Republicans: dissident groups hope to recruit those who still believe in violence

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The Independent Online

Mainstream Republicans and the security authorities on both sides of the border are waiting anxiously to see if the IRA's move results in a surge of support for dissident groups.

At least two breakaway factions are waiting in the wings in the hope that grassroots disillusion with the IRA will bring them recruits and support.

Those who believe that the cause of a united Ireland and British withdrawal can only be brought about through violence argue that decommissioning is the ultimate act of betrayal of traditional republicanism. They believe their approach is the correct, "purist" one, and that Sinn Fein and the IRA have become hopelessly tainted and compromised by what they pejoratively refer to as "electoralism". The first impressions of the grassroots reaction however are that, though some quarters are worried, there is by no means a flood of anger or condemnation.

None the less, even a few hundred recruits to the dissident groups, the Real IRA and Continuity IRA, would concern the security forces, especially if they included experienced IRA members. That the Real IRA killed 29 people in Omagh in 1998 demonstrates the carnage a small group can inflict.

In political terms, however, none of the dissident groups has won appreciable support. They have produced no political alternative to the peace process, apart from the thesis that armed resistance will somehow one day succeed.

The Real IRA has been relatively quiet for the past few months after a number of high-profile bomb attacks in London. There have been unconfirmed reports that the organisation is offering to deliver a ceasefire in return for the release of its imprisoned members.

Rory Dougan of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, which is regarded as the Real IRA's political wing, invited mainstream republicans to change their allegiances. He said: "Republican grassroots have virtually no say. It is now time for that grassroots to seriously consider whether their allegiance is to one particular political party or to the goal of a 32 county, sovereign Ireland."

The other main dissident grouping, the Continuity IRA, has been publicly quiet for some time. But Ruairi O Bradaigh, who is head of its political wing, Republican Sinn Fein, was scathing. "Others certainly betrayed republican principles and accepted British rule in Ireland, but none ever stooped to destroying weap-ons," he said.