Regency Hotel shooting: Continuity IRA statement leads to confusion

Analysis: Dissident group was viewed as largely inactive north of the Border

Gardaí following the fatal shooting of David Byrne (34) at the Regency Hotel in Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Gardaí following the fatal shooting of David Byrne (34) at the Regency Hotel in Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The Garda, PSNI and British and Irish intelligence services will be carefully studying the Continuity IRA’s claim of responsibility for the boxing weigh-in murder using a long-recognised codeword it issued to the BBC yesterday morning.

For several years now the Continuity IRA has been viewed as the least effective of the dissident groupings.

It has suffered a number of its own splits and changes of personnel in recent years.

It is also believed to be heavily infiltrated with informers and agents and that other dissident groups would be wary about co-operating with its members.

That may also account for the fact that last night another group claiming to be the Continuity IRA issued a statement saying it did not have any involvement in the Regency Hotel shooting.

It viewed the claim to the BBC “as another attempt to tarnish the name of the organisation”. It supplied an unfamiliar code word to make that claim.

It could all raise the Monty Python notion of the confusion over the Judean People’s Front with the People’s Front of Judea except for the fact that a man, David Byrne is dead, two other men are seriously injured and Chicago-style gangsterism has become even more brazen and dangerous in Ireland’s capital city.

What is clear is that one of the guises of the Continuity IRA said it killed Mr Byrne.

It also seems clear judged by the codeword used that this may be the original Continuity IRA, notwithstanding subsequent splits into factionalism.

The Continuity IRA is the original of the modern dissident republican species. Whereas groups such as the Real IRA and later “Óglaigh na hÉireann” and the “new” IRA emerged as a result of the 1994 Provisional IRA ceasefire the Continuity IRA goes back to 1986.

It, along with its political wing Republican Sinn Féin, was formed after Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness persuaded Sinn Féin at that year’s ardfheis to end its policy of refusing to sit in Dáil Éireann.

Split

Two of the figureheads of Republican Sinn Féin and the Continuity IRA were the late Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithi Ó Conaill, who before the split respectively were leaders in Provisional Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA.

The Continuity IRA did not emerge in any public significant fashion until after the 1994 IRA ceasefire.

It has been involved in a number of killings and bomb attacks since then with its first major bombing, a 1,200lb device that exploded at the Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh in1996.

It was responsible for several other bomb attacks that caused serious damage in towns such as Moira, Co Down, and Portadown, Co Armagh.

It was also responsible for the 2009 murder of Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, Co Armagh, the first member of the PSNI to be killed by republican paramilitaries.

It is also believed to have carried out a number of gangland killings in Dublin and Limerick

CIRA sustained one of its worst blows in November 2014 when 12 of its suspected members were arrested at a house in Newry, Co Down.

Despite its poor reputation within the republican paramilitary world, its statement that it “has been retraining and re-arming in recent years” will be considered with some concern, as will its warning that “this will not be an isolated incident”.

The organisation further warned, “CIRA units have been authorised to carry out further operations.

More drug dealers and criminals will be targeted. CIRA will carry out further military operations.”

Ruthless

Nonetheless, the dominant security response north of the Border yesterday was one of surprise.

There was acknowledgment that the nature of the attack was “audacious, ruthless and carefully planned”, but also perplexity that the attackers should carry out such a daylight and very public operation and thus leave themselves open to identification through the photographs and footage that were taken of the attack.

Security sources said that in Northern Ireland the CIRA has some purchase in Lurgan, Co Armagh and in Belfast and that it had a presence in Newry, but that this was seriously undermined by the Newry arrests.

In essence the sources believed that prior to the statement the CIRA was largely inactive and that it did not have the capability or capacity to mount “military operations” in the North.

Revenge

There was also surprise that it would claim the killing and again leave its wider membership potentially open to revenge attacks.

Overall it was viewed as being mainly involved in criminality and extortion rather than actions directed at the PSNI or other targets in Northern Ireland.

Equally, there was bafflement as to why it would claim it was acting in revenge for the murder of Dublin Real IRA senior figure Alan Ryan, gunned down in another gangland killing in September 2012.

The Real IRA is seen as a much larger and more dangerous organisation and well capable of mounting its own retaliatory operations.

Generally, Northern security sources were of the opinion that the Dublin attack had more to do with local gangsterism than the CIRA planning to bring the “war” back to Northern Ireland.

Equally though, they said, they were keeping an open if puzzled mind about the overall CIRA statement and the larger threat therein.