No room for complacency in fight against dissidents
ANALYSIS:MI5’S DECISION to reduce the level of dissident republican threat in Britain from substantial to moderate is relatively good news for our neighbouring island but makes no difference to the situation in Northern Ireland, where the threat remains “severe”.
Senior security and political sources warn that the hard reality is that it is not a case of “if but when” the next major dissident attack comes in the North.
For the PSNI, the Garda and MI5 the task is to continue to thwart the dissidents’ efforts, as the statistics indicate they have been doing, but nonetheless there is the realisation, as one source put it, that the dissidents have the “ambition and capability to kill police officers or take out a town centre” in a bomb attack.
In a range of attacks in 2009, dissidents killed PSNI constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon and British soldiers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey in Antrim.
In 2010 they murdered Kieran Doherty in Derry and badly injured Constable Peadar Heffron in a bomb attack.
Last year they murdered Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh. In 2010 dissidents mounted some 40 serious gun and bomb attacks. There were 26 such incidents last year. In 2012 so far there have been 19 attacks but the difference this year is that, mostly, the scale and nature of the incidents have been of a lower level: for instance, pipe bomb attacks and “pot shots” fired at the PSNI as opposed to major shooting and bombing operations.
The diminution in attacks is believed to be because of concerns at dissident leadership level that the PSNI, Garda and MI5 are having success in infiltrating the various organisations such as Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Continuity IRA and the new, more worrying amalgamation of dissidents – the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) and unaffiliated republicans from the mid-Ulster area.
Dissident leaders feel they must consider carefully before pressing ahead with planned operations in case the PSNI already has notice of what is about to happen. “In the recent period they have been on the defensive,” said a senior security source. “They seem to be struggling to have the impact they had two or three years ago.”
But again the British and Irish security and intelligence services know that, regardless of the current downscaling of operations, it is only a matter of time before the dissidents carry out, in their terms, successful attacks. This was demonstrated by the fact that, while most attacks this year were on the lower end of the grade, there was one particularly serious bomb incident in north Belfast at the start of the month.
Police said the projectile bomb discovered in the back of a house on Jamaica Street was “substantial and viable”. It is understood the bomb contained high explosives and had armour-piercing capability, which means it could have been used to blow up a police Land Rover or patrol vehicle.
Sources say the incident underlines the sophisticated bomb-making capability of the dissidents. “The mortars and other stuff they are making are no different than the equipment the Provisionals were making at the end of the conflict,” said one security insider.
The sources add that the dissidents are well-armed, have strong engineering knowledge and have ample funds. While much of the old American “wrap-the-green-flag-around-me” money has dried up, the dissidents are well financed from smuggling and other criminal operations.