In Depth

What is the New IRA and how much danger does it pose?

Brexit and the suspension of Stormont have ‘given oxygen’ to dissident Republican groups

The Real IRA is back in the spotlight after admitting responsibility for the killing of journalist Lyra McKee during riots in Derry.

In a statement to The Irish News, the dissident republican group offered “full and sincere apologies” for the death of the 29-year-old reporter, who was shot in the head during clashes on the Creggan estate on Thursday night. McKee was hit by accident “while standing beside enemy forces”, the New IRA said.

But police said the incident showed that what “we are seeing is a new breed of terrorist coming through the ranks”.

Detectives investigating the killing “have encountered a ‘sea change’ in attitudes towards dissident republicans”, reports The Times.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said there had been a “palpable” shift in community sentiment in support of their investigation, with more people coming forward to provide off-the-record intelligence.

Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy said: “Lyra’s killers have succeeded in only one thing, and that is in uniting the entire community in condemnation.”

Meanwhile, Irish PM Leo Varadkar has criticised a republican group associated with the New IRA that held a parade in Dublin days after McKee’s death.

About 150 members of the Saoradh group marched through the capital in military colours on Saturday. In response, friends and supporters of McKee held a protest outside Saoradh’s headquarters, dipping their hands in red paint and leaving palm prints on the walls.

So just what does the New IRA hope to achieve?

What is the New IRA?

In July 2012, the Real Irish Republican Army (Real IRA) and the Republican Action against Drugs (RAAD) announced that they and other independent republican paramilitary groups were joining forces to form what has become known as the Real IRA. The newly created group said there was a “necessity of armed struggle in pursuit of Irish freedom” and vowed to step up attacks against British targets.

Police believe the Real IRA has several hundred active supporters, comprising “a mix of former Provisional IRA members and new, young recruits, including some born after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement”, says The Guardian

The group’s most experienced associates are former members of the Provisional IRA “who think the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was a sell-out and explain that as Patrick Pearse said, ‘Ireland unfree shall never be at peace’”, says The Daily Telegraph’s Ruth Dudley Edwards.

The New IRA have been involved in a number of violent incidents. In November 2012, the group shot dead prison officer David Black in County Armagh.

In 2016, they planted a bomb under the van of prison officer Adrian Ismay in Belfast. He died from his injuries 11 days later.

And in 2018 alone, the New IRA “is believed to have placed 17 explosive devices and carried out 24 punishment shootings throughout Northern Ireland”, says Irish newspaper The Journal.

Why has it become more visible?

The suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, alongside the continued rhetoric surrounding a “hard border” following Brexit, “have given oxygen to groups such as the New IRA”, says The Journal’s Tom Clonan.

Brexit provides such groups “with a perfect storm in which the national discourse has returned to a peculiarly toxic narrative around identity and borders on this island – narratives which had become largely irrelevant as a consequence of our membership of the European Union”, Clonan adds.

Dissidents are also “disenchanted with the peace process, saying it has parked the quest for Irish unity and legitimised rule by unionists who denigrate Irish identity”, says The Guardian.

But despite the universal condemnation of McKee’s killing, the New IRA will almost certainly continue its campaign, says Marisa McGlinchey, author of Unfinished Business, a study of dissident republicans.

“I don’t suspect that it will affect their strategy in the long term,” she told the newspaper.

Saoradh chair Brian Kenna, who served two periods in prison for IRA activity and membership, told reporters that in “every generation of the Irish struggle you will have a reaction to the armed occupation of our country”.

“This happens in every generation of the Irish struggle. It won’t change until partition is removed and the occupier, the armed British forces, leaves our country,” Kenna added. 

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