Northern Ireland news

ÓNH confirms talks about organisation's future

Senior RNU members Gary McNally (right) and Paul Crawford
Connla Young

The republican paramilitary group known as Óglaigh na hÉireann has said it “will not contemplate “disbandment or disarming” as part of any process that may lead to the ending of its armed campaign.

The organisation last night said it is involved in a “wide ranging discussion about tactics, strategy and the future of the republican struggle”.

Sources close to Óglaigh na hÉireann (ÓNH) say that while no official announcement has been made the organisation is currently on a “de facto ceasefire” while internal discussions take place.

However, sources say that depending on how talks go it could be at least a year before any formal ceasefire is announced - if the group reaches that point - but no official announcement can be expected in the “foreseeable future”.

It is believed the last significant attack carried out by the group was in January when a roadside bomb was left for police in Twinbrook, on the outskirts of west Belfast, was defused by the British army.

Last month the Irish News revealed that the group may be preparing to give up its campaign.

Now for the first time the paramilitary organisation has spoken publicly about the development.

“Over the past number of months Óglaigh na hÉireann has conducted a wide-ranging discussion about tactics, strategy and the future of the republican struggle,” it said.

“In order to clarify some rumours and falsifications this does not connote an immediate ceasefire.

“It certainly doesn’t translate to disbandment or disarming - Óglaigh na hÉireann will not contemplate these options.”

The organisation denied that any contacts are in place with the British or Irish governments as part of the process.

“Óglaigh na hÉireann would like to make or clear that our current leadership has not held any discussions, bi-lateral or otherwise, with the British government,” it said.

“A back channel with any government does not exists and we never attempted to explore this option, despite some media assertions.”

The statement said the group will continue to hold internal discussions on its future.

“Our rethinking process will continue, unhindered by external elements attempting to dictate the pace and impede on our future decisions.”

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said the paramilitary group should have disbanded years ago.

"ONH may be unsure about their future but it is very clear to the rest of us that they are a group of throw-backs and political slow learners," she said.

"Like other paramilitary groups they have caused misery. It's long since time for them to 'leave the stage'."

Óglaigh na hÉireann emerged from a split with the Real IRA around a decade ago.

While it is not believed to have killed anyone, it has been responsible for a series of gun and bomb attacks targeting the British army and PSNI.

Its main centres of support have traditionally been in Derry, Belfast, south Down, south Armagh and north Louth.

Details of the dramatic shift in thinking within the paramilitary group came last month during a 1916 commemoration address in north Belfast by leading member of the Republican Network for Unity, which is viewed as Óglaigh na hÉireann’s political wing.

Speaking at the annual Na Fianna hÉireann commemoration in Ardoyne senior RNU member and former republican prisoner Gary McNally said that “a strategic rethink is required from the individual republican activist and organised republicanism”.

“We recognise that we must move forward with our people, not without them and not ahead of them or eventually they will move forward without us,” he said.

“For too long Irish republicans have remained on their knees, constrained by an inability to modernise and accept the situation on the ground.”

Irish foreign minister Charlie Flannigan later took to Twitter to welcome the RNU statement.

He wrote: “I welcome this from the RNU and I urge them to follow through. Óglaigh na hÉireann may end its campaign.”

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