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Special Briefing: Recent dissident Republican attacks

10/03/2009

Who are the dissident Republicans?

* The two most prominent dissident factions are the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA.

* They both split from the mainstream Republican movement over its increasing acceptance of electoral politics and a negotiated settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict.

* The Continuity IRA emerged in 1986, when the mainstream Republican movement had decided to accept its seats in the Irish parliament.

* The Real IRA was established in October 1997, only a few months before the Belfast Agreement in April 1998.

* Members of the two groups have frequently collaborated.

* Intelligence sources estimate that there are currently around 300 dissident Republicans across the island of Ireland .
What do they want?

* Members of the dissident groups believe that the mainstream Republican movement has abandoned Republican principles.

* They regard the peace process as a betrayal, because it recognises British sovereignty over the six counties that form Northern Ireland .

* They firmly believe in the ‘armed struggle’ as the only way of ending what they see as the British occupation of Ireland .

What is their strategy?

* The immediate aim is to destabilise the peace process.

* By attacking police officers, they are seeking to undermine the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. Frequently singling out Catholic police officers, they are hoping to deter Catholics from joining the force, making the mandatory 50/50 recruitment policy impossible to implement.

* By attacking British soldiers, they are aiming to provoke an over-reaction by the security forces. British soldiers back on the streets of Northern Ireland would revive images of ‘occupation’ in the minds of many Catholics and make it difficult for Sinn Fein to remain part of the power-sharing executive.

* By attacking suppliers of military bases (such as the pizza delivery men who were attacked on the weekend), they are deterring commercial companies from dealing with the British military. In the 1980s, a similar strategy resulted in the refusal of many companies to deal with the British Army, and dramatically increased the financial cost of the British presence in the province.

Do they have support?

* Not much. But public support isn’t necessarily what they are looking for at this stage of their campaign.

* As long as it is possible to wage a limited, but effective, campaign of violence which destabilises the peace process, popular support may not be essential.

How capable are they?

* For most of the previous decade, the dissidents’ attacks were low-level and amateurish, despite the involvement of many former IRA members. Conventional wisdom held that the dissident factions were heavily infiltrated by the security forces.

* Intelligence sources have for some time warned of a ‘dissident revival’, with new, fresh faces joining the groups, especially the Real IRA, and operations becoming increasingly professional.

* Dissident capabilities have improved over the course of the past two years. Whether they are able to sustain a terrorist campaign, however, is too early to say.

Will the peace process survive?

* At this point, it doesn’t seem to be under threat. However, should the dissidents continue to wage an effective campaign of violence, this may create tensions within the power-sharing executive parties as well as between Sinn Fein and the British government.