Continuity Irish Republican Army

Continuity Irish Republican Army
(Óglaigh na hÉireann)
Participant in the Troubles and the dissident Irish republican campaign

CIRA propaganda video
Active 1994 – present
Ideology Irish republicanism, Irish republican legitimatism, Éire Nua concept
Leaders Irish Continuity Army Council
Area of operations Northern Ireland (mainly); Republic of Ireland
Strength Less than 50 (as of July 2012)[1][2]
Originated as Provisional Irish Republican Army
Allies Real Irish Republican Army
Opponents British government, British Army, Royal Ulster Constabulary/Police Service of Northern Ireland

The Continuity Irish Republican Army or Continuity IRA (CIRA) is an Irish republican paramilitary group that aims to bring about a united Ireland. It emerged from a split in the Provisional IRA in 1986 but did not become active until the Provisional IRA ceasefire of 1994. It is an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland and is designated a terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom,[3] New Zealand[4] and the United States. It has links with the political party Republican Sinn Féin (RSF).

Like the Provisional IRA before it, the CIRA sees itself as the direct continuation of the original Irish Republican Army and styles itself as simply "the Irish Republican Army" in English or Óglaigh na hÉireann (Volunteers of Ireland) in Irish. It sees itself as the national army of an Irish Republic covering the whole of Ireland. The security forces initially referred to it as the "Irish National Republican Army" (INRA).

Since its formation, the CIRA has waged a campaign in Northern Ireland against the British Army and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), formerly the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). This is part of a wider campaign against the British security forces by dissident republican paramilitaries. It has targeted the security forces in gun attacks and bombings, as well as with grenades, mortars and rockets. The CIRA has also carried out bombings with the goal of causing economic harm and/or disruption, as well as many punishment attacks on alleged criminals.

To date, it has been responsible for the death of one PSNI officer.[5] The CIRA is not as big and has not been as active as the Real IRA and there have been a number of splits within the organisation since the mid-2000s.


1986 IRA General Army Convention

The Continuity IRA has its origins in a split in the Provisional IRA. In September 1986, the Provisional IRA held a meeting of its General Army Convention (GAC), the organisation's supreme decision-making body. It was the first GAC in 16 years. The meeting, which like all such meetings was secret, was convened to discuss among other resolutions, the articles of the Provisional IRA constitution which dealt with abstentionism, specifically its opposition to the taking of seats in Dáil Éireann (the parliament of the Republic of Ireland).[6] The GAC passed motions (by the necessary two-thirds majority) allowing members of the Provisional IRA to discuss and debate the taking of parliamentary seats, and the removal of the ban on members of the organisation from supporting any successful republican candidate who took their seat in Dáil Éireann.[7][8]

The Provisional IRA convention delegates opposed to the change in the constitution claimed that the convention was gerrymandered "by the creation of new IRA organisational structures for the convention, including the combinations of Sligo-Roscommon-Longford and Wicklow-Wexford-Waterford."[9] The only IRA body that supported this viewpoint was the outgoing IRA Executive. Those members of the outgoing Executive who opposed the change comprised a quorum. They met, dismissed those in favour of the change, and set up a new Executive. They contacted Tom Maguire, who had supported the Provisionals against the Official IRA (see Irish republican legitimatism), and asked him for support. Maguire had also been contacted by supporters of Gerry Adams, then and current president of Sinn Féin, and a supporter of the change in the Provisional IRA constitution.

Maguire rejected Adams' supporters, supported the IRA Executive members opposed to the change, and named the new organisers the Continuity Army Council.[10] In a 1986 statement, he rejected "the legitimacy of an Army Council styling itself the Council of the Irish Republican Army which lends support to any person or organisation styling itself as Sinn Féin and prepared to enter the partition parliament of Leinster House." In 1987, Maguire described the "Continuity Executive" as the "lawful Executive of the Irish Republican Army."[11]


Although much smaller than the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA has been behind a number of attacks, including the shooting dead of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll, who was shot on 9 March 2009 as he responded to an emergency call in Craigavon. He was the first police officer to be killed since the signing of the Belfast Agreement. He was killed two days after the Real IRA's 2009 Massereene Barracks shooting in Antrim. In a press interview with Republican Sinn Féin some days later, regarded by some to be the political wing of the Continuity IRA, Paddy Walsh described the attacks as "acts of war". |image =

