Cyber Activities of the Irish Republican Army
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is one of the most controversial terrorist cells in world history. The reason for the controversy is that some view the IRA as a terrorist group and other view them as an organized paramilitary of freedom fighters. Since their inception as partisan freedom force in 1919 and as a radical terrorist cell in 1969, the IRA has always made excellent use of propaganda to garner support and membership for their cause. In the modern era, more than 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, the IRA now takes to the internet to continue to gain support and new members for their cause. They make use of social media such as Facebook and YouTube to promote their ideology and agenda.
The Goal and Ideology of the IRA
The goal of the Irish Republican Army is to unite the six counties of Northern Ireland (which belong to the UK) and the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland as one 32 county Republic. This is goal of unification is known as Irish Republicanism. The IRA strongly believes in this goal and uses the internet to promote their radical Irish Republicanism to a younger generation. This is a cause that sounds noble on paper, but has been executed poorly in real life.
In order to achieve their goals, the IRA knows that they aren’t an official army and don’t have the military might of the United Kingdom. To fight the UK, beginning in the late 1960s, they engaged in a 30 years long guerilla war. This was a war raging against the British Government in Northern Ireland. However, the guerilla war not only included attacks on innocent British soldiers but frequent car bombings against civilian targets. Most of the bombings took place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, others in Derry and some even in London and other parts of England. One occurred in Dublin. Aside from Bombings, in the 1970s the IRA openly engaged in firefights on the streets of Derry.
To understand why the IRA exists and why they are willing to engage in a 30-year long guerilla war, we have to look at the formation of the Irish Republican Army.
The IRA’s Origins
The IRA has its origins during the Irish War for independence. The war which began in 1919 as a way for the Irish to end British rule. The British had ruled Ireland with an iron fist since the 17th Century. Since the 18th Century, many small rebellions have tried to drive out British Rule but none of been successful.
In 1919, Freedom fighter Michael Collins formed the Irish Republican Army as a partisan group to fight against the British. Outgunned and outnumbered, the group used guerilla warfare to wear down the British. In 1921 after three years of bloodshed, the British felt it wasn’t worth it to occupy Ireland any longer and agreed to a treaty. The treaty allowed the creation of an Irish Free State which would have its own army and police force but it would still remain as part of the United Kingdom Common Wealth, similar to Canada and Australia. Also, the six Ulster counties that make up Northern Ireland would remain fully part of Great Britain. The reason for this is that majority of the population in the six counties were largely Protestant like the British as were the Republican were majority Catholic.
The Irish Civil War
Disappointment of in the treaty lead to a Civil War breaking out in Ireland in 1922. The war was fought between the new Free State Irish Army lead by Michael Collins and the Anti-Treaty IRA lead by statesman Éamon de Valera, who felt the treaty favored the UK. The war resulted in Michael Collins death in 1922 and finally ended in 1923 with the Irish Free State as the victors.
The IRA’s Border War
The Anti-Treaty IRA remained in existence in smaller numbers throughout the first half of the 20th century. In the 1950s they launched a small border war with the British military in Northern Ireland. This was a small short conflict that had little impact on the cause and is largely forgotten.
The 1960s Growth of the IRA
However, the IRA began to grow in numbers the 1960s and become more radicalized. The group focuses on heavy recruiting efforts in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Attracting young men to fight for the cause of Irish Unification. Another reason for the IRA’s growth is the IRA felt that the minority Catholic population that remained in Northern Ireland were threated as lesser by the Protestant majority. The IRA also believed they were fighting a war to save their Catholic Brothers.
In the late 1960s the IRA, split into the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA (the Marxist IRA). Both with slightly differing political views. In 1969, the two groups began a long guerrilla terrorist war known as the Troubles. The Troubles would last until 1998 and it would feature the IRA and their affiliates attacking British troops in Northern Ireland as well as launching terrorist bombings on the streets of Derry, Belfast, London and even Dublin. Many of these bombings were car bombings that resulted in the deaths of many civilians. These civilians were British, Protestant Irish and even Irish Catholics.
The Good Friday Agreement
Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the IRA has been on a Cease Fire with the UK.
The IRA have always been masters of propaganda and have always used it effectively to recruit members for their cause. Their propaganda is simple and plays on the emotions of the Irish identity in order to recruit members to further their agenda. They have used Irish Folk songs, Irish culture, Irish Catholicism and the spirit of the Irish identity in order to recruit members.
Though the IRA’s heyday is long behind them, they still are active in local politics and in local activism in Northern Ireland. Because of their violent past, their online activities regardless of how innocent they may seem are closely monitored. Members of British Parliament and even the US Military are monitoring the IRA’s activities and are wondering if their posting of propaganda is considered a forum of cyber terrorism.
Social Media Propaganda
One of the ways the IRA continues to promote their propaganda and agenda is by posting videos on YouTube. This has been going on since at least 2009 and likely since the beginning of YouTube. If a user were to search “Real IRA” or “Continuity IRA” on YouTube they would find not only news stories from the IRA, but also interviews with members of the IRA talking about their ideology and plans, in-depth news magazines from Vice News and propaganda videos, many of which are in Irish Gaelic. Through these videos the IRA attempts to promote its ideology of a united 32 County Ireland without any British Prescence.
