The Merger of Physical Force Republicans

Tommy McKearney with a piece from his own blog writing on the emergence of a new IRA. He is author of The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament.

Organisations with strong centralised and hierarchal structures, especially the conviction driven, are usually prone to splitting or the breaking away of factions. Often this occurs at periods of significant political development or societal transformation when direction-changing decisions are required. This happens in religion, in sport and with unending regularity in the world of militant Irish republicanism. Three of the largest parties in the present Irish parliament, for example, had their origins in bitter divisions within the country's republican milieu. Such a history, therefore, makes the news of a merging of certain forces within the present day republican underground, an interesting and indeed surprising development.

A small number of journalists were briefed on Thursday 26th July that three strands of what is sometimes referred to as the "physical force" element of Irish republicanism had amalgamated. The Real IRA (best known to British readers for carrying out the 1998 Omagh bombing), a vigilante group called Republican Action Against Drugs and a low profile group of armed republicans still calling themselves "the IRA" have united under the, hardly original, title of the Irish Republican Army. In its communiqué to the press, the group repeated its commitment to militarism when it spoke of the 'necessity of armed struggle in the pursuit of Irish freedom.'

In spite of its newsworthiness, this development should be kept in perspective. In the first instance, this new IRA group will be confronted with a challenge experienced by every revolutionary organisation; that of maintaining security and secrecy in the face of energetic surveillance by the state. There is little doubt that this merger will simplify MI5's task of monitoring and foiling the new group's activities.

Secondly, there are two other bodies, still calling themselves the IRA that remains outside this merger. Therefore the fractious and divided nature of armed Irish republicanism remains as poisonous and debilitating as ever. The particular school of Irish republicanism represented in this new group is often more certain of what it opposes rather than what it stands for. This makes it difficult for them to build the type of broad support base necessary to influence the political process.

Most pertinent of all, though, is the fact that the new formation is unlikely to change significantly the balance of forces within Northern Ireland. Trying to estimate membership strength for the various militant groups is difficult because the level and depth of support can fluctuate widely depending on the time and circumstances. One of the anomalies of the current situation is that while Sinn Fein voters are strongly opposed to further armed action, many are unwilling for historical reasons to cooperate with the authorities. Acceptance for all aspects of policing remains ambiguous within most republican circles.

Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland are opposed to any resumption of the violent battle of the final quarter century of the 20th century. Every election since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 has returned, from within the wider republican constituency, an overwhelming majority in favour of ending armed conflict and an equally strong rejection of those indicating any intention of recommencing insurrection. While there is no mechanical correlation between electoral support and ability or capacity to carry out direct action, the presiding officer's count provides its own message. When people are unwilling to vote in secret for an insurrectionist candidate, they are unlikely to endure the unavoidable hardships and risks of war against the state. In practical terms there is insufficient water in which armed radicals can swim in Northern Ireland of the present day.

This low-key assessment notwithstanding; there is a message to be taken from a coming together of previously separate entities. It is rare for divisions in republican Ireland to be repaired or for groups to coalesce in this fashion. The significance of what has happened may not lie, therefore, in the new group?s potential for increased military capacity (and that is questionable hypothesis by any assessment) but in the fact that there is a new strategy in play and the process is towards unity rather than remaining separate.

Bear in mind that all is not well in Northern Ireland. Global recession is embedding economic and social hardship in areas that have experienced little improvement in their level of material prosperity over the last two decades. Sectarian divisions remain at a toxic level, especially in working class districts. Local devolved government performs a basic function of any parliament in that it is a substitute for civil war, yet it hardly makes any other obvious difference in the population's day to day lives. Ominously, this new IRA is concentrated in the very areas where deprivation is most acute.

There is, in a nutshell, a space for dissenting voices to question the status quo and Irish republicanism is, after all, more a response to material conditions than it is an aspiration to a form of government. Five years ago a sense of estrangement manifested itself in France with youths burning property in the suburbs. Last year something similar happened in Britain when rioting broke out across urban centres.

