On May 16, 2001, the United States Department of State designates the Real Irish Republican Army, a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) charged with killing 29 people in the August 1998 Omagh bombing, as a “foreign terrorist organisation,” a legal term that brings financial and other sanctions. Under U.S. law, any assets the Real IRA has in the United States are frozen, it is illegal to support the organization, and Real IRA members are not eligible for U.S. visas.
The Real IRA broke off from the main Irish Republican Army and its political wing Sinn Féin in 1998 to oppose the decision by Sinn Féin to support the Northern Ireland peace process and work to end 30 years of fighting in Northern Ireland.
As a result of the FTO designation many activities, including fund-raising, of the Real IRA or its two so-called “front groups” or “political pressure groups” — the “32 County Sovereignty Movement” and the “Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association” — are now illegal.
A senior State Department official notes that this is the first time a group with “heavy ties” to the United States, with sympathizers and supporters coming from the United States, has been designated as a terrorist organization. But, in the words of this official, the “British and Irish government publicly asked us to look into this.” The “rigorous” review, begun in the fall of 2000, included volumes of evidence and was an inner-agency process that required the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State.
A second State Department official points out that Irish nationalists have typically received the most support from South Boston, New York City and Chicago, where there are heavy concentrations of Irish Americans.
According to the State Department Patterns of Global Terrorism report in 2000, the Real IRA was formed in February-March 1998, has between 150-200 hard-line members and is dedicated to removing British forces from Northern Ireland and unifying Ireland.
The State Department report goes on to accuse the Real IRA of carrying out the bombing of Hammersmith Bridge and a rocket attack against Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6) headquarters in London in 2000.
State Department officials say they absolutely anticipate the Real IRA to challenge the FTO designation in court. The designation comes as the Irish Republic prepares to prosecute Michael McKevitt, the Real IRA’s alleged leader.