Kim Sengupta: Dissidents aim to recreate the dark days of the past

Analysis: Their activities in Northern Ireland are already having a damaging effect on security elsewhere in the country
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The security and intelligence services have faced criticism in the past for focusing too much on the Irish Troubles and the Cold War when resources should have been devoted to tracking the rise of Islamist terrorism. What is happening in Ulster now is a reminder that drawing a line under "wars of the past" could be premature.

The rise in violence in Northern Ireland does not, of course, mean that the security situation is anything like as bad as when the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) were carrying out their bombing campaigns and loyalist groups "retaliated" with killings which were often sectarian.

INLA has effectively ceased to exist and the vast majority of former Provisionals are not engaged in political violence. The various Protestant paramilitaries, too, have not returned to bombs and bullets. The campaign being waged by the dissident republicans has little support among the nationalist community and the membership of these groups remains small.

However, the numbers of attacks being mounted have steadily continued to rise and the dissidents appear to be producing more sophisticated bombs, thanks to some former Provisionals who are said to have joined their ranks.

The police are very much in the firing line and Catholic members of the force have been targeted. The aim is to recreate the past when Catholics had sparse representation in the law agencies, which were viewed by many of them as the strong arm of the British and Protestant establishment.

The escalation in violence has only recently begun to receive attention in the rest of the UK, where the last attacks of any significance, a rocket attack on the headquarters of MI6 and a bomb outside the BBC Television Centre at White City, were almost a decade ago.

Despite warnings that next month's Conservative Party conference may be the target of attempted bombing, it is not clear that the dissidents have the capability. But their activities in Northern Ireland are already having a damaging effect on security elsewhere in the country. The extra MI5 agents being sent there are drawn from those monitoring Islamist militants.

The failure to address the underlying causes of the renewed violence, not least disaffection among Catholic youths, may turn what is still a manageable security problem into one which resembles the dark days of the past.