The New Irish Republican Army (New IRA), or simply Irish Republican Army in the group's own publications, is an Irish Republican paramilitary organisation predominantly active in Northern Ireland. The group formed in July 2012 after successful negotiations between the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA), Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) and various other small unaligned radical Republican groups (1). The New IRA claims to be pursuing the "ideals and principles enshrined in the Proclamation of 1916” (2), referring to the “Proclamation of the Republic” issued by the organisers of the 1916 Easter Rising. The group’s main stated goal is the removal of any British military presence and “political interference” from Ireland. However the New IRA has also been critical of the Catholic church, the Republic of Ireland, and mainstream Republican leadership (specifically Sinn Féin).
History & Foundations
The New IRA emerged in 2012 in the wake of successful negotiations between a number of unaligned radical Republican groups, the largest of which being the RIRA and RAAD. The RIRA had emerged as a splinter from the Provisional IRA, disagreeing with the latter’s decision to enter peace talks (3). This split was cemented in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which formed a unionist/nationalist power-sharing government in Northern Ireland and resulted in most mainstream Republican and Loyalist groups laying down their arms. RAAD, on the other hand, emerged as an anti-drug vigilante group sometime in the late 2000’s in Derry, targeting drug dealers operating within nationalist communities.
No individual event is considered to be the catalyst of these negotiations, rather it’s thought that they were brought about by growing dissatisfaction with mainstream Republican groups such as Sinn Féin, who were viewed as making little progress towards either Irish reunification or improving the economic and social situation of nationalist communities since entering government. The New IRA hoped to take advantage of this dissatisfaction in order to provide a viable alternative to mainstream Republicanism. Cooperation was spurred by the approaching centenary of the 1916 rising, with Republican groups hoping to show a “united front” during a period of renewed interest in Republican politics (4). Notably the Continuity IRA -- the other main dissident Republican group active at the time -- did not join the New IRA, although the two groups have allegedly remained in close contact and discussed the possibility of joint attacks (5).
Objectives & Ideology
The New IRA views itself as the continuation of earlier Republican groups, in particular the leadership of the 1916 rising, and therefore the holders of a historical mandate lost by less radical groups (6). To this end, the group’s main goal is to bring about the “removal of British military presence” in Northern Ireland and the reunification of Ireland as a socialist republic (7). The group distinguishes itself from older Republican groups through its criticism of the peace process in Northern Ireland, having maintained their position in opposition to the Good Friday Agreement from the original Provisional-Real IRA split (8). This includes specific criticism of mainstream Republican leadership, including Sinn Féin (the political wing of the Provisional IRA), which they have accused of having abandoned traditional Republican values. This criticism also involves the argument that Sinn Féin have evolved as collaborators with the British state (9), consequently leading to attacks against high-ranking members of the former (10). As such the group views itself as the “true” continuation of radical Republican politics, reflected in their predecessor group’s “Real” title.
Much of the New IRA’s ideological development is believed to occur within the Republican prisoner community, which is viewed with a certain level of reverence given their “sacrifice”, per se, to the Republican cause. This also ties into the group’s attempt to paint itself as the successors of the 1981 hunger strikers, such as Bobby Sands. Such figures are still viewed with a great deal of reverence within the contemporary Republican movement (11).
Approach to Resistance
While membership of the New IRA exists on both sides of the border, the group is predominantly active within Northern Ireland (12). The New IRA has tended to continue applying methods used by previous iterations of the IRA, including parcel and car bombings against perceived "agents of the British State" (13). Many of these attacks have targeted prison officers and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). In fact, this includes the first attack officially claimed by the New IRA, which involved the killing of prison officer David Black in November 2012 (14).
The New IRA has also continued to maintain a large focus on “community defence” from drugs and organised crime from RAAD, illustrated in the punishment shootings and killings of several individuals alleged to be part of the illegal drug trade (15). This focus on community protection finds its roots in the group’s ideology, which does not recognise the legitimacy of the PSNI within nationalist communities (16). The New IRA is also believed to have been the driving force behind several large-scale riots within nationalist communities (17).
The group's most high-profile attack remains the accidental killing of journalist Lyra McKee on the 18th of April 2019. McKee was shot while observing rioting in the Creggan area of Derry, with the New IRA subsequently claiming responsibility for the killing and stating that the intended targets had been PSNI officers (18). The New IRA has henceforth continued its campaign under relatively significant levels of criticism against it. At the time of writing, the group's latest activity involved a bomb attack against a PSNI patrol vehicle in November 2022 (19).
Relations & Alliances
Similar to previous iterations of the IRA, the New IRA continues to maintain a relationship with Palestinian insurgent groups. This relationship emerged in the 1970’s due to the perceived similarity between the Republican and Palestinian struggles, in addition to the mutual relationship with Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi, who provided both groups with arms and training (20). While this relationship is thought to have waned in the 1980’s due to the growing links between the PLO and the Irish government (21), the New IRA continues to vocalise support for the Palestinian struggle and is believed to have met with representatives of the Palestinian community as recently as 2021 (22).
While several small shipments of arms into Northern Ireland have occurred in recent years, it’s believed that the New IRA continues to rely on weapon supplies from the Troubles, the majority of which were provided by Muammar Gaddafi (23). The organisation is known to have reached out to Middle Eastern insurgent groups in search of weapons and financing, most notably forging an alliance with the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah for this purpose (24).
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - John Morrison, “Fighting Talk: The Statements of ‘The IRA/New IRA’” (2016) 28 Terrorism and Political Violence, 598
(2) - The Guardian, “New IRA: full statement by the dissident ‘Army Council’” (The Guardian, 26 July 2012)
(3) - Marisa McGlinchey, “The unfinished revolution of ‘dissident’ Irish Republicans: divergent views in a fragmented base” (2021) 32(4) Small Wars and Insurgencies 714
(4) - Morrison (n 1)
(5) - John Mooney, “New IRA and Continuity IRA discuss joint attacks” (The Times, 11 August 2021)
(6) - Morrison (n 1)
(7) - The Guardian (n 2)
(8) - McGlinchey (n 3)
(9) - Morrison (n 1)
(10) - Mapping Militants Organisation “New Irish Republican Army” (Stanford, August 2019)
(11) - Morrison (n 1)
(12) - McGlinchey (n 3)
(13) - Morrison (n 1)
(14) - Daniel Hickey, “Case of man accused of IRA membership adjourned” (The Irish Times, 10 July 2017)
(15) - Josh Horgan and John F Morrison, “A new breed of terror in Northern Ireland” (CNN, 14 June 2013)
(16) - Morrison (n 1)
(17) - Irish Times, “PSNI chief blames ‘New IRA’ for orchestrating Derry disorder” (The Irish Times, 13 July 2018)
(18) - Rory Carroll, “Lyra McKee: four men arrested over killing of journalist in Derry” (The Guardian, 15 September 2021)
(19) - BBC News, “Timeline of dissident Republican activity” (BBC News, 21 November 2022)
(20) - Nick Rodrigo, “Gaddafi and the IRA’s explosive relationship” (The New Arab, 22 September 2015)
(21) - Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA (6 ed, Harper Collins, 17 July 2000)
(22) - Alan Erwin, “Palestinian doctor accused of addressing New IRA gathering set to be released from custody” (Belfast Telegraph, 9 December 2021)
(23) - Allison Morris “Infiltration has left New IRA desperate for weapons” (Irish News, 17 September 2020)
(24) - John Mooney, “New IRA forges links with Hezbollah” (The Times, 13 September 2020)