusion between the RUC and Loyalist paramilitaries is well documented and has led many people, both Nationalist and Unionist, to mistrust the police (BBC News 2007a). This legacy of the Troubles continues to present with people unwilling to assist police in their investigations of paramilitaries, fearful that they will be labelled a ‘tout’ (informant). The recent case of the murder of Belfast man Robert McCartney has highlighted this. McCartney was allegedly stabbed and beaten to death by the IRA outside a bar in 2005. No witnesses came forward despite at least seventy people being present at the bar at the time of the murder, most of whom claimed to be in the toilet and saw nothing (Times Online & Sharrock, D 2005). The result of this reluctance by the public to cooperate with the security services makes their task of taking down the rIRA especially difficult.
The main source of intelligence on rIRA activity comes from covert surveillance by MI5 with the assistance of the Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Branch police in Northern Ireland and Ireland (Mooney and O’Toole 2004). Another important strategy is the use of agents or informants planted within the organisation to feed back intelligence to the security services. This was a hugely successful tactic used against the IRA during the Troubles and continues today as an important tactic against the rIRA. Another important tactic in disrupting rIRA activity is the increase since 2008 of stop and search powers by the PSNI. This tactic has seen the increase of vehicle checkpoints and high levels of police presence on the streets (Newsletter 2010). The threat of the rIRA and other dissident organisations has led to the continuation of the PSNI as the only permanently armed territorial police force in the UK and the use of armoured Land Rovers for routine patrols especially in Republican strongholds in Belfast, Londonderry and Lurgan. PSNI officers routinely wear flak jackets rather than stab vests worn by other police forces in the UK such is the threat against them.
The most detailed account of the intelligence war mounted against the rIRA comes from Mooney and O’Toole (2004). Their book gives an excellent account of tactics used by the security forces from the rIRA’s inception to the imprisonment of McKevitt and Campbell and the split in the organisation in 2002. The infiltration of the rIRA came at the beginning of their campaign when a car thief who had worked for the Garda Siochana (Irish police) to prevent incarceration in prison tipped off his handler that the rIRA were stealing cars from Ireland for use in car bombing operations in Northern Ireland. The informant Paddy Dixon proved an extremely valuable source of intelligence for the security forces. He is believed to be the only insider in the rIRA during the period leading up to the Omagh bombing (Mooney and O’Toole 2004). Between February and August 1998 Dixon gave the force inside information on at least nine separate rIRA attacks in the lead up to the Omagh bomb. Five rIRA operations were disrupted by intelligence supplied by Dixon in this period (McDonald 2003). Also during this period Irish security services stepped up surveillance on McKevitt and those known to have joined the organisation. The aim was to build up enough intelligence to secure a conviction and to thwart planned attacks by the rIRA however being seasoned Republican paramilitaries the rIRA were well aware they were being spied on and took every precaution to avoid incriminating themselves (Mooney and O’Toole 2004). However despite intelligence provided by Dixon suggesting a “spectacular” bombing was imminent and tracking of phone calls by the Irish security services the Omagh bomb was allowed to be carried out to protect the informant in the belief that the bomb would not cause civilian casualties. This decision was the most catastrophic failing of the security services during the period of the Troubles and made them more determined than ever to bring down the rIRA. Immediately after Omagh the rIRA went on ceasefire but security services remained suspicious and continued surveillance and intelligence gathering (Mooney and O’Toole 2004).
The rIRA spent the period of ceasefire re-stocking its arsenal and regrouping its members in preparation for further attacks. Unknown to the security services a consignment of “rocket launchers, detonators, lunch-box bombs, and enough guns to keep them in the war business for the next ten years” was smuggled into Ireland from Croatia in May 1999 (Mooney and O’Toole 2004 p206). News of the consignment was kept secret by McKevitt initially but once the consignment arrived the news quickly spread within the organisation and was leaked to the security services in Ireland some weeks after. This prompted an increase in surveillance and a determination to further infiltrate the organisation. McKevitt realised at this time that political support was needed to justify his cause but also, importantly, to raise much needed funds for the organisation. McKevitt sought to link the rIRA with the cIRA’s political wing Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) in a bid to get financing from the USA. McKevitt became friendly with a wealthy American businessman from New York who had sympathy for the Republican cause. However this man, Dave Rupert, was years previously recruited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as an informant after striking up a friendship with members of the cIRA (Mooney and O’Toole 2004 p209). The testimony of Rupert proved vital. Evidence given by Rupert to the Garda and intelligence gathered on McKevitt led to his arrest in March 2001 and imprisonment two years later. Follow up arrests were also carried out on the basis of Rupert’s evidence (Mooney and O’Toole 2004 p280). The success of security services in rounding up rIRA volunteers and crucially its leadership in the form of McKevitt and Campbell had them convinced that the rIRA was now in disarray and would collapse. However, this proved incorrect and as detailed previously the organisation reorganised and continues attacks.
