DUBLIN—An Irish Republican Army splinter group vowed Monday to oppose next month’s visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth II and to keep killing Northern Ireland police officers—particularly those recruited from its own Catholic heartlands.
“The queen of England is wanted for war crimes in Ireland and not wanted on Irish soil,” a masked Real IRA man told more than 200 supporters rallying in a cemetery in Northern Ireland’s second-largest city of Londonderry.
The dissidents’ rally featured seven masked men wearing black berets and military uniforms. Police did not attempt to stop the event, and instead kept watch from a surveillance helicopter.
The man called the queen’s planned May 17-20 visit—the first by a British monarch to the Republic of Ireland—unacceptable and pledged that Real IRA members would “do our best to ensure she (gets) that message.”
Reading a prepared statement beside a memorial to IRA dead, the masked man issued no explicit threat to the queen.
But he did threaten more attacks on Northern Ireland police. Earlier this month the Real IRA killed a 25-year-old officer with a booby-trap bomb under his car. The victim, Constable Ronan Kerr, was a recent Catholic recruit. Political, religious and cultural leaders from both parts of Ireland attended his funeral and denounced his killers.
The Real IRA man emphasized that IRA die-hards would never accept the right of Irish Catholics to join the Northern Ireland police—a once Protestant-dominated force that has been transformed over the past decade as part of wider peacemaking efforts—and that recruits from Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority were “serving the occupation and will be treated as such.”
He said the community leaders who attended Kerr’s funeral “will be unable to protect those who turn traitor. They are as liable for execution as anyone, regardless of their religion, cultural background or motivation.”
The Real IRA and several other small splinter groups seek to undermine the U.S.-brokered 1998 peace accord for Northern Ireland. The Good Friday pact paved the way for today’s joint Catholic-Protestant government in the British territory.
The dominant IRA faction, the Provisional IRA, killed nearly 1,800 people during its failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom and into the Republic of Ireland. A handful of leading Provisionals formed the Real IRA to wreck the 1997 cease-fire.
The Real IRA in August 1998 committed the deadliest bombing of the entire conflict: a car-bomb attack on the center of Omagh that killed 29 people, mostly women and children.
The group spent several years lying low but has been escalating attacks since 2007, when the Catholic-Protestant coalition rose to office. They almost always target security-force members when they are off duty and at their most vulnerable, such as in March 2009, when the group killed two British soldiers as they collected pizzas outside a Northern Ireland army base.
The Good Friday peace accord reaffirmed that Northern Ireland—created in 1921 as the predominantly Catholic rest of Ireland won independence from Britain—would remain part of the UK as long as most Northern Ireland voters want this. Several thousand British troops remain based in Northern Ireland but since 2007 have been withdrawn from local security duties.
The queen’s visit south of the border has been designed to underline the exceptionally strong relations between Britain and Ireland today following decades of tensions over Northern Ireland.
Elizabeth is scheduled to visit the main Dublin memorial to Ireland’s rebel dead and the Croke Park stadium, scene of Britain’s worst massacre of civilians during Ireland’s 1919-21 war of independence.
While Elizabeth frequently visits Northern Ireland, she will be the first British monarch to visit the south of Ireland since 1911.