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Birth and rise of the IRA – the Real IRA

(Seamus McKinney, Irish News)

The most active of the dissident republican groups, the Real IRA, came into being in October 1997 when former Provisional IRA quartermaster Michael McKevitt led a breakaway group from the main republican movement.

Following a meeting in Falcarragh, Co Donegal, on October 10, McKevitt broke away from the Provisional army council to found the new group. It claimed the same title 'Oglaigh na hEireann' as all republican paramilitary groupings.

The group reportedly got its more common name from a comment passed by one of its members at a checkpoint in Jonesborough, Co Armagh.

Asked by a motorist who they were, the masked member said: "We're from the IRA, the Real IRA."

The Real IRA's first attempt to destroy life and property came with a 300lb bomb in Banbridge on January 7 1998. The bomb was defused but the group returned to Banbridge on August 1 the same year. Its 500lb bomb injured 35 people and caused £3.5 million in damage.

In 1998 the Real IRA also mounted attacks in Moira, Portadown, Belleek, Newtownhamilton and Newry be-fore its most notorious bombing of Omagh on August 15.

Twenty nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were murdered and a further 220 people were injured when the huge bomb ripped through the town centre of the busy market town.

In the immediate aftermath the Provisional IRA visited 60 people believed to be associated with the Real IRA and ordered them to disband and not to interfere with Provo arms dumps.

On September 8 1998 the Real IRA announced a ceasefire but following talks with Martin Mansergh (advisor to the taoiseach), the organisation refused to disband.

The organisation was dealt a devastating blow in October 1999 when gardai raised a bunker at Stramullen, Co Meath, where they found an RPG18 rocket launcher, a submachine gun, an assault rifle and a semi-automatic pistol. The Garda raid was seen as confirmation that the Real IRA was heavily infiltrated.

In January 2000 the Real IRA issued a rallying call to supporters in a public statement. Just one month later the organisation attempted to bomb Shackleton barracks in Ballykelly, signalled a restarting of its violent campaign.

The Real IRA has also waged a campaign in Britain. This started with the bombing of Hammersmith Bridge in June 2000. Other targets have included Ealing Broadway station, MI6 headquarters, BBC television centre and Birmingham.

A bomb attack on Territorial Army barracks in London in February 2001 left a 14-year-old cadet blind and blew off his hand.

In recent months the movement has been particularly active in the north west.

In August this year shots were fired at the home of former Irish Independence Party deputy mayor of Derry, Liam Bradley. Mr Bradley's home was singled out because his son is a PSNI officer.

On November 8 an off duty Catholic police officer – originally from the Bogside – was shot and injured after leaving his son off at school at Bishop Street in Derry. The Real IRA later claimed responsibility.

On November 12 a police officer was shot and injured moments after leaving Dungannon PSNI station.

The Real IRA's political wing is the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.

December 21, 2007

This article appeared first in the December 20, 2007 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News