A century of armed struggle

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A spectacular bomb attack at Derry courthouse last weekend followed by a series of hoaxes appears designed to deliver a message about the continuing ability of the ‘new IRA’ to carry on its armed campaign.

It was no coincidence that it came on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the start of the War of Independence, and the centenary of the First Dail, when Ireland formally proclaimed its independence.

A timeline of events on the night of Saturday showed that the bombing had been carefully planned, with a telephoned warning issued just moments after the device was driven to the courthouse. It detonated 45 minutes later, after the area had been cleared by the PSNI police.

It was followed by hoaxes and alerts across Derry. At the same time, republicans came under assault by the PSNI, with the Creggan area described as “saturated” by Crown Forces on Sunday. Seven young activists were arrested in heavy-handed raids, but all of those were subsequently released unconditionally.

The ‘new IRA’ evolved from a merger of the Real IRA with other breakaway IRA groups in 2012 and Derry is their power base. The organisation has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but most people believe that it must be their work.

In their response to the events, Saoradh noted that the attack had taken place against a ‘British institution’ almost exactly one hundred years after the Soloheadbeg ambush, when most historians say that Ireland’s War of Independence began.

But they said that media coverage wrongly misinterpreted their response to the bombing, which noted the centenary, as providing justification for it.

A spokesperson for the group said that “as long as imperialism remains the dominant power there will be women and men willing to engage in revolutionary armed struggle”.

Saoradh also denied having links to the new IRA and insisted that it is an autonomous political party: “Saoradh does not or will not come under the control or influence of any other organisation, armed or otherwise,” they said.

The size of Saturday’s bombing has generated speculation that the new IRA could mount a further escalation, and that renewed border infrastructure associated with Brexit might present a target.

The attack also comes in the face of British moves to reinforce its military and policing presence in the border area ahead of Brexit.

A convoy of British Army vehicles was seen heading for the Derry area late last week. British forces have also increased their covert activities in the border town of Newry, where unidentified and heavily armed units were seen entering properties in the town under cover of darkness.

As confidence in the Good Friday Agreement wanes, Britain’s Direct Ruler in Ireland, Karen Bradley told MPs in London that the weekend bomb had “absolutely nothing to do with Brexit”.

The DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds supported the statement, adding that the attack was also “somewhat unrelated” to the collapse of the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

For her part, Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill insisted that there was no support for armed actions within republican communities.

She told an event marking the centenary of the first Dail that it was “ironic” that the disruption in Derry had occurred on the anniversary of the “quintessential expression of the democratic will of the Irish people”.

She said support for a peaceful reunification of Ireland was growing. “There is absolutely no justification for these actions. The Good Friday Agreement provides a democratic and peaceful avenue to pursue political change including the central republican objective of unifying our country,” she said.

“This bombing is totally unacceptable and, ironically, comes at a time when support for a peaceful democratic transition to a United Ireland as set out in the GFA is at an all-time high.”

In a subsequent statement, Saoradh criticised Sinn Féin for what it said were statements lending support to the police raids against its activists.

“The policy put in place by former Republicans of criminalising those who do not agree with the current political dimension hasn’t gone unnoticed by those within our communities,” they said.

“Furthermore, as these raids continue to happen, those who have been elected on the back of Republicanism sit in pro-establishment talking shops and bury their proverbial heads in the sand as they watch our communities being destroyed by an unwanted occupying force.”

In their response, the IRSP, which has links to the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army), did not condemn the attack. It described the bomb at Derry courthouse as “an expression of resistance that has characterised legitimate opposition to British rule in Ireland for generations.

“While the IRSP do not believe that current conditions are conducive to armed actions, we have no inclination or wish to pass judgment on others who do, we have never condemned Republicans who express opposition to British rule via armed struggle and we never will, the root cause of armed actions remains our common enemy, British occupation itself.

“We understand that a wave of retaliatory raids and arrests have been launched against republicans in the aftermath of Saturday’s action; our thoughts are with those affected and we send them our best.”

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