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A police road block close to the scene where an explosive device was detonated at Wattle Bridge close to Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh.
A police road block close to the scene where an explosive device was detonated at Wattle Bridge close to Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh.
Image: PA

'A splinter of a splinter of a splinter group': Officers suspect a handful of dissidents behind border bomb

This has been the fifth dissident attack so far this year.
Aug 21st 2019, 6:11 AM 10,225 11

GARDAÍ AND THE PSNI have established a list of people they believe could have carried out Monday’s bomb attack in Fermanagh.

The explosion happened near to the Cavan to Clones road – a route which crosses the border between the Republic and the North multiple times. Police believe it was a deliberate attempt to murder officers. 

This has been the fifth dissident attack so far this year. There was just one attack during the same period last year. 

As a result of Monday’s bombing, specialist garda officers attached to national units have been liaising with the PSNI over the incident. Officers have drawn up a list of likely suspects for the bombing. 

As of now, both police forces are working on the basis that those involved in the Fermanagh incident are part of a “splinter of a splinter of a splinter group”, according to security sources.

The bombers in Fermanagh are likely members of the Continuity IRA or the so-called New IRA, the PSNI believe. Despite both groups only having a handful of members, officers in the North believe they have the capacity to inflict serious harm to police and members of the public. 

Arrests 

In a potentially related development Special Detective Unit (SDU) gardaí arrested two men in Dublin in relation to a bomb which was left under underneath a police officer’s car at the Shandon Park Golf Club in Belfast at the start of June. 

The PSNI welcomed the arrests and said it demonstrates “the excellent working relationship” between the PSNI and gardaí.

“The arrests should send a clear message to those involved in terrorist activity that the border does not provide an escape route,” the PSNI’s Detective Superintendent Sean Wright said yesterday afternoon.

Our two police services work collaboratively on a daily basis, sharing knowledge and information, to ensure that there is no hiding place for criminals or terrorists.

Members of the SDU have been sharing intelligence, as is standard practice, with their colleagues in the North. 

However, due to the high number of incidents this year, police forces from both sides of the border have recently increased their level of communication.

The two arrested by gardaí in Dublin this week were not prime suspects for the Fermanagh bomb – however officers believe that they have information which could help lead them to the attackers.

One of those arrested in Dublin had close links to Michael Barr – an IRA man who was killed during the Kinahan/Hutch feud. 

These latest developments come after a significant quantity of munitions was found in Omeath, Louth, on the Cooley Peninsula, earlier this year. In that find, a substantial quantity of ammunition was discovered along with a mortar tube.

Gardaí received intelligence in the weeks before the search that significant munitions had been placed along the peninsula.

The operation was led by members of the Garda Special Detective and Emergency Response Units. 

That find is linked to the so-called New IRA. Gardaí and the PSNI believe the dissident group is in the process of unearthing weapons stored in remote areas along the border.

As the possibility of a no deal Brexit increases, gardaí believe dissidents are unearthing caches of weapons which had been buried in a number of locations across the region for a number of years.

Dozens of areas are suspected of being utilised in this way but police on both sides of the border need concrete evidence before any digs for weapons and ammunition are launched. 

Former Chief Constable of the PSNI Hugh Orde warned earlier this year about the risks of a hard border leading to a resumption of violence.

Orde said recreating a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would have “huge consequences in terms of security” and police and customs officers “would become a target”.

“There is no way that I can see to have a soft border unless you have equality in terms of customs and freedom of movement,” he said. 

Orde added that it would not be possible to put cameras or technology on the border without police, or some other form of security to protect them.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay visits Quinn Cement A bullet riddled welcome to Northern Ireland sign on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the location of the Quinn Cement manufacturing plant in Co. Cavan. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Increasing numbers of specialist troops have been deployed to the North in recent years in response to a resurgent dissident threat under a new strategy known as Operation Helvetic. 

However the presence of these troops is also leading to rising anger amongst dissidents.

Gardaí in the border region have long been calling on management to install another Armed Support Unit across the area due to the increased threat.

Despite Government and management backing the plan, it has still stalled due to the time it takes for members of gardaí to become fully trained for the specialist positions. 

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Garreth MacNamee

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