Small Wars Journal

Cyber Activities of the Irish Republican Army

Sun, 11/15/2020 - 7:51pm

Cyber Activities of the Irish Republican Army

Joshua Courter

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. (AP, 1971)  They fought ground battles against the British Military and the Ulster Volunteer Force (Northern Irish Loyal to the UK). (Associated Press, 1972)(Associated Press, 2015)

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. (Grant, 2017)(Irish Post, 2016)(Dorney, 2017)

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. (O'Shea, 2020)(BBC, 2014)

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. (Dorney, The Irish Civil War – A brief overview, 2012)(The National Archives UK)

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. (BBC, 2019)

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. (Lewis, 2019)

The Troubles

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. (Gregory, 2010)(Feature History, 2017)

The Good Friday Agreement

Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the IRA has been on a Cease Fire with the UK. (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica) However, The IRA though they claim they are rebranding, they still launch a powerful propaganda campaign against the against British rule online. Using it to recruit new members and spread anti-ulster propaganda.

Propaganda

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. (Behan, 1958)

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. (MacDonald, 2009)(Republican, 2020)(Sinn Fein, 2020)

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. (Óglaig Na hÉireann, n.d.)(Irish Republican Brotherhood, Cork, n.d.)(Saoirse Ná Eireann, n.d.)(Real Continuity Internet Republican Army, n.d.)

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. (Irish-American Republicans, n.d.)(Irish Republican Education Forum, n.d.)(The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament, n.d.)(Na Fianna Eireann, n.d.)(Irish Republican News, n.d.)(Irish Republican Nationalist Movement, n.d.)

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. (Irish Republican Nationalist Movement, n.d.)

Sinn Fein

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. (Sinn Fein, n.d.)(Sinn Fein, 2016)(Sinn Fein, 2020)

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. (Sinn Fein, 2020) These seems like a good way to continue to promote their agenda and regrow the IRA. Now many might claim these are just innocent videos and I would almost buy that. However, the smoking gun is a recent news report from Vice News.

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.           (Vice News, 2015)

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. (Vice News, 2015)

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. (Kovacich & Jones, 2006)

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.

 

References

AP. (1971, August 11). IRA vs British Army - Major gun battles all over Belfast, Internment 9 - 11 August 1971. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EhmX0Xsjv4

Associated Press. (1972, June 24). IRA Derry Brigade kill 3 British soldiers in landmine attack in Dungiven, Derry 24 June 1972. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfYUtMAVfaE

Associated Press. (2015, July 23). SYND 12 4 73 BRITISH TROOPS COME UNDER FIRE IN BELFAST. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GHJNJG3Zho

BBC. (2014, September 24). The Anglo-Irish war. Retrieved from BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/aftermath/af04.shtml

BBC. (2019, Feb 22). What was the IRA border campaign of 1956-62? Retrieved from BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-northern-ireland-47283726

Behan, D. (1958). Come Out Ye Black and Tans [Recorded by T. W. Tones]. Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_nuOyxMrMQ

Dorney, J. (2012, July 2). The Irish Civil War – A brief overview. Retrieved from Irish History: https://www.theirishstory.com/2012/07/02/the-irish-civil-war-a-brief-overview/

Dorney, J. (2017, October 28). The 1798 Rebellion – a brief overview. Retrieved from Irish History: https://www.theirishstory.com/2017/10/28/the-1798-rebellion-a-brief-overview/

Feature History. (2017, September 12). Feature History - The Troubles (1/2). Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61JisaFGHFY

Grant, G. (2017, March 31). The real history of how the English invaded Ireland. Retrieved from Irish Central: https://www.irishcentral.com/culture/craic/the-real-history-of-how-the-english-invaded-ireland

Gregory, K. (2010, March 16). Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) (aka, PIRA, "the provos," Óglaigh na hÉireann) (UK separatists). Retrieved from Council on Foreign Relations: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/provisional-irish-republican-army-ira-aka-pira-provos-oglaigh-na-heireann-uk

