While the new Irish Republican Army (IRA) will have the capability to conduct small scale operations, and likely pose a threat to the security services and police officers, they will not be able to muster a campaign comparable to those of the historical IRA.
Several Republican dissident groups in Northern Ireland announced recently that they would be merging to present a unified face of Republicanism and intensify attacks on British security forces and targets. The primary components of this new group are the Real Irish Republican Army, and the Republican Action Against Drugs vigilante movement. There are also several smaller Republican groups involved in the merger, but many of them are unnamed or are not noteworthy. They are to merge under the constitution of the IRA, and believe unity will promote greater cooperation and increase their strength. While the premise of a renewed IRA is excellent at grabbing attention in newspaper headlines, what capabilities and support will this new group actually have?
This merger could potentially result in a new force of several hundred members, but that does not necessarily equate to great strength or capability. In fact, police say the threat posed by Republican groups has not changed since the announcement. This implies that the prospect of a united front for Republican dissidents has not been successful as a ‘call to arms’ for the new IRA. Security journalist Brian Rowan said that the relationship between these groups is not particularly steady, and that calls for unity and cooperation can quickly be replaced by fragmentation and disagreement. Beyond that Rowan said that the new group will lack the support to run a terrorist campaign. This does not mean that the groups are not dangerous, but rather that they lack the capacity to conduct large scale attacks.
Historically both of these groups have had a propensity for violence, but their attacks have been small in scale. The Republican Action Against Drugs group has murdered one man and shot more than forty others, as well as threatened to shoot dozens of others unless they moved out of town since 2008. These attacks were primarily aimed at alleged drug dealers and head shops, but in June they claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) has repeatedly threatened to attack police officers and soldiers, but has not been very effective in recent years. Some of the people involved in the smaller groups are believed to be responsible for the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr in 2011. In January of 2008 Michael Campbell, a member of the RIRA, was apprehended during a weapons buying sting operation by MI5 in Lithuania. This shows that the RIRA was trying to procure weapons, presumably for an attack, but does not indicate the degree to which they have been successful doing so.
It takes more than weapons to run a successful terrorist campaign. Support is an important element of any terrorist campaign, and can often make the difference between a group achieving its political ends or meeting its demise. Both the RIRA and the Republican Action Against Drugs group lack widespread support. Opportunity Youth, an organization in Northern Ireland that provides drug and alcohol support to young people, has criticized the Republican Action Against Drugs group and urged them to bring an end to their violence. They believe that violent punishment will not help solve drug issues, and that those who are dependent on drugs need to be helped through supportive methods. The Real Irish Republican Army has also been the target of much criticism as a result of killing three young children in an attack aimed at police forces in 2010. Additionally, both unionist and nationalist politicians have publicly expressed their opposition to the founding of a new violent group.
Ultimately the new incarnation of the Irish Republican Army will have the capability to conduct small scale operations, and likely pose a threat to the security services and police officers, they will not be able to conduct the kind of maintained intense campaigns the IRA has historically be known for. More than anything this announcement seems to be a cry for attention, a group trying to grab a few headlines for their cause at a time when concern over the threat of terrorism is already elevated due to the Olympic Games in London.