“There is only one IRA”
A member of the breakaway ‘Real IRA’ has told a public Easter commemoration in Derry that the group will continue its armed struggle against British rule in the north of Ireland.
As in previous years, the commemoration at which a masked Real IRA man spoke was organised by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM).
The PSNI police maintained a strong presence in the streets outside Derry City Cemetery during Sunday’s commemoration and events were monitored from a PSNI helicopter. Despite this, following the traditional wreath-laying ceremony and a speech by well-known 32CSM member Gary Donnelly, a Real IRA member came from the crowd to deliver the organisation’s Easter message.
He was greeted by cheers and shouts of the traditional IRA salute, “Tiocfaidh ar Lá” [Our day will come].
Dressed all in black and wearing a black balaclava, the Real IRA man was surrounded both before and after his speech by a large group of people who used umbrellas to shield him from the overhead helicopter and other cameras.
He told the crowd of several hundred that republican unity would continue to be an aim of the Real IRA.
“We express our admiration and respect for IRA Volunteers both in prison and on active service,” he said.
“We commend their steadfast commitment, courage and discipline who have held the line with dignity, standing firm, remaining fully committed to the establishment of the ideals and the principles enshrined in the Proclamation of 1916,” he said.
“The IRA will continue to attack armed-force personnel, their installations as well as British interests and infrastructure.”
He ended by saying that “there is only one IRA” and that it would continue its campaign.
Six local men were arrested immediately following the event, but all were released on Tuesday.
The Real IRA statement has not yet emerged into the public domain and its full contents remain unknown. The organisation’s dramatic public appearance came as Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney made a sharply contradictory statement at an Sinn Fein Easter commemoration in Belfast.
He told those gathered that the [Provisional] IRA had “fought the war to a conclusion... make no mistake, there is no other IRA, here in Belfast or anywhere else, and there is no armed struggle to be finished.”
Conflicting statements at the various Easter commemorations, which numbered into the hundreds, again pointed up the deep divide which persists within republicanism in the North.
While Sinn Fein speakers across the island spoke of reconciliation, a similar number of events were held by ‘dissident’ republican groups, with many open expressions of support for the breakaway IRA armed groups.
Mr Kearney, who recently urged members of his party to “say sorry” for the hurt caused to the unionist community by the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle, returned to that theme in his address to a commemoration in Belfast.
He said that increased engagement with the wider unionist and Protestant community was essential.
“That presents a huge challenge for us,” he said. “Unionists continue to harbour suspicions about republicans. Unionists have been hurt by the war and so too have republicans.”
Bringing about an Ireland at peace with itself was a pre-requisite to achieving Sinn Féin’s ultimate aim of an ‘Ireland of equals’.
Mr Kearney added, “so it is time to begin discussing how shared hurts can be acknowledged, lessened, and if possible healed.”
The North’s Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, told Sinn Féin supporters at Drumboe, County Donegal, that they had a responsibility to engage with unionists and others about “future structures on this island”.
Mr McGuinness said republicans must be open to practical ways of giving expression to the unionist sense of Britishness “within a united Ireland”.
“In the discussions leading to reunification, we will be imaginative in terms of passport rights, symbols and other issues of identity crucial to building a fully inclusive united Ireland respecting the traditions of all our people in all their diversity,” he said.
“We seek a united Ireland in which the unionist section of our people feel comfortable and play a full part in the life of the nation. I believe that it is possible for unionists and republicans to stand together without dilution of our beliefs.
“As was stated to me very clearly by a unionist leader, ‘Martin, we can rule ourselves, we don’t need direct rulers coming over from London telling us what to do’. That statement provided common ground on which we can all stand,” said Mr McGuinness.
However, in its Easter statement, the 32 County Sovereignty Committee insisted that there is “no constitutional path” to a united Ireland.
“The unavoidable conclusion to reach when looking at former comrades in Stormont is that there is simply no constitutional path to a United Ireland,” the statement said.
“In the coming months we will be expanding upon our social program and we ask all 32CSM activists and supporters to give their input into this effort.
“We salute the continued resistance efforts by the Volunteers of the IRA, their courage and resilience in the face of such odds stands as an example to all Republicans.”
* The full text of all the major Easter speeches and statements released by Sinn Fein and other republican political parties and groups are included in the feature article below.