In 2013, the Continuity IRA's 'South Down Brigade' threatened a Traveller family in Newry and published a statement in the local newspaper. There were negotiations with community representatives and the CIRA announced the threat was lifted. It was believed the threat was issued after a Traveller feud which resulted in a pipe bomb attack in Bessbrook, near Newry. The Continuity IRA is believed to be strongest in the County Fermanagh - North County Armagh area (Craigavon, Armagh and Lurgan). It is believed to be behind a number of attacks such as pipe bombings, rocket attacks, gun attacks, and the PSNI claimed it orchestrated riots a number of times to lure police officers into areas such as Kilwilkie in Lurgan and Drumbeg in Craigavon in order to attack them. It also claimed the group orchestrated a riot during a security alert in Lurgan. The alert turned out to be a hoax.[12]

Claim to legitimacy

Thus, similar to the claim put forward by the Provisional IRA after its split from the Official IRA in 1969, the Continuity IRA claims to be the legitimate continuation of the original Irish Republican Army or Óglaigh na hÉireann.[13] This argument is based on the view that the surviving anti-Treaty members of the Second Dáil delegated their "authority" to the IRA Army Council in 1938. As further justification for this claim, Tom Maguire, one of those anti-Treaty members of the Second Dáil, issued a statement in favour of the Continuity IRA, just as he had done in 1969 in favour of the Provisionals. J. Bowyer Bell, in his The Irish Troubles, describes Maguire's opinion in 1986: "abstentionism was a basic tenet of republicanism, a moral issue of principle. Abstentionism gave the movement legitimacy, the right to wage war, to speak for a Republic all but established in the hearts of the people".[14] Maguire's stature was such that a delegation from Gerry Adams sought his support in 1986, but was rejected.[15]

Relationship to other organisations

These changes within the IRA were accompanied by changes on the political side and at the 1986 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis (party conference), which followed the IRA Convention, the party's policy of abstentionism, which forbade Sinn Féin elected representatives from taking seats in the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic, was dropped. On 2 November, the 628 delegates present cast their votes, the result being 429 to 161. The traditionalists, having lost at both conventions, walked out of the Mansion House, met that evening at the West County Hotel, and reformed as Republican Sinn Féin (RSF).[16]

According to a report in the Cork Examiner, the Continuity IRA's first chief of staff was Dáithí Ó Conaill,[17] who also served as the first chairman of RSF from 1986 to 1987. The Continuity IRA and RSF perceive themselves as forming a "true" Republican Movement.[18]

Structure and status

The leadership of the Continuity IRA is believed to be based in the provinces of Munster and Ulster. It was alleged that its chief of staff was a Limerick man and that a number of other key members were from that county, until their expulsion. Dáithí Ó Conaill was the first chief of staff in 1991.[17] In 2004 the United States (US) government believed the Continuity IRA consisted of fewer than fifty hardcore activists.[19] In 2005, Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell told Dáil Éireann that the organisation had a maximum of 150 members.[20]

The CIRA is an illegal organisation under UK (section 11(1) of the Terrorism Act 2000) and ROI law due to the use of 'IRA' in the group's name, in a situation analogous to that of the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA).[21][22] Membership of the organisation is punishable by a sentence of up to ten years imprisonment under UK law.[23] On 31 May 2001 Dermot Gannon became the first person to be convicted of membership of the CIRA solely on the word of a Garda Síochána chief superintendent. On 13 July 2004, the US government designated the CIRA as a 'Foreign Terrorist Organization' (FTO).[24] This made it illegal for Americans to provide material support to the CIRA, requires US financial institutions to block the group's assets and denies alleged CIRA members visas into the US.[25]

External aid and arsenal

The US government suspects the Continuity IRA of having received funds and arms from supporters in the United States. Security sources in Ireland have expressed the suspicion that, in co-operation with the RIRA, the Continuity IRA may have acquired arms and material from the Balkans. They also suspect that the Continuity IRA arsenal contains some weapons that were taken from Provisional IRA arms dumps, including a few dozen rifles, machine guns, and pistols; a small amount of the explosive Semtex; and a few dozen detonators.[26]


Like the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA still retains some weapons some of its members stole from Provisional IRA dumps after they defected. However it was believed in 1999 and 2000 that members of the Continuity IRA and members of the Real IRA travelled a number of times to Croatia in the former Yugoslavia to purchase some arms with a contact they had established. It was widely believed that some of those arms including plastic explosives such as TM-500, M70AB1s and M70AB2s (Yugoslav variants of the AK47 and AKM rifles), Czech Vz-26 sub-machine guns, RPG-18 rocket launchers and a quantity of ammunition, which they managed to smuggle safely to Ireland.