Regarding Facebook with a little bit of digging, a user can easily find an active IRA presence on the social media platform. If a user types in Real IRA they can come across a page titled Real Continuity Internet Republican Army, a meme parody page of the Real and Continuity IRAs. Though the page is a parody, under the related section includes links to legit IRA affiliate pages. These include a page for Óglaig Na hÉireann (Warriors of Ireland), a Facebook page for the organization of the same name. The page posts pictures of historical Irish Republicans, anti-English propaganda as well as info about their group and its youth wing. The page itself includes links to other IRA pages such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Cork, Saoirse Ná Eireann (a group for a United Ireland, who’s posts are mostly in Irish Gaelic), North Armagh Republicans (a local IRA group based in North Armagh) and several other similar pages.
For those that type in Irish Republican Army into the Facebook search it brings up a few other pages and groups. Groups listed include Proud to Be Irish, Irish-American Republicans (a group for American IRA supporters) and Irish Republican Educational Forum, a group dedicated to providing academic information on the Irish Republican cause. These groups are locked and honestly, I had no interest in joining.
Pages from the Irish Republican Army search include Irish Republican Nationalist Movement which posts pictures and videos relating to a “secret war that Britain is waging in Northern Ireland, as well as past atrocities committed by the British during the trouble. Another page the Irish Republican Brotherhood posts similar content as does the Irish Republican News.
Aside from these YouTube Vidoes and Facebook pages, another way the IRA still operates is with its long-standing relationship with the Irish political party Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein is a center of left to full left political party that advocates the ideals of Irish Republicanism aka ending British Rule in Northern Ireland and to achieve the goal of a United Ireland. The party is unique because it exists in both the Republican of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland.
Whether or not Sinn Fein officially funds the IRA is something that has been debated for decades. However, Sinn Fein clearly supports the actions of the IRA. On their official YouTube channel, the party has uploaded tribute videos to those in the IRA that were killed during the Troubles.
The video is an in-depth news magazine coverage of Sinn Fein’s youth wing known as Na Fianna Éireann. Na Fianna Éireann (The Irish Deer) are the Republican Youth of Sinn Fein, they are commonly known as Republican Boy Scouts for their trade mark uniforms of green turtle neck sweaters, black pants, black boots, green berets and sunglasses. The video interviewed a few young members of Na Fianna Éireann, the members ranged from ages 8 to 18. The members were based in Dublin and held meetings at the local Sinn Fein party office. The members were mentored by Sinn Fein Party member who was arrested in the 1980s for running weapons from Dublin to Northern Ireland. The youth members participate in local Marches, many of which are ceremonies to honor the original Old IRA that fought for the Ireland’s freedom.
However, the video also featured members of Na Fianna Éireann, training with tactics in the woods. Na Fianna Éireann publishes manuals very similar to military tactics manuals. The manuals contain everything from how to use weapons to military field tactics. The members used hurling sticks and fake guns cut out of wood, and practiced basic infantry tactics. Surprisingly everyone gave their full names and none of them wore the trademark black hoods and camo of the Provo-IRA.
For now, the IRA has remained dormant and has not engaged in any violence. On the world wide web nothing extreme or radical is posted by the IRA. However, the deep web more or may not be different. I’m not a deep web expert and was unsure of how to even find IRA presence. I’m sure if there is, it’s very hidden and encrypted.
How the IRA Affects Cybersecurity
How does the Irish Republicans Army’s continued online propaganda efforts effect cybersecurity as a whole? Well so far, the answer is complicated. Ireland is a small country and in the grand scheme of things is a middle power. The country doesn’t have much say in geopolitics and the concept of Irish Republicanism is much a local matter. Professors Dr.Gerald L. Kovacich and Dr.Andy Jones in the High-Technology Crime Investigator’s Handbook took a look at the IRA’s online activities in 2006. At the time the IRA still maintained two official websites (irishrepublicanarmy.info/Home.html) and (irelandsown.net/IRA.htm) before moving to social media. They weren’t sure if the IRA would ever get involved in cyber terrorism beyond propaganda but they do state that they might. They used Al Qaeda as an example who was already engaged in 2006. Perhaps the IRA might do the same thing.
Will the IRA Engage in Cyberterrorism?
If the Continuity or Real Irish Republican Army’s do get involved in cyber terrorism, how would it effect cyber security as a whole? The honest truth it would only likely effect those that live in the Republic or in Northern Ireland and perhaps the UK. More than likely their hackings would target political opposition in the Republic (such as hacking the websites of leaders of Fine Gael), hacking Ulster Loyalist Force social media or perhaps even UK government websites.
If the IRA chooses to become really dangerous, perhaps they will commit doxing and publish the names and addresses of British Soldiers and Ulster Loyalists that live in Northern Ireland. As of right now things in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland remained dormant. The members who belong to the youth movement Na Fianna Éireann are small in both the Republic and the North. Members who join are typically looked down upon as extremist radical nationalists. The average of an IRA member is aging and not many youth are taking their place in a modern world. Perhaps nothing will come of an IRA’s cyber activities or perhaps in the near future the IRA and UVF remnants will engage is a hacking war. As of now, youth culture is engaged in an internet meme world of posting historical IRA memes in an ironic context. Overall, based on my research and findings, I personally feel the IRA is not a current threat to anyone’s (Ireland or the UK’s) cybersecurity. I believe currently recruitment and ideology promotion, are their top cyber priorities. While, I do not believe the IRA is very bright, I don’t think they are dumb enough to relaunch a conflict at this time.
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