Police exchanged gunfire with dissident republicans and a 400lb bomb was left at the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Policing Board in an escalation of dissident republican activity over the weekend. While no one was injured in either incident, both have driven home the unwelcome fact that, despite heightened attempts to reduce republican activity in recent months, the dissidents remain a source of violence.
The widespread condemnation which followed the weekend attacks illustrated that opinion is overwhelmingly against them in both unionist and republican circles. Yet the violent republicans have demonstrated that they can keep going without appreciable community or political support.
In the incident in the County Fermanagh village of Garrison, shots were fired by a gunman and by police during what may have been a dissident attempt to shoot a police officer who lives in the village. A gunman fired one shot while police fired two rounds, described as warning shots. Soon afterwards three men were arrested. They are still being questioned by detectives, one of them in the Irish Republic.
In the other attack, a car bomb containing a 400lb explosive device was left at the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Policing Board not far from central Belfast. It only partly detonated. The Board's headquarters are in a modern office complex beside the River Lagan, and are something of a symbol of Belfast's commercial and political progress. The Board has an independent chairman, Barry Gilligan, but it contains members of all the major political parties. It has a brief to supervise police activity and ensure maximum community confidence in the force. It has by common consent been reasonably successful in doing so, with political opponents working well together in this common cause.
Three separate dissident groups are active at the moment, but none of them is interested in becoming involved in political activity. The motivation is therefore presumed to have been to display contempt for politics and a continuing devotion to bombing and shooting.
The authorities will now be forced to carry out a review of security arrangements for Board premises and for its staff and members. With the bomb attack, the dissidents have sent a signal that they may regard those associated with the Board as targets.Reuse content