It is uncertain if the security services have managed to infiltrate the rIRA after 2003. The organisation has proved successful in countering the surveillance and intelligence gathering by the security services with five bomb attacks in 2010 with the use of high jacked vehicles rather than using criminals, such as Dixon, to steal cars to order (Mooney 2010). The organisation has become more secretive in the wake of the arrests of McKevitt and Campbell but has claimed to have expelled and killed informants (Morris 2010). The most high profile case in recent years was the killing of alleged rIRA informer Kieran Doherty in February 2010 (Belfast Telegraph 2010). The security services have managed to get some information from informants with dissident connections but it is unclear if they have a spy the same calibre as Rupert. A successful sting operation between 2004 and 2006 in which a British agent lured senior rIRA man Paul McCaugherty into paying £39000 for arms resulted in McCaugherty’s arrest along with another man(Telegraph.co.uk 2010). Further recent instances of security service operations to disrupt the activities of the rIRA have been made public notably an incident in County Fermanagh in November 2009 when undercover Army Special Forces intercepted a group of rIRA men as they made their way to kill a PSNI officer (BBC News 2009d). This shows that intelligence gathering and covert operations are still an ongoing operation to tackle the threat of the rIRA.
In addition to the role of the intelligence agencies there has been an effort by the PSNI and Garda to increase their efforts to cut off the income stream of the rIRA which is through criminal activities such as armed robberies, fuel laundering, drug dealing, tiger-kidnapping, extortion and smuggling (Twenty-fifth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission). By preventing these crimes and confiscating assets and monies gained for the rIRA the security services are restricting the capabilities of the organisation to purchase further arms and therefore restricting their capabilities to launch attacks. The security services are also targeting rIRA arms dumps and have been successful in confiscating quantities of weapons (Keogh & Moriarty 2010). The efforts of the security forces are slowly dwindling supplies and the occasional arrest of rIRA members continues however it seems at present the organisation has the capabilities to continue their campaign and are as described in the latest IMC report “a very dangerous and potentially lethal terrorist threat.” (Twenty-fifth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission)
The rIRA have been a constant threat to the lives of security services and the public since their inception in 1997. The bombing of Omagh in 1998 was a key moment in the history of Northern Ireland causing support for armed Republicanism to dwindle and paved the way for the Peace Process to develop to the current stage with Unionists and Nationalists sharing power in a devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, something that was unthinkable less than twenty years ago when the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries were indiscriminately bombing and shooting their way to their respective goals. With the work of political figures in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain it was recognised that this violence could not and would not be allowed to continue into the 21st Century. However a determined and frankly deluded group of Republicans have continued to wage their “war” against the wishes of the vast majority of people on the island of Ireland. The acceptance of the IRA that armed conflict would not succeed was not welcomed by hardline Republicans such as McKevitt and Campbell and the rIRA remains a potent threat to the people of the island of Ireland. The organisation is most definitely a terrorist entity due to its indiscriminate bombing of Omagh and continued attacks against the security services and those who they deem to collaborate with them, whether that be a builder working to repair a police station or young men delivering pizza. The threat from dissident terror groups is currently at the highest since the signing of the Belfast Agreement (Twenty-fifth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission). However they will inevitably fail. Their ideology of Irish Republicanism appears to be a front for violent criminals come terrorists. They have no political support and seek no political mandate. They also have very little support within their communities for their armed actions with increasing numbers of people now supporting the police due to the work of Sinn Féin. Without support and strong leadership they will eventually run out of steam. However more needs to be done by the security services to bring prosecutions against members of the organisation and politicians need to work more closely to tackle sectarianism within Northern Ireland which plays into the hands of rIRA terrorists. By combating sectarianism old hatreds will die away and hopefully create peace on the island of Ireland. It is simply not good enough to defeat dissident Republicans as the underlying cause of their existence is rooted in sectarianism. Without the removal of sectarianism other armed terrorist groups will inevitably emerge. There is much work to be done in Northern Ireland to create a normalised society but the presence of the rIRA is just one obstacle to overcome in that process.
Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland 1998, The Agreement.
Agreement at St Andrews 2006.
Barnes, C (2009). Unmasked: The men the government has accused of plotting a terrorist campaign. [Online] [Updated 29th Nov. 2009] [Accessed 10th Dec. 2010] Available from World Wide Web: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sunday-life/unmasked-the-men-the-government-has-accused-of-plotting-a-terrorist-campaign-14582127.html
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