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EDITIONS
Sunday, 20 October, 2002, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Dissidents in disarray
Portlaoise prisoners called for leadership to stand down
Portlaoise prisoners called for leadership to stand down

In September 1998 the Real IRA was forced to retreat and was shamed into a ceasefire announcement.

Just weeks earlier, it had been responsible for the slaughter in Omagh where 29 people were killed in a car bomb explosion.

The dead included people from both sides of the border and from outside Ireland.

Catholics and Protestants were killed - men, women and children - young and old.

Real IRA bomb ripped the heart out of Omagh in 1998
Real IRA bomb ripped the heart out of Omagh in 1998

Omagh is remembered as the worst single atrocity of the Northern Ireland Troubles, and those responsible for the attack went into hiding.

As an organisation the Real IRA emerged from divisions within mainstream republicanism in late 1997, and bomb attacks in February the following year established the dissident group as a new threat to the peace process.

Within months, however, it had disappeared - blown away in the chill wind of condemnation which followed Omagh.

The mainstream IRA told it to disband and the British and Irish Governments threatened a security crackdown against the group.

Opposition to peace process

It was born out of opposition to the Sinn Fein peace strategy but within months of the historic Good Friday Agreement the Real IRA had vanished, or so it seemed.

But the group came back - slowly at first - but since early 2000 it has been behind dozens of attacks both in Northern Ireland and in Britain.

In June 2000 it exploded a bomb at Hammersmith Bridge in London.

A month later, there was another bomb explosion outside a police station at Stewartstown in Northern Ireland - an attack which came at the height of the Drumcree marching dispute.

In September 2000 the group was behind an attack on MI6 Headquarters, and there have been other bomb explosions in Britain outside the BBC in London, and other attacks in Ealing and in Birmingham.

Security forces targeted

In Northern Ireland the bulk of the group's activity has been aimed at the security forces - at police officers and soldiers - and many bases have been targeted.

In February this year an MOD civilian worker was critically injured in a bomb explosion at an Army training camp at Magilligan, and in August a man was killed in a booby-trap blast at a Territorial Army Centre in Derry.

It was the first killing by the dissidents since the Omagh bomb.

The most senior police officers in Northern Ireland have been warning recently that the Real IRA continues to pose a serious threat and, just last month, one of its operations was interrupted when the security forces seized two booby trap bombs.

No disbandment

The statement carried by the Sunday Independent newspaper does not amount to the disbandment of the group and nor can it be read as meaning its "war" is over.

All that has happened up to this point is that a group of prisoners held in Portlaoise have withdrawn their support from the organisation.

A number of significant figures who helped form the group in late 1997 are currently being held there, but decisions on disbandment are a matter for the organisation's leadership which has not yet spoken.

Security sources believe it may issue a statement to clarify its position and those same sources say they will judge developments by events on the ground.

On Sunday the police in Northern Ireland gave details of an attempted attack on one of their stations at Castlederg, where a small bomb was defused.

It has the look of dissident republican activity and, for now, the security forces will continue with their operations aimed at preventing Real IRA attacks.

That splinter group emerged out of divisions within the mainstream IRA and it now appears to be badly split.

That is as much as can be said at this time and there is no confirmation of any plan to disband or to end its "war".


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20 Oct 02 | N Ireland
20 Oct 02 | N Ireland
20 Oct 02 | N Ireland
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