Killings demonstrate to wider world that dissident threat hasn’t gone

Group’s main ‘success’ — in its terms — was murder of prison officer David Black

Forensic officers search the scene on the M1 near Belfast where prison officer David Black was shot near Lurgan last November. Photograph: Reuters

Forensic officers search the scene on the M1 near Belfast where prison officer David Black was shot near Lurgan last November. Photograph: Reuters

Thu, Oct 10, 2013, 16:29

The murder of Kevin Kearney in north Belfast and now this morning the shooting dead of a man in Derry again demonstrates that dissident republicans pose — as in the MI5 rating of their threat — a “severe” danger in Northern Ireland.

The killing of Mr Kearney was claimed by the new republican amalgamation that describes itself as “the IRA”, also called the New IRA. So far no organisation has admitted the Derry murder but the main suspicion is falling on dissidents. Certainly Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in condemning both murders was in no doubt that dissidents were also responsible for the Derry shooting.

The new republican paramilitary group is comprised of members of the Real IRA, the Republican Action Against Drugs based mainly in the Derry area, and a loose combination of republicans from the Mid-Ulster area, some of them veterans of the Provisional IRA.

The murder of Mr Kearney appears to be in the mode of the operations of RAAD. “The IRA” in a statement to the Irish News said it killed Mr Kearney following an investigation of his activities “and in response to complaints within our community”.

It said it has issued him with warnings that he was “no longer welcome in our community”.

“Kearney refused to heed this warning and carried on with his activities and as a consequence the IRA made the decision to execute him,” it added.

All that is shorthand for alleging that Mr Kearney, a father of four, who lived off the Antrim Road in north Belfast, was a drugs dealer.

The accuracy or inaccuracy of that will emerge in due course but the first word from security sources this morning was that Mr Kearney “wasn’t a big dot on the radar” of police.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly accused Mr Kearney’s killers of “hypocrisy at its height”, saying that the killers themselves extort drugs dealers allowing them to sell drugs when they hand over cash to them.

What Mr Kearney certainly was was a soft target for the dissidents. His murder and the murder in Derry will grab headlines as the British prime minister David Cameron prepares to arrive in Northern Ireland for a major international investment conference tomorrow.

Despite these killings the level of dissident activity has been relatively low in the past two years. This new “IRA” was formed in July last year with a very old message. It said its “mandate for armed struggle derives from Britain’s denial of the fundamental right of the Irish people to national self-determination and sovereignty.

“So long as Britain persists in its denial of national and democratic rights in Ireland the IRA will have to continue to assert those rights,” it added.

Its main “success” — in its terms — was the murder last November of David Black. A prison officer he was shot on the M1 motorway in Co Armagh as he drove to work in Maghaberry Prison.

In February, before the announcement of the new grouping, RAAD killed Andrew Allen at his home in Buncrana, Co Donegal. Mr Allen’s family denied RAAD’s claims he was a drugs dealer. In October of last year Danny McKay from Newtownabbey was shot dead in another suspected dissident attack that also may be drugs-related. The new organisation may have been involved in this killing as well.

Both the deaths of Mr Allen and Mr McKay hardly fall into category of dissidents asserting their stated rights to achieve a united Ireland.

While there have been a number of other attacks involving “the IRA” since it was established last year it has not pulled off any major operations.

The indications are that while it has several hundred members and some experienced leaders that they have tended to err on the side of caution. This is because of the successes of the PSNI, MI5, Garda and Irish intelligence services in resisting the dissident threat on both sides of the Border — and also because of the level of infiltration of this and other dissident groups by agents and informers.

Nonetheless, these killings at a time when Northern Ireland is trying to present an investment-attractive face to the world will demonstrate to a wider audience than normal that the dissident threat hasn’t gone away. And that has been the way for several years with the constant security warning that they remain deadly.

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