Northern Ireland

Dissident paramilitary group ÓNH replaces leadership in takeover move

Ceasefire holds despite change of guard

Members of ÓNH at Milltown Cemetery on Easter Sunday
Republican group Óglaigh na hÉireann has installed a new leadership

Republican paramilitary group Óglaigh na hÉireann (ÓNH), which has been linked to several murders in recent years, has replaced its leadership in a takeover by hardline members.

Several members of the organisation’s leadership were recently told they were being “stood down” after long-running differences over the future direction of the dissident group came to a head.

The group declared a ceasefire in 2018 and at the time claimed it was suspending “all armed actions against the British state”.

However, the anti-agreement group has since been linked to a series of lethal gun attacks on suspected drug dealers and former members over recent years.

A spokesman for the anti-agreement group’s new leadership has insisted its ceasefire remains in place “for now”.

An armed and masked man at Milltown Cemetery on Easter Sunday
An armed and masked man at Milltown Cemetery on Easter Sunday 2022

The ÓNH spokesman said the organisation will “continue to defend our people” and confirmed members are currently involved in a “conversation” about its future direction, adding that a “return to conflict can’t be ruled out”.

The spokesman added there has been no split in the paramilitary group and the majority of members support the new leadership.

He added that the new command structure has retained control over the majority of the organisation’s weapons, which is thought to include a haul of homemade 3D guns.

It is understood that in recent weeks several members of the group’s ‘Army Council’ resigned their positions.

A number of remaining members have since been “stood down” by the new leadership.

Those ousted are said to include a prominent Belfast-based republican thought to have been a strong supporter of the ‘old’ leadership’s ceasefire strategy.

A spokesman for ÓNH played down fears of a feud in the wake of the recent power shift and emphasised that no individuals are under threat.

It said the paramilitary group’s newly installed ‘Army Council’ has now severed all links with Republican Network for Unity, which was widely viewed as its political wing.

All contact between the new leadership of ÓNH and a number of community activists and trade union figures involved in talks leading up to the 2018 ceasefire has also been ended.

The spokesman said members had been “monitoring “funding linked to the wider movement and were unhappy that former leadership figures were prepared to accept British government linked ‘peace’ cash.

“RNU do not represent us and we have no dealings with RNU, or any other group or party that deals in the peace funding,” a spokesman said.

The spokesman said there had been an erosion of confidence in the former leadership over a period of time.

“As republicans we have a right to continue in whatever way we see fit,” a spokesman said.

During an RNU-organised Easter commemoration in 2022 a masked member of ÓNH threatened to target loyalists if nationalists or republicans were attacked as part of an anti-protocol campaign that was ongoing at the time.

The statement also said the group has taken “lethal action” against former members.

This was thought to be a reference to Kieran Wylie, who was shot dead in west Belfast in 2020 and Danny McClean, who was killed in north Belfast the following year.

The paramilitary group added it had also taken “lethal action” against drug dealers.

Oglaigh na hEireann graffiti in Belfast
Oglaigh na hEireann graffiti in Belfast

Despite being on ceasefire ÓNH has been linked to the murder of several suspected drug dealers, including Jim Donegan on the Glen Road in west Belfast in 2018 and Mark Hall in the Rodney Drive area in 2021.

The organisation’s new leadership said the comments made during its Easter statement more than two years ago reflect its current position.

That statement was read out by a group of masked men, including two armed with homemade 3D weapons, thought to be FGC 22s, a variation of the more common FGC 9.

The weapons are easily manufactured by those with access to the necessary equipment, including a 3D printer.

It is claimed the new leadership has retained the vast majority of weapons held by the group, including its 3D stock and that since the Milltown show of strength the paramilitary group has “acquired” other 3D printed weapons, including 9mm handguns.

Alliance Policing Board member Peter McReynolds called on all paramilitary groups to end their campaigns.

“Óglaigh na hÉireann, along with every other paramilitary group, needs to pack up and leave the stage immediately,” he said.

“They offer nothing but hatred, bigotry, violence and death, while trying to drag us back to the bad days.

“Their poison is not wanted by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland and they should leave the community to get on in peace.

“Northern Ireland does not want or need anything they are offering in 2024.

“I will be raising this matter with the PSNI to see how they are handing the situation and to ensure groups like this are confined to the past.”