“What we are seeing is a new breed of terrorist coming through the ranks, and that is a very worrying situation,” said Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy on Saturday, as two teenagers were being questioned in Belfast under the Terrorism Act in connection with the murder of Lyra McKee on Thursday night.
By “new breed”, I think he can only have meant “new generation”, for the various IRAs in the alphabet soup of the past century are fundamentally the same.
They model their structures on the seven-man Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (which morphed into the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence) – a self-appointed group with no democratic mandate that secretly planned the Easter Rising of 1916.
Like Patrick Pearse and his six co-conspirators, they consider themselves absolutely entitled to ignore the wishes of the people and seek to secure their objective through violence.
At Easter they parade in military regalia in honour of 1916 and make uncompromising speeches.
In their various manifestations since Ireland was partitioned – in 1921, to prevent civil war – they seek opportunities to murder anyone in the uniform of the British state.
Their names change from time to time when they split – which they’ve been doing since 1920 – though each of them insists that they are the true IRA, and in Irish refer to themselves as Óglaigh na hÉireann (soldiers/warriors/volunteers of Ireland), which is in fact the official name of the army of the Irish Republic.
Thus, in 1969, when the existing IRA split into two factions, both called themselves the IRA though they became known respectively as the Officials and the Provisionals.
The New IRA is the result of a merger around 2011 of the Real IRA and a few small groups like Republican Action Against Drugs.
Their most experienced operators are ex-Provisionals who think the 1998 Agreement was a sell-out and explain that as Patrick Pearse said, “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace”.
Those known generically as “dissidents” rightly point out that they are in fact the true inheritors of 1916 and that it is the Provisionals who have abandoned the path of the true believers by abandoning the armed struggle, accepting the principle of consent, and accepting the legitimacy of a United Kingdom government.
And by, nowadays, after four decades of virulent opposition to the European Union, accepting the yielding of sovereignty to Brussels.
In the name of Irish freedom the New IRA have murdered PC Ronan Kerr and prison officers David Black and Adrian Ismay.
They keep control of their own communities by murdering occasional opponents and drug dealers who don’t pay protection money, and kneecapping and viciously beating those who annoy them.
While many of them are straightforward criminals who have become prosperous through smuggling, money-laundering, robberies and extortion, there are others who want the money to continue the military campaign.
It is the cloak of IRA idealism that enables them to recruit vulnerable young people who have been brainwashed all their lives by the Sinn Fein leadership to revere dead terrorists and want to follow in the footsteps.
As W.B. Yeats wrote presciently after 1916, “And yet who knows what’s yet to come?/For Patrick Pearse had said/That in every generation/Must Ireland’s blood be shed.”
Since Lyra McKee was murdered, the New IRA has used the old Provisional defences: the riots – which they had orchestrated – were a response to intrusion by heavy-handed “Crown forces”, the killers were merely defending their community, and it was an unfortunate accident that they got an innocent civilian rather than a “legitimate target”.
I don’t believe IRAs will ever go away until Irish governments cease to honour the illegal revolution of 1916, but there is of course – as there always is after a particular outrage – the hope that the community will reject the men of violence.
People are taking heart from the alteration of a piece of graffiti in the Creggan from “IRA undefeated army, unfinished revolution” to “IRA defeated army, finished revolution.”
I wouldn’t bet on it.