Do we need the “old ” IRA to contain the “new”?

Gang activity labelled “dissident republican” is spreading and is proving very difficult to check.  What is the connection between the killings in Dublin and the fatal shooting taxi driver of  Michael McGibbon?

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of McGibbon “ punishment shooting “  was that, rather than go the the police – or even Gerry Kelly –   he went to take his punishment, just as in the worst of the bad old days.

The 33-year-old had gone to meet his killers at Butler Place after refusing to come to the door when two paramilitaries visited his house in Ardoyne 24 hours earlier.

The tentacles of  the “ new “IRA” seem to be spreading wider and their writ may run deeper in areas like Ardoyne  than has been admitted.

Meanwhile  the results of the latest survey of dissident republican activity  published in the Guardian come as no surprise. The team of Morrison and Horgan have a considerable  track record.

.. in the categories “Catholics” and “criminals” the victims comprised more than 77% of the 175 people shot dead or wounded by armed dissident republicans.

The study, starting at a point in 2007 when Sinn Féin agreed to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as part of a deal to restore devolution, stretches to the end of 2015, when all the people shot by the New IRA, Continuity IRA, and Óglaigh na hÉireann were Catholic civilians.

By contrast, police officers accounted for just over 15% of shooting casualties from 2007 to 2015, while over the same period British soldiers who were shot made up just over 0.5% of the overall casualty list.

Catholic civilians have suffered the same brunt from explosive attacks detonated by dissident republicans as PSNI officers; both groups, which were analysed by the terrorism experts John F Morrison and John Horgan, made up 40% of casualties injured in bomb, grenade and rocket attacks.

The information John E Morrison has gathered is impressive even though an earlier analysis of splits is not without its critics.

The Origins and Rise of Dissident Irish Republicanism. John F. Morrison. Bloomsbury. 2014.

This model is clearly laid out in the second chapter. There are three types of split: even split; uneven split; and split avoidance. The origins of the next split can be found in the legacy of the previous split. The key stage of the model is step three, when the split becomes inevitable. It is also this stage which determines the outcome of the split in terms of the success and strength of the rival groups which emerge. This reviewer would argue that such an approach is somewhat flawed. The four splits are all different, occurring within different contexts, involving a variety of personalities and subject to a myriad of external forces impacting on the genesis, development, and outcome of the splits.

The correct analysis of splits matters as it goes to the heart of  the dynamic of continuing violence.  The  ambitious aim of  ending paramilitarism taken on as a result of Fresh Start cannot be limited to the remaining elements of what we may have to call the old IRA.

It raises uncomfortable  questions. Do we need the old IRA bosses to try to help  keep the new ones in check? Or has  the republican movement( i.e. IRA and  Sinn Fein) become too establishment to retain its influence with the angry young?  Is there a kind of consolation in the fact that often they seem to be devouring each other or does this merely raise the general level of violence to include the innocent, as one group  vies for control over the others?  Again, we have been here before.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London