The Gardaí later discovered some of this equipment, at this stage belonging to the Real IRA, in bunkers and training camps in County Meath. Real IRA member Alan Ryan,[27] aged 19, was arrested at an underground training camp in County Meath. Ryan later became a prominent member of the Real IRA in Dublin, only to be killed in a violent feud with Dublin criminals in 2012. In 2000 Croatian police stopped a truck carrying a consignment of arms believed to be destined for the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. The footage featured in a BBC Spotlight documentary in 2003 about dissident republicans. It is believed that the Continuity IRA still holds some of the arms that got through.

Much of its weaponry is believed to be mostly of Provisional IRA origin such as the Romanian AKM rifles the Provisional IRA imported from Libya. Some of these weapons can be seen in Real IRA and Continuity IRA propaganda videos or photographs taken by journalists who interviewed members of the Continuity IRA. They are in many of the arms dumps uncovered by British and Irish security forces.[12]


Initially, the Continuity IRA did not reveal its existence, either in the form of press statements or paramilitary activity. Although the Garda Síochána had suspicions that the organisation existed, they were unsure of its name, labelling it the "Irish National Republican Army".[28] On 21 January 1994, on the 75th anniversary of the First Dáil Éireann, Continuity IRA volunteers offered a "final salute" to Tom Maguire by firing over his grave, and a public statement and a photo were published in Saoirse Irish Freedom.[29]

It was only after the Provisional IRA declared a ceasefire in 1994 that the Continuity IRA became active, announcing its intention to continue the campaign against British rule. The CIRA continues to oppose the Good Friday Agreement and, unlike the Provisional IRA (and the Real IRA in 1998), the CIRA has not announced a ceasefire or agreed to participate in weapons decommissioning—nor is there any evidence that it will. In the 18th Independent Monitoring Commission's report, the RIRA, the CIRA and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) were deemed a potential future threat. The CIRA was labelled "active, dangerous and committed and... capable of a greater level of violent and other crime". Like the RIRA and RIRA splinter group Óglaigh na hÉireann, it too sought funds for expansion. It is also known to have worked with the INLA.

The CIRA has been involved in a number of bombing and shooting incidents. Targets of the CIRA have included the British military, the Northern Ireland police (both the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its successor the Police Service of Northern Ireland) and Ulster loyalist paramilitaries. Since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 the CIRA, along with other paramilitaries opposing the ceasefire, have been involved with a countless number of punishment shootings and beatings. By 2005 the CIRA was believed to be an established presence on the island of Great Britain with the capability of launching attacks.[30] A bomb defused in Dublin in December 2005 was believed to have been the work of the CIRA.[31] In February 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) blamed the CIRA for planting four bombs in Northern Ireland during the final quarter of 2005, as well as several hoax bomb warnings.[32] The IMC also blamed the CIRA for the killings of two former CIRA members in Belfast, who had stolen CIRA weapons and established a rival organisation. [33]

The CIRA continued to be active in both planning and undertaking attacks on the PSNI. The IMC said they tried to create troubles to lure police forth, while they have also taken to stoning and using petrol bombs. In addition, other assaults, robbery, tiger kidnapping, extortion, fuel laundering and smuggling were undertaken by the group. The CIRA also actively took part in recruiting and training members, including disgruntled former Provisional IRA members. As a result of this continued activity the IMC said the group remained "a very serious threat".[34]

On 10 March 2009 the CIRA claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting of a PSNI officer in Craigavon, County Armagh—the first police fatality in Northern Ireland since 1998. The officer was fatally shot by a sniper as he and a colleague investigated "suspicious activity" at a house nearby when a window was smashed by youths causing the occupant to phone the police. The PSNI officers responded to the emergency call, giving a CIRA sniper the chance to shoot and kill officer Stephen Carroll.[35][36]

On Easter 2016, the Continuity IRA marched in paramilitary uniforms through North Lurgan, Co Armagh, without any hindrance from the PSNI who monitored the parade from a police helicopter.[37]

Internal tension and splits

In 2005, several members of the CIRA, who were serving prison sentences in Portlaoise Prison for paramilitary activity, left the organisation. Some transferred to the INLA landing of the prison, but the majority of those who left are now independent and on E4 landing. The remaining CIRA prisoners have moved to D Wing. Supporters of the Continuity IRA leadership claim that this resulted from an internal disagreement, which although brought to a conclusion, was followed by some people leaving the organisation anyway. Supporters of the disaffected members established the Concerned Group for Republican Prisoners. Most of those who had left went back to the CIRA, or dissociated themselves from the CGRP, which is now defunct.

