The “Real” IRA?: An Overview of IRA Dissident Groups

IRA Dissident Groups
Members of the Real IRA; via

Today, many IRA dissident groups in Ireland operate under a variation of the name “IRA” (Irish: Óglaigh na hÉireann – ONH). These groups have varying degrees of separation from the original IRA as formed in 1919. Each of these groups claim to be the legitimate IRA and follow the original IRA cause.

IRA Dissident Groups still pose an imminent and severe threat to peace in Ireland and the UK. Europol reported that all but one ethno-nationalist terrorism attack in 2019 was in relation to Dissident Republican groups, with a notable increase in recent activity. Therefore, activities of IRA Dissident Groups requires further examination.


IRA Dissident Groups
(Img; Map of Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, showing IRA attacks in County Cork; via Arcgis)

Provisional IRA (PIRA)

The Provisional IRA were formed in 1919 and are widely seen as a successor to the Irish Volunteers. The IRA fought for independence from British rule and a reunified Republic of Ireland.

The Provisional IRA called a ceasefire and entered into negotiations with British forces in 1997. Following this, the Good Friday Agreement was signed on the 10th of April 1998, which marked the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. However, this caused the emergence of offshoot groups, with members feeling ideologically isolated from the outcome the PIRA achieved.

IRA Dissident Groups

Many IRA Dissident Groups share the following overarching ideology:

  • Refusal to sign-up to or recognise the Good Friday Agreement;
  • Rejection of the successor agency to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), as a legitimate law enforcement agency for Northern Ireland;
  • Commitment to the continued use of violence to expel the British presence from the “six counties” and the establishment of a united Ireland.

However, there are some significant differences in the IRA Dissident Groups’ ideologies, available resources, and strategies:

Continuity IRA (CIRA)

CIRA is an organised group which formed in 1986, which is opposed to all IRA ceasefires and weapons decommissioning programmes. The name ‘Continuity IRA’ is derived from their ideology that they are the only true IRA. Therefore, the Continuity IRA work towards completing the original IRA goal: Irish Sovereignty and a displacement of British forces in Ireland.

CIRA has released statements that the group is against the ceasefire agreements and weapons decommissions. Their main targets are Security Forces, as well as Loyalist groups in Northern Ireland.

IRA Dissident Groups
(Img; Continuity IRA Mural in Belfast; via Flickr)

Whilst they have less than 50 active members and limited funding in recent years, they undertake high-profile attacks such as murders and car bombings.

In 2020, investigation by MI5 and NI Police Forces resulted in convictions of multiple members of CIRA leadership, leaving the future of the group uncertain.

The Real IRA (RIRA)

The Real IRA was formed in 1997, as a splinter group for the Provisional IRA. RIRA rejected the PIRA’s ceasefire and negotiations with British officials in that year. Following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, RIRA published their manifesto. RIRA does not recognise the Good Friday Agreement, and believes in one united Ireland. Similarly, RIRA calls for the withdrawal of British forces from Northern Ireland.

RIRA carried out several attacks and bombings throughout 1998. The most notable RIRA attack was the Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people and resulted in large public outcry. Following this, RIRA ceased paramilitary activity until 2000. The Real IRA officially ceased operations 2012, following a merger with other IRA and Republican Dissident Groups, which ultimately formed The New IRA.

The New IRA

The New IRA is reportedly the most powerful dissident Irish Republican Group, with large resources and ability to carry out strategically complex attacks. Similarly, the New IRA holds a lot of power over local communities in stronghold areas. MI5 believe the New IRA membership to mainly be former members of unaffiliated Republican Dissident Groups, including RIRA and Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD).

The New IRA receive funding from sympathisers in the US, as well as weaponry from Libya.

IRA Dissident Groups
(Img; The New IRA; via The Times)

The New IRA has been able to go against the usual trend of fragmentation of groups. Similarly, evidence suggests that the New IRA is actively engaging in the recruitment of young people, unlike many other IRA Dissident Groups. Therefore, they post the most acute threat of any Republican Dissident Group.

Army of the Republic (Arm na Poblachta – ANP)

As one of the newer IRA Dissident Groups, the ANP emerged in 2017. The group’s members are primarily former members of other Republican paramilitary organisations. Although the group doesn’t have a large membership base, the ANP has EFPs and other weaponry.

Miscellaneous IRA Dissident Groups

There are several other IRA Dissident Groups in operation, with markedly less support and resource. The Irish Republican Movement (IRM) are an example; comprised of dissident members of ONH. Whilst they are yet to be linked to any violent activity, they appear to have access to arms and have issued violent threats. In the case of the IRM, the group’s primary motivation is a war on drugs in local communities.

IRA Dissident Group
(Img; Members of the Irish Republican Movement, an IRA Dissident Group; via IrishNews)


Whilst there are many paramilitary organisations using the IRA name, these groups vary in ideology and resources. The threat from these groups varies depending on their manpower and access to violent materials, however the recent increasing reunification of the New IRA and the recruitment of younger people does provide cause for concern and suggest violent activity of IRA Dissident Groups will continue.

The conversation around Irish Republicanism has been reignited in the news in light of escalating Brexit tensions and the possibility of a Hard Irish Backstop, as well as the recent violence in Northern Ireland by IRA Dissident Groups. Although evidence suggests a trend over time for fragmentation based on differing ideology between members, the recent movements from the New IRA and other IRA Dissident groups suggests a more worrying diversification of strategy.

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