What is the New IRA? Group believed to be behind Northern Ireland police shooting explained
An expert says the New IRA, purported to be behind the shooting of an off-duty detective in Omagh, “aim to disrupt the state of Northern Ireland”, and demonstrate their continued presence and capability.
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A dissident group fighting for a united Ireland could be a bigger risk to police, one expert says, “who they see as the first line of defence of the British presence in Ireland”.
Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell has been fighting for his life in hospital since he was shot in front of his young son in Co Tyrone last Wednesday (22 February). Gunmen shot the senior police officer multiple times in a “callous attack” outside an Omagh sports complex, where he had been coaching a youth football team.
Last week, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said they believed the attack was terror-related, describing the New IRA as their primary line of inquiry. On Sunday, a mysterious message claiming to be from the group appeared in Londonderry, claiming responsibility for the shooting. Police say they are now investigating it.
But what is the New IRA, and why was the group the police’s prime suspect in the shooting?
What is the ‘New IRA’?
The New IRA - or Irish Republican Army - is a dissident group which wants to see British rule of Northern Ireland end, and Ireland become a single, united country. It is the latest in a long line of groups fighting for the same cause in Northern Ireland, a conflict known until the late 1990s as ‘The Troubles’.
Dr Marisa McGlinchey - a political researcher with Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations - told NationalWorld the New IRA “believe that they are simply fighting the latest phase of the Irish republican struggle for freedom and sovereignty”.
“They see their campaign as an extension of that of the Provisional IRA and even further back,” she said.
The group first emerged in 2012. It was formed as an amalgamation of independent republicans, Republican Action Against Drugs, and sections of the Real IRA. “The idea was to form a more organised and structured dissident group, bringing together capabilities,” McGlinchey said.
The political party Saoradh is believed to be the political wing of the New IRA, although they deny this association.
Are they behind the police shooting in Omagh?
This remains unverified. On Sunday night, a typed message appeared on a wall in Londonderry, purportedly from the New IRA and claiming responsibility for Mr Caldwell’s attempted murder. It was signed “T O’Neill” – a name previously used by the dissident group.
The message said: “The Irish Republican Army claim responsibility for the military operation targeting senior Crown Force member John Caldwell.
“An active service unit of the IRA were in position to target the enemy within our chosen kill zone with other armed volunteers giving cover. All volunteers returned safely to base,” it read.
The message claimed Irish Republican Army intelligence were now in possession of security information regarding the “out of bounds movement” of Crown personnel. “We would say this, you still have to try and live a normal life day-to-day, one of these days the IRA will be waiting. T O’Neill.”
On Monday, Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan said police were aware of the claim of responsibility. “We are currently reviewing its contents as part of the overall investigation.”
How much of a risk is the New IRA?
McGlinchey said the New IRA’s campaign was “low-level,” but continuous. “[It is] mainly aimed at the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who they see as the first line of defence of the British presence in Ireland.”
The New IRA knew they were not fighting a large-scale campaign, she said, “but they aim to disrupt the state of Northern Ireland and also to demonstrate their presence and continued capability, particularly in the aftermath of infiltration of the organisation by the security services”.
“Their mantra is that as long as Ireland is partitioned there will be those willing to resist it in arms,” McGlinchey said.
While the New IRA’s campaign may be low-level, innocent people have been caught in the crossfire. Journalist Lyra McKee died after she was struck by a bullet, while reporting on rioting in the Creggan area of Derry in 2019.
In a statement to The Irish News, using a recognised codeword, the New IRA admitted it was responsible for the attack. “In the course of attacking the enemy Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces," the statement said. “The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death.”