Irish Post. (2016, October 19). A coveted island: Nine times Ireland has been invaded, conquered and occupied. Retrieved from Irish Post: https://www.irishpost.com/news/a-coveted-island-nine-times-ireland-has-been-invaded-conquered-and-occupied-104171

Irish Republican Brotherhood, Cork. (n.d.). Irish Republican Brotherhood, Cork. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/Irish-Republican-Brotherhood-Cork-232881803537345/

Irish Republican Education Forum. (n.d.). Irish Republican Education Forum. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/391979460930832/

Irish Republican Nationalist Movement. (n.d.). Irish Republican Nationalist Movement. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Irish-Republican-Nationalist-Movement-392613317503305/

Irish Republican News. (n.d.). Irish Republican News. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IRN.IrishRepublicanNews/

Irish-American Republicans. (n.d.). Irish-American Republicans. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/36273656266/

Kovacich, D. L., & Jones, D. (2006). Terrorism—Crime or War? Its Impact on the High-Technology Crime Investigator and the Profession. High-Technology Crime Investigator's Handbook (Second Edition). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/irish-republican-army

Lewis, J. W. (2019, December). The Provisional Irish Republican Army. Retrieved from Ohio State University Origins : http://origins.osu.edu/milestones/december-2019-provisional-irish-republican-army

MacDonald, H. (2009, August 1). MP calls on YouTube to remove Real IRA propaganda videos. Retrieved from The Guardian UK: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/aug/02/youtube-ira-facebook-cyber-terrorism

Na Fianna Eireann. (n.d.). Na Fianna Eireann. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Na-Fianna-Eireann-1448833742002886/

Óglaig Na hÉireann. (n.d.). Retrieved from Óglaig Na hÉireann: https://www.facebook.com/OglaigNahEireann/

O'Shea, G. (2020, September 20). A look at the Irish War of Independence. Retrieved from Irish Central: https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/a-look-at-the-irish-war-of-independence

Real Continuity Internet Republican Army. (n.d.). Real Continuity Internet Republican Army. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/REALcira/

Republican, D. (2020, July 16). Óglaigh na hÉireann. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYG0Bcb1OGw

Saoirse Ná Eireann. (n.d.). Saoirse Ná Eireann. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/Saoirse-N%C3%A1-Eireann-603686663157662/

Sinn Fein. (2016, November 21). A united Ireland makes economic sense. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcUgicK3jVQ

Sinn Fein. (2020, April 10). Easter 2020 Irish Republican Roll of Honour. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0NCNyU-UR4

Sinn Fein. (n.d.). Sinn Fein. Retrieved from Sinn Fein: https://www.sinnfein.ie/

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). Good Friday Agreement. Retrieved from Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Good-Friday-Agreement

The National Archives UK. (n.d.). Irish Civil War. Retrieved from The National Archives UK: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/cabinetpapers/themes/irish-civil-war.htm

The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament. (n.d.). The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Provisional-IRA-From-Insurrection-to-Parliament-232078043490546/

Vice News. (2015, July 23). The Republic's Dissident Youth: Ireland's Young Warriors. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZM9Z0NbQwM

 

 

 

About the Author(s)

Joshua Courter is a graduate student at the University of South Florida where he is working to obtain his M.S. in Cybercrime. In 2010, he graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.A. Criminology. He is also an experienced Automotive Journalist specializing in muscle cars and drag racing history. His work has been published in Street Muscle Magazine, Drag Zine and Offroad Xtreme Magazine.

Comments

Shane Waters

Tue, 11/17/2020 - 12:22pm

1. The IRA did not bomb Dublin. That was the UVF who opposed them.

2. Michael Collins did not lead the IRA

3. Border not Boarder.

4. The IRA split in 1998. Some went on ceasire. Others, the "Real" and "Continuity" IRA did not.

5. Na Fianna Éireann is the youth wing of REPUBLICAN SINN FÉIN not Sinn Féin. They HATE Sinn Féin and regard them as traitors to Ireland. Also it translates to "The youth of Ireland" not "The Irish Deer."

I could go on, but I frankly couldn't be arsed.