Real IRA 'no threat to peace process'

Dissident republican groups opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process are a dangerous threat, but have no support for their actions, a watchdog said today.

The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) issued its 23rd report on paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland to the British and Irish governments and said mainstream organisations continue to follow a peaceful path.

While the body of experts warned that dissidents including the Real IRA (RIRA) are wedded to violence, the group concluded that the militants had failed to secure public support and remain at the political margins.

Dissident groups have been responsible for a string of shootings and bombings, including a recent high-profile bomb attack on MI5's Northern Ireland headquarters, but the IMC said the groups are incapable of derailing the peace process.

"In particular, the range and nature of RIRA's (Real IRA) activities in the six months under review were, by any yardstick, a very serious matter," said the IMC report.

"However it is important to point out that this is in no way a reappearance of something comparable to the PIRA (Provisional IRA) campaign.

"There are a number of ways in which RIRA's present activities differ from that campaign. For example, the political context is entirely different, with the Belfast Agreement in 1998, supported by the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland North and South, and the community support for the developments which have flowed from it, most recently the devolution of policing and justice.

"Operationally, RIRA does not have comparable resources in terms of personnel, money, organisation and cohesion, or range of weaponry and expertise, and it has not matched the range and tempo of PIRA's activities."

The IMC added: "It has neither significant local nor international support. While the threat from RIRA is dangerously lethal, it is also politically marginal."