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United States will declare Real IRA a terrorist group

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

The U.S. authorities are set to designate the Real IRA an illegal international terrorist organization, it has been learned. The designation could come within two weeks, reliable sources said on Monday.

A spokesman for the State Department would only confirm that the government has the request for designation "under consideration."

The British government has been especially eager to persuade the U.S. government to make the designation of the organization responsible for the Omagh bombing in 1998, which left 29 people dead, the single worst incident in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict.

The RIRA was formed in late 1997, after a group of leading members of the Provisional IRA broke away, unhappy with the Provisional leadership’s deepening involvement in the peace process. It has since been responsible for a sporadic campaign of bombing and attempted bombing attacks in Northern Ireland and London.

The designation would make it illegal for anyone to lend material assistance to the group in the U.S. Among other organizations similarly designated are Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The RIRA is already listed in the State Department’s annual report, Patterns in Global Terrorism. Last Fall, then Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Mandelson called on the U.S. authorities to "specify that splinter group [Real IRA} as an illegal organization that shouldn’t be supported anywhere in the United States." At that time, a spokesman for the State Department said that the list of illegal organizations is updated every two years and that it requires a "long legal process and you must produce the necessary evidence that would stand up in court to justify the designation."

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Controversy erupted at the time when it was reported that the Irish government was resisting British government pressure to support its demands for the RIRA to be designated illegal in the U.S. Some Irish government officials feared that such a designation would exaggerate the importance of the organization. It is known that Sinn Fein shares this view. Mainstream republican activists believe that it would lend credence to a group which, they say, has little or no support in the United States.

The extent of U.S. support for the Real IRA and its political wing, the 32-County Sovereignty Committee, has been the focus of attention in Ireland and the UK for some time. What support there is seems to be located mainly in the Chicago area, where the Irish Freedom Committee, which is separate from the New York organization of the same name, has been trying to raise money for the families of RIRA prisoners in Ireland. The Chicago group was recently shaken by the news that David Rupert, one of its leading members, is to appear as a witness in the trial of Mickey McKevitt, the man alleged to have been the chief of staff of the RIRA.

McKevitt was arrested in March and charged with directing a terrorist organization. The arrest was the latest in a series of setbacks dissident republicans have experienced in the last 12 months, with many of their operations being intercepted or abandoned. However, they have successfully carried out attacks in Derry and London. In February, a large mortar was fired at an army base in Derry but failed to explode. Over the Easter weekend, dissident republicans bombed a post office in West London. A month earlier, they exploded a bomb outside the headquarters of the BBC. In November, they were responsible for a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the headquarters of MI6, Britain’s overseas intelligence gathering service.

According to veteran Irish American republican activist Martin Galvin, any designation of the RIRA as an illegal international terrorist organization would be "more symbolic than real." He said that "it has more to do with the British government’s policy of criminalization of the republican movement."

"There has never been extensive fund-raising for the IRA directly in the U.S., and I don’t know of anyone fund-raising for the Real IRA," he said. He believed that if it came about, it would "chill" First Amendment Constitutional activity, engaged in by Irish Americans who raise funds for the families of republican prisoners in Ireland.

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