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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Is This The Real IRA?
Liam O Ruairc • 04.01.04

This book claims to be "the definitive account of the Real IRA". According to the publisher, "the authors have written the best chronicle of the secret army", and the book "reads with an urgency and a moral commitment which belongs to the finest fiction." In fact, those familiar with the subject are likely to be disapointed. There is little new in this book. Anyone reading about the Real IRA in newspapers and on the internet on a daily basis since 1997 will not learn much from this work. Most of its content has already been written about, the book serving it in a 'cut and paste' version and written in the style of a third rate thriller. The authors write as 'crime correspondants' type journalists, and display none of the analytical skills of historians, sociologists, or political scientists. The material on which the book is based is very thin, for example one cannot fail to notice that there are no references to material from The Sovereign Nation, Beir Bua or Republican Forum. This is like writing a history of the Provos with no references to material from An Phoblacht or Republican News.

However, to be fair, the book is not as bad as one could expect from journalists of the Irish Star and with a foreword by Victor Barker. The authors generally display a good deal of objectivity and fairness when dealing with the Real IRA, for which of course they have no sympathy. The book begins with the split at the October 1997 IRA convention and finishes with the conviction of Michael McKevitt by the Special Criminal Court in 2003. The narrative shifts from the perspective of the Real IRA to that of the Irish and British security forces and the relatives of the victims of the Omagh bomb.

To their credit, the authors describe the Real IRA as being politically rather than criminally motivated, though mention is made of smuggling activities. Nor are they being described as some sort of bloodthirsty psychopaths. The book tells how the Real IRA was horrified by the Omagh bomb, and how "although McKevitt had seen mass murder in the past, the extreme loss of life that resulted from the Omagh bomb personally sickened him." (172) The authors also make very clear that once the Real IRA resumed its operations, it was imperative for volunteers to avoid civilian casualties. The book gives some hint about the overall political context, albeit in an undeveloped and unsystematic fashion. McKevitt's "most serious error was to believe that there was still an appetite for militant republicanism; there wasn't." (31) This is probably the most serious objection the authors could have levelled against the Real IRA, but they fail to develop it further. A great deal of the book deals with the informers and agent provocateurs inside the Real IRA, Paul Dixon and David Rupert in particular. Mooney and O Toole show how dubvious a character Rupert was, how his motivation was purely financial. The book is also good on the various approaches the Irish government made to the Real IRA and the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. The authors show how this "well thought out strategy of fighting terrorism through dialogue" (142) complemented the apparatus of repression.

When dealing with the political strategy and thinking of the Real IRA, the authors display a dialectic of blindness and insight. They shift from ascribing to the Real IRA a coherent political strategy to criticising the organisation for having none. For example, Mooney and O Toole write, "What Campbell was planning was a frightening, nihilistic onslaught. The strategy was to mount attacks purely for the sake of mounting attacks" (131) whereas a couple of pages later we are told that "McKevitt's strategy was a grandiose one. He wanted to gain political strength through bombing ..." (137) One of the problems is that the authors display no real evidence to back up their judgements. We are told that in 2001, the Real IRA Army Council "had no interest in republican politics" (289): "The new Army Council mounted bomb attacks without having any political agenda or strategy. The stream of attacks indicated that the Army Council had lost control. Real IRA Units now operated independent of each other." (292) This might be the case, but there is not enough evidence to assert this. For example, a Real republican might reply something like "in 2001 the Army was in a process of restructuration and debating a long term strategy taking account of new circumstances." According to the authors, in 2003, "the RIRA had become a group of free wheeling mercenaries and smugglers answerable only to themselves. They lacked a command structure and political ideology other than to intermittently attack the British security forces in Northern Ireland and bomb London." (309) The authors' case would have been stronger had they developed criticisms of why the Real IRA allegedly lacks a strong command structure and political ideology, but again one of the characteristics of this book is the absence of a proper political analysis. Also noticeable is the lack of discussion of the politics of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Finally the reader will be struck by the arbitrary nature of some of Mooney and O Toole's judgements. For example, they write of the killing of Joseph O Connor by the Provisionals: "The truth was that the RIRA Army Council didn't care. O Connor was a thug and a criminal." (268) This is a totally arbitrary judgement as no evidence is provided to back up their claim that first O Connor was a thug and secondly that the Real IRA didn't care.

Some examples show that the authors have little grasp of the mindset of Real Republicans. They write of them that they saw the IRA "not as a political organisation but as a religion ... Their ideology was greatly different from those of the Provisionals. They studied Irish history and would often refer to men like Padraig Pearse, the leader of the 1916 rebellion who sacrified his own blood for his dream of a United Ireland." (39) Apart from the historical inaccuracy that Padraig Pearse could not have died for a United Ireland as the country had not yet been partitioned, it is unlikely that the authors have spent much time with Real Republicans, because very few would be of the religious type. A quick glance at publications such as the Sovereign Nation tells the opposite. The biggest criticism that can be levelled at this book is its inability to insert the Real IRA within the longue duree history of Republicanism. For example they could have shown the similarities and differences between the RIRA and the IRA in the late 1930s and 1940s, with which it has a lot in common.

The authors lack of historical and political understanding results in the conclusion that contrary to the publishers' claim, the definitive history of the Real IRA remains to be written.

John Mooney & Michael O Toole, Black Operations: The Secret War Against the Real IRA (Ashbourne: Maverick House Publishers, 2003) ISBN 0-9542945-5-6, £14.99



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

4 January 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Anthony McIntyre


New Years Statement 2004

Óglaigh na hÉireann


New Year Greetings
Jimmy Sands


In Memorium
Brian Mór


Is This The Real IRA?
Liam O Ruairc


Dec. 16th Dail Questions



Provos/SDLP/Dublin Securing Partition
Liam O Comain


The Patriot Game
Kathleen O Halloran


Wiping Out the Opposition
Aine Fox


They Will Never Get Us All
Sean Matthews


The Letters Page has been updated.


17 December 2003


An Autopsy on the Provos
Sandy Boyer


The PSNI Threat

Anthony McIntyre


Seize the Opportunity, Seize the Moment
Liam O Ruairc


Happy Xmas from Little England
Eamon Sweeney


Dublin Cover-up Was Government Policy
Father Sean Mc Manus


Warm (Flat) Earth
Michael Youlton




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