Fears of return to the past as dissidents target UK mainland

Fears were growing last night that dissidents in Northern Ireland could be attempting to step up their efforts to derail the peace process.

Fears were growing last night that dissidents in Northern Ireland could be attempting to step up their efforts to derail the peace process at what has become a difficult period following the collapse of the Haas talks.

An update released yesterday by the South East Counter Terrorism unit confirmed that seven suspect packages had been sent to army careers centres across the region.

Following a meeting of the civil contingencies committee (COBRA) yesterday to consider the developments, the prime minister’s spokesperson confirmed that the packages had been identified as “containing small, crude, but potentially viable devices bearing the hallmarks of Northern Ireland related terrorism”.

Whilst the spokesperson confirmed that the national threat level “remains under constant review”, the official threat level to the UK from Northern Irish related terrorism has not been changed in light of these developments and remains at severe for Northern Ireland itself and moderate for the remainder of the UK.

The sending of the packages comes following a spate of security incidents. Before Christmas a bomb exploