Derry car bomb: Who is the New IRA group suspected of attack?

Dissident republican organisation viewed as ‘most significant threat’ in the city

CCTV shows the moment a car bomb explodes near the Derry City courthouse. Saoradh, a group describing itself as a revolutionary Irish Republican Party said dissident republicans were behind the explosion. Video: PSNI / Reuters

 

Of the several dissident republican groups in existence, the New IRA is viewed by police as posing the most significant threat in Derry.

The PSNI’s “primary line of inquiry” is that the group was responsible for a car bomb which exploded outside the city’s courthouse on Saturday evening.

So-called “dissident” republicans reject the Belfast Agreement, and advocate the use of violence to achieve their aim of a united Ireland.

In a statement, dissident republican political party Saoradh linked the attack to the 100th anniversary, on Monday, of the Soloheadbeg ambush, which marked the beginning of the War of Independence.

“Sean Treacy and his comrades struck a historic blow against the Crown forces in Tipperary,” the statement said. “It seems 100 years later Volunteer Sean Treacy’s comrades continue the unfinished revolution.”

The New IRA is believed to have been responsible for a number of attacks in Derry in recent years, including an attempt to kill a police officer by planting a bomb under his car outside his home in 2017. It claimed responsibility for firing shots and throwing grenades at police during nights of disturbances in Derry last summer.

David Black murder

Formed in 2012 following a merger between groups including the Real IRA and Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), which was predominantly active in the northwest of Northern Ireland, it has been responsible for the murders of two prison officers.

David Black (52) was shot dead as he drove to work in Co Armagh in 2012, while Adrian Ismay died 11 days after a bomb exploded under his van in Belfast in 2016.

The New IRA is also involved in paramilitary-style shootings and assaults. In 2016, Michael McGibbon (33) bled to death after he was shot in the leg three times by this group.

The New IRA is just one of a number of dissident republican groupings. The PSNI puts the total number of dissident republican individuals at several hundred, operating across the New IRA, Continuity IRA, Irish Republican Movement (IRM), ONH and Arm na Poblachta, though the names and membership of such organisations are fluid.

There are different levels of involvement – from the passing on of information, to the smaller number of operatives willing to carry out a shooting or plant a bomb.

Most significant threat

Last year, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin – who is also responsible for the PSNI’s Paramilitary Crime Task Force – told The Irish Times the New IRA was viewed as “the most significant threat” in Derry.

He said the majority of its leadership was made up of people who were active in the Provisional IRA or INLA during the Troubles, with some younger members.

“Their ambition is not matched by their capability and their capacity,” he said. “That threat is small compared to what the Provisional IRA would have posed during the Troubles, but in today’s context it is a severe threat and we don’t take it lightly.”

In 2018, the numbers of paramilitary-style attacks by all dissident republican groups decreased compared to the previous year. The number of bombings fell from 29 to 17, according to the PSNI.

Little community support

Derry’s courthouse, which has been targeted by dissident republicans before, is protected by high mesh fencing and bollards. In 2011, adjacent parking spaces were removed after a car bomb left by another dissident republican group exploded in a car park opposite.

Saturday’s bomb was described by police as a “crude and unstable device” which nevertheless represented a significant attempt to kill. It would have killed anyone who had been standing nearby, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said.

He said that the activity of – and level of support for – the New IRA fluctuated, but that this had been “a more significant attack” than in recent times.

“It is important for everyone to remember that they have very little community support either in this city or beyond.”