Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA)

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Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA)

LEADERS: Ruairi O Bradaigh (of political wing, Republican Sinn Fein), Gerry Adams

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1986 as Republican Sinn Fein; military wing, the Continuity IRA, began activity around 1994

ESTIMATED SIZE: Less than fifty

USUAL AREA OF ACTIVITY: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

A U.S. TERRORIST EXCLUSION LIST DESIGNEE: The U.S. Department of State declared the CIRA to be a terrorist organization in July 2004


The Continuity IRA (CIRA) is the clandestine military wing of the political party Republican Sinn Fein, an Irish nationalist party committed to the removal of British forces from Northern Ireland and to Irish unification. It was formed in 1986 after Sinn Fein-proper's perceived collaboration with British and Irish governments, the legitimacy of which it fails to recognize. The CIRA became active following the provisional IRA's ceasefire with the British government eight years later, in 1994.


The history of the Continuity IRA (CIRA) is intrinsically linked to that of Republican Sinn Fein (RSF), a splinter group from the main part of the Irish nationalist party that formed in October 1986. The cause of the schism was a resolution at Sinn Fein's General Army Convention in favor of ending abstention from the Irish Parliament, the Dáil.

Historically, although it contested in elections in both Dublin and Westminster, Sinn Fein refused to allow its MPs to sit in either the Irish or British parliaments. The refusal to acknowledge the British Parliament may seem easier to understand than that which saw the Irish Republic ignored, but the roots were similar: the IRA failed to recognize the 1921 decision of the Irish Free State to grant secession to the six counties that make up Ulster. This was a betrayal of Irish nationalism, they believed, and gave way to civil war in the newly formed Irish Free State.

Long after the IRA had ended in defeat, they maintained an uncompromising commitment to an independent Ireland of thirty-two counties (as opposed to the Irish Republic's twenty-six). Anything less would effectively count for nothing, in their view. Moreover, the IRA and its political backers refused to acknowledge the new Republic or its institutions, claiming up until the 1980s to be the "Provisional Government of the Irish Republic" it had declared in 1918 (and which was annulled by the Free State's creation three years later).

When Sinn Fein decided to recognize the Irish Republic and participate in the Dáil in 1986, some members disagreed. Two of them, Ruairi O'Bradaigh and Daithi O'Conouill, led other disaffected members to form a new group dedicated to the complete unification of Ireland: Republican Sinn Fein. Two years later at its Ard-Fheis (convention), it stated its support for an armed struggle to bring about its aims. Continuity Irish Republican army was established to carry out this struggle.

This did not manifest itself in any real way until 1994, when the Provisional IRA announced a ceasefire, an act, according to Republican Sinn Fein, of "national treachery." Fearing Republican Sinn Fein's military wing would continue with violence where the Provisionals had left off, Irish Gardai (police) launched a series of preemptive raids on Republican Sinn Fein members throughout 1994 and 1995.

Not until July 1996 was the Continuity IRA linked with a major terrorist attack when a 1,200-pound bomb destroyed the Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen, just minutes after it was evacuated. Seventeen people were injured.

Tony Blair's election as British Prime Minister in May 1997 brought a fresh impetus to the search for a political solution to Northern Ireland's troubles. Republican Sinn Fein opposed any political solution that involved the British government and saw it as their "duty" to stand up for their view of Irish nationalism, a cause they believed Sinn Fein had betrayed by engaging with their political enemies. The Continuity IRA was linked to at least eight major car bombings and numerous minor attacks in 1997 and 1998 as it tried to disrupt the peace process. It was a reflection, however, of Republican Sinn Fein and the CIRA's relative lack of manpower and resources that the bombing was not more sustained or effective. In any event, the attacks did nothing to dissuade other nationalist and loyalist parties from reaching political agreement with the British and Irish governments, nor did it cow the populations of the Republic or Northern Ireland into rejecting that agreement when it was put to a referendum in May 1998.

Nevertheless, the CIRA was loosely implicated in the Omagh bombing of August 1998, which killed twenty-nine people. The extent of its involvement in the attack, which was carried out by the Real IRA, remains unclear, but it is believed that they picked out the target. The Real IRA nevertheless claimed responsibility.

Invariably, Republican Sinn Fein rejected the terms of the Good Friday agreement. In turn, the British Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, announced that imprisoned CIRA members would not be subject to the same terms of early release as members of other groups.

In the years that followed the Good Friday agreement, the CIRA continue to be linked to a number of terrorist attacks, most notably several bombings in London in 2000 and 2001. Nevertheless, some of these accusations were probably misplaced and muddled with other IRA factions.

In July 2000, the U.S. Department of State belatedly designated the CIRA as a foreign terrorist organization, a move that made it illegal for Americans to provide support for it. It also estimated that the CIRA had just 50 remaining activists.


