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Provisional IRA defectors behind new Ulster violence

Resource type: News

The Guardian (London) |

Dissident republicans ‘major threat to peace’: Sinn Fein condemns fresh shootings and bombings by Henry McDonald A fresh upsurge of dissident republican violence in Northern Ireland was orchestrated by a new nucleus of ex-IRA members who have defected from the Provisionals. Veterans of the Provisional IRA’s North Armagh brigade were behind the 24-hour wave of shootings, blast bomb attacks and riots that rocked the Craigavon area at the beginning of last week. Senior security sources in Northern Ireland pointed this weekend to a small but dedicated number of ex-North Armagh brigade republicans who they say now pose a major threat to the peace process. “They include one ex-prisoner who served life for murder and another responsible for a series of assassinations around North Armagh,” a police officer said. “This core cannot be dismissed as amateurs or newcomers to the dissident scene. They have experience and a track record behind them which makes them good recruiting sergeants for kids around them.” The violence in Craigavon means that in almost every corner of Northern Ireland there have been short outbursts of dissident terrorist activity over the last six months. In August, dissidents linked to a Continuity IRA unit in Co Fermanagh fired an improvised rocket at a mobile patrol. Although no one was killed or injured the murder bid was significant because it was the first time the dissidents had used semtex to set off a rocket-propelled grenade. Until then it appeared that the dissident groups did not have access to the Czech-made plastic explosive, which the Provisional IRA was meant to have destroyed in the arms decommissioning process two years ago. Its presence is an indication that some of that explosive was taken from PIRA hides and handed over to the dissidents. Attacks have taken place in Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh and now Armagh. Significantly, none of the republican groups opposed to the current power sharing government between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists – the Real IRA, Continuity IRA or a new group known as Oglaigh na hEireann – has mounted any major attacks in the Greater Belfast area. Police patrols came under fire from a sniper, two blast bombs were thrown, police vehicles were attacked with petrol bombs and stones, and an SDLP assembly member was assaulted during 24 hours of disturbances in the Tullygally and Drumbeg areas of Armagh town. By the end of last week some calm had been restored to the nationalist districts, although residents claimed there had been heavy-handed police raids on homes that had compounded the trouble. However, graffiti warn of more violence to come, with one message warning that anyone cooperating with police investigations into the disturbances would be shot. Sinn Fein condemned the dissident violence and what it claimed was the overuse of force during police searches. The party’s local assembly man, John O’Dowd, a rising star, pointed out that the majority of republican voters still backed their peace strategy. Those behind the trouble “have no support in the area”, O’Dowd said. But on the Tullygally and Drumbeg estates, Sinn Fein faces a new political opposition led by some of its own local stalwarts. Following last week’s disturbances local Lurgan republican Colin “Collie” Duffy rushed to Craigavon to support residents who he claimed had been at the sharp end of police raids. Duffy, 41, left Sinn Fein and joined a political organisation known as eirigi, which was founded by disaffected Sinn Fein members who opposed the party’s decision to recognise and support the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He described the violence in Craigavon as a “symptom of the fact that people are not prepared to accept the British occupation of Ireland in the shape of the PSNI/RUC”. The 41-year-old republican has been joined in eirigi by a famous republican face from the North Armagh area, ex-Sinn Fein councillor Brendan McKenna who fought for the rerouting of the annual loyalist Drumcree march in Portadown. Eirigi supporters are alleged to be engaged in a graffiti campaign throughout republican redoubts in Northern Ireland. One encapsulates the disillusionment of some ex-Sinn Fein and former IRA activists over support for the police. Sprayed in silver paint, it says: “PSNI – 17% Catholic. 100% Unionist.”

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