Killers not deterred by robust political structures

Fri, Nov 2, 2012, 00:00

ANALYSIS:While many feared for the safety of PSNI officers, concern for prison officers has been growing in recent times

PRISON OFFICER David Black in the words of someone associated with the prison service “was an ordinary man who did a day’s work and went home – he was not to the forefront of any issues”.

There was an outpouring of sympathy for him and his family yesterday, as well as revulsion and condemnation, not that those basic human reactions will cut much ice with his killers. In the eyes of the dissidents it was a successful “operation” that put them back in the limelight.

Warnings by senior security sources that dissident republicans were intent on carrying out fairly imminent murderous attacks, as reported here last week, proved to be unfortunately prescient. It explained why MI5 could reduce the dissident threat level in Britain from substantial to moderate but maintain the severe threat level in Northern Ireland – meaning a major attack was “highly likely”.

The main fear was that PSNI officers would be targeted although for a long time now there was also concern about the safety of prison officers particularly because of the dissident dirty protest at Maghaberry Prison over strip searching. New scanners are being used on a trial basis by the prison service as a possible alternative to such body searching but they are not in Maghaberry where more than 40 dissidents are located.

In recent years a number of officers were forced to move home because of the threats. But it still caused shock that a 52-year-old married father of a son and daughter should be brutally gunned down in such fashion – the killers driving alongside him in a car with Dublin number plates and opening fire at him at close range, hitting him several times.

There is also suspicion that dissidents were involved in last week’s murder of Danny McKay in Newtownabbey in north Belfast with an additional probable drugs link to that killing. This murder is of a different nature in that it is directed at people who are charged with protecting the state. It is similar to the murder of a Garda or PSNI officer.

Since the spring of 2009, dissidents have murdered two British soldiers, Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey; two PSNI officers, Stephen Carroll and Ronan Kerr, and now David Black.

In 2009 the Continuity IRA killed Constable Carroll in Craigavon, not too far from the scene of yesterday’s murder. Police say they are following a number of lines of inquiry and that will include the CIRA. But more probable suspects are likely to be the new amalgamated group comprising the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and unaffiliated republicans from the Lurgan area.

Some of the members of the new group are believed to have been responsible for the killings of the two British soldiers in Antrim in 2009 and of Constable Kerr in Omagh last year. They are well armed and funded and, according to security sources, as well as carrying out shootings such as yesterday’s, have the engineering skills and capability to blow up a town centre – as was part of the strategy of the dissidents up to and including the Omagh bombing which killed 29 people.

The condemnation of the killing yesterday from all parties, religious leaders, trade unions was strong and clear, the Sinn Féin Minister of Education, John O’Dowd, who is from Lurgan, expressing it well by saying the necessary response was a united community, one against dissidents. “It is patently obvious that the peace process will not be derailed by incidents like this. It hasn’t in the past and it won’t in the future,” he stated.

There is some comfort in the fact that the political structures now seem sufficiently robust to prove the correctness of Mr O’Dowd’s assertion. But that won’t stop the dissidents trying to carry out more killings.