This comment piece on Monday’s dissident bombing in Newry appeared in The Scotsman on 24 February.
In November, the International Monitoring Commission, charged with keeping tabs on Northern Ireland’s paramilitary groups, suggested dissident republican ranks were being swelled by ex-Provisional IRA members.
The Newry car bomb has now confirmed the worst fears of the security services.
Since the turn of the year, dissidents have stepped up activities in an effort to derail the Hillsborough Agreement. In January, an off-duty Catholic policeman in Randalstown was lucky to escape with his life after a bomb under his car detonated. Recent security reports have identified a growing threat from hardline republicans in Lurgan and Derry and, only three days ago, experts staged a controlled explosion on a suspect vehicle in Co Armagh, near Newry.
The latest bombing has rattled security forces but will almost certainly not prevent devolution of policing and justice to Stormont. If anything, it will only harden resolve, on both sides of the tribal divide, to see devolution go ahead. The cross-party vote on policing is due on 8 March – the first anniversary of the killing of Constable Stephen Carroll by the Continuity IRA.
Both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have condemned the dissidents but the threat from republicanism’s fringe is causing Sinn Fein severe difficulties. The Ulster Unionist Party accused mainstream republicans of failing to provide the police with details of old associates in the dissident ranks.
This is particularly uncomfortable for Sinn Fein at a time when policing is set to come under the control of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Dissident republicans might be hellbent on dragging Northern Ireland back to the dark ages but they seem set to fail.
As the fallout from the Newry bombing reverberated, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister McGuinness announced agreement on a long-awaited anti-sectarian programme. The dissidents might not like it, but Northern Ireland has changed.