‘They are showing they are capable of doing something’ – The Irish Times

The New IRA has been linked to two recent attacks on police, representing the first such activity by the dissident republican group since April of last year.

Back then she attempted to kill a police officer – and her young daughter – by placing a bomb by her car in Dungiven, Co Derry. Last Friday a bomb detonated on the side of a police vehicle while the officers – who were uninjured – patrolled in Strabane, Co Tyrone. On Sunday a delivery driver’s vehicle was hijacked and he was forced at gunpoint to drive an “elaborate hoax device meant to look like a car bomb” to a police station in Derry.

“Our most prominent and likely line of inquiry,” Chief Supt Nigel Goddard told reporters on Monday, is that dissident republicans were responsible, specifically the New IRA. “My colleague on Friday thought that the New IRA, given the nature and the location, was probably the most likely grouping, and I have nothing to disagree with that at this point in time,” he said.

This is surprising. The New IRA has a long history of attacks on police targets and is the most active of the dissident republican groups in the northwest. It was responsible for the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in the Creggan area of ​​Derry in April 2019.

Overall the number of such attacks has fallen. PSNI statistics – which count all security-related incidents, regardless of responsibility – showed that in the year to March there were “fewer security-related deaths and a marked decrease in the number of shootings, bombings and paramilitary-style attacks compared to the previous year”.

“Of course, they [the New IRA] will be keen to emphasize they haven’t gone anywhere. They’ll be looking at this as just a continuation of their activity,” says Marisa McGlinchey, assistant professor of political science at Coventry University and the author of Unfinished Business: The Politics of ‘Dissident’ Irish Republicanism.

“It is a resurgence in the fact there hasn’t been much activity from them since around 2019, and especially after Operation Arbacia there was a lot of speculation about what that was going to mean for the New IRA and … was that them finished? I think they’ve been really keen to demonstrate they’re actually still there, they’re still capable, and to show they still have the capability to attack if they choose to.”

The impact of Operation Arbacia – the ongoing PSNI/MI5 operation into the activities of the New IRA – on its leadership, and the group’s infiltration by informers, was a “big blow”, says McGlinchey, but this shows “there are other people that are willing to step in and fill those gaps” – although these are believed to be in the main existing supporters rather than new recruits.

Support for dissident republican groups is estimated to be in the hundreds, with a significantly smaller number – probably no more than 20 or 30 in the northwest – willing to actually engage in violence.

“They are showing they are capable of doing something,” says Derry-based security journalist Eamonn MacDermott. “They’ve pulled off a couple of operations, but they are the first in years. I don’t see any evidence of a great resurgence, that they’ve suddenly found a whole pile of new recruits and are in a position to start being more active. They’re doing what they always want to do, they just haven’t been able to do it.”

McGlinchey added: “They will have wanted to send quite a strong, powerful message that not only are they not finished, they’re still there, they still have people willing to undertake these attacks…It’s demonstrating that the capability is there. “

Police checkpoints and patrols were increased following the first attack on Friday; this is likely to continue, says Chief Supt Goddard.

The PSNI, he says, has “never been of the opinion that they’ve given up their actions in any way”.

“Clearly two incidents over a short period of time are concerning. We will continue to respond to that, we will continue to provide reassurance in patrol, and to act to disrupt their activity.”

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