In the evening of Thursday 18th April 2019 disorder broke out in the Creggan area of Derry. While the PSNI were carrying our searches for weapons and explosives trouble broke out with vehicles being set alight and petrol bombs thrown at PSNI vehicles and officers. During this disorder a New IRA gunman came around a corner and fired shots indiscriminately towards the PSNI, tragically killing the journalist Lyra McKee who was reporting in the incident.
This tragic event follows closely behind two separate pipe bomb attacks on the 17th April 2019. One was in in Armagh where two devices exploded, the second in the small village of Rasharkin, Antrim where a pipe bomb was thrown into the window of a home in the village with a second left on the home’s windowsill. Also on the 17th April a 49 year old male was arrested in Strabane, Tyrone by the PSNI for terrorism related offences linked to the INLA and suspicion of blackmail and being concerned in the supply of controlled drugs.
The killing of Lyra McKee is being reported as a top news story by the British media, but regarding the other incidents the British media were relatively silent. This raises the question if terrorist activity, in particular activity by dissident republicans in the six northern counties of Ireland that is part of the UK has become the forgotten UK terrorist activity in the island of Britain? Understandably the main terrorist threat facing the whole of the UK emanates from Islamist inspired activity, followed by activity by the extreme far-right (mainly in Britain). It is predominantly Islamist inspired activity that resulted in the UK terrorist threat level being at severe (an attack is highly likely) from the international terrorist threat. In the North of Ireland the terrorist threat level is also severe and that includes from ‘Northern Ireland related terrorism’, where for Britain this particular threat is moderate (an attack is possible but not likely). How long will it be before the threat to the whole of the UK the threat of North of Ireland terrorism is severe?
In March 2019 letter bombs were received in various London locations, where it is suspected a person linked to or on behalf of the New IRA were responsible. As I have stated in my previous blog posts covering the terrorist activity in the North of Ireland, dissident Irish republican groups be it the New IRA, the INLA or Continuity IRA are desirous of carrying out attacks in Britain. While these groups’ logistical capability to do so my be limited at the moment, especially in relation to sympathisers providing logistical support in Britain, there are members of dissident republican groups who from the 1968-1998 Troubles have vast experience in bomb making and firearms use, as well as operating in in Britain. Since reporting in my blog posts on the rise of dissident Irish republican group activity over the last few years, I predicted there would be a rise in republican based terrorism and violence in the North and there is an increasing possibility these activities will cross the Irish Sea to Britain.
The reason behind the increase in dissident republican activity includes the exploitation of the inactivity in the Assembly in Stormont that is currently suspended due to the impasse between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Another reason is in relation to Brexit where republican groups and their political wings like the New IRA’s Saoradh are exploiting the potential problems a hard border between the North and the Irish Republic would pose. As I have stated in previous blog posts on this subject, Saoradh and the New IRA in particular are using this to fuel discontent among the Catholic, nationalist community with calls for the 32 counties to be reunited and come under the governance of the Dail in Dublin. In turn, there is no way would loyalist groups like the UDA, UVF and UFF and political parties like the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the DUP would ever contemplate that happening. One result would be an increase in loyalist violence.
At the time of writing it is Easter weekend and there will be a number of parades and commemorations regarding the 1916 Easter Rising. Already in certain locations in the North parades have been planned without the permission of the PSNI. This is a legal requirement and in virtually most cases those submitting their parade plans will be granted authority by the PSNI to do so. Groups like Saoradh have not carried out this legal requirement and I suspect this is to fuel further discontent and violence as the PSNI will attempt to prevent illegal padres taking place. Marching is a sensitive issue in the North of Ireland, which we have seen during the marching season in July.
While quite rightly Northern Irish politicians have condemned the killing of Lyra McKee and the violence in Derry last night, I would like to see the DUP and Sinn Fein do more that pass commentary and take positive action. This includes putting aside their differences and rather than be self-serving, they work with the other political parties for the benefit of all in the North. Reading the DUP and Sinn Fein response to the murder of Lyra McKee, I feel it is easy to give platitudes, but I would rather like to see positive action coming from the two largest parties in the North to work together with the other parties to diffuse the tensions and discontent that exists in certain areas.
On the 2nd May local elections are being held in the North and now is the time of the North of Ireland electorate to send a positive message to the DUP and Sinn Fein and shun their traditional political allegiances and cast their vote for the SDLP, Alliance and UUP parties. It will not stop the violence overnight, but it would be a start by the people to tell the DUP and Sinn Fein that they are fed up with inactivity and want political action. Another action the people can take is holding demonstrations like they did in Omagh when the PSNI officer Ronan Kerr was murdered and have a ‘Not in My Name’ protest.
You can read issues related to this post in my book ‘Terrorism: Law & Policy’ published by Routledge
Update: Just as I published this post Saoradh issued a statement justifying the actions of the New IRA gunman where the statement contains the rhetoric of PIRA/Sinn Fein during the Troubles. There can be no justification for this senseless murder.