Terror threat now at highest level - Ahern


THE REAL IRA and Continuity IRA have successfully pooled their resources and the threat posed by their co-operation is now as serious as that from any terrorist group during the height of the Troubles, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has said.

He added the 250lb car bomb that exploded outside Newry courthouse last Monday night reflected a new level of sophistication among dissident republicans.

“There seems to be an effort in recent months to bring them closer together,” Mr Ahern said yesterday of the Real IRA and Continuity IRA.

“There seems to be cross-fertilisation; it may be more to do with acquaintances or family membership than ideology. But nonetheless it is a more worrying trend because clearly their capability is growing.”

While the two main groups were co-operating it also appeared a wider dissident coalition was emerging. This included a number of small splinter groups and a handful of republicans who had up until recently been committed to the political process.

Mr Ahern said the Real IRA and Continuity IRA both have “significant pockets” of membership in the Republic. However, the terrorist attacks witnessed in the North in recent months appeared to have been organised there.

“The threat here I believe on this island is as dangerous as it was at any time during the Troubles,” said Mr Ahern

The authorities faced a “conundrum” in responding firmly to the growing threat in a way that would not alienate some sections of the nationalist community in the North. “What are really at is to try and bring back troops on to the streets of Northern Ireland and to destabilise the efforts of political parties in the North to bring final peace.”

He declined to say if he believed the dissident groups were not far from having the capability of staging an attack with major loss of life. However, he said the co-operation between the Garda and PSNI in fighting terrorism was stronger than ever.

Mr Ahern was speaking in the aftermath of a number of high-profile terrorist incidents.

The attack on Monday night in Newry was the first dissident explosion since the BBC in London was attacked in 2001 and the first anywhere in the North since Omagh in 1998A suspected mortar was fired at a PSNI station in Craigavon on Saturday night.

Last week 31-year-old Kieran Doherty was found shot dead just outside Derry City. His murder has been claimed by the Real IRA.