In a dramatic public address on Easter Monday, the ‘Real IRA’ affirmed its determination to pursue its armed struggle against British rule.
The address by a masked Volunteer captured international media headlines and defied claims that physical force republicanism had come to an end.
At a commemoration organised by the 32 County Sovereignty Committee in Derry, a man in traditional IRA uniform stepped up to declare that the republican struggle was “entering a crucial phase”.
Several hundred people attended the annual commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising at Derry cemetery, which was also addressed by veteran republican Marion Price.
The group involved became commonly known as the Real IRA after it emerged amid the decline of the Provisional IRA in the late 1990’s.
Referring to his organisation as Óglaigh na hÉireann, the traditional Gaelic name for the IRA, the masked Volunteer was not prevented from delivering his statement by the PSNI police.
The statement paid testament to the group’s Volunteers “for the courage, commitment and discipline they have shown in the face of huge odds” and warned that its “enemies” were “united in trying to end republican resistance once and for all”. It vowed that they would fail.
Responding to the widespread condemnations which emerged following the “execution” of a Catholic member of the PSNI earlier this month -- which was last week claimed by a distinct IRA breakaway group -- the Real IRA warned that “the GAA, Catholic church and constitutional nationalism will be unable to protect those who turn traitor.”
It also warned the public to stay well clear of armed actions and alerts and pointed to a pattern of the PSNI “deliberately putting civilians at risk”.
Paying tribute to the prisoners at Maghaberry jail, the group also urged public opposition to the “upcoming insult” of the visit of British monarch Elizabeth Windsor to Ireland, a person the Real IRA said was “wanted for war crimes”.
“The criminal free state government invite is not on behalf of the Irish people but to further the selfish interests of a self-serving elite,” the spokesman said.
Images of the Volunteer making the statement flashed around the world, providing a controversial publicity coup for the Real IRA.
However, perhaps the most significant message from Easter Monday was the group’s success in delivering a coherent statement directly into the public domain.
While several PSNI units were present and a Crown force helicopter hovered over the cemetery throughout, there was no attempt to intervene as the masked Real IRA military colour party and band marched to the graves.
The event infuriated the political establishment and cast a shadow over campaigning for this week’s Assembly elections.
Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said dissident republicans had little support and suggested that the Real IRA had now identified both the Catholic and Protestant churches as enemies.
“It’s quite clear from the comments that were made yesterday that they see Sinn Fein and all of the other political parties on this island, the Catholic Church and the GAA and indeed the Protestant Churches, they see all of us as the enemy,” he said.
“I suppose it begs the question, given that they would say that they’re committed to Irish reunification, how do you bring about Irish unity without the support of the people of Ireland?”
Unionists questioned the failure of the PSNI to stop the event. At the height of the conflict, IRA shows of strength, statements and final salutes were met with heavy violence by the Crown forces in their attempt to effect arrests, although this has abated in recent years.
Meanwhile, an offer by a senior Catholic priest to engage in dialogue was rejected by the Real IRA.
A source close to the group responded negatively after Fr Michael Canny preemptively condemned the dissident campaign, which he said “means death, imprisonment and misery and has nothing to offer society”.
The source said: “While Fr Canny said he did not wish to engage in airwave diplomacy, we find that impossible to equate with Fr Canny’s media comments that the dissident republican movement has no room in which to manoeuvre and that the actions of dissident republicans were those of evil men.
“Because of these preconceived beliefs expressed by Fr Canny in the public domain, we do not feel there would be any merit in meeting with him. His publicly stated beliefs are not conducive to open and frank dialogue.
“Therefore we do not believe there is any merit in us meeting with Fr Canny at this time,” the source added.
Martin McGuinness restated claims he made last year that “representatives of the British government were speaking to the highest levels of what is called the Real IRA”.
He said he would be surprised if such contacts were not being maintained. The British government denies such contacts.
Mr McGuinness said that dissidents were “dangerous” and capable of mounting occasional armed actions. But he added: “They are very heavily infiltrated and we have seen huge successes by the Garda in the South and the police in the North against them with the recovery of weaponry which was there for the purposes of... usurping the will of the people of Ireland.”
* The full Real IRA statement is included with other Easter messages and speeches below.