Republican dissidents join forces to form a new IRA (The Guardian)

A masked member of the Real IRA at a republican Easter commemoration ceremony in Derry. The Real IRA is merging with other dissident groups in an escalation of the threat of violence against security forces. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Three of the four main dissident republican terror groups in Northern Ireland are to merge and reclaim the banner of the IRA, in a major escalation of attempts to destabilise power sharing.

The Real IRA has been joined by Republican Action Against Drugs, which has been running a violent vigilante campaign in Derry, and a loose coalition of independent armed republican groups – leaving only the Continuity IRA outside the group.

In a statement released to the Guardian, the new organisation claimed it had formed a “unified structure, under a single leadership”. It said the organisation would be “subservient to the constitution of the Irish Republican Army”.

This is the first time since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that a majority of the forces of dissident republicanism has coalesced.

Republican sources have told the Guardian that the new paramilitary force includes several hundred armed dissidents, including some former members of the now disbanded Provisional IRA who have been conducting a campaign of shooting and forcible exiling of men in Derry City, whom they accuse of drug dealing.

It also includes what the statement described as “non-conformist republicans” – smaller independent groups from Belfast and rural parts of Northern Ireland.

Republican Action Against Drugs and the Real IRA will now cease to exist, one source close to the dissidents said.

The new organisation is planning to intensify terror attacks on the security forces and other targets related to what it regards as symbols of the British presence, according to the source.

Such targets could include police stations, the regional headquarters of Ulster Bank and the UK City of Culture 2013 celebration in Derry – which the dissidents have described as “normalising British rule”.

In its statement, the new group said: “In recent years the establishment of a free and independent Ireland has suffered setbacks due to the failure among the leadership of Irish nationalism and fractures within republicanism” – a reference to the divisions between hardline republicans opposed to the peace settlement and Sinn Féin which has followed a political strategy. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, was a leading figure in the Provisional IRA.

In a clear dig at Sinn Féin’s participation in the power-sharing executive with unionists, the dissidents’ statement said: “The Irish people have been sold a phoney peace, rubber-stamped by a token legislature in Stormont.”

It said that the “necessity of armed struggle in pursuit of Irish freedom” against what it described as “the forces of the British crown” would only be avoided by the removal of the British military presence in Northern Ireland. It demanded “an internationally observed timescale that details the dismantling of British political interference in our country”.

It also attacked the Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Paterson, over the arrest of several key republican figures, referring to him as an “overlord”. “Non-conformist republicans are being subjected to harassment, arrest and violence by the forces of the British crown; others have been interned on the direction of an English overlord. It is Britain, not the IRA, which has chosen provocation and conflict.”

It is understood that among the republicans who have joined the new organisation are those responsible for the murder in April 2011 of Constable Ronan Kerr, a Catholic recruit to the police service of Northern Ireland, and the terrorists who targeted Peadar Heffron, another Catholic police officer, who was seriously injured in January 2010 when a bomb exploded inside his car as he was driving to his police station.

The recruitment of Republican Action Against Drugs activists in Derry marks a major step up in the terror campaign in the city. Dozens of former Provisional IRA members have been involved in shooting and intimidating mainly young Catholic men whom they accuse of drug dealing in Derry.

Republican Action Against Drugs’ campaign has become notorious around the world since an investigation by the Guardian earlier this year into the wave of shootings and forced expulsions in Northern Ireland’s second city.

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