Dissident republican bosses owe a huge debt of gratitude to the criminal gang responsible for the murder of their cherished comrade Alan Ryan.
When two drug dealers sent a hitman to execute the Real IRA boss on a sunny September afternoon, they inadvertently breathed new life into the 'cause' of a more dangerous form of militant republicanism.
The picture published on our front page of Ryan laid out in his coffin in his family home in Dublin, watched over by his masked comrades in paramilitary attire, is a defining icon of the imaginary struggle.
The criminal gang responsible for his death gave the shadowy leaders of a new dissident republican alliance an opportunity to transform the extortionist and murderer into a martyr for the cause. The gangster is now painted as a patriot who gave his life for the downtrodden underclass – a modern-day equivalent of Bobby Sands.
The hunger striker, who died before Ryan's first birthday, even makes a special guest appearance in the iconic photo, smiling from behind a candle on the mantelpiece.
The striking image is classic republican propaganda, which the leaders are using in their efforts to galvanise dissidents everywhere into action. It also proves attractive to the young impressionable kids now being lured into the ranks of an organisation hell-bent on driving us all back into the Dark Ages.
Ryan's high-profile killing could not have come at a better time for the godfathers of terror: it was the catalyst for what they are calling a "root and branch" reform of dissident republicanism.
One of the most worrying developments in terrorism on this island since the beginning of the peace process occurred with little fanfare just a month before Ryan's death. It was the decision of the disparate republican gangs to amalgamate in a new alliance calling itself simply the IRA.
The group includes the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), Oglaigh na hEireann, members of Eirigi and a rag-tag rabble of other dissenters who feel they got a raw deal from the peace process.
And they have one common goal: to plunge Ireland back into the dark days of the Troubles. The funding for their grand plan will come from organised crime and racketeering: extortion, smuggling, oil laundering, drugs and robbery.
Security chiefs on both sides of the Border are particularly concerned at the increasing number of veteran Provos who have emerged from retirement to join the organisation over recent months.
Some of these individuals were heavily involved in Sinn Féin and the IRA in Dublin, but were kicked out in the 1990s when it was discovered they were lining their own pockets from various criminal rackets.
A number had officially left the republican movement and were involved in the systematic theft of containers from Dublin docks with convicted paedophile and drug trafficker Christy Griffin, from the north inner city.
The veteran Provos had also been involved with Concerned Parents Against Drugs (CPAD), which was formed in the early 1980s in response to the heroin epidemic sweeping Dublin. The Provos infiltrated the organisation and used it as a means of licensing drug dealers – to fund the cause.
Until recent years, they were also on the payroll of major drug dealers such as Martin 'Marlo' Hyland, who was executed by his own gang members in 2006.
The veterans have brought a level of expertise to the organisation that senior gardaí have described as "highly dangerous and extremely ruthless". Some observers believe dissident republicans pose a bigger threat now than at any time since the peace process caused an acrimonious split in the Provisional IRA.
'What has emerged is a group much more sinister and ruthless than before. The men directing operations now are from a hard core of ruthless killers who learnt their trade with the Provos," said a security source.
"A lot of the boys who are coming back into the fold are in their 40s and early 50s. They are all hardline Provos who would have been very involved during the Troubles."
The violent death of Alan Ryan gave the new alliance its first big coup. His paramilitary funeral was a depressing reminder of the dark days.
The organisers wanted to convey one message to the world: we haven't gone away, you know.
The gangsters who crossed the underworld Rubicon to eradicate their tormentor not only gave the republicans a badly needed martyr, they saved them the job of killing Ryan themselves.
The Real IRA leader was becoming increasingly erratic and a source of internal division. A week before his death he was summoned by the leadership to a meeting in Drogheda and admonished for his behaviour.
Despite the fact that he had supplied hundreds of thousands of euro to the Northern leadership for the cause, his gang was riddled with informants and had become synonymous with crime and mayhem in Dublin.
Garda anti-terrorist sources agree that the new leadership would eventually have eliminated their hero.
One source said: "Ryan was becoming a problem in his own right. He had a lot of attitude and was beginning to believe himself to be the top man.
"While he was keeping the supply of money flowing to the North, the leadership were conscious that he and his men were lining their own pockets and becoming an embarrassment.
"The leadership got the best result when they (the drug gang) killed him. That is why a lot of these older Provos have suddenly begun to appear on the scene, because they didn't trust Ryan and his associates."
Members of the new group have recently been briefing some journalists on their ongoing programme to "cleanse, re-organise and rebuild" the dissident movement.
The same security source explained: "Ryan's murder gave them the chance to get rid of a lot of the people suspected of being informants and being too obviously connected to ordinary criminals.
"They are expelling people they consider not up to the mark who are clearly connected with organised crime."
A hard core group of around 15 experienced terrorists are now in charge of the new-look IRA murder machine.
Over the past three months, a squad made up of Northern republicans and the Dublin Provos have been conducting 'interviews' with members of Ryan's gang to root out the bad apples.
So far, two of Ryan's close associates – Nathan Kinsella, who was charged with RIRA membership, and Declan 'Fat Deccy' Smith – have both been the victims of punishment shootings.
The two were accused of "misappropriating funds" from protection rackets, including money being paid to the organisation by a high-profile businessman in the south.
Kinsella was shot in the legs in November, and Belfast man Smith, who was reportedly the RIRA's new leader in Dublin, was shot in the leg two weeks ago in Saggart, Dublin.
The new alliance ensured that newspapers were tipped off about the ongoing purge in a bid to clean up their image.