London Letter Bombs: Are we seeing dissident Irish Republican attacks return to Britain?

london letter bombs

On Tuesday 5th March 2019 three packages containing explosives were found at Heathrow Airport, City of London Airport and Waterloo Rail Station. The package that was delivered to Heathrow was opened and caught fire, while the other two were unopened and seized by the police. These IED’s were small and placed in a Jiffy bag and posted in a white A4 envelope. To date no one has claimed responsibility for this action.
At the time of writing the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit, SO15, were being assisted by the Irish police, An Garda Siochana in the investigation. This is not confirmation dissident republican groups like the New IRA (NIRA) were responsible, but there is a possibility of a connection. As all investigators should do, SO15 are keeping an open mind as to who is responsible for sending the letters. It could be from any extremist group or individuals influenced by an extremist group including Islamists or the far-right, to an individual with no connection whatsoever who simply has a grudge against the recipients.

IRA unfinished revolution derrycar bomb derry jan 2019

 

Since the delivery of the letters developments are increasingly leaning to NIRA as being responsible. Over the last few years NIRA (and its predecessor Real IRA) have been the most active group carrying out violent attacks in the North of Ireland. Their violent activity has increased over the last few years as seen with the car bomb outside Bishop Street courthouse in January 2019 and the shootings in 2018 and 2019. Gardaí intelligence has indicated that for several months NIRA is preparing to ‘ramp up’ its activities in 2019.

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Supported by NIRA’s political wing, Saoradh, they have used the Irish border issue in the Brexit negotiations to recruit disillusioned members of the nationalist community in the North to their cause. Emphasising how a hard border demonstrates a degree of contempt by the UK government in Westminster towards the Irish, NIRA recently warned ‘there will be blood’ if a hard border returns between the North and the Republic. The British mainstream media has hardly reported the recent violence in the North by both dissident republicans and loyalists. As seen in the Troubles, a campaign of violence carried out in Britain does bring closer attention to dissident republican’s cause by both national and international mainstream media. I was part of that having given interviews providing commentary over the letter bombs to BBC Breakfast (television) and BBC Radio 5 Live and talkRADIO discussing the potential Irish connection to this incident.

These particular letter explosives were designed to start a small fire, not to cause serious injury, but they have been enough for SO15 to be concerned about the incident. It appears the aim of these letters was to frighten and warn people that they are not safe. It has achieved that, especially with the mainstream media reporting the incident. As I said in my media interviews it has got us talking about it and that is what the sender of the letters wants. This is part of the terror effect, to frighten and warn people.

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As stated, currently it is not known who is responsible and there is the possibility this action was carried out by a person with strong opinions about the recipients of the letters, even as to how Brexit negotiations are panning out who have no connections with terrorist groups. However, reports are increasingly pointing towards NIRA and if this is the case it will emphasise how the whole of the UK is facing a terrorist threat on three fronts, Islamists (that is likely to be enhanced with Islamic State fighters returning to the UK from Syria), the extreme far-right (neo-Nazi’s) and from dissident Irish republican groups. It is of paramount importance the UK, Irish and EU Brexit negotiators find a solution regarding the Irish border issue to maintain the free flow of all Irish citizens between the North and the Republic, thereby removing a political issue that is fuelling dissident Irish republican groups’ cause.

My terrorism book cover

You can read in more detail about terrorism in the North of Ireland in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge

Brexit and the North of Ireland: Are we returning to the Troubles?

IRA Derry

During the UK’s EU referendum campaign how Brexit would impact on the North of Ireland, especially in relation to the Irish border, was an issue not seriously considered in Britain. EU officials may have considered it and if they did they kept their powder dry to use the implications this issue would have at a later stage in Brexit negotiations. As we have seen in the last few months the Irish border issue has become one of the most serious sticking points in progressing the UK’s leaving the EU, especially with EU officials during Brexit negotiations over the last eight months or so. There is no doubt EU officials have used the Irish border issue as a divisive bargaining chip. It could be argued that the border issue was not even thought of as an agenda item in 2016 and it questions why more recently it only did so. This is strange as the Gibraltar question did become part of the early Brexit negotiations.

