The authorities in Northern Ireland are concerned by what is regarded as the mounting possibility of an assassination attack on the leader of the republican movement, the Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
MI5 has warned that it believes there is a strong prospect of an attack on Mr Adams by dissident republicans who believe he has "sold out" their traditional cause by turning away from violence.
The possibility of an attack means that the security arrangements for Mr Adams will be stepped up this weekend as republicans stage their annual commemorations of the 1916 Easter rising. Sinn Fein has already publicised the fact that the Sinn Fein president will be the lead speaker at tomorrow's demonstration at Milltown cemetery in the republican heartland of west Belfast. This is possibly the biggest commemoration of the many which will take place on both sides of the Irish border this weekend.
Overt threats and the possibility of attacks are no novelties to Mr Adams and other republican figures. Indeed leading members of several other political parties are quite often alerted by the security forces that they could come under attack. Within Sinn Fein, figures such as the Northern Ireland Assembly member Gerry Kelly are almost routinely warned that dissident republicans, or in some cases renegade loyalists, are watching them.
Threats against Sinn Fein figures are probably the most numerous, and are taken seriously both by the security forces and by republicans themselves because of the fact that several small but lethal republican splinters continue to wage campaigns of violence.
Organisations such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA regularly denounce Sinn Fein leaders as "traitors" because of their abandonment of violence and their involvement in politics in Belfast.
Although dismissed by Sinn Fein as "mosquito groups" they do not have the capacity for sustained campaigns but cannot be discounted, particularly since last year they caused the deaths of two soldiers and a police officer. In the last year, the homes of several senior republicans, such as the minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, have been attacked with weapons such as petrol bombs.
Although Mr Adams heads Sinn Fein, he is not a member of the power-sharing administration in Belfast. Sinn Fein said yesterday that he had been told in a letter from Paul Goggins, the Northern Ireland Office minister with responsibility for security, that a recent assessment indicated the threat level against him was ranked as "substantial – an attack is a strong possibility". Sinn Fein said there had been a significant number of previous warnings from police that his life was at risk.
Mr Adams said last night: "Those responsible for these threats have nothing to offer the people of Ireland. They have no strategies or political programmes and want to turn the clock back to conflict. They must be resisted and rejected.
"Neither I nor the Sinn Fein leadership will be intimidated or frightened by these groups. We are determined to pursue our republican goals of ending partition and delivering Irish unity."Reuse content