What is the rationale behind dissident republicans’ current terror campaign? What do groups, such as the New IRA, hope to achieve that the Provisional IRA and the INLA could not achieve after a generation of violence during the Troubles?
These questions have been bugging me in recent weeks. Is the New IRA merely carrying out attacks on the security forces, especially against the PSNI, simply because it wants to keep the option of ‘armed struggle’ on the republican agenda for a future generation of young republicans?
Or, is it a case that dissidents who disagree vehemently with the Sinn Fein agenda (Provisional Sinn Fein that is, not Republican Sinn Fein !) and the direction firmly set down by the Adams/McGuinness peace process want to simply give a two-fingered salute to that process?
During my time as Northern Political Columnist with the Irish Daily Star, I carried out a series of interviews with dissident republican sources which were published in 2012 and 2013. So my observations carry the ‘health warning’ that they were not recently published.
But perhaps these stories can help us understand the mindset of the current dissident republican agenda.
On June 19, 2012, I had an interview with Republican Action Against Drugs published under the headline ‘Vigilantes plot PSNI bomb blitz’. Here’s a few selected paragraphs from that published article;
The Troubles will be back on again - that’s the warning from a secret interview with a source close to the leaders of vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs.
The source said RAAD will develop into a new, experienced dissident terror group carrying out shootings and bombings against the security forces.
The source claimed:
The majority of RAAD is comprised of former Provisionals from recent times. It was an inevitable progression that because RAAD began in the republican community, the organisation would start attacking the police. This is a natural progression. They (RAAD) want the war. They started out attacking the drug dealers, but the police goaded RAAD into attacking the police.
RAAD will stay separate from these other groups. They believe in the view that if there are a lot of these groups, it makes it harder for the police and MI5 to penetrate them. However, I am not sure that RAAD will want to implement a long war strategy which the Provisional IRA favoured.
But that could well happen if RAAD gains more experienced members. In the early years of the war, there were splits between the different groups like the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA. But not now. I believe the situation will stay the same, with dissident groups doing their own individual things. But the big advantage for RAAD is the same as in business - experience works.
Later in 2012, on 28 August, I had an interview published in the Irish Daily Star with a source close to the leadership of the New IRA, under the headline: ‘Actions louder than words … Dissident attack should have preceded merger of factions’.
In this published interview article, I wrote the following:
Dissident republicans should have carried out a major attack first before announcing an amalgamation of some of their terror factions, a well-placed source close to the leadership of the New IRA told The Star last night.
That source in 2012 told me - again quoting from the article - that the delay in publicly announcing the amalgamation was ‘because of personality clashes within the various groups which have now been resolved’.
The source added at the time in my published interview:
Given this new game they are playing, they didn’t want to make the same mistakes as the Provisionals. They have learned from these mistakes and there are wiser heads running this central command. However, there is still a body of opinion which believes the case now is that it is too centralised. But a combined group needs to produce something to make headway.
But the big point is there already is a loose association and co-operation among the groups so there was really no need to announce a central command. But it does not get around the core issue in that the new combined group should have produced the goods first, then an announcement if they are to be taken seriously. Making an announcement with having first done something makes them look foolish. That’s the sort of stuff that happened to the Stickies (Official IRA) - making announcements, but never following them up.
Again, I am emphasising these quotes are from 2012. Perhaps what we need to ask as a community, what has changed in the last seven years since that interview?
My opening paragraphs read:
A new terror war will erupt in a few years’ time, a source close to the Real IRA’s leadership told the Star last night. He said the campaign would take place ‘in the future’ because ‘we are not capable of doing this at the moment’. The source said the RIRA and others needed to build a broader ‘support base’ in the republican community. And he poured scorn on Sinn Fein bids to hold talks with dissident republicans aimed at ending their stop/start terror campaign.
Of course, it can be asked, how relevant are these quotes from 2012 and 2013 to the current thinking and strategies within the dissident republican movement.
What is clear is that the current New IRA does not have the capacity for a long sustained campaign of violence and will continue to operate what has become known as the ‘start/stop’ approach - short periods of violence, followed by lulls in the violence.
It is equally clear that the New IRA has been unable to build up a broad base of support within the republican community unlike the Provisional IRA did using Sinn Fein.
If a ‘no deal’ Brexit emerges on 31 October this year, resulting in a hard border between Northern and Southern Ireland, will the New IRA resort to recreating the failed Border campaign of the so-called ‘old IRA’ of 1956-62? It was a similar ‘start/stop’ terror campaign, which was predominantly halted because of the intelligence-gathering activities of the then B Specials section of the RUC.
The real danger for everyone on the island of Ireland is that albeit a small faction compared to the broad republican family, the New IRA decides to maintain its terror campaign in the hope it can eventually radicalise sufficient young republicans for whom the 1994 IRA ceasefire and 1998 Good Friday Agreement are merely dates in a history book.
Has the current leadership of the New IRA realised that it will never enjoy the broad support of the nationalist community across Ireland, north and south, but hopes to keep the ‘candle in the wind’ option of armed struggle flickering in the hope someone takes up the baton once again.
After all, is Islamic radical terror cells are taken as a benchmark, as well as the ‘lone wolf’ strategies of the Extreme Right terrorists are added - it only takes a handful to cause mass murder.
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com