As Northern Ireland prepares to host this year’s G8 summit, the fragile peace is being tested by militant republican groups competing to outdo each other and take their war to the security services.
A masked volunteer from dissident splinter group Oglaigh na hEireann appeared on the streets of Belfast this week, firing a volley of shots in defiance of the PSNI’s crackdown on paramilitaries and Sinn Fein’s call for talks and a cessation of armed campaigns.
The stunt followed a statement from the group in which they claimed a 60kg bomb discovered by police in Fermanagh was intended for the hotel hosting the G8 summit in June.
Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Matt Baggott, has conceded that these groups are now attempting to “outdo” each other – creating a significant threat ahead of the summit.
As part of security measures, drones will be deployed and extra officers brought in from across the UK.
In Derry, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, considered to be the political wing of the Real IRA, took to the streets on Monday, despite attempts by the PSNI to prevent their Easter commemoration.
The group drew scores of young supporters from nearby Creggan. Some as young as 10 were throwing bricks and bottles at police Land Rovers. Flags and graffiti across the area show the 32CSM has built a base in the community.
Nathan Hastings, who led their Easter commemoration, told Channel 4 News there is growing dissatisfaction with Sinn Fein and the peace process, leading to increased support for militarism.
The new IRA, he said, is “the biggest and easily the most feared organisation in the country”. Mr Hastings was just four when the Provisional IRA declared their ceasefire, part of a new generation of disaffected young people choosing to live a life of constant police harassment as a “dissident” supporter.
“Everywhere in Derry no matter what estate you go into, minus one or two, you have graffiti, literature, signs supporting republicanism and throughout Derry there’s resounding support for the role played by the IRA over the last 30-40 years and the current role played by the IRA,” he said.
“The G8 being present in County Fermanagh is the British saying they have the situation here well wrapped up; ‘there’s no security threat here’. It’s sending a message to placate Unionists and sending a message to the world about Ireland.”
This year alone attacks saw three officers narrowly escape injury when a device detonated as they patrolled outside Belfast.
All real republicans, not including Provisional Sinn Fein, they all want the British out of Ireland, and that will continue as long as there is a British presence here. Michael McGonigle, Republican Sinn Fein
Police intercepted a van carrying four primed mortar bombs in Derry; in New Barnsley a mortar was found aimed at the police station. Weapons including a rocket launcher and a warhead have also been seized.
Reports of small explosions and pipe bomb attacks have been increasing in recent months. This weekend the Continuity IRA attempted to lure the PSNI into a trap in Craigavon with a small explosion following a republican commemoration in the area.
In Belfast, Republican Sinn Fein (RSF) will be opposing the summit and have announced an “anti-imperialist forum” to spread their message. The Continuity IRA-linked group has warned that the summit will draw “international attention” to imperialism in Ireland.
Speaking in Derry, RSF member Michael McGonigle told Channel 4 News that the summit is seen by republicans as an attempt to normalise British rule in the region at a time when paramilitary activity is on the rise.
“I am not a member of a paramilitary group, but even the chief constable Baggot says they’re a real threat at the minute.
“All real republicans, not including Provisional Sinn Fein, they all want the British out of Ireland, and that will continue as long as there is a British presence here.”
The dissident Republican Network for Unity, an umbrella group launched by former republican prisoners, has called for protests at the summit and wants left wing anti-capitalist groups to link up with republicans.
Adding to the security operation, climate change and activist groups in London and the Republia of Ireland are planning protests to coincide with the summit.
Former Scotland Yard commander John O’Connor has criticised the location of the summit, claiming the army may have to step in to plug gaps in security, a move which will be poorly received by nationalists across the region.