The first interview in five years with the ‘Real IRA’ was published this week. The following is an edited version of that interview.
Q. What are the Real IRA’s objectives?
A. Our goal is the same as the IRA’s has always been - to force a British withdrawal. We’re no different than the men and women of 1916, 1919, or 1969. Past generations of republicans are always used to condemn the present generation. There’s a long tradition of comparing the ‘good old IRA’ with the ‘bad new IRA’. It’s nonsense. We follow in the tradition of Pearse and Connolly.
Q. Who are the Real IRA’s targets?
A. Those who promote and protect the illegal occupation of the six counties - British soldiers, RUC/PSNI members, and British government ministers. A pragmatic approach has always been taken to prison officers depending on conditions in the jails.
Q. Does that mean members of the Stormont executive, including Martin McGuinness and other Sinn Féin politicians, are viewed as British ministers and thus legitimate targets in Real IRA eyes?
A. Those running the Stormont administration are as much British ministers as those sitting in Downing Street. However, targets aren’t chosen always on legitimacy but on whether hitting them would be politically expedient or counter-productive and on the likely effect on public support. The IRA never attacked the British Army in Scotland because of its support base there and what was seen as solidarity with a fellow Celtic nation. But the decision on whether to actually hit a legitimate target is one that is kept under review.
Q. Since its formation, the Real IRA has been unable to kill a single British soldier or police officer. From its own perspective, that must represent complete failure. What are its future plans?
A. We’re emerging from a three-year period of reorganising in preparation for a renewed offensive. Success shouldn’t be judged solely on body counts so far. If there was minimal visible military activity in recent years, there was plenty of behind-the-scenes restructuring . Important ground-work has now been completed. In November, the IRA carried out operations within days in three separate locations - attempting to kill RUC/PSNI officers in Derry and Dungannon, and planting a bomb on Remembrance Sunday in Newry.
That shows increased confidence. The IRA believed it could kill a cop and take whatever the state threw at it. The Derry RUC/PSNI survived only because the metal head-rest of his car seat took most of the shot-gun blasts. The British are worried. There was talk of a ‘new style’ unarmed RUC/PSNI in non-combative clothing. Well they’re back wearing flak jackets and still carrying guns. Strand Road barracks in Derry is being refortified to make it rocket-proof. With more attacks on the RUC/PSNI we believe the stage will be reached where British soldiers are brought back onto the streets to bolster the cops. This will shatter the facade that the British presence has gone and normality reigns. People will once again be made visibly aware that we remain occupied.
In terms of other internal changes, people have been dismissed from the movement in Belfast and elsewhere. Units that weren’t up to scratch have been disbanded. Mistakes were made previously but more rigorous vetting of volunteers is now in place.
Q. The Real IRA hasn’t carried out attacks in Britain for six years. Has it any plans to do so?
A. We will attack Britain where and when we see fit. The law of averages suggests the longer a target hasn’t been hit, then the more likely it is to be attacked.
Q. Have 9/11 and subsequent acts not transformed terrorism and made Real IRA activities like leaving bombs on railway lines and incendiaries in shops look low-level and amateurish?
A. In the context of 800 years of struggle against the British, 9/11 is irrelevant. Don’t ridicule planting incendiaries in shops. They cause millions of pounds in damage, present little risk to civilians and volunteers, and cost the movement minimal expense. A few incendiaries can have the same impact as a 500lb bomb without the risks. Incendiaries will not be the main thrust of our campaign but they will play a part.
Q. After the appalling loss of life in the Omagh bomb, the Real IRA called a ceasefire but later resumed attacks. Doesn’t that show utter disrespect for human life and contempt for public sentiment?
A. The IRA had minimal involvement in Omagh. Our codeword was used - nothing more. To have stated this at the time would have been lost in an understandable wave of emotion. That is the only detail on Omagh we’re prepared to give at the moment. Omagh was an absolute tragedy. Any loss of civilian life is regrettable. No-one in any army, except perhaps those in the American or Israeli forces, wants to kill civilians. But wars don’t end because civilians die in them.
Q. How can the Real IRA possibly succeed in securing a British withdrawal when the larger and more powerful Provisional IRA failed?
A. The Provisional IRA didn’t fail as an organisation, it was failed by its leadership. It had ample weaponry and members. It could have been much stronger militarily. The decline in operations was due to its leadership. Winning elections became more important than winning the war. We are not unthinking militarists. Politics is important and there are those who share our political analysis but we aren’t answerable to any political party and that’s a strength, not a weakness.
