Northern Ireland

ANALYSIS: Armed republican group calls time amid a changing political landscape

Palace Barracks in Holywood, Co Down, after an ONH car bomb causes extensive damage to the headquarters of MI5 back in 2010.
Palace Barracks in Holywood, Co Down, after an ONH car bomb causes extensive damage to the headquarters of MI5 back in 2010.

THE 'ceasefire' statement by Oglaigh na hEireann carried in today's Irish News indicates a political maturity and realisation that the landscape for republicans has changed, potentially forever.

This isn't a snap decision. There have been hints previously that the group was in a transitional period, with the community sector and senior trade union figures playing a key - albeit quiet - role in those discussions.

ONH has robustly denied any back-door channels with the British government and any possibility of decommissioning, as was the case with the Provisional IRA.

Disgruntled members of the provisional movement were involved in its formation in 2009, including 'big hitters' from Derry, Belfast, south Armagh and Co Louth.

That most of the leadership originated from the IRA meant it already had possession of large amounts of weaponry held back from decommissioning by hardline elements in south Armagh, along with contacts with arms dealers in eastern Europe.

Read more: Dissident group responsible for Peadar Heffron attack announces ceasefire

Timeline of terror - the bomb and gun attacks carried out by ONHOpens in new window ]

However, this also meant that many key figures were already well known to the intelligence agencies who invested huge amounts of time and money in monitoring their activities.

When Seamus McGrane was convicted in the Republic's Special Criminal Court of directing terrorism in November last year, it was based on a covert surveillance operation.

The removal of other leadership figures in Belfast and Derry, either jailed or remanded, also brought about a slow-down of the group's activities.

A nationalist re-engagement in politics, as seen by increased turnout in the two snap elections of 2017, and discussions around a border poll post-Brexit, has also opened up the political process to more republicans.

The remaining dissident groupings are fractured and disorganised, with attacks sporadic and activity largely concentrating on money-making criminal enterprises or paramilitary shootings within their own communities.

The older leadership of ONH were keen to distance themselves from that and taking themselves out of the equation will be seen as a way to put space between them and smaller organised crime gangs.

What this announcement does is place pressure on those organisations who remain to justify their continuing existence.

It also creates room for negotiations about prison conditions and the controversial revoking of licences without due judicial process.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this is a significant development in the north's slow transition from conflict to peace, with the republican agenda now firmly being fought on political and not paramilitary platforms.