Irish dissident groups politically isolated but violent

17th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The dissident republican groups sparking a major security operation for Queen Elizabeth II's historic visit to Ireland are politically isolated but regularly challenge peace in Northern Ireland.

The main anti-British paramilitary group operating during the three decades of civil strife in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), gave up its armed struggle in 2005 and there has been no repeat of its bloody campaign.

But splinter republican groups, notably the Real IRA, remain active and violent, and the first visit by a British monarch to the Republic of Ireland has proved an irresistible target.

The queen's arrival in Dublin on Tuesday was greeted by a string of security alerts, including a viable bomb found on a bus, and on Monday a bomb threat was made against London, the first in mainland Britain for 10 years.

"We know very well that a tiny number of dissidents are absolutely obsessed with trying to revert to the bloodshed, mayhem and blood massacres of the past," former British security minister Alan West said after Monday's scare.

"They are wrong. The bulk of Irish people do not want that."

The political landscape in Northern Ireland has changed dramatically since the heyday of the IRA, after the 1998 Good Friday peace accords largely ended the civil strife known as the Troubles, during which 3,500 people died.

Where pro-independence Catholic communities were once pitted against pro-Britain Protestant communities, the two sides now share power in Belfast.

The province was shaken when a Catholic policeman was killed in a car bomb in April, the first officer to die since 2009. But ministers from across the political and religious divide attended his funeral and condemned the violence.

Despite the political reconciliation, dissident attacks have stepped up in recent years. Police figures show there were 99 bombing incidents in Northern Ireland in 2010/11, nearly double the 50 recorded the year before.

In its latest report covering the six months to August 2010, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), a paramilitary watchdog, warned that dissident republican groups posed a "substantial and potentially lethal threat".

The Real IRA -- responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing, the worst single atrocity in the Troubles which killed 29 people -- is the most dangerous.

It is broken up into two factions and together they engaged in a "very major campaign of violence", particularly against members of the security forces", the IMC said.

One of the factions uses the name Óglaigh na hÉireann, a historical title much claimed in republican militant tradition.

However, it concluded that their campaign "in no way matches the range and tempo" of the IRA's activities during the Troubles.

Dissident activity would have resulted in many more deaths and injuries if it had not been for the ever closer cooperation between Northern Ireland and Irish security forces, the watchdog found.

Another group of concern is the Continuity IRA, which is not as active or violent as the Real IRA but still engages in serious crime and attacks on the security services, according to the IMC.

The watchdog also warned about the Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), a fringe group which emerged recently in Derry and is apparently intent on "cleaning up" its areas through shootings and pipe bomb attacks.

The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) also remains involved in serious crime despite its pledge to give up its political armed struggle, the IMC said.

© 2011 AFP

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