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While negotiations initially focused on the impact the UK leaving the EU would have on the freedom of movement of goods, services and people, immigration, border controls with continental Europe and issues related to the influence EU law and Court of Justice of the European Union decisions would have on the UK post-Brexit, Ireland seemed not to enter into the equation in the early stages. This is disconcerting as it appears  it was forgotten that the Irish Republic is the only one of 28 Member States with a land border with the UK. I have raised this issue in my previous blog posts as it appears it is only now are British MP’s, mainly the English politicians, waking up to the fact how Brexit can be an instrument to be used by dissident Irish republicans, mainly in the North to destabilise the peace brought about the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998. At the time of writing the UK Prime Minister is in Ireland discussing the issue trying to find a resolution. As such, recent dissident republican action has put dissident loyalist groups on alert to prepare for taking action against a united Ireland.

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Regarding dissident republican groups, prior to Brexit there has been a steady growth of violent activity that can be traced from the attack on British Army soldiers outside Massereene Barracks in 2009, statement bombings such those outside the MI5 offices in Belfast, car bomb outside Derry’s Strand Road police station in 2010, even the plan to mortar bomb that police station in 2013 and killing of PSNI and prison officers (examples include the killing of Ronan Kerr in 2011 And David Black in 2012). In certain areas of the North support for former dissident republican group the Real IRA (RIRA) never disappeared. For example in Derry’s Creggan area when the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) held Easter Rising commemorations at Creggan Cemetery RIRA members not only attended in paramilitary uniforms, but gave addresses to the attendees. The ten year period of 2009 to 2019 has seen changes in dissident republican movements and groups. In 2012 the New IRA was formed between RIRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and disaffected members of the Provisional IRA. The INLA and Continuity IRA did not join this group and continue to exist in their own right as separate terrorist groups. More recently the far-left political party, Saoradh was formed 2016 and is an amalgamation of groups such as the 32CSM and Republican Network Unity.
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As I have reported in my more recent blog posts, Saoradh and the New IRA (and arguably the INLA and CIRA) have taken advantage of Brexit and the Irish border issue to deliberately misinform and use for propaganda purposes in order to incite further unrest and violence. Using the border issue saying that a hard border is evidence of British imperialism on the Irish, they have used the issue to recruit members of the nationalist community to their cause. As such, we have witnessed an increase in dissident republican activity, with the latest being the car bomb outside Derry’s Bishop Street courthouse in January 2019 and the two ‘punishment’ shootings in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry on the 2nd February 2019. Also on the 2nd February an arms cache that included a suspected mortar bomb tube was found by the Gardaí in County Louth close to the border with County Armagh in the North. This in addition to the guns found buried in a cemetery in Derry in January 2019.

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There is no doubting dissident republicans are going to use Brexit as a vehicle to promote unification of all 32 Irish counties under governance from the Dail in Dublin. As such this has put dissident loyalist groups on alert. As one of their Belfast murals says, ‘Prepared for Peace, Ready for War’. While murals are perceived as tourist attractions, recent murals like this on both republican and loyalist sides have a ring of authenticity related to the current situation. This is seen with the number of loyalist shootings and killings in the last 12 months, the latest being Ian Ogle, a spokesman for the loyalist community on the 27th January 2019. These actions on both sides suggests they are preparing for conflict and a return to the Troubles.

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One catalyst for this is the very real prospect of a poll being held on Irish unity. If this occurs, never mind a return to the Troubles, its turning the clock back to 1919 and there is no way loyalists want a united Ireland. Even though we have seen an increase in violence, we may still be left of bang regarding the North of Ireland, but if this situation is ignored by British based MP’s, EU officials and, as it appears, not recognised by DUP politicians who are pro-Brexit, very shortly we will be right of bang with an increase in violence. If this occurs all the hard work by the likes of John Hume and David Trimble that brought about peace via the GFA will have gone.

Issues related to this blog post can be read in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’  published by Routledge

My terrorism book cover

Car Bomb Bishop Street Courthouse Derry January 2019

car bomb derry jan 2019

Just after 8pm in the evening on Saturday 19th January 2019 a car bomb exploded outside Derry’s courthouse in Bishop Street. Four men have been arrested in connection to the PSNI’s investigation into the bombing. Fortunately no one was killed or injured, but it could have been different as minutes before the bomb exploded a group of young people walked down Bishop Street next to the car bomb.

