Óglaigh na hÉireann may be preparing to end its paramilitary campaign

 Paul Crawford and Gary McNally at at an RNU press conference Belfast in March 2013. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Connla Young

PARAMILITARY group Óglaigh na hÉireann may be preparing to end its armed campaign.

In a highly unusual move, Republican Network for Unity (RNU), which is viewed as Óglaigh na hÉireann’s political wing, used an Easter commemoration address in Ardoyne in north Belfast at the weekend to signal a shift in strategy.

Anti-agreement republicans normally use Easter commemorations to reaffirm their commitment to the use of armed force.

However, in an unprecedented move RNU has signalled a dramatic change of direction for the movement at one of its main Easter events.

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.

Although it remains active, it has not launched any significant attacks in recent times.

Speaking at the annual Na Fianna Éireann commemoration, organised to remember four members of the IRA’s youth wing killed during the Troubles, on Saturday former republican prisoner Gary McNally said that “that a strategic rethink is required from both the individual republican activist and organisational republicanism”.

“For a protracted period, the republican movement has been engaged in a process of debate, discussion and deliberation about the future of the republican struggle, and in particular, the future of our movement,” he said.

The Belfast republican said there have been recent “changes in the political arena”.

ANALYSIS: It's unclear if a back channel with the governments led to RNU statement

“We have assessed our strengths and weaknesses, we have taken stock of our capabilities and our inabilities, we have looked at what we do well and what we do poorly, we have measured this against the current political climate, the will of the average person in our community and recent local and global changes in the political arena,” he said.

“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.

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

The senior RNU member said his movement “must act in a mature and realistic manner and act in accordance with the will of the people, the base from which republicanism draws its support”.

“We need to take heed of the wants and desires of the Irish people.

“There is no merit in attempting to represent them while continuing to ignore them.”

Mr McNally said “avant garde thinking” was needed.

“Sticking to handed down narratives and continuing to pursue failed or failing ventures in the hope of remaining relevant is accelerating irrelevancy,” he said.

“Wallowing in mediocrity created by this irrelevancy is sapping the integrity of the republican position.

“Irish republicans must make innovative, creative and bold decisions to uphold this integrity.”

He added that “the republican movement is moving forward with a 21st century agenda”.

“We are refining our message and strategizing our own unique way of articulating political dissent,” he said.

“We are reshaping our public outreach and appearance.

“This change will be too much for some people.

“Some people will lose their seat at the table, many already have.”

RNU spokesman Nathan Stuart last night said his party is “determined to break out of the political straightjacket imposed by the history books”.

“We are determined to move away from that narrative to deliver a republican political party for the 21st century," he said.

“Republicans have been constrained by the notion that because one generation pursued a certain path that we must do the same.”

“We have debated the efficiency and effectiveness of this in 2017 and continuing along that path is simply making republicanism irrelevant to the majority"

Mr Stuart said the shift in direction will not have the support of everyone.

“Some ewill remain wedded to a strategy that has resulted in the isolation and the political quagmire we find ourselves in,” he said.

“Those determined to advance revolutionary republicanism will attest to our movement’s renewed direction.

“While maintaining at all times our principals and integrity we refuse to be relegated to political irrelevancy.”

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