Republican Sinn Fein and, in turn, the Continuity IRA claimed to be the "true" inheritors of the sort of Irish republicanism that dates back to the old IRA, which fought the War of Independence (1916–1921). In essence, this is the creation of a united Ireland through armed struggle. In this instance, however, the CIRA envisaged the creation of a social democratic state.



Although Republican Sinn Fein denies any involvement with the Continuity IRA (much in the same way that Sinn Fein-proper denies association with the Provisional IRA), its founder and leader, Ruairi O'Bradaigh, remains entrenched in a tradition of violent Irish nationalism. Born to a middle-class Republican family in Longford, in the Irish Free State in 1932, and trained as a teacher, O'Bradaigh joined the IRA while attending university and was part of a number of daring arms and border raids throughout the 1950s. On several occasions, he was jailed for his activities, but by the early 1960s had risen to be the IRA's chief of staff, a position he twice held.

His unrelenting opposition to the dropping of abstentionism during 1969 and 1970 saw his stature rise even further, and he was elected Sinn Fein President in October 1970, a position he held until 1983 when he was usurped by Gerry Adams.

As Sinn Fein President, O'Bradaigh oversaw the IRA's most bloody period of terror, with numerous atrocities carried out in Ulster, the Republic, and mainland Britain. Unyielding and unbending in his outlook, the likelihood of a political solution in Northern Ireland seemed a remote possibility during this period.

When Adams took over as leader in 1983, he sought to engage in the political process, leading to the end of abstentionism in 1986 and—effectively—the IRA's claims to being Ireland's "provisional" government. In many ways, this marked the onset of Sinn Fein's modernization, but was anathema to a hardliner like O'Bradaigh, who believed in an old-school type of Irish nationalism that seemed more grounded in principle than political reality.

The nascent Republican Sinn Fein fulfilled those ideals and, never a man at ease with political compromise, O'Bradaigh continued to carry out a brand of nationalist ideals on the fringe Irish politics. For the two decades that followed, he retained his hard-line stance, but was an increasingly marginal figure, not up-to-date with the realities of expectations or expectations of modern Ireland.

Its unyielding refusal to even acknowledge the British or Irish governments is reminiscent of the sort of deeply principled obstinance that led to the Irish Civil War (1922–1923) between Free Staters, who had signed away, in 1921, the largely Protestant Ulster to the British in order to secure the freedom of the Catholic South, and the IRA who refused to accept or believe in an Ireland comprising of anything less than its thirty-two constituent counties.

While this viewpoint might have held a place in the revolutionary foment of early twentieth-century Ireland, it was outmoded by this century's end. Of course, the fact that some still believe in nothing short of a thirty-two-county Ireland and continue to refuse to acknowledge the institutions that brought its partition, led to the formation Republican Sinn Fein and the Continuity IRA, but they were marginalized in their views from the outset. Their belief and propagation of armed struggle in the mid 1980s found little support in a province readying itself for peace after years of violence.

Suspected Continuity IRA activities have included bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings, as well as extortion and robbery. Targets have included British military and police officers, as well as loyalist rivals. In this sense, their actions are little different from other Northern Irish terrorist organizations, however they continue to be marked by their rivals as "amateur" and their intermittent attacks have failed to ignite the insurrection they hope will bring a socialist democratic republic of Ireland.


"Most disillusioned republicans have realized that the constitutional people have won the long struggle; others are waiting for the next campaign," wrote Ruth Dudley Edwards in an Irish Sunday Independent comment piece in 2003. "There has always been resistance," O'Bradaigh told The Times. The CIRA bombs "are indications that militant republicanism is not dead. Maybe you can say that these things are only a token and instead of a flame they are only a spark but so what, it is there. That is the lesson of history." "Until the Brits are out, the bombs will go off. Republican Sinn Fein sees itself as the guardian of true republican principles," as explained in their Eire Nua policy document: "We've gone back to our roots which is the birth of Irish republicanism in the age of enlightenment." "Interesting ideas, shame they emanate from people so rigid they still won't recognize the Dáil and so stupid they can't see that it is peace, not bombs, that will move British troops out."


Republican Sinn Fein created as a protest at Sinn Fein's ending of abstentionism from the Dáil.
Ruairi O'Bradaigh affirms Republican Sinn Fein's commitment to armed struggle with the goal of a socialist democratic Republic of Ireland.
Republican Sinn Fein vigorously opposes the Provisional IRA's ceasefire. Intermittent paramilitary activity linked to the Continuity IRA.
A bombing in Enniskillen marks the first major act of the Continuity IRA; seveteen people injured.
Increased Continuity IRA activity in the run up to the Good Friday agreement, which it opposes.
British Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, announces that Continuity IRA prisoners not eligible for early release under the Good Friday agreement.
CIRA placed on U.S. Department of State list of banned terrorist organizations.

