David McKittrick: Dissidents re-group and plot to disrupt elections

Analysis: The threat they posed rose as a small number of expert bombmakers, who had once been members of the mainstream IRA, became active again

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Republican dissidents have posed a growing threat in Northern Ireland in the last few years, despite the fact that the figure regarded as their most dangerous gunman has been behind bars. The veteran republican – who cannot be named for legal reasons – is awaiting trial for murder and has been on remand for two years. When he was arrested and charged it was hoped it would blunt the edge of the dissident threat, but instead it has grown. The long-time republican was, for decades, a leading member of the Provisional IRA, during which time he was held responsible for a series of killings, including those of police officers.

He built a reputation as one of its most ruthlessly efficient members. But it soon became clear he was against the IRA's moves towards the ceasefire declared in 1994. He then remained active in republican violence, as the mainstream group wound down its activities.

He became one of the most prominent members of the Real IRA which, largely due to his actions, was for a time regarded as the most dangerous of the emerging dissident groups.

His removal from the scene was a clear setback for the terrorists and led to a temporary fall in Real IRA attacks. But its activities increased again, as did its capacity to use more sophisticated bombing devices. At the same time other groups, though still tiny, also stepped up their activities. The threat they posed rose as a small number of expert bombmakers, who had once been members of the mainstream IRA, became active again and offered their services.

Although there are rivalries between the groups, there has been some sharing of expertise. One group may plan an attack, a second may make the bomb and a third may actually plant it.

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