The Real IRA (also known as the NIRA) was formed in late 1997 following a meeting of republicans in Gweedore, County Donegal. The 12-person army executive debated the peace strategy then being pursued by the provisional IRA (henceforth PIRA). The quartermaster general, vehemently opposed any compromise with the British and walked out of the meeting. He went on to become the head of the Real IRA.

As quartermaster of the PIRA, this dissident was responsible for the vast arsenal of weapons at the disposal of the IRA. He was also involved in the procurement of those weapons from Libya and Eastern Europe. It was feared by security forces that many of those weapons would end up in the hands of the new group. However, it seems only a small amount of the deadly explosive Semtex has fallen into their hands as it has only featured in the detonators of their bombs.

The aim of this new terrorist organisation is to continue the violent struggle against the British 'occupation' of Northern Ireland and so achieve a United Ireland. This is despite the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to remain in the United Kingdom. They aim to destabilise the peace process that began in earnest with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1997.

Just as the PIRA is fronted by Sinn Fein, the Real IRA's political wing is the 32 County Sovereignty Committee (the number of counties in the whole of Ireland). Francie Mackay is the chairperson of that Committee. Bernadette Sands McKevitt, sister of the hunger strike martyr Bobby Sands, is vice-chairperson.

The Real IRA attained infamy when they bombed Omagh with the loss of twenty nine lives and over two hundred wounded. A wave of public anger and revulsion was directed against them and they announced a cessation of hostilities. This cessation has not been maintained though the organisation is thought to have dropped the tactic of town center bombings.

Instead they there have been several high profile attacks attributed to the Real IRA. The attempted bombing of Hammersmith Bridge, the daring rocket attack against the MI6 headquarters and the bombing of the entrance to the BBC in White City, London. They have also been involved in extortions and robberies.

The Real IRA has attempted to recruit as many members of the PIRA as possible. In the Irish Republic they have been successful in attracting dissident provos from west Limerick to Dundalk. Their main strength lies south of the border. There are at most two hundred members. They have attracted several skilled bombmakers. They have also attempted to attract university students. It is thought that sleeper cells await activation in Britain. Any attack would probably be timed with some key date in the peace process.

Irish police (Garda) have had some success in infiltrating the organisation. On May 16, 2001 the Real IRA was designated as a 'foreign terrorist' group by the Bush administration in the United States. This should reduce a major source of funding for the republicans (mainly from Irish Americans in New York, Boston or Chicago).

At the time of writing, Michael McKevitt awaits trial in the Republic of Ireland on charges under the Offences against the State Act. It is alleged that he is the leader of the Real IRA. It is to be hoped that continued vigilance on the part of the authorities (both Irish and British) will severely hamper the activities of this extremist group.

26/7/2002
Writs have been served on two of those suspected of having some part in the Omagh bombing. Another three writs are expected to be served today on men already imprisoned in the Republic of Ireland for other unconnected offenses. This is the beginning of an expensive civil action, the only recourse to relatives since criminal charges were never brought (accepting one conviction in the Republic).

21/10/2002
The Real IRA have apparently decided to call it a day. They have declared their organisation to be at an end. Most of the key leaders are locked up and their leader is on trial. This may be a cynical tactic to win early release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

6/8/2003
Michael McKevitt is convicted of directing terrorism and membership of a terrorist organisation in an Irish court. He is the first person in the Irish Republic to be convicted of directing terrorism. He was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for the first offence and six years for the latter. The sentences are to run concurrently.

References
www.janes.com
www.fas.org

The Real IRA are also thought to be responsible for leaving a car bomb in my home town of Birmingham, England on Saturday the 3rd of November 2001.

Just after 10:30pm on a busy Saturday evening, the detonator triggered, blowing a part of the car into the street but fortunately failing to detonate the 88lb bomb that the car contained. CCTV footage has now been released which shows a lot of traffic and pedestrians passing the car at the time of the explosion. If you saw yourself on this tape, you're probably lucky to be alive.

Presumably, Birmingham ("England's second city™") was chosen because of the increased security in and around London following the September 11 attacks on New York. It was the first time Birmingham had been the target of a terrorist attack since 1974, when the IRA bombed two pubs, killing 21 people and injuring more than 150. These pubs were actually only about 170 yards away from the site Saturday's car bomb, just outside New Street Station. Of course, after the event, security has now also tightened within Birmingham. Parts of the city have been closed twice in the last 48 hours following further bomb scares but so far (again, fortunately) they have been false alarms.

Maybe it's just me, and I'm missing something extremely obvious, but I still don't understand how trying to kill innocent people in England helps the people of Northern Ireland in any way...


Update:

Three members of the Real IRA were convicted of this and two other bombings yesterday, on the 8th of April 2003 and two other men admitted their part in the bombings. Birmingham had been their third target, after they had planted bombs at the BBC Television centre in March 2001 and then Ealing Broadway, west London, in August.

They may not have been caught were it not for their involvement in a Diesel washing tax scam, which lead Customs & Excise to tip off the Anti-terrorist branch. When police searched one of the farms that the group were operating from, they discovered a car containing a Smith and Wesson revolver, ammunition, a hand grenade and a timer unit.

Fortunately, the Birmingham car bomb left behind a whole load of incriminating evidence when it failed to explode, and the timer found at the farm matched the one used in Birmingham. The (farm) car also contained a mobile phone box, which matched the phone used to issue a warning call before the Birmingham bomb detonated.

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