Continuity IRA: Four Things You Need to Know About Group Claiming Responsibility for Dublin Weigh-In Murder

05/02/2016_Dublin Shooting
Police and forensic officers attend the scene of a shooting at the Regency Hotel in Dublin, Ireland, February 5. The Continuity IRA has claimed responsibility for the attack. Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Irish republican splinter group the Continuity IRA has claimed responsibility for an attack at a boxing weigh-in on Friday. A man claiming to speak for the group told the BBC its members were responsible for the shooting in Dublin, which left local man David Byrne, 33, dead.

Police have said they are keeping "an open mind in relation to the criminal groups involved," with some expressing skepticism about the claim, believing the murder was more likely part of a feud between rival drug gangs.

Tom Clonan, a former Irish Army officer and security analyst, tells Newsweek he isn't sure about the validity of the claim yet, but adds: "I wouldn't be surprised if there was a subversive or terror dimension to what happened on Friday," as the gunmen appeared to have some level of military-style training.

The Continuity IRA is one of three groups, along with the Real IRA and the Provisional IRA, that have claimed to be the true successor to the original Irish Republican Army that resisted British rule in Ireland in the early 20th century. The Real IRA (under its alternative name the New IRA) and the Continuity IRA are two of the three groups named by British security agency MI5 as the main dissident republican factions operating in Northern Ireland today (the third is Óglaigh na hÉireann, or "Soldiers of Ireland").

But what do they want, how powerful are they, and how do the groups differ? Here's what you need to know:

The Continuity IRA was founded in 1986. It broke away from the Provisional IRA following a split in Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing at the time, provoked by President Gerry Adams dropping the party's policy of boycotting the Irish parliament. Breakaway party Republican Sinn Fein, to which the Continuity IRA was linked, opposed this policy change. The Provisional IRA had itself evolved from the original Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1969, representing the wing of the older group that remained committed to violent resistance rather than peaceful political change. The Continuity IRA only became active in 1994, when the Provisional IRA declared a historic ceasefire. The splinter group vowed to continue with the violent methods Irish republicans had been using for decades to secure a united Irish state.

It claims to be anti-criminality. In the statement given to the BBC, the man claiming to be a Continuity IRA spokesman said the group had targeted Byrne as he was involved in the gangland murder of Real IRA member Alan Ryan in 2009. "Although not a member of our organization, we are not going to stand back and allow drug dealers and criminals to target republicans," the spokesman said. He added that "Continuity IRA units have been authorized to carry out further operations. More drug dealers and criminals will be targeted."

But Clonan says the distinction between republicanism and criminality in Ireland is blurred: "Terrorist organizations and the international drugs trade, they are inextricably linked... [to buy arms] you don't go to a shop marked 'Organized crime only. For terrorists, please see across the street.'" AP reports that republican groups have in the past been involved with different sides of Dublin's brutal gang rivalries.

It has been linked with a number of attacks. Although not as large as the Real IRA—another splinter group that split from the Provisional IRA in 1997—the Continuity IRA has been linked to violent acts including a 1996 bombing at the Killyhelvin Hotel that injured 17 people and a range of low-level bomb and gun incidents since, including a bomb in Lurgan, County Armagh, that injured three children in 2010. The Real IRA's campaign of violence, which included a 1998 bombing in the town of Omagh that killed 29 people, has resulted in significantly more loss of life than the Continuity IRA's. The Real IRA is now thought to have a few hundred members, and the Continuity IRA's membership is thought to number about 100.

The differences between the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, as well as other "dissident republican" groups—those opposed to the peace process in Ireland—are based mostly on "marginal distinctions and personal rivalries," former MI5 director Jonathan Evans said in 2010. Both the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA claim to be the true descendent of the original Irish Republican Army. Both are committed to the formation of a united Ireland. The Continuity IRA's claim to authenticity stems from statements released by Tom Maguire, a former commandant-general in the original Irish Republican Army, in 1986 and 1987, which recognized the Army Council of the Continuity IRA as the original army's true successors. His support stemmed from the group's refusal to back Sinn Fein ending its boycott of the Irish parliament.