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The PSNI suspect this attack was carried out by the New IRA. Earlier that evening the car was being driven by a pizza delivery man in Quarry Street, Derry and he was hi-jacked at gunpoint by two armed men. The armed men then drove the vehicle to the courthouse and placed the bomb inside the car. Shortly after parking the car a telephone warning was given to the West Midlands Samaritans in England, who then contacted the West Midlands Police, who in turn  informed the PSNI. This has all the similar hallmarks of PIRA’s activity and behaviour during the Troubles.

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There has been widespread condemnation of the attack from all Northern Irish political parties. Derry’s mayor and SDLP councillor, John Boyle said the city was shocked and saddened and during a media interview told those responsible for carrying out the attack that such actions will not achieve anything.

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One question is why are we witnessing such activity that is suspected to be carried out by dissident republican groups? In my earlier blog posts covering dissident activity in the North of Ireland I have explained how fears of a hard border between the North and the Irish Republic post Brexit is playing into the hands of dissident republican groups. (Visit my website drdavidlowe.co.uk) The messages spouted by the republican group Saoradh who use, twist and manipulate various political and economic issues to spread and fuel discontent has had a degree of success. The Bishop Street car bomb should not come as a complete surprise as recently as November 2018 a number of gun attacks were carried out in Derry that were linked to dissident republican paramilitaries. Loyalist groups have also been carrying out acts of violence and in January 2019 four men were convicted in Belfast Crown Court of murdering a man in County Antrim.

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One important issue that must be negotiated with sensitivity and pragmatism is the Brexit backstop plan regarding the Irish border. At the time of writing the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, is reconsidering this issue. In order that the current UK government can secure an agreement in the House of Commons over its Brexit plans, hopefully this will not result in abandoning the backstop plan and result in a hard border, as this has the potential to destabilise the peace process introduced following the Good Friday Agreement. This is not an idle warning, this is based by my research, experience and knowledge of the North of Ireland, in order to secure the current UK government’s position it should not use the six Northern Irish counties as a sacrificial lamb to appease both DUP and English based MP’s. If they do there is a real possibility of the Troubles returning to the North of Ireland.

Issues related to this blog post can be read in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge.

My terrorism book cover

Brexit and the Irish Border: A Catalyst to a new Irish Troubles and the Rise of Saoradh

irish border

How the Irish border between the six counties of the North of Ireland and the twenty-six counties of the Irish republic will operate post-Brexit is not just a sticking point in the current Brexit negotiations, it is an issue, which if not resolved, could be the catalyst to a rise in sectarian violence between republicans and loyalists in the North resulting in new Irish Troubles.

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This observation is not one of being alarmist, there is already a rising undercurrent of discontent in the North. This is exemplified in the rise of a relatively new Irish republican party, Saoradh. Formed in September 2016and backed by New IRA (NIRA) prisoners held in Mughaberry and Portlaoise prisons Saoradh held its first ard fheis in Newry that month. Those who gathered at this first ard fheis (and who subsequently became Saoradh’s member’s and supporters) included those who were associated with the Republican Network for Unity, 32 County Sovereignty Movement (closely aligned with the former Real IRA) and the 1916 societies. Saoradh supporters include notorious members of the IRA in its various forms such as Colin and Paul Duffy. Messages of support were read out from the founder of the Provisional IRA, Billy McKee and Saoradh’s first chairman, David Jordan from Tyrone, was a republican dissident and former prisoner.

Saoradh claims to be solely a revolutionary republican party with no connection to republican paramilitary groups, stating its main aim is to introduce a socialist agenda to support the working class by creating an Irish Socialist Republic, not just in the North but in the whole of Ireland. The party’s main issues include:
1. The end of British imperialist rule in the North;
2. The end of power sharing at Stormont and an end to the Good Friday Agreement;
3. The end of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that the party refers to as the Royal Ulster Constabulary/PSNI.

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In essence Saoradh supports armed conflict in the North and refers to republican paramilitary prisoners as prisoners of war. David Jordan was charged with the attempted murder of a PSNI officer in Castlederg, Tyrone in 2008, with those charges being dropped by the Public Prosecutors’ Office in October 2016.

