The Real IRA also known as Óglaigh na hÉireann; or the "dissident" Irish Republican Army (DIRA) is a hard-line splinter group that broke away from the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in November 1997 on the background of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. The founding members of the Real IRA objected to the cease-fire called by the main IRA in 1997, choosing instead to continue the armed struggle against the British Government and Loyalists. While the Provisional IRA, allied with the Sinn Fein political Party, supported and indeed helped to achieve the peace settlement, the dissident republican groups (of which several exist) declared that they would accept nothing less than the union of Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic. The group’s stated objective is the disruption of the peace process, leading to a complete British withdrawal from North Ireland. The group includes a number of the IRA's 12-strong “army executive,” who resigned, along with quartermaster-general McKevitt an experienced and hard line terrorist, in protest of the official IRA support for the peace process. The dissidents formed a new “army executive,” which was to elect an army council to run the new organization. Most of the support for the RIRA is thought to be in the Dundalk and Newry area with some support in Dublin. The group is small in number and has suffered heavy setbacks at the hands of the Irish police and British intelligence services. The RIRA recruited up to 30 experienced operators from ranks of the Provisional IRA, mainly in the Republic of Ireland but also in some areas in North Ireland. . In addition, it has embarked on a clandestine campaign to enrol younger recruits previously uninvolved in paramilitary activity. This new blood is essential to the growth and success of the group, and like many terrorist organisations disaffected young people provide a rich recruiting ground, coupled with the core of experienced terrorist the group is potentially very dangerous. Estimates of total membership have varied from about 70 to 175. Some analysts think the most likely figure is about 100.
The leader of the Real IRA group is alleged to be Michael (Mickey) McKevitt, the former quartermaster-general of the IRA. McKevitt was responsible for arms shipments into Northern Ireland. In addition one of the IRA's former leading bomb-makers has joined the real IRA group. He is suspected of constructing bombs for this group and the CIRA, another hard line splinter group which previously had only limited bomb-making skills. Another ex-IRA engineer, who was involved in constructing mortars, also joined the RIRA and is believed to have made the mortars used in attacks on security bases in the spring of 1998. The RIRA has been linked to a number of bombings; in each instance a car bomb was detonated subsequent to a warning call. British authorities are convinced that Real IRA is responsible for a 500lb car-bomb attack in the town of Bangridge in August 1997. No deaths resulted from any of the earlier bombings. The group has access to quantities of Semtex plastic explosive, detonators and a variety of other bomb-making components, taken from the IRA weapons stock. The RIRA was responsible for a number of bombs and mortar attacks during 1997 and 1998.
On Saturday August 15 1998 a car bomb packed with 500 lbs. of explosives detonated in the town of Omagh in the popular shopping district. The bombing has been called the single the bloodiest incident in Northern Ireland’s 30-year history of partisan conflict. Twenty-eight people were killed and hundreds injured. The RIRA claimed responsibility for the bombing. Outrage over the attack in both pro-British Protestant and pro-Irish Catholic communities forced the Real IRA to suspend it activities 18 August 1998. Like many hard line terrorist groups in Northern Ireland the RIRA lacks the popular support enjoyed by the IRA in its heyday. Murders and involvement in crime have started to isolate such groups from the local population most of which are tired of the conflict. With a supply of young and idealistic recruits and a hard line core of experienced and embittered terrorists such groups will take some time to whither on the vine and are likely to be part of the political environment in Ireland for some time to come.
How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (18 May 2005), Real IRA, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_rira.html