"The Provos [the Provisional IRA] know their history and the perils associated with it," wrote the former Daily Mirror editor, Roy Greenslade, in the Guardian in 2001. "At several points when militants, feeling they had achieved all that was possible by violence, then pursued their goals without the gun, there were splits. Each time, the breakaway group carried on the military struggle and claimed to be the true bearers of the soul of Irish nationalism … Provo wits lampooned them as 'the Coca-Colas,' a reference to the drinks company's advertising slogan for 'the real thing,' but their activities have been nothing to joke about. By threatening the stability of the Provos, they undermine their claim to speak for all republicans …", as written in the Guardian.


Although the political settlement of Good Friday 1998 has suffered various crises during its short life, few Republicans have become so disillusioned with it that they have switched allegiance to Republican Sinn Fein and its outmoded commitment to armed struggle and staunch refusal to engage with either British or Irish governments. If anything, British and Irish security forces have switched focus from mainstream terrorist organizations, like the IRA, to niche groups, such as the CIRA, that threatened Ulster's awkward peace by their refusal to acknowledge the political settlement reached in 1998. Invariably, this has diminished their effectiveness further; as did the U.S. government's classification of the CIRA as a terrorist organization, which cut off the trickle of funds from American sympathizers.

Man Accused of Directing Terrorism

The brother-in-law of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands has become the first person in the Irish Republic to be charged with directing terrorism.

Michael McKevitt, 51, with an address in Blackrock in the border town of County Louth, was remanded in custody on Friday at the non-jury Special Criminal Court in Dublin.

He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty of the offence—created in legislation passed after the 1998 Omagh bombing.

He is also accused of "belonging to an illegal organisation," named as the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, from 29 August 2000 to March 2001.

Irish law does not distinguish between different wings of Republicanism such as the Real IRA or Continuity IRA.

Two men and a woman arrested at the same time as Mr. McKevitt on Thursday have been released without charge.


Mr. McKevitt is accused of directing terrorism between 29 August 1999 and 23 October 2000.

His wife Bernadette is the sister of Bobby Sands who was elected to the U.K. Parliament in 1981 shortly before becoming the first of 10 IRA prisoners to die on hunger strike.

Mr. McKevitt is a member of the hard-line republican 32 County Sovereignty Movement which has been linked with the Real IRA republican paramilitary group.

Members of the lobby group have denied any links with the Real IRA, which carried out the 1998 Omagh bombing in County Tyrone, killing 29 people and injuring more than 200 others.

Both the 32 County Sovereignty Committee and the Real IRA are opposed to mainstream republican involvement in the current Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr. McKevitt spoke only once during the 15-minute hearing on Friday to confirm his name.

He was remanded in custody until 3 April when a bail application is expected to be lodged at the Special Criminal Court.

Source: BBC News, 2001



Maloney, Ed. Secret History of the IRA. London: Penguin, 2003.

McKittrick, David, and David McVeigh. Making Sense of the Troubles. London: Penguin, 2003.

Toolid, Kevin. Rebel Hearts, Journeys in the Republican Movement. New York: Picador, 1995.

Web sites

CAIN Web Service "Speech by Ruairi O'Bradaigh." 〈〉 (accessed September 28, 2005).

Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) a.k.a. Continuity Army Council, Republican Sinn Fein


CIRA is a terrorist splinter group formed in the mid-1990s as the clandestine armed wing of Republican Sinn Fein, which split from Sinn Fein in 1986. "Continuity" refers to the group's belief that it is carrying on the original Irish Republican Army's (IRA) goal of forcing the British out of Northern Ireland. CIRA's aliases, Continuity Army Council and Republican Sinn Fein, were also designated as FTOs. CIRA cooperates with the larger Real IRA.


CIRA has been active in Belfast and the border areas of Northern Ireland, where it has carried out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, extortion, and robberies. On occasion, it has provided advance warning to police of its attacks. Targets include British military, Northern Ireland security forces, and Loyalist paramilitary groups. Unlike the Provisional IRA, CIRA is not observing a cease-fire. CIRA has continued its activities with a series of hoax bomb threats, low-level improvised explosive device attacks, kidnapping, intimidation, and so-called "punishment beatings."


Membership is small, with possibly fewer than fifty hardcore activists. Police counterterrorist operations have reduced the group's strength, but CIRA continues to recruit, train, and plan operations.


Northern Ireland, Irish Republic. Does not have an established presence in Great Britain.


Suspected of receiving funds and arms from sympathizers in the United States. May have acquired arms and material from the Balkans in cooperation with the Real IRA.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.


Real Irish Republican Army

Provisional Irish Republican Army

Irish Republican Army

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Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA)

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