While the language Saoradh uses is similar to that used by Sinn Fein during the Troubles, the party is highly critical of Sinn Fein, seeing them as having sold out the republican cause by participating in political institutions such as the Assembly at Stormont (albeit Sinn Fein still maintain an abstentionist stance with Westminster). Saoradh sees the Stormont Assembly as a ‘partitionist assembly’ and does not recognise it, even though the current impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP has resulted in the Assembly being suspended since 2017!

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While no doubt many will see Saoradh as a minor party of little significance, support for the party was seen in the Bogside riots in July 2018, activity in the Creggan, Derry in April 2018 that led to arrests and also in April 2018 Saoradh organised in Belfast an ‘unfinished revolution’ march where many were dressed in republican paramilitary dress.

Returning to Brexit and the Irish border, Saoradh’s leaders told researchers from Queen’s and Ulster University that Brexit was, ‘manna from heaven from our perspective’. Another of Saoradh’s leaders, Patrick Courty, told its supporters at an Easter Rising commemoration in 2018:

‘Brexit has the potential to break up the British state … with the inevitable infrastructure of a hard border imminent, this will drive home to the Irish people the partition of our country … and as history teaches us it wild inevitably stoke the fires of resistance against British rule in Ireland.’

DUPKaren Bradley

The warning signs are there and although the focus here has been on dissident republicanism, should Saoradh influence republican based violence, such violence will be swiftly reciprocated by Loyalist paramilitary violence. The UK government should be awake to this development as it is too important to marginalise as irrelevant or worse, ignore it. As seen in the UK government’s position regarding the Irish border issue in the Brexit negotiations the signs are not good. A consequence of not having an overall majority in the House of Commons is the UK government in being a minority government it is being held to ransom on this issue by the DUP MP’s in Westminster. The perspective the current UK government’s view has on the North of Ireland is not perceived by its population and some of Britain’s population as being positive and concerned with the issues affecting the Province. This is not helped with the appointment of Karen Bradley as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who on appointment admitted to only having limited knowledge of the North. This ministerial position should be reviewed by the current Prime Minister who should now look for someone who has a good knowledge of Irish history, Northern Irish politics and social issues. This is a country that is suffering the most in the UK especially in the western counties of Derry and Tyrone where there is widespread poverty, high unemployment, poorer standards of social housing and healthcare as well as a lack of investment in the area regarding both its infrastructure and in encouraging new business. A Northern Ireland minister who is aware of these issues could do more to assist in these areas as well as work on breaking the impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP in the Assembly at Stormont so elected representatives can pass legislation and work towards improving the lives of all Northern Irish people. If this is not done then it simply plays into the hands of the paramilitaries on both sides and their political parties like Saoradh who will spark more widespread paramilitary violence once more.

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The lessons of the 1960’s must be learnt to stop the rise of extremist groups and paramilitary support in the North as ambivalence towards the North of Ireland in Westminster could result in the country suffering another period of violence.

My terrorism book cover

Some of these issues are covered in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that was published in March 2018 by Routledge

Post Brexit will it be the UK or the EU’s security that will be the weaker?

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In June 2018 Brexit negotiations were seeming to make slow progress and at an address to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier threw a cat among the pigeons  by stating post Brexit the UK will be locked out of the EU’s policing and security databases, lose access to the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and no longer have a role in managing agencies such as Europol and Eurojust. Barnier added that security cooperation is based on trust, a trust that is founded on an ecosystem and that cooperation between the UK and EU on crime and security would be conditional on the UK remaining subject to the European Court of Human Rights. In relation to the latter, Barnier should have no concerns as there are no moves in the short term for the UK to leave the Council of Europe and thereby withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, a document that in 1953 was written primarily by British lawyers!

If Barnier’s threat come to fruition what the UK will lose includes:

  1. Access to the Prum Treaty on the exchange of DNA profiles;
  2. Access to the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II);
  3. Europol’s other databases related to terrorist and criminal activity;
  4. Use of the EAW.

