IRA's approach to Brexit


It is commonly known that nowadays IRA (Irish Republican Army) doesn't pose a big threat for British Government and ceased all hostilities after Good Friday Agreement.

What is the IRA official approach to Brexit and what is their attitude? I haven't found any notable sources on this matter. Official Sinn Féin position (which claimed to be related to IRA) consists of dissatisfaction of Brexit results and a strong belief that it's a "poor deal" for Ireland. But what about IRA?

Can Brexit be a reason of a new wave of hostilities between IRA and British government or between IRA and other political forces, for example, Ulster loyalist forces, such as UVF, UDA or others?

I am speaking particularly about Provisional IRA as the most significant wing of IRA parties, however all the contributions are good, and if you have something to say about Real IRA, New IRA or Continuity IRA you are pretty welcome.

UPDATE Sept 2020: to all the optimistic folks who convinced me that

  • it's unclear to what extent the IRA can even be said to exist
  • However, the IRA has been disarmed and inactive for at least 12 years
  • The Provisional IRA, the largest republican organization by far, is dedicated to peace

Belfast Telegraph: New IRA gets weapons from Hezbollah

TIMES: New IRA forges links with Hezbollah

So yes, it exists and already has weapons. Despite this new group is called New IRA, it was originally split from Provisional IRA so it keeps all the methods and traditions of PIRA political struggle including weaponry.


Posted 2017-10-10T19:24:31.917

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"Can Brexit be a reason of a new wave of hostilities between IRA and British government or between IRA and other political forces, for example, Ulster loyalist forces, such as UVF, UDA or others?" Everything is possible, so yes. And if not now it could still happen in the future. – Trilarion – 2018-01-30T14:03:41.653

1Which IRA? There's quite a few different groups who claim that name with little to no relation/contact between them. – bobsburner – 2020-02-21T13:13:19.963

You should read my answer, as your update demonstrates a clear lack of understanding. There are multiple iterations of the IRA, and they are different organisations. It is incorrect to refer to the 'IRA' without first defining who they are, much less conflating NIRA with PIRA. – inappropriateCode – 2020-10-20T10:24:44.803

I am aware that originally my question was about PIRA, and the links are referring to RIRA/NIRA, but in later discussions the question gained public interest, so I believe we should touch all the wings of IRA. I will update the question to make it more inclusive – Suncatcher – 2020-10-20T10:32:16.597

@Suncatcher In that case you should be mindful that the update to your question is ambiguous, as it implies something more than just the PIRA and NIRA sharing a brand name. You can't say 'the IRA' to mean all these organisations. It's like referring to "big tech" when you specifically mean Facebook, or meant to talk about Google. They're not the same. I've updated my answer to cover this complexity. – inappropriateCode – 2020-10-20T10:36:34.937

I've made notes to the question touching this complexity – Suncatcher – 2020-10-20T10:53:02.097

Just curious, is this on topic? If we were to ask questions about the approach of ISIS or the KKK do they come under 'politics'? – Lio Elbammalf – 2020-10-20T11:56:10.077

of course it is on-topic. There are questions about KKK and ISIS as well

– Suncatcher – 2020-10-20T12:02:57.540

There are various splinter groups who claim to be the true torch-bearers for a united Ireland. See E.g. and . Each of these is going to have its own views on Brexit. There is no longer any "official IRA" opinion on anything.

– Paul Johnson – 2020-10-20T15:32:07.830

2Does the provisional IRA still exist? The most recent reports I can find are from 2008, which state that the leadership council still meets, but after that ... pretty much nothing? – None – 2017-10-10T23:39:57.617

BTW, in 2011 former IRA members claimed to resume the violence...

– Suncatcher – 2017-10-11T09:58:21.970



Existence and position of the IRA

What is the IRA official approach to Brexit and what is their attitude?

  1. The Provisional IRA was a secretive terrorist organisation, organised in cells to prevent infiltration by the authorities. It does not publish committee minutes on the Internet. Anyone who knows what the IRA leadership really thinks is not going to post it on StackExchange.

  2. The IRA began a ceasefire in 1997 and committed itself to peace under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. In 2005, it put the last of its weapons beyond use and ordered its members to cease armed operations. 12 years later, it's unclear to what extent the IRA can even be said to exist.

  3. To the extent that the IRA may still exist: Given the extremely close historic relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA, statements by Sinn Fein on Brexit are likely to be close to the views of the IRA.

Possible consequences for Northern Ireland

Can Brexit be a reason of a new wave of hostilities between IRA and British government or between IRA and other political forces

An important pillar of the Good Friday Agreement was free movement across the Irish border and dismantling of British Army checkpoints. The "hard" Brexit contemplated by the UK government would imply a return of border controls, which makes it politically sensitive in Ireland.

In a worst-case scenario, this could result in violent conflict. However, the IRA has been disarmed and inactive for at least 12 years. It would take some time and effort for it to return to violence; hopefully this would form a barrier to doing so, as was intended by the Good Friday Agreement. Similar considerations apply to Loyalist groups such as the UVF and UDA/UFF.

Finally, Northern Ireland has many options besides violence. The Good Friday Agreement guarantees its right to unify with the Republic of Ireland, subject to referenda on both sides of the border. Politicians have speculated that Northern Ireland might take this route to avoid the effects of Brexit.

Addendum: Sinn Fein position on Brexit

Sinn Fein believes Brexit will be bad for Northern Ireland and campaigned against it. However, Brexit is now happening whether SF likes it or not. SF also supports unification between NI and ROI; if the consequences of Brexit make that more likely, SF will be very happy with the situation. In fact, they are now calling for a referendum on unification.

It is likely that SF foresaw this scenario before the Brexit vote, but they chose not to openly back Brexit:

  1. While the current crisis might make Irish unification more likely, it may have many other consequences, not all of them good for SF;

  2. Supporting Brexit because they believed it would be bad would have been seen as "playing politics" with the well-being of Northern Ireland's people, with detrimental effects on the popularity and credibility of SF.

Royal Canadian Bandit

Posted 2017-10-10T19:24:31.917

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5@owjburnham: Well, by that logic, Theresa May has quite plainly glossed over the fact that 48% of the UK voted to remain. – Kevin – 2019-04-11T20:11:21.753

1@Kevin I agree with you 100%, and intended that to be part of the subtext. – owjburnham – 2019-04-12T10:52:37.487

Arguably, the IRA members who no longer form an IRA together can decide to regroup at any time because they no longer give an expletive about what they said yesterday or because they feel the times are changing, the GFA is in real damage and it might be time for a new campaign. I’m also pretty sure that they can acquire the required weapons pretty quickly if need be. So while I agree with most of this answer the statements about the IRA having disarmed themselves and disbanded may be historically accurate but hold no guaranteed bearing for the future. – Jan – 2019-10-01T09:12:43.950

Suncatcher has updated his post to indicate they are talking about anyone who calls themselves any variant of IRA. I don't think that's particularly useful and the question should probably be changed to use "republican terrorists" instead of "IRA", however in the context of your answer it's worth pointing out that these groups (dissident republicans) are largely defined by their opposition to Sinn Fein's approach so what Sinn Fein says isn't useful in determining how they will act. – Eric Nolan – 2020-10-20T09:19:21.037

"it's unclear to what extent the IRA can even be said to exist" No, it isn't. Check the 2015 report in my answer. There is no ambiguity on this question. They do, it's a fact documented by MI5 and the PSNI. You've also failed to mention there are multiple IRA groups who behave differently. – inappropriateCode – 2020-10-20T10:11:44.203

You say, that Sinn Féin views on Brexit may reflect IRA views. I don't see any logic here. Throughout its history IRA have been fought for freedom of the united Ireland independently from Britain. Brexit is an excellent chance to achieve this goal, while Northern Ireland is against Brexit and btw Ireland too. It's a wonderful time to go on the fight.

– Suncatcher – 2017-10-11T10:10:19.940

Anyone who knows what the IRA leadership really thinks is not going to post it on StackExchange, now the times have changed, considering how often ISIS posts PR materials to gain public attention. It would be quite sensible and effective for the IRA to reveal its position through the Internet. – Suncatcher – 2017-10-11T10:15:55.770

7@Suncatcher: Edited the answer to try and clarify. Also: (1) The IRA is not ISIS and does not care about your opinion; (2) We are talking about the violent death of real human beings here; please do not use language like "wonderful time to go on the fight" to describe it. – Royal Canadian Bandit – 2017-10-11T10:30:07.150

1Sorry for my lexis, I'm not a native Eng speaker, and while discussing methods and approaches of political struggle it's hard to gloss over some sensitive things. – Suncatcher – 2017-10-11T10:41:55.927

What concerns pt. (1) you should admit that your opinion is also subjective and doesn't reflect possible/real IRA opinion, which we doesn't know in fact. – Suncatcher – 2017-10-11T10:43:32.430

4Yes, my opinion is subjective. But it is a matter of documented fact that the history and beliefs of the IRA are very different from ISIS; and we can be very confident that the IRA leadership does not care what random individuals on StackExchange think about their strategy. – Royal Canadian Bandit – 2017-10-11T10:47:27.340

9@Suncatcher The assertion that "Northern Ireland is against Brexit" glosses over the fact that 44% of those voting in NI voted for Brexit. Without meaning to go down into the debate of whether (in most cases) majority opinion can be said to be "public opinion", I'd say that when talking about Northern Ireland – which has a history of political division, and a legally mandated power-sharing government – one can't really say "NI is for" or "NI is against" on many topics. – owjburnham – 2017-10-11T14:15:06.963


The British government published an October 2015 report on the state of Northern Ireland paramilitaries, drafted by MI5 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). The short of it is that all terrorist groups which were active during the Troubles still exist. Except for a few dissident republicans, all other terrorists are dedicated to peace and achieving their ideological objectives via politics and community activism.

Though each group's organisation and leadership is still active, their leadership has significantly reduced command and control capability. Even if they wanted to, these organisations would not be able to return to peak strength observed during the Troubles.

Loyalist terrorism has largely degenerated into organised crime, with some elements, like the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), dedicated to little else. Consequently, loyalist terrorists continue to recruit and sometimes acquire new weapons. As stated these assets are then deployed mostly for criminal enterprise.

A minority of dissident republicans have clustered around old and new iterations of the IRA, such as Continuity IRA, Real IRA / New IRA, and disaffected Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) members. NIRA have claimed recently (April 2019) that Brexit has helped them recruit new volunteers. Though this is problematic, it is important to remember that they are a minority force which operates without widespread community support.

The Provisional IRA, the largest republican organisation by far, is dedicated to peace. Officially, they are not the same as their political wing: Sinn Fein. But the reality is that both the PIRA and Sinn Fein are commanded by the Provisional Army Council (PAC). Gerry Adams, one of Sinn Fein's most important leaders, famously claims he was never in the IRA. It is a claim few believe, and more recently PIRA veterans have said on the record that the claim is a blatant lie.

While Sinn Fein and the PIRA may be slowly drifting apart with time, during the Troubles, and still for the most part, there is little if any distinction between the two. Sinn Fein's leadership was populated with men who gained authority through PIRA activity and thus sat on the Provisional Army Council.

For these reasons, there is minimal possibility of a return to violence on the scale we have seen in the past. There is also no difference between the opinion of the PIRA and Sinn Fein, as they are both guided by the same command structure via the PAC. They are two sides of the same coin.

Regarding 'IRA' naming conventions...

It is also worth noting that "official sinn fein" is ambiguous. In 1969 there was a split in the IRA between the Official IRA and Provisional IRA. Official IRA was represented by Official Sinn Fein. However, the officials eventually decided to focus on politics, and their members who disagreed created the INLA. Official Sinn Fein therefore became the Workers' Party of Ireland.

Over the last century there have been multiple iterations of the IRA. These are not just different names for the same entity. Some are historical organisations which are now defunct, while others are contemporary. The 'Provisional' IRA split from the 'Official' IRA in 1969, and then the 'Continuity' IRA split from the PIRA in 1986, followed by the 'Real' IRA who split from the PIRA in 1997. The 'New' IRA is the latest variant, and is a cluster of various physical force republicans who began working together only a few years ago.

Support for these organisations varies, but since their inception the PIRA has dominated Republican politics and terrorism. Those groups who split from the PIRA, and what became of the OIRA, have never been as popular as the PIRA. The NIRA is an especially small group, even if it has been recruiting recently.

Critically: each IRA iteration is for a united Ireland, and consequently is against anything which threatens to divide the island of Ireland. And Brexit certainly carries that risk.


Posted 2017-10-10T19:24:31.917

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