Still a capacity for mayhem


DISSIDENT REPUBLICANS at the weekend again proved that they pose a potent threat to life, limb and property. They showed a potentially murderous recklessness in assembling a 250 kg fully-primed bomb that was discovered in an abandoned van close to the Border near Newry on Thursday. Had the bomb, defused by the British army on Friday, exploded the effects could have been devastating.

As senior officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland point out, anyone within 50 metres would have been killed, and within 100 metres, seriously injured. It was bigger than the Real IRA bomb that claimed the lives of 29 people and injured hundreds in Omagh in August 1998.

The discovery of the device and of an under-car bomb and weapons in Belfast at the weekend, yielded considerable media coverage for dissident republicans from which they will take some satisfaction. But strategically what do they think they can achieve? The Newry bomb will provide important information about the dissidents’ engineering expertise and could yield evidence that may help track down those who built it.

Murders, such as those of constables Ronan Kerr in Omagh and Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, and of British soldiers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey in Antrim, demonstrate the dissidents’ lethal capability and their ability to cause terrible hurt and grief. Yet, aside from that suffering, their actions have achieved nothing.

The bomb and all the other dissident attacks have failed to undermine the foundations of the Northern Executive led by DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Both have been united and resolute in insisting such incidents only make them more determined to ensure powersharing politics works at Stormont.

Co-operation between the British and Irish governments, the PSNI, Garda and MI5 in tackling the dissidents is strong. Credible sources say that the British and Irish policing and intelligence services have had significant under-the-radar successes in thwarting many actions of the dissidents but that such information has not been publicly disclosed for security reasons.

The fact that they can continue to operate shows that they have low-level support among certain die-hard republicans. But equally it is clear there are high prices to pay for involvement with dissident groups with more than 100 dissidents in prisons North and South. One republican has been convicted of the murders of the two British soldiers in Antrim, two republicans have been convicted of the murder of Constable Carroll.

An overwhelming majority rejects the alphabet soup of dissident groupings, contemptuous as they are of the all-island democratic consensus. They lack cohesion, principle and policy, beyond nihilistic and simplistic “Brits Out” calls and, often, their drugs and other criminal dealings. They appear beyond talking to. Therefore, the response must remain committed and concentrated security action involving continuing co-operation between the PSNI and Garda, and the British and Irish intelligence services.