Q. How can the Real IRA justify a campaign with no electoral mandate?
A. Oglaigh na hEireann derives its mandate from the illegal occupation of Ireland and the right of Irish people to take up arms in defence of national sovereignty. Only during their latter years did the Provos receive an electoral mandate. And 1916 and 1969 had no electoral mandate.
Q. What weapons does the Real IRA have?
A. Hand-guns, rifles, sub-machine guns, assault rifles, plastic explosives, and our own improvised weapons. We have added to our arsenal since 1997 and are always seeking new ways of re-arming. Of course, the acquisition of weapons is a problem but it’s one which the IRA has overcome and will continue to overcome.
Q. Did loyalist drug dealers transport an arms’ haul for the Real IRA as stated in a recent newspaper report?
A. Absolutely not - this allegation is part of an ongoing criminalisation campaign against us. We believe MI5 is the original source of the story. We’ve no links with the Shoukri brothers whom we find morally repugnant. It’s ludicrous to suggest that, unable to transport weapons safely ourselves, we turn to known British agents.
Q. Given the huge technological advances in British surveillance, how can any republican campaign be ‘successful’?
A. We’ve no illusions about these advances which we have learned, and are still learning, to overcome. Historically, the British have enjoyed more sophisticated equipment than republicans and we’re still here. We don’t under-estimate the British - indeed we tend to over-estimate their capabilities.
Q. How many members does the Real IRA have? What is their gender, geographical, and age profile?
A. We have enough Volunteers to carry out the army’s functions. We’re currently recruiting across Ireland. I can’t be more specific for security reasons. Women Volunteers play a full and active role. Oglaigh na hEireann is open to over-17s. We have a balance between youth and experience. Many Volunteers were active and new Volunteers are being trained up.
Q. Why would a young person join the Real IRA when it offers only jail or the grave?
A. For the same reasons as they’ve always joined the IRA - to challenge British sovereignty in Ireland. On joining, they’re made aware of the possibilities of jail or the grave. If they’re still interested they’re put through a rigorous training period. If, after this they’re at all unsure, they can walk away. The IRA is a volunteer army.
Q. Life in the North has improved hugely for Catholics. No grave socio-economic injustices exist that could possibly justify an armed campaign. Why continue?
A. The IRA campaign was never about reformism or civil rights, it was about resisting foreign occupation. The IRA is committed to fighting for the freedom of our country, not just improving the social and economic lot of an occupied people. It’s not a case of ‘Brits out’ if people are poor, then ‘Brits in’ if there are loads of jobs.
Q. FBI/MI5 agent Dave Rupert infiltrated the Real IRA, leading to the conviction of its then leader, Mickey McKevitt. Hasn’t the Real IRA huge infiltration problems?
A. Dave Rupert was a paid perjurer and proven liar. He faces execution from the IRA as does anyone else who places her or himself in that position. We’ve been no more infiltrated than any other republican organisation. If internal rules and regulations are implemented, these problems are less likely to recur. The Provos have had Freddie Scapatticci and Denis Donaldson and we’re only at the tip of the iceberg in establishing how far they were infiltrated.
Q. How is the Real IRA funded and how does it compare financially to the Provisional IRA?
A. As an organisation we continue to seek funds. It would be inappropriate to give further details. Towards the end, the Provisional movement became more interested in monetary gain than challenging British rule. This led to a situation where corporate America had more influence over the republican movement than IRA Volunteers. We don’t wish to go down that route. You can’t appeal to millionaires and multinationals and remain engaged in revolutionary activity. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
Q. Former Real IRA leaders in Portlaoise prison accused the external leadership of criminality and lining its own pockets. Were they right?
A. These allegations were fully investigated and found to be without foundation. They were a red herring to facilitate someone else’s agenda. Our volunteers on the outside paid no heed to them which is why there was a split in the jail but the movement outside remained 100% intact.
Q. Does the Real IRA plan to unite with the Continuity IRA and INLA?
A. The IRA will work with the Continuity IRA and INLA on issues where there is common ground. But there are no organisational links and there will be no joint operations. We are not seeking to amalgamate three armies into a ‘super republican group’.
Q. What is the Real IRA’s relationship with the Provisional IRA?
A. We’re not under threat from them as we were in the past in terms of activists being abducted, beaten and threatened with death. We have never attacked the Provisional IRA despite attacks on us and volunteer Joe O’Connor’s murder.
Q. Has the current Real IRA leadership held direct/indirect talks with the British or Irish governments and has it channels of communication with either?
A. We haven’t engaged in any talks and there are no such channels. We’re certainly not talking to them through Bradley, Duddy, or any Redemptorist priests.
Q. Under what conditions would the Real IRA call a ceasefire?
A. A declaration of intent by the British to withdraw their military presence from Ireland and to cease all parliamentary activity here.