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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 06:00 GMT
Dissident threat remains real
Friday's foiled attempt to drive an incendiary bomb into the centre of Belfast has reminded people again of the threats posed to Northern Ireland's peace process.

At fragile points along the path, both dissident republicans and loyalists opposed to the four-year-old deal have sought to destabilise the process to the point of brining the Good Friday Agreement crashing down.

So far, they have appeared far from succeeding, but the threats remain.

While the general focus has been on sectarian loyalist attacks, dissident republicans have continued to try and attack security forces in Northern Ireland and other targets in London.

Police recently revealed that they may have averted a bomb attack planned for the day of the Queen Mother's funeral.

While the police have declined to speculate who was behind it, the details they released, including the Northern Ireland number plate of a car involved, carried the hallmarks of a republican attack.

In Northern Ireland itself, there have been a string of attacks blamed on or claimed by dissidents.

The Continuity IRA claimed responsibility for an attack on Belfast's police training college on 16 April. Days earlier two other attacks on police stations in County Down were blamed on republicans.

Last year saw dissidents carry out a string of attacks in England, one of the most serious being an attempted car bombing in the centre of Birmingham.

While many have considered dissident republicans to have been infiltrated and compromised, these incidents provide evidence of the dangers these groups still pose.

Two groups

The largest of the two dissident groups, the so-called 'Real' IRA grew out of a split within mainstream republicanism over the Good Friday Agreement - a fracturing which placed experienced bomb-makers within the ranks of a new dissident group wedded to "armed struggle".

It quickly eclipsed the older Continuity IRA but security analysts have long considered membership interchangeable.

It was the Real IRA's slaughter of men, women and children in the main street of the market town of Omagh in County Tyrone in August 1998 that shamed them into a ceasefire. But slowly, the group re-emerged and returned to violence.

Two of the dissidents largest attacks to date have been calculated for maximum propaganda purposes among their own ranks. The first was a rocket attack in September 2000 against the headquarters of MI6 in London.

The second was a car bomb detonated outside BBC Television Centre in London six months later.

In January 2001, when prospects for the peace process were looking bleak, dissidents launched a mortar bomb attack against an army barracks in Northern Ireland while another attack involving a 1,100lb bomb was foiled.

Limited successes

The security forces have had mixed success to date in thwarting the threat.

There have been a string of arrests of suspected dissident republican leaders with trials expected later this year in Dublin.

But so far only one man has been convicted and jailed of a lesser charge in connection with the greatest atrocity, the Omagh bomb.

One of the key aims of the dissidents has been to persuade members of the Provisional IRA to defect, saying that the decision to decommission two tranches of arms in the past six months is a betrayal of republican aims.

However, fears that the mainstream republican leadership would lose control of the organisation should it begin decommissioning have appeared, so far, to have been unfounded.


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See also:

26 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Incendiary found in abandoned van
19 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Dissidents admit police college blast
13 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Dissidents blamed for bomb attacks
03 Apr 01 | Northern Ireland
Army defuses NI car bomb
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