Derry bomb a wake-up call over security issues related to Brexit

Source says dissidents would seize on anything that furthered the capacity for terrorism

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

 

The weekend bomb attack in Derry should come as a wake-up call for politicians in Dublin, London and Brussels at a critical juncture in Brexit negotiations, Irish security and justice sources have said.

Long before the explosion on Bishop Street, just inside Derry’s historic city walls, on Saturday night, senior police officers and politicians on both sides of the Border had warned that Brexit could become a rallying call for dissident republicans.

Saturday’s bomb was planted in a city where, like Belfast, the security services have never really stepped down their preparedness or vigilance related to terrorism. A concern is that the Border region would be even easier for the terrorists to operate in and much harder to police.

The Border region is one where geography means dissidents North and South can co-operate easily with each other and could together strike at the PSNI and any Border controls that may result from a hard Brexit.

New IRA

Security sources told The Irish Times the bombing was a reminder of the threat that any hard border infrastructure would face from dissidents, including the New IRA, which is suspected to be behind the Derry blast.

The same sources said they expected the bombing would likely refocus Brexit negotiations on the need to ensure there was no hard border, on security grounds alone.

“Some of the dissidents who are active are new young recruits who would have no memory of the Troubles and they want their own terrorism campaign,” said one senior Garda source.

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‘Instability’

“And for them the chaos and instability that might emerge from Brexit, let alone even minimal physical Border infrastructure, would be enough for them to rally around and attack.”

Another Garda source agreed, saying dissident republicans on both sides of the Border had remained committed to violence and would seize on anything that furthered the capacity for terrorism.

“Anything at all on the Border is a reminder that the Border is there, and what it symbolises. It would become something obvious to attack precisely because of its political significance.”

Another security source said that while numbers in the ranks of the dissident movement were relatively small, large numbers were not needed.

“One or two [attacks] could be used as a recruitment tool and reinvigorate these people,” he said.

Hard border

“Something like this bomb in Derry was significant enough. But even smaller incidents could be the start of something [for dissidents] in terms of a campaign aimed at a hard border.

“A small number of attacks, or even causing a lot of disruption with planting devices that don’t explode; it could begin a pattern or a [terrorism] campaign much quicker than people realise.”

A justice source said the bombing in Derry should not cause undue panic as it was within the range of dissident terrorism witnessed since the Troubles ended.

However, because it came at a time of so much focus on the Border, the timing of the attack and its location in a busy city was more significant than the size of the blast.

“We’re used to peace now but these people are committed to wrecking it, even 20 years on, as we saw in Derry this weekend,” the Dublin-based source said.

“We would be very foolish to think this violence wouldn’t and couldn’t be staged along the Border, planned from the Republic and the North.”