Fermanagh attack carried out by Continuity IRA or New IRA

Bulk of PSNI focus likely to fall on New IRA which is regarded as most dangerous group

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin speaks to the media in Belfast on Monday. Photograph:  Michael McHugh/PA Wire

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin speaks to the media in Belfast on Monday. Photograph: Michael McHugh/PA Wire

 

Monday’s bomb attack in Fermanagh was carried out by either the Continuity IRA or the New IRA, Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin of the PSNI has said.

There is good reason to suspect both groups for the bomb, which police believe was designed to specifically kill officers who had been lured to the area with a previous hoax bomb threat.

In July, the Continuity IRA carried out a similar operation in Craigavon. The group called a newspaper stating a mortar had been fired at a police patrol but had missed its target. This resulted in PSNI officers deploying to the area to search for the undetonated warhead.

But there was no mortar. The call was a ruse to lure the police to booby-trap – a real bomb disguised as a mortar tube which would detonate if moved.

Dormant

However, despite the similarities in the modi operandi of both attacks, the bulk of the PSNI’s focus will likely fall on the New IRA which is regarded by police on both sides of the Border as the most dangerous and effective terrorist group in Ireland.

Despite a smattering of attacks like the one in Craigavon, the Continuity IRA has been mostly dormant in recent years, its ability to operate significantly diminished by splits and defections.

In contrast, the New IRA has ramped up its activities in the last two years ahead of Brexit and the possibility of the return of a hard border.

The group emerged around 2012, the amalgamation of several anti-peace process Republican organisations including the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs, disillusioned former Provisional IRA members and Dublin criminals.

As well as dozens of low-level gun and bomb attacks, it is responsible for the murder of two Northern Irish Prison Officers as well as journalist Lyra McKee who was shot dead in Derry in April while covering a riot.

The New IRA likely has more resources and support than all other Republican dissident groups put together. But it is important not to overstate the group’s abilities.

Gardaí believe at most they have a few dozen active members in the south with maybe a few hundred more supporters or sympathisers.

In fact there are probably more New IRA members inside prison than outside. There are currently about 45 members of the organisation locked up in Portlaoise and Castlerea Prisons.

Successes

One of the reasons so many New IRA members are in prison is the organised is riven with informers and is under constant surveillance by the Garda, the PSNI and the UK security services.

This has resulted in several significant successes for Gardaí in recent months. In January the Dublin leader of the New IRA, Kevin Braney, was jailed for life for the murder of a rival dissident, the result of a surveillance operation by the Special Detective and National Surveillance Units.

In February, gardaí located a large stash of ammunition believed to belong to the group near the village of Omeath on the Cooley peninsula.

However despite these successes, gardaí believe the New IRA continues to fund much of its activities through robberies and extortion activities in the south. At least some of the cash from the recent spate of ATM robberies is thought to have gone to the group.

On Monday, a garda spokesman said the threat from dissidents like the New IRA remains unchanged and that gardaí are ready to assist the PSNI in any way possible in investigating the Fermanagh attack.