This website is a forum for political debate and the exchange of ideas. Unless indicated, the opinions expressed in any article, commentary, argument or review is solely that of the author and not necessarily that of the publisher.

 Home Page Reviews Ulster comment  Archives  International issues   Links   Conversation with Rabbi Schiller  FAQs   Open Forum  For Sale  Obituaries   Culture and Identity

The Continuity IRA

(This analysis of the CIRA was written in early 1997).

Recent terrorist incidents have been laid at the door of an organisation variously called the Continuity IRA, the Republican IRA, the Irish National Republican Army and Arm na Poblacta. Some unionist spokesmen profess to claim that this organisation is a flag of convenience for the Provisional IRA, rather like 'Direct Action Against Drugs` was during the PIRA cease-fire. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin claims that the group's activities are part of a `dirty tricks' offensive to discredit the Provos. Despite the unionist theory, there is quite a lot of evidence that the `continuity' splinter group does exist and that it has a different agenda to that of the Provisionals. Instead it shares the political outlook of Republican Sinn Féin which is fiercely critical of PIRA/Sinn Féin's pan-Irish nationalist front strategy.

Republican Sinn Féin as founded in November 1986 when Ruarí O' Braidaigh and Daithí O'Conail led a small walk-out from the Provisional Sinn Féin Ard Fheis after losing a vote on the abstention issue. Sinn Féin decided that they would take seats if any of their candidates were to be elected to Leinster House. This was virtually an act of treason for traditionalist republicans who never recognised `partitionist assemblies'. In the mid-fifties O'Bradaigh himself had been elected to Leinster House for Longford-Westmeath on an abstentionist ticket. In keeping with his principles he never took his seat.

As far as the die-hard republican fundamentalists of RSF are concerned, there is only one Irish Republic, the one established in arms in the 1916 Easter Rising and confirmed by the original Dáil Éireann which came into being after the general election of 1918. After the militants republicans lost the Irish civil war, the were abandoned by de Valera - their former leader - who founded a new political party, Fianna Fail, and entered the Free State parliament. For republican fundamentalists, history is littered with former comrades who have sold out and gone into constitutional politics. There was Fianna Fail in 1926, the Republican Congress in 1934, Cumann Poblacta in 1936, Clann na Poblacta in 1946, Official Sinn Féin (the Workers' Party) in 1970 and finally the Provisionals in 1986.

Little has been heard of Republican Sinn Féin since its foundation but it was not idle. It was busy building a cadre of nostalgic traditionalist republicans who were waiting for the Provos to slip up. This would give `true republicans' their opportunity to resume the leadership of the armed struggle against the Ulster people.

Their opportunity came in 1994 when the Provisionals announce their cease-fire. The RSF newspaper, Saoirse (September 1994) complained of `The deterioration of the Provisionals since they accepted the 26-County state in 1986.' In a speech, O'Bradaigh, the president of RSF - a former IRA chief of staff and the former president of Provisional Sinn Féin - warned on August 1st, 1994, the day of the PIRA cease-fire, that `The right of the Irish people to engage in a controlled and disciplined manner for the freedom of their country remains intact and the Provisionals have no monopoly on resistance to British rule.' This was the first public hint that RSF had its won military wing.

In public, RSF agitated for, and organised, a 32-County petition to demand British withdrawal and an `all-Ireland referendum' on any settlement. It accused the Provos of selling out the true republic and cowardice, suggesting that loyalist paramilitary attacks had influenced them into giving up the armed struggle. RSF constantly criticised Provisional Sinn Féin for becoming just another constitutional party of neutered lapsed republicans like Fianna Fail and the Workers' Party. The underlying suggestion here, of course, is that RSF does not regard itself as a constitutional political party.

In a leaflet distributed by Newry and Armagh RSF in January 1995, the party claimed to be `...the legitimate inheritors of the Irish Republican movement and the leading organisation now in Ireland campaigning for a complete withdrawal from our country.' and claimed to hold the `moral high ground' of republicanism.

Around the same time there was a rumour that a new republican paramilitary group had emerged when a party of armed men fired a volley of shots over the grave of Commandant General Tom Maguire in Cross, Co Monaghan. The Garda Siochana attributed this incident to a body which they styled the `Irish National Republican Army' and linked to Republican Sinn Féin. On November 10th, 1995 Michael Hegarty - a member of RSF's Ard Comhaírle - and two other RSF activists were arrested in Co Monaghan in possession of a vanload of explosives. Gardai said that they had reason to believe that the van bomb they intercepted was intended to be used across the border in Ulster.

On January 6th, 1996, the RSF-controlled `Irish Republican Publicity Bureau' announced that `a reborn Irish Republican Army had emerged led by the "Continuity Army Council".' This was only reported in two newspapers, the Belfast Irish News and the Dublin Sunday Business Post. Not surprisingly, it also made front page news in the February issue of Saoirse under the headline, "`REVOLUTIONARY' IRA EMERGES"

The statement form the Continuity Army Council denounced the Provisionals as `those who have usurped the name of the Irish Republican Army' and claimed that they were `in breach of the constitution at the Convention of 1986 and suspended themselves from membership.'

A few days later, the same publicity bureau issued a signed statement said to have been made in July 1987 in Comdt Gen Tom Maguire, the last surviving member of the Second Dáil Éireann and a revered figure by traditionalist republicans. Maguire denied recognition to any organisation `which lent support to any person or organisation styling itself Sinn Féin, and prepared to enter the partition parliament of Leinster House.' Maguire went on to delegate his `executive powers of government' to the Continuity IRA is the only lawful government of all-Ireland.

Republican Sinn Féin sees itself as in direct line of succession from the original Sinn Féin organisation in 191911922 as a state within the state. It recognises only a situation of dual power, its own being de jure deriving from the First and Second Daíls and the other being de facto. This makes the `Continuity' IRA the military wing of an alternative state whereas the Provisional IRA is now merely the cutting edge of a political party.

RSF activists say that the emergence of the CIRA in January led to the end of the PIRA cease-fire on February 9th. The March 1996 issue of Saoirse claims that the Provos feared being sidelined by what it calls the `true Oglaigh na h-Éireann'.

In July Saoirse produced a special post-Drumcree supplement which reeked of anti-Protestant bigotry. It also reported with some relish the bombing of the Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen with a 500kg car bomb. It boasted that this was `the first major bomb attack in the Six Counties since the Provisionals' unilateral cease-fire of August 1994.'  It came as little surprise to dedicated Saoirse readers to see an admission of this attack by the Continuity IRA in the August issue.

Since then the CIRA have attempted to bomb Belfast city centre and the Strand Road RUC barracks in Londonderry. There can be little doubt that there will be more attacks in the future, regardless of whether or not the Provisionals restore their tactical cease-fire. RSF/CIRA is as present a relatively small organisation. However, size isn't everything. It is a dedicated politico-military cadre with great potential to supplant the Provos if they put a foot wrong and alienate their own volunteers.

A unionist theory that the Provisional IRA have given the splinter group a licence to carry out `deniable operations', for example sectarian attacks which would sully their carefully cultivated image of reasonableness. There is some evidence to suggest that something of this nature happened with the INLA and the IPLO in the eighties and early nineties. When the IPLO grew too big for their boots and became involved in reckless internecine slaughter the Provos found it necessary to forcibly disband both of its factions in October 1992. Nothing has yet emerged to confirm this theory in the case of the Continuity IRA. Nevertheless anti-republicans and Ulster patriots should be alert.

David Kerr

Home Page


Copyright © 1990 - 2007 Third Way Publications. All rights reserved.