In an interview with Channel 4 News, the group said it was committed to ‘armed actions’ against border infrastructure – and ‘the people who are manning them’.
The New IRA has broken its long silence over Brexit, saying any border infrastructure would be a “legitimate target for attack”.
In an interview with Channel 4 News – thought to be their first on-camera interview for decades – a masked spokesman for the proscribed group said: “The IRA is an army. And as an army we are committed to armed struggle for political and social change in Ireland.”
“Bearing in mind any installation or aspects of British occupation within the Six Counties – be it at the border or elsewhere – any infrastructure would be a legitimate target for attack and armed actions against those infrastructures and against the people who are manning them.”
The man added: “There’s been a border since 1921. It’s been resisted. It is being resisted. It will be resisted regardless of any deal formed around it.”
The interview took place at an IRA safe house in the Irish Republic under tight security conditions, ensuring neither the journalist nor cameraman knew the location of the house. The man spoke to Channel 4 News on condition that his identity would be disguised and his voice would not be recorded.
The New IRA is the most violent and active Irish Republican dissident group. It is responsible for a number of recent attacks, including a car bomb detonated at the courthouse in Londonderry and shooting dead the journalist Lyra McKee.
With little support in the wider community, this small dissident proscribed group number in only the low hundreds. But their threat led the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Simon Byrne, to warn in August of a return to paramilitary violence.
During the interview, the masked man was repeatedly challenged by Channel 4 News’s Chief Correspondent, Alex Thomson, over the murder of Lyra McKee and the lack of justification for a return to violence in Northern Ireland.
Under questioning, the spokesman repeated the group’s apology for the murder, calling it a “tragic loss”.
Asked about the possibility of Brexit creating a ‘hard’ border with new infrastructure – either on the frontier, or anywhere on the island of Ireland – the IRA spokesman said: “There is no such thing as an Irish border. It’s a British border.”
“Since its formation, since its inception the purpose of the IRA has been to take action against all such infrastructure of British occupation.”
Pressed about this, he said: “It’s important to understand that this is a country under occupation by Britain, and as in any colonial situation the people have the right there to respond by all means necessary to that occupation.”
The spokesman was then pressed about whether any kind of Brexit deal would be acceptable to armed Irish Republicanism. But he said: “Regardless of the form of occupation, whatever kind of border there is – be it soft or so called hard border – that’s irrelevant.
“We are talking about an illegal occupation here that means the IRA reserved the right to attack those who are upholding that illegal occupation along the border and elsewhere and the illegal partition that goes with it. And those who are upholding that.”
“The EU and the British and the 26 county administration constantly speak about the border as if it’s been there two minutes and it’s only an issue with Brexit. There’s been a border since 1921. It’s been resisted. It is being resisted. It will be resisted regardless of any deal formed around it.”
The spokesman was then asked repeatedly about why the group was continuing with armed violence, years after a peace process was overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of the island of Ireland, north and south.
“First off, the Good Friday Agreement is dead,” he said. “It was superseded by various other agreements such as the Leeds Castle, St Andrews, Hillsborough deals and others. So the Good Friday Agreement is defunct.
“Secondly the Good Friday Agreement was not ratified by the Irish people as a unit, as a whole, but by two separate questions depending on which statelet they lived in.”
The spokesman was asked why they persist with armed violence, with negligible support – a political irrelevance and on the wrong side of history. He responded: “On the contrary, we are not the wrong side of history. No colony has ever secured its freedom without armed resistance.
“We have more support than the Conservative Party, but they lord it over us. We also have more support in Ireland than the Labour Party does.”
Pressed again that this comparison is bogus because the Irish people support and vote for Irish parties, north and south, he replied: “Well this is the mainland of Ireland. The IRA is confident that it has popular support for its goal of a 32 County Irish Republic.
“The political parties you reference are silent about the armed activities of the state. For instance the 25 million pound HQ for MI5 at Palace Barracks.”
“There are 700 MI5 operatives in Belfast City alone. Every PSNI officer is armed with a Glock pistol or a Heckler and Koch rifle. Contrary to popular belief there are still thousands of British soldiers operating in the six countries. And there are also armed pro-British death squads operating under the flag of Loyalism.”
“So, therefore, the IRA will take no lectures on morality, or the futility of violence from those who remain morally in favour, if not tactically.”
The spokesman was then asked repeatedly about the shooting of Lyra McKee, the young journalist shot dead whilst observing rioting in the Creggan district of Londonderry earlier this year. When asked by Channel 4 News reporter Alex Thomson whether he would say sorry for the murder, he replied: “Absolutely.”
“We listened to calls from the Republican base at the time, including but not exclusively Saoradh [the legal political organisation close to the group known as the New IRA], who rightly called for the IRA to take responsibility for the tragic loss of Lyra McKee’s life and to apologise. As we stated at the time, the loss of any civilian life in the conflict is a tragedy and we directly apologised at the time to her partner, her family and her friends. And on behalf of the IRA I reiterate that apology now.”
Alex Thomson then said that Lyra McKee’s partner, Sara Canning, had described the IRA on camera as “paedophiles” – in the sense that they groomed young and vulnerable people in deprived areas like Creggan.
The spokesman replied: “Personally I find that comparison is grotesque. Young people have always been the backbone of the Republican struggle. They bring an energy and a vibrancy to it with their activism. young people are not sought out by the Republican movement. They seek it out.”
Alex Thomson then returned to the point that, if the Provisional IRA had failed to gain its objective after more than thirty years of violence, why does the current IRA think it can succeed for one second?
“It’s important to point out, when you speak of the Provisional IRA, that you assume some of us had no experience of it. Many of our volunteers had lots of experience of the Provisional IRA top to bottom, from the Executive Council, down to command staff; from brigade staff to the rank and file volunteers. That gives our organisation both a valuable insight now, and the benefit of hindsight as to why the Provisional IRA failed in all of its objectives following the abolition of Stormont in 1972.”
He added: “Whilst many volunteers have experience of that era, the majority of our volunteers in 2019 have no experience of that, in fact were born after 1998.”
But when asked about where the IRA was going in the near future, the spokesman perhaps came close to admitting the current weaknesses of the organisation.
“Republicanism has always gone through peaks and valleys,” he said. “And at this point we remain heavily organised and – to paraphrase a phrase of our enemy – we are sophisticated and capable and showing increasing sophistication and ingenuity.
“But this is a period of consolidation and rebuilding. Rebuilding is important, but it’s crucial to realise it doesn’t reduce our operational capabilities.”
“In August, the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland warned of a return to paramilitary violence and recently said that any infrastructure on the border would refuel the conflict. Theresa May and the Prime Minster reportedly changed their Brexit positions after high level security briefings on the implications of any border infrastructure on the island of Ireland.
“This group is neither heard, or held to account for its actions, or challenged on any justification for a return to violence, and many purporting to speak for them have failed to fill this vacuum.
“The interview challenges them strongly on their lack of legitimacy and of support, the murder of Lyra Mckee and we put to them her partner Sarah Canning’s accusation that they are akin to paedophiles in the way in which they prey on young people. It is a hard hitting interview of overwhelming public interest at a vital time.”