At the EU Summit in Brussels on the 29th June 2018 the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May warned the EU that should the UK be frozen out of cooperation on security and criminal activity related to serious crime this would put not just the UK but citizens in the other 27 EU Member States at risk. This raises the question if the UK is denied access to important databases will it compromise UK security? In essence I do not think it will, but it could slow down progress in investigations into terrorism and serious crime.

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Firstly I think it is totally wrong of Barnier and his team to even to contemplate having the issue of cooperation related to terrorism and security on Brexit negotiations’ agenda. The key issues in those negotiations should focus on freedom of movement of trade and persons, trade and customs tariffs and so on, not security. Of course by leaving the EU both the UK and the EU should have separate negotiations on issues related to cooperation on terrorism and serious crime, but one where negotiations are carried out with a great desire  to reach an agreement without any politicking that benefits citizens in the whole of Europe, not just those in the EU. There appears to be an arrogance with the EU in thinking of itself as Europe, but there are many European nations that are not in the EU and have no intention of doing so. Of course post Brexit the UK will be come a third country (that is one not in the EU), but please note that also post Brexit the UK will still be a European state! As such intelligence sharing and cooperation between the UK and EU Member States will still be important. Terrorists and criminals to not take into account national state borders when carrying out their activity. Both terrorist acts and serious crime like the trafficking of persons, drugs and firearms have a devastating affect on its victims. In short this is simply about nothing more than keep all European citizens safe be they in or out of the EU.

In saying this the non-EU states of Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland have limited access to EU terrorism and criminal databases through the Schengen Aquis, so why can’t the UK have the same access? It might be the EU is taking  a hard line stance against the UK because the UK does not want the Court of Justice of the European Union to have any form of governance over UK law. It could also be because post-Lisbon Treaty 2009 no EU Member State has wanted to leave the EU with its many unelected bureaucratic bodies (hence the democratic deficit that has been seen with the EU). As such it can be argued that the likes of Barnier is using Brexit and its hard line stance with the UK as a lesson to other EU Member States should they wish to leave the EU in the future. At the time of writing my recent travels has revealed how widespread is the desire of many citizens in EU Member States for their home state to leave the EU. In part this could be down to how the EU has developed from the European Economic Community based solely on trade to a quasi-federalist state post Treaty of Union and Treaty of Lisbon.

If asked I see the hard line Barnier is adopting would more detrimental to the EU and the citizens in its remaining Member States than the UK. The UK has what is termed a ‘gold standard’ in relation to intelligence gathering and sharing among its security services and the police and it is a model that is constantly developing and improving. GCHQ’s Director, Jeremy Fielding recently came out saying that in 2017 GCHQ and the UK played a critical role in foiling a least four attacks on mainland Europe. Fielding’s statement came out following Barnier’s threats and it is very rare for a security service director or senior police officers to feel the need to come out and get involved in a political issue. The UK’s intelligence model is one that other EU Member States want to emulate. Also the UK is part of the Five Eyes, which is an intelligence sharing agreement between the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and as such currently vital intelligence can be rapidly fed in to the EU systems by the UK, something the EU would lose if Barnier’s threats are realised. The EU should be grateful to the UK as Europol’s former director, Sir Rob Wainwright, who left the post earlier this year, shook up Europol by introducing and improving its intelligence and cooperation structures, all based on the UK’s model. He is currently assisting the UK’s Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee on the status of Brexit negotiations on security and the options available for future policing and security cooperation between the UK and the EU.  In relation to EAW’s, there is a possibility that the UK and the EU can negotiate a similar extradition procedure that is as rapid as the EAW because the use of EAW’s has been a two-way process as just as many EAW’s have been carried out by UK policing agencies on behalf of Member States as the UK has made requests. I am confident that as such the UK and the EU can agree on a form of swift extradition. This is important as many EU Member States’ constitutions prohibit extradition of its citizens to third countries, for example Germany.

While in my opinion it is wrong for the EU to use security and serious crime as a political football I am confident pressure will be put on the EU by the Member States and its security services and policing agencies to maintain close cooperation with the UK. As I said the UK is not leaving Europe, it is leaving the EU and the EU is not Europe. Should the EU maintain a hard line on these issues I think the biggest loser with be the citizens of the remaining 27 member States.

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I discuss these issues in greater detail in my interview with Radio Sputnik