Irish dissidents pose 'growing threat'

Minister warns that recent violence 'as dangerous as at any time during Troubles'

The recent upsurge in republican violence in Northern Ireland represents "a threat as dangerous as anything that we've had during the 30 years of our troubles", the Irish government warned yesterday.

Dermot Ahern, the Justice minister, was speaking following a week in which dissidents shot dead a man near the city of Londonderry and set off a large car bomb in the centre of the border city of Newry, Co Down. The man killed was an ex-prisoner said by the Real IRA to have been one of its members. The Newry car-bombing was widely condemned by public figures.

Mr Ahern, who has responsibility for policing in the Irish Republic, warned about what he described as a growing threat from groups which have been responsible for 13 major events since last September. He said such organisations were co-operating more with each other, adding: "These people are much more sophisticated than they were, and seem to have a greater capability than they had a year or two ago." He said police on both sides of the border were co-operating closely to cope with the threat.

The latest dissident-related incident took place on Saturday night in Co Armagh, when police lured into the Craigavon area were attacked by a mob using bricks and missiles which included flagstones. Officers fired plastic bullets after three police vehicles were damaged. Chief Inspector Jason Murphy said: "Missiles and masonry had been thrown at the vehicles, and individuals approached the vehicles with iron bars, trying to break the windows and get access to my officers."

In March of last year a police constable was shot dead by the Continuity IRA, one of the dissident groups, not far away.

Police are meanwhile investigating lasts week's killing of Kieran Doherty, a republican shot dead by the Real IRA. His body, bound and partially stripped, was found in a rural area on Wednesday night. His family issued a statement denying that he was an informer or drug dealer, saying he had been the subject of "continuous harassment" by MI5. While in prison Doherty was a leader of a Real IRA faction. The family's statement said he had been "trying to get on with his life" since his release from prison. It added: "Kieran was a good and decent man trying to lead a normal life and looking forward to getting married." They said that recently he had been been stressed, lost weight, and was treated in hospital for depression.

Condemning the Craigavon incident, local Sinn Fein representative John O'Dowd declared: "I would challenge those who claim to speak politically for these factions to tell the republican and nationalist community exactly how these sorts of activities advance the cause of a united Ireland one iota."