Police launch crackdown on dissident violence

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The Independent Online

Police in Northern Ireland tonight launched a major operation aimed at preventing dissident republicans going on the offensive.

It is understood the PSNI is intent on cracking down after receiving intelligence the dissidents want to mark with violence the arrival from England of new Chief Constable Matt Baggott who takes over the reins next Tuesday.

The PSNI said they would be putting in place "high visibility operations over the coming days following a increase in dissident republican activity".

A statement said: "The operation will take effect across the province utilising vehicle checkpoints and high visibility patrols."

It said it was intent on countering what they believed was an increased dissident republican threat.

They apologised to the public in advance for the disruption of what "we believe is a necessary step to prevent those with murderous intent going about their businesses."

As the announcement was made there were fresh disturbances in Lurgan, Co Armagh as dissident republicans whipped up trouble for a second night.

Police warned motorists and pedestrians to keep out of the Lake Street area and Northern Ireland Railways stopped Belfast to Dublin trains because of what it called "civil disturbances".

The trouble in the town followed violence which started last night after the jailing of three local dissident republicans for plotting to kill police officers.

During the first night of trouble more than five vehicles were hijacked and set on fire and police said they received numerous reports of armed men on the streets in what they said was clearly pre-planned and orchestrated violence.

The PSNI said those involved in the violence were a disgrace.

"Once again, our country is caught in the spotlight of reckless public disorder and needless disruption," they said.

There were disturbances in the Kilwilkie estate and neighbouring Meadowbrook and Drumbeg areas last night.

Hours earlier, at Belfast Crown Court, three men were sentenced to 15 years in jail for a live mortar bomb, complete with launching tube, which was found near the Cornakinnegar Road on April 5 2007.

Damien McKenna, 26, of Deans Walk, Gary Toman, 24, of Drumnahoe Avenue, and Sean McConville, 23, of Kilwilkie Road, all in Lurgan, pleaded guilty. Police said they believed the men were members of the Continuity IRA.

Condemning the violent reaction to the jailings, Chief Inspector Jason Murphy said earlier today: "Let's be clear where the blame lies here. It lies with those who took to the streets, hijacked cars and helped orchestrate this violence, causing nothing but fear and disruption within their own community.

"This was obviously an attempt to draw my officers into the situation to escalate the violence and to cause serious disruption or injury."

He added: "Police received numerous reports of armed gunmen in the area last night and while there are no reports of any shots being fired, this is not acceptable behaviour for our streets and robust action will be taken."

Dolores Kelly, an SDLP member at the Northern Ireland Assembly and a representative of the area, said the violence was utterly futile and could achieve nothing except destruction and injury or worse.

Local Upper Bann MP David Simpson condemned the "thugs" responsible for the violence in Lurgan and called for tough action to stamp out dissident republicans before they got a foothold and spread death and destruction across the province.

The DUP man said those engaged in the street violence needed to ask themselves just what they hoped to achieve by engaging in such disgraceful activity.

"I fear what is going on in parts of my constituency is that young impressionable men are having their minds poisoned and filled with hatred by older men," he said.

Mr Simpson said that, having indoctrinated the teenagers, they sent them out to engage in crime while maintaining a safe distance themselves.

Calling for the retention of the full-time police reserve and tough action against the dissident groups, he added: "People with a longer memory will recall that the Provos started out as a splinter group, which, because it wasn't nipped in the bud, grew in strength.

"We must protect the hard-won stability and peace of recent years from those who would seek to destroy it and drag Ulster back into death and bloodshed."