In February 2006, the Independent Monitoring Commission claimed in a report on paramilitary activity that two groups, styling themselves as "Óglaigh na hÉireann" and "Saoirse na hÉireann", had been formed after a split in the Continuity IRA either in early 2006 or late 2005.[38] The Óglaigh na hÉireann group was responsible for a number of pipe bomb attacks on the PSNI, bomb hoaxes, and robberies, the IMC also claimed the organization was responsible for the killing of Andrew Burns on 12 February 2008 and was seeking to recruit former members of the RIRA.[39] The Saoirse na hÉireann (SNH) group was composed of "disaffected and largely young republicans" and was responsible for a number of bomb hoaxes, two of which took place in September 2006. It was thought to have operated largely in republican areas of Belfast .[38][40] The groups had apparently ceased operations by early 2009.[41]

In 2007, the Continuity IRA was responsible for shooting dead two of its members who had left and attempted to create their own organisation. Upon leaving the CIRA, they had allegedly taken a number of guns with them.[42] The Continuity IRA is believed by Gardaí to have been involved in a number of gangland killings in Dublin and Limerick. Recent internal feuds and splits have seen organisations such as the RCIRA (Real Continuity IRA) being formed in the Limerick area and organisations such as Óglaigh na hÉireann (which ceased operating around 2009, not be confused with another more active group, also called Óglaigh na hÉireann) and Saoirse na hÉireann, a group which also ceased around that time. An RSF member remarked that splits aren't uncommon in the Continuity IRA as some individuals think they should be in a leading position of the group.

In July 2010, members of a "militant Northern-based faction within the CIRA" led by a well-known member from south Derry claimed to have overthrown the leadership of the organisation. They also claimed that an Army Convention representing "95 per cent of volunteers" had unanimously elected a new 12-member Army Executive, which in turn appointed a new seven-member Army Council. The moves came as a result of dissatisfication with the southern-based leadership and the apparent winding-down of military operations. A senior source from RSF said: "We would see them [the purported new leadership] as just another splinter group that has broken away."[43]

In June 2011, Liam Kenny, a member of the Limerick-based breakaway Continuity IRA faction, was murdered, allegedly by drug dealers, at his home in Clondalkin, West Dublin.[44] On 28 November 2011 an innocent man was mistakenly shot dead in retaliation for the murder of Liam Kenny. Limerick activist Rose Lynch (a member of the same breakaway Continuity IRA faction based in and led from Limerick) pleaded guilty to this murder at the Special Criminal Court and was sentenced to life imprisonment.[45]

In July 2012 the CIRA announced it had a new leadership after expelling members who had been working against the organisation.[46]

In 2013 former CIRA member Kieran McManus was shot dead by the CIRA in West Belfast. In April 2014 a former leading member of the Belfast Continuity IRA who had been expelled from the organisation, Tommy Crossan, was shot dead.[47]

The CIRA are depicted in RTÉ's TV series crime drama Love/Hate as a paramilitary organisation that runs extortion rackets on pubs and criminal gangs in Dublin.[48]


