Former Real IRA leader warns hard Brexit will be exploited by armed groups

John Connolly pictured leaving court in November 2000.

A ONCE senior dissident republican, jailed for his part in a bombing plot, has said a hard Brexit would be used by armed republican groups to stage a "massive recruitment drive".

Fermanagh man John Connolly was at one time considered the most dangerous and active member of the Real IRA.

In November 2000, Connolly was arrested at the Teemore crossroads in Co Fermanagh by undercover soldiers in possession of a large mortar bomb containing around 100 kilos of homemade explosives.

He received a 14-year jail term for the bomb plot, two other men who were with him at the time received 13 years.

While in jail be became the spokesperson for the Real IRA prisoners.

In an interview with online news site The Journal, Connolly said he cut all ties with armed groups after being released from prison in 2007 and did not wish to see a return to violence.

However, he added that, based on his experience, any form of physical infrastructure at the border would be seen as the manifestation of "a foreign occupying military force".

"Cameras would be regarded as spy posts and removed by the local population in border areas", he said.

"The British government don't seem to have learned from the past. From oppression grows resistance. It definitely does. We're living in peaceful times at the minute and no-one wants to go back to the war years", he said.

Connolly was sentenced to a five-year term in prison in the early 90s for gathering information on behalf of the Provisional IRA, but broke away in 1997 to join the Real IRA.

He said he "did not agree with the decommissioning of IRA weapons. That's why I broke all contact with the Provisional movement.

"You do have armed groups out there that are continuing the struggle. But I am not in support of armed struggle myself. I'll not condemn people who are ... I would be a hypocrite if I did, especially with my past of being involved in armed actions myself," he added.

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