Page last updated at 05:03 GMT, Sunday, 7 March 2010

Irish police 'battle' violence threat from dissidents

By Mark Simpson
Ireland correspondent, BBC News

Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey
Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey were shot by the Real IRA

The violent threat posed by dissident republicans is a "constant battle" for police both sides of the Irish border, a minister in the Irish Republic says.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern also said the determination of dissident groups to mount attacks was "getting stronger and stronger".

His comments came as a service was held to mark the first anniversary of the deaths of two soldiers in Antrim.

The Real IRA shot Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey at Massereene army base.

The memorial ceremony inside the Massereene barracks, was led by members of the 38th Engineers Regiment.


In the aftermath of the double killing, a police officer, Stephen Carroll, was shot dead by the Continuity IRA.

In a statement at the time, the Continuity IRA said: "As long as there is British involvement in Ireland, these attacks will continue."

There were fears that Northern Ireland could slide back towards full-scale violence.

But that did not happen and the peace process remains strong, in spite of the continued efforts to destroy it.

Mr Ahern said the police in Northern Ireland and the Republic were co-operating closely to try to stop the dissidents.

7 March, 2009 - Two soldiers killed in Co Antrim
9 March - Killing of Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon
8 September - Large bomb left at Forkhill
8 January, 2010 - Under-car booby-trap seriously injures policeman Paedar Heffron in Randalstown
24 January - Gun attack on Crossmaglen Police Station
3 February - Blast bomb thrown at Oldpark Police Station in Belfast
22 February - Bomb explodes outside Newry courthouse

In a BBC interview, he said: "It's a constant battle. As soon as you put some into prison, others pop up, and obviously after people serve their prison sentences sometimes they go back to their nefarious activities.

"There's been a succession of incidents, really from last September onwards. Thirteen major incidents. They've been escalating in their seriousness. The resolve of these people seems to be getting stronger and stronger."

He also said the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA had begun working together on some attacks.

"This is significant in that, perhaps, some of the capabilities that one would have, might feed into the other, and vice versa. And this is something that is worrying the security services."

The threat level is reflected in the range and geographical spread of attacks so far this year - a booby-trap bomb in Co Antrim, gun attacks in Co Armagh, a car-bomb in Co Down and a fatal shooting in Co Londonderry.

Power sharing

Although the police have been the main targets of the dissidents, no officer has been killed since Constable Carroll.

The overall level of violence is well below what it used to be in Northern Ireland.

While the Real IRA and Continuity IRA may have recruited some new members in the past year, there is no evidence of a major influx.

Their political allies continue to attract only minimal support and there is no sign of them putting themselves forward in the forthcoming Westminster election.

It seems they realise they would be electorally humiliated.

The Hillsborough Castle agreement in February was a sign that the power-sharing Stormont Assembly may be settling down after months of uncertainty.

The recent increase in violence is seen as an attempt to try to destabilise the situation again.

The dissidents want to wreck the Assembly. The political parties at Stormont are determined not to let them win.

The peace process has been tested in the past year, and it has proved to be much more resilient than some had feared.

However, these remain challenging times in Northern Ireland, for the police and politicians alike.

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