  1. . DoS.
  2. . START.
  3. Schedule 2, Terrorism Act 2000, Act No. 11 of 2000
  4. "Lists associated with Resolution 1373". New Zealand Police. 20 July 2014. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  5. Sutton Index of Deaths. CAIN.
  6. J Bowyer Bell, The Secret Army: The IRA, Poolbeg, revised third edition, Dublin, 1997, ISBN 1-85371-813-0
  7. "A Chronology of the Conflict – 1986". CAIN. Retrieved 17 May 2007.
  8. "Essentially since the spring of 1972, the crucial player in the armed struggle has been the Provisional IRA—now the IRA. (Authors Italics) J. Bowyer Bell, IRA: Tactics & Targets, Poolbeg, First Published 1990, Reprinted 1993, This Edition 1998, Dublin, ISBN 1-85371-603-0.
  9. Robert White, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary, 2006, p. 309.
  10. Robert White, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, the Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary. 2006. Indiana University Press. p310
  11. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Dilseacht, The Story of Comdt. General Tom Maguire and the Second (all-Ireland) Dáil, 1997, pp. 65–66.
  12. 1 2 "Continuity IRA". the Guardian. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  13. van Engeland, Anisseh (2008). From Terrorism to Politics (Ethics and Global Politics). Ashgate Publishing. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-7546-4990-8.
  14. J. Bowyer Bell, The Secret Army, The IRA, Poolbeg, revised third edition, Dublin, 1997, ISBN 1-85371-813-0, p. 575.
  15. Robert W. White, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary, 2006, p. 310.
  16. J Bowyer Bell, The Secret Army, The IRA, Poolbeg, revised third edition, Dublin, 1997, ISBN 1-85371-813-0
  17. 1 2 "CIRA bomb adds to growing crisis in the peace process". Irish Examiner. 2 July 2000. Retrieved 17 May 2007.
  18. See text of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh's 2005 Bodenstown oration
  19. "Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA)". Federation of American Scientists. 13 July 2004. Retrieved 18 May 2007.
  20. "Parliamentary Debates (Official Report – Unrevised)". Dáil Éireann. 23 June 2005. Archived from the original on 17 February 2009. Retrieved 18 May 2007.
  21. "Statutory Rules and Orders, 1939, No. 162. Unlawful Organisation (Suppression) Order, 1939". Irish Statute Book Database. Retrieved 5 May 2007.
  22. Kate O'Hanlon (25 May 2005). "Membership of Real IRA was a terrorism offence". The Independent. Retrieved 3 May 2007.
  23. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 30 October 2002 (pt 8)". House of Commons. 30 October 2002. Retrieved 17 March 2007.
  24. US Department of State, Office of Counterterrorism Fact sheet 2005
  25. "CIRA added to US terror list". London: BBC News. 13 July 2004. Retrieved 18 May 2007.
  26. "Decommissioning – how big a task?". London: BBC News. 5 July 1999. Retrieved 18 May 2007.
  27. "BBC News - Real IRA man Alan Ryan shot dead in 'targeted killing'". BBC News. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  28. David Kerr (1997). "The Continuity IRA". Ulster Nation. Archived from the original on 5 May 2007. Retrieved 16 March 2007.
  29. "Final Salute to Comdt-General Tom Maguire", Saoirse, Feabhra-February 1994, p. 2; see also, Robert White, Ruairi O Bradaigh, the Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary. 2006. Indiana University Press, pp. 323–24.
  30. Martin Bright and Henry McDonald (20 March 2005). "Irish terror groups 'to hit London'". The Observer. Retrieved 18 May 2007.
  31. "Continuity IRA link suspected in M50 alert". RTÉ. 9 December 2005. Retrieved 16 March 2007.
  32. Independent Monitoring Commission (1 February 2006). "Eighth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission" (PDF). The Stationery Office: 13–14. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 June 2007. Retrieved 6 May 2007.
  33. Independent Monitoring Commission (7 November 2007). "Seventeenth report of the Independent Monitoring Commission" (PDF). The Stationery Office: 9–10. Retrieved 10 February 2008.
  34. "Twentieth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission" (PDF). The Stationery Office. 10 November 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 December 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  35. "Continuity IRA shot dead officer". London: BBC News. 10 March 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2009.
  36. "Continuity IRA claims PSNI murder". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 10 March 2009. Archived from the original on 11 March 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2009.
  38. 1 2 Eighth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission Archived 15 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine., 1 February 2006
  41. Frampton, Martyn (2010). "The Return of the Militants: Violent Dissident Republicanism" (PDF). International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR). pp. 2–3. Retrieved 8 February 2011.
  42. Breen, Suzanne (18 March 2007). "Republican community appalled by gruesome murders". Dublin. Sunday Tribune. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  43. "Militant faction claims it has taken over leadership of CIRA". The Irish Times. 7 July 2010.
  44. "Gardaí fear retaliation attack after dissident murder". The Irish Independent. 19 June 2011.
  45. "Rose Lynch jailed for life over 2011 murder". RTÉ.ie. 10 April 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  46. "Continuity IRA says it has new leadership in place". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 26 July 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  47. "BBC News - Tommy Crossan: Paramilitary funeral for murdered dissident republican". BBC News. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  48. RTÉ web site Archived 9 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
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