Protest in Ireland sometimes follows an indigenous pattern and therein lurks the one great unknown factor in this latest "new departure." Is this a huddling of desperate men determined to hang together rather than hang separately or is it an indication, even subconsciously, of a societal change that is encouraging direction-changing decisions?


  1. I think Tommys assessment of this recent merger is spot on,violent republicanism was( and here I stress the was)a beaten docket a few years ago,I always maintained that the brits would not be stupid enough to allow any situation to arise that could give violent republicans any opening,but now we witness the actions of faceless securocrats and fronted by the unelected Paterson,internment of a very ill woman ie,.Marian Price,Martin Corey, the continuing unabashed bigotry shown by ministers of government here,failure to deal respectfully with the concerns of nationalist residents in places like Ardoyne,there may well indeed be very little support in nationalist areas for military action,but if the brits and their agents continue on this present path of ignoring the concerns in these areas then they may very well be in for a rude awakening.

  2. Some true words written there, If we look into the crystal ball and visualize the future of a new rebellion, the first thing which has to be looked at, "As Tommy stated", Security. In this modern day of technology ,the surveillance equipment is unsurpassed. Did you know that if you leave your land line phone plugged in, they (MI5) can hear every word which is spoken in that room, and , that's without the receiver being lifted of. There are several parts of security, The Paid Touts, how can they be found?, well, plenty of evidence is available from the past P.I.R.A. war, I know i keep harping on about this, The Premature Explosions, The Bombs which failed to go Off, All of it the work of touts bringing them to there handlers to be worked on, we know 2 + 2 = 4, Existing and future volunteers should be warned and told of the nature of what will happen, eventually you will be caught, but never depend on your handler to keep you safe, there is no such thing as safety, those in the higher echelon of MI5 will hang you out to dry, you are fodder to them, and, you will be on your own, never be tempted, just look at what happened to all those touts. So the first thing is to rout them out, It does not take a genius to work that out. At this present time I do not think a new war is viable, this is due to the Modern day security systems available to The British security forces. So , in reality we are destined to still live under the Orange Stormont albeit with PSF as the puppets for the British Crown , and , no help will be given by those in Dail eireann. But, There is no other solution , It is embedded within all Irish People to fight for the freedom of our Nation, to rid our land of Crown Forces, and , still no help from dail eireann.

  3. I recently wrote this over on Slugger in regards to the IRA merger. Rather than rewrite it I'll simply repost it here if that's OK...

    Continued violence gives the politicians in Stormont a smokescreen behind which to hide their failings.

    Without the Peace Process they would be exposed as to what they really are; mini Tories attacking the working classes – all the working classes.

    Therefore I believe they are content with a limited level of violence.

    Violence keeps us divided, especially along sectarian lines and the politicians don’t want Catholic and Protestants uniting even peacefully to challenge their little cartel in Stormont.

    Believe you me, the politicians fear this over any amount of low level violence by Republican groups and they’d be the first to stir the shit should it happen that Republicans cease violence and the working classes unite against them.

    SF haven’t bought all Republicans with their jobs for the boys, however I believe most would not support continuing to try and bomb Unionists into a United Ireland.

  4. Some of Martin McGuinness words after Massereene 3 years ago were
    " I deny their right to do so " and
    the now famous " Traitors to the Island of Ireland " so shocked were the real that they never killed a brit soldier since, nor have they ever killed a cop- now 3 years later the real are no more- its the history books for them-what becomes of the 32 county soverignty now is any bodys guess-
    another war- no-it is another ceasefire-

  5. Michael Henry,

    If the dissidents were killing large numbers of cops and soldiers, would you then support them?

  6. Dixie.

    Freedom will only happen when the Normal Protestant working class people realise that they have gained nothing, and, the same goes for the Normal working class Catholics, that is the only way that the two communities can unite, and , maybe accept that they would be both better off in either, a 32 county democratic socialist republic, Free from hypocrisy , Jobs for the boys, or, an Independent Ulster, Free from British Rule, Ran by the people for the people, equal rights,Wages , freedom of speech for all citizens.


    RE ... Mc Guinness and Co.
    They are the traitors, they deceived the whole republican community, and the working class Protestant community with their lies and cons, and, if you think the REAL were shocked by his words, think again!, is it not better to listen and learn than go forth blindfolded!, I disagree with you on the, "No Its Another Ceasefire", the reason is, It might not come to another war, Both working class communities will eventually say to themselves , enough is enough and join in harmony. Are we not logical human beings!, you can fool all of the people some of the time, BUT, you cant fool them all of the time!.

  7. Michaelhenry,

    this seems such a poor analysis. The Real IRA stopped killing soldiers because of Martin McGuinness's comments? What had they not killed any soldiers prior to those comments either? Perhaps they only killed soldiers in response to your then goading and once they proved their point thy stopped? There, now, that put Michaelhenry in his place!

    The Real IRA shouldn't be killing anybody. How your goading helps explain their motivation defies logic. But then logic and some of the views you express - winding up or not - don't make for ideal companions.

  8. From Sandy Boyer

    Marian Price's husband, Jerry McMclinchey, will provide an update on her health on Radio Free Eireann on Saturday August 4th at 1pm New York time on WBAI 99.5FM or Marian has been hospitalized with pneumonia.

  9. Mickeyboy how do we measure the effectiveness of killing cops and brits,I mean here a cara that the latest figures state that over 1000 soldiers (that includes udr/a)died during our recent grubby little war,is it 100 to 1 for an mla post or is it more for a ministerial post,and as Tomboy Elliot would say OBVIOUSLY the same applies for the other side only their positions are measured in Taig body bags counts, all that death and destruction and misery for this Mickeyboy its a hell of a price to pay just to stand still which is more or less where we are today.

  10. Agree with Dixie re Stormont. However if we need to see where the dissident dream will take us turn on the tv and check out Syria. Also, suspect michaelhenry may be closer to the truth, an amalgamation of the hopeless to get one final headline?

  11. Its very easy to accept that the British establishment have always and always will look with distain on everything and everybody that are not of blue blood , unfortunately the vast sum of nationalists in Ireland have bought into this very same agenda. I cannot for the life of me understand the Marian Price agenda why how or what makes what I always thought was an intelligent woman buy into all this pie in the sky romanticism about freeing Ireland. But why the so called peace makers that are Sinn Fein are not fighting her corner is beyond me, the very same corner boys burned SDLP members out of their homes because they wouldn’t support the Provo’s fight to get into Stormont and now when one of their own is in need of help their spokesman and former comrade of Marian’s, Gerry Kelly says he couldn’t help her because she of a different political persuasion. On hearing that excuse my first thoughts were with the Unionist population because here is a thug like some of their own spouting pure sectarian pile who wants them to embrace his vision of a way forward but he will only listen to them if they agree with him. It’s a case of “if you’re not in my gang then FUCK OFF”
    Declan Kearny is chair of Sinn Fein and want’s to bring peace to all, seems like he should condemn one of his Rottweilers before speaking and supporting the Sinn Fein way to peace.
    There have been many events throughout history that have sparked off another wave of violence in Ireland, have any of the Power Hungry gobshites in Sinn Fein contemplated what might happen if Marian died while being interned in a British Prisoner of War Camp.
    What would be the difference between herself and Bobby Sands ???
    I sincerely hope and wish her a healthy recovery

  12. Boyne Rover,
    Marian is not buying into anything the rest of us have not bought into.
    I dare say Marian still holds the beliefs and the aspirations she had all her life and I cannot see how that challenges her intelligence.
    I don't think republicanism for some of us, is seasonable, situational or adjustable.
    It cannot be turned on and off like a tap.

  13. The Merger of Physical Force Republicans":


    You certainly show how the odds are stacked against the armed republicans from a quick review of the security apparatus. They seemed trapped in the old methodology and I am not convinced any amount of persuading will bring them out of it.