The Government today ruled out bringing the Army to the streets of Northern Ireland in the fight against dissident republicans.
Senior unionists suggested the soldiers should be deployed or that more resources should be given to the PSNI after the Real IRA planted a massive bomb in Forkhill, south Armagh.
Former DUP Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We either have additional police resources or we have the Army back.
“This dissident threat is growing all the time,” he added.
And Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy said he would also back a call for a return of troops.
However a spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office today told the Telegraph: “Operation Banner in which the Army provided routine support for police ended in 2007 and won’t be reactivated.”
Police said the bomb, containing 600lb of home-made explosives, had the potential to cause “terrible carnage” had it exploded on the country road on the Armagh/Monaghan border. The device which was 100lb bigger than the Omagh bomb was left just 50 feet from a nearby home – forcing 20 residents\[Chris Cairns\] — including a 10-day-old baby — to flee their homes during the four-day operation to defuse the huge bomb.
A faction of the Real IRA, calling itself Oglaigh na hEireann (OHN), claimed responsibility for planting the massive device in a telephone call to a newspaper.
Anti-terrorist officers said the bomb, which was planted in concealed drums on the northern side of the Louth-Armagh border with the detonation unit hidden in the Republic, was intended to blow up a PSNI patrol.
The home-made bomb was defused by Army officers at Carrive Road outside Forkhill yesterday. A bomb disposal team from the Republic was also involved.
It is believed the bombers belong to a 12-man gang aligned to leading dissident republican Liam Campbell based in the Carlingford area of Co Louth.
In June Campbell was among four men named as being responsible for the 1998 Omagh explosion.
Yesterday PSNI commander for Newry and Mourne, Chief Inspector Sam Cordner, said the explosion “would have demolished local housing with fatal consequence”.
Mr Cordner said: “Their actions were reckless and dangerous in the extreme. Their target may have been the police, but they did not care who they killed or injured.”