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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Low-intensity war on republicans

By Kevin Connolly
BBC Ireland correspondent

It is a year, almost to the day, since David Caldwell died.

He was helping to refurbish a security base in County Londonderry when he picked up an innocent looking lunch box which he found just inside perimeter fence.

In fact, though, it was a carefully disguised booby trap bomb, thrown into the camp by dissident republican terrorists.

It was designed to maim or kill more or less indiscriminately - in the eyes of the Real IRA anyone working at an army base is a "legitimate target".

For Mr Caldwell's family it was a devastating personal tragedy, and for the wider community in Northern Ireland the sense of shock was perhaps greater than it would have been 15 or 20 years ago when such murders were much more frequent than they are today.

David Caldwell
David Caldwell: Last person to die in Real IRA attack
David Caldwell was the last person to die in a Real IRA attack, his death the sharpest possible reminder of the threat that dissident republicans continue to pose in Northern Ireland.

The discovery at the weekend of an alleged training camp in a remote area of forest not far from Clonmel in County Tipperary in the south of the Irish Republic highlights fears that such groups are continuing to recruit volunteers and continuing a campaign of political violence.

Away from the headlines a low-intensity intelligence war is being waged on a daily basis between dissident republicans, and the security forces on both sides of the Irish border.

On a single weekend in June two huge bombs were intercepted by police - one in County Monaghan in the Irish Republic, the other in Londonderry across the border in Northern Ireland.

If either had been successfully delivered, the consequences could have been devastating.

There have been many other attempted bomb attacks too - the level of success the security forces enjoy seems to suggest that the dissident groups are heavily penetrated by informers, and are under close surveillance.

There are two main dissident factions, the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, but in truth, any ideological distinctions between them are unimportant
But everyone in Ireland understands the grim equation of terrorism as it was once spelled out by the mainstream IRA. For the authorities to be successful, they have to be lucky all the time. For the paramilitaries to be successful, they need to be "lucky" only once.

There are two main dissident factions, the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, but in truth, any ideological distinctions between them are unimportant.

Both are wedded to a fundamentalist strain of republicanism which argues that peace in Ireland will only come when the British presence in the north of the country is removed, and that that presence can only be removed by force.

If it sounds familiar, that is because it is. That was once the view of the mainstream republican movement led by Gerry Adams.

The peace process began when Mr Adams led the overwhelming majority of that movement towards the view that a ceasefire accompanied by power-sharing inside Northern Ireland could lead to national unity in a way that the IRA's campaign of violence had not.

Mainstream republicans loathe the dissidents but find it hard to speak out against views and tactics which they so recently shared themselves.

Scene of Omagh bombing
Omagh forced a pause in violence
It is sometimes said that the "men of violence" are waiting in the wings, poised to seize the moment if the political process in Northern Ireland fails.

But in truth, dissident republicans probably do not care very much whether power-sharing works or not - they continue to believe that they have the right to use violence to achieve their political goals.

It is a measure of the depth of that belief that the carnage of the Omagh bombing which killed 29 people in 1998 did not bring their campaign to an end.

The global wave of revulsion, and the anger felt throughout Ireland, forced no more than a pause in the violence.

The brutal truth is that dissident republicans do not rely on mass public support to keep them going.

Since then there have been dozens of attempted bombings, and of course a campaign in England.

There have been many arrests, and many seizures of bombs and bomb-making materials.

It would be heartening to find some evidence to suggest that no more families will be put through the grief and trauma suffered by David Caldwell's grieving partner and his children.

But the grim reality is that while the security forces, throughout the British Isles enjoy considerable levels of success against both the C-IRA and the R-IRA, the threat from dissident republican groups is likely to remain a part of Ireland's political landscape for the foreseeable future.

Bomb victim is buried
04 Aug 02  |  Northern Ireland

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