The “Real IRA” has claimed responsibility for the March 7 attack in which two soldiers were shot dead and four others, including civilians, seriously injured at the British army’s Massereene Barracks in Antrim, Northern Ireland. The assailants, who attacked as pizzas from a local business were being delivered, all escaped. Massereene Barracks is the Northern Ireland headquarters of the British army’s engineering division. Since the Good Friday Agreement, the number of troops there has been reduced and the base is due to be closed next year.
The Real IRA was born out of a split in the mainstream Provisional IRA (PIRA) in October 1997, when the PIRA’s “quartermaster-general” resigned over Sinn Fein’s embrace of the peace process. The man who walked out was Michael McKevitt, now serving a prison term on terrorism-related charges in the Irish Republic. McKevitt is married to Bernadette Sands McKevitt, a sister of martyred hunger striker and Republican icon Bobby Sands.
Shortly after its formation, the Real IRA quickly took over from the older Continuity IRA as the leading home for dissidents. The Real IRA was responsible for the Omagh bombing (which killed 29 in 1998) as well as a string of other attacks, including bombings in London and Birmingham. According to the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), the body appointed by the British and Irish governments to report on the paramilitary activities, it continues efforts to “enhance its organisational capability.” (RTÉ News, BBC News, March 8)
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More violence in Northern Ireland
A police constable was shot in the head the night of March 9 in Craigavon, 26 miles southwest of Belfast. Stephen Paul Carroll, 48, is the first police officer to be murdered in Northern Ireland since the province’s police force underwent deep reforms in 2001 and was renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland or PSNI. It had formerly been known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary, or RUC, and was reviled by many Catholics as a repressive instrument of British rule. The republican splinter group Continuity IRA claimed responsibility for the shooting. Just hours before this attack, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on a visit to Northern Ireland, declared that the Northern Irish peace process would never be shaken. (FSRN, March 10)