Outrage at murder fails to deter IRA dissidents
The outpouring of grief and anger over the killing of police constable Ronan Kerr will do nothing to turn the so-called dissident republicans from their path, says Jim Cusack
Up to last year, one of the leading dissident republicans from Dundalk --the self-proclaimed 'officer commanding of the Continuity IRA' (CIRA)-- earned his living as a pimp.
One of his functions, apart from taking money from the young, mainly Eastern European and African women who worked in the sex trade in Dundalk, was to frighten away other 'independent' sex workers who might take trade away from 'his' girls.
One unfortunate who crossed his path was a Brazilian transexual who was working from a local hotel and apparently doing quite well in terms of business. The 'officer commanding' booked an appointment, but once inside the hotel room he raped and robbed the sex worker -- who left Ireland shortly after, afraid to make a complaint to gardai.
The story is well known in Dundalk. It was also reported in this newspaper after the Independent Monitoring Commission, set up by the British and Irish governments to monitor the ceasefires and breaches thereof in Northern Ireland, stated in its 21st report last year that CIRA was engaged in "brothel keeping".
In Dublin, the dissidents' main function is the extortion of money from drug dealers --as is the case in Belfast, Newry, Derry, Craigavon and Cork. They also intimidate pub and club owners into hiring their members to act as doormen. This allows them to 'tax' the drug dealers who work from the premises, while barring competition. Gardai who have made arrests and investigated their activities in Dublin say the 'Real' IRA are now actual drug dealers as well as extortionists.
These dissidents' occasionally shoot drug dealers who have not paid them, claiming to be carrying out vigilante work on behalf of the community -- a line that is sometimes repeated in parts of the Irish media.
Last year, it emerged in Derry that the 'Real' IRA had acquired a shipment of arms from, and this is definitely a first for Northern Ireland, former loyalist paramilitaries who had turned full-time drug traffickers. The former sworn Protestant enemies of what had been the Provisional IRA were now supplying guns for 'republicans' who were paying them with money extorted from Catholic drug dealers.
The shift of the moral republican compass to total criminality is complete -- yet they still attract bored and semi-idealistic young men who are prepared to, as happened in Beragh last week, plant a bomb under a young policeman's car.
The under-car bomb was almost certainly the same type as that used to maim Peadar Heffron, another GAA-playing Catholic PSNI member, in Co Antrim in January last year. Constable Heffron survived the attack but lost both legs.
After the attack on Constable Heffron, it was reported that the PSNI issued mirrors on telescopic arms to members, but it is not clear if Constable Kerr had such a device or checked under his car.
The Provisional IRA used the same type of bomb to attack police, part-time soldiers and a variety of other people defined as enemies of republicanism. Locking the car in an alarmed garage was one means of protecting against these bombs.
Other methods were used. One RUC officer came up with the idea of wiring the car body to a battery with sufficient voltage to set off a detonator, thus blowing up anyone trying to fix a bomb to it. However, the IRA adapted the devices, placing them in plastic sandwich boxes to insulate them.
Police on both sides of the border and the British security service, MI5, have been increasingly concerned at the continued rise of the dissidents -- especially this year, with the garda's seizure of 100kg of plastic explosive smuggled into the country in the last year or two and a well manufactured mortar system capable of causing multiple deaths.
Although the dissidents use different names like 'Continuity' and 'Real' IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann, gardai say that they all interlinked -- though there has been a difference of opinion among some in Dublin who are now engaged in low-level feuding.
In the past year it is understood that former Provisional IRA figures from the border and Tyrone have joined the dissidents, and could well have provided the type of expertise used to kill the young constable.
The Garda's view is that the older 'armchair' dissidents will continue to keep the republican flame alive, and young men will continue to be attracted to it. One described it as "old knaves and young fools".
The phenomenon of the continued existence of the dissidents has been examined in a number of recent books including the recently published Dissident Irish Republicanism, edited by Professor Max Taylor of St Andrew's University in Scotland and formerly of University College Cork.
He commented: "Unless we are careful, the dissidents might be in the position of the IRA in the Seventies -- not really big enough to be effective, but with lots of potential if we manage to get it wrong. A difference is, I suppose, they already have munitions and the capacity to construct effective IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Also the membership is different and bimodal -- experienced 'old hands', and young people who probably weren't born when the troubles were at their worst, so have no experience of its reality and see only a romanticised past.
"A point made in the book is to place this in the context of how we understand other forms of terrorist behaviour, and draw on that to inform the response in Ireland."
His former UCC colleague John Horgan, now professor at Penn State University in the US, is working on another book on the dissidents.
He said that as of now he and his researchers had identified 500 people who have been linked to dissident terrorist activity in Northern Ireland and the Republic. He has also created a database of 763 "distinct violent and non-violent events" up until March last year.
Dr Martyn Frampton, a Cambridge academic and author of Legion of the Rearguard: Dissident Irish Republicanism, said the dissident groups were gaining strength in Northern Ireland and had displaced the Provisional IRA in its traditional strongholds.
"The Provisional movement appears, over the last two years, to have lost control of what were once its heartland communities," Dr Frampton said.
"Does this mean Sinn Fein is about to collapse? No. On the contrary, its electoral hegemony is secure . . . but in terms of the republican 'sub-culture', what were once solid 'Provo' areas have all gone -- Derry city, South Derry, east Tyrone, North Armagh especially Lurgan-Craigavon estates such as Kilwilkie, north Belfast and, perhaps most worryingly, south Armagh."
He added, "The latter has re-emerged as the locus of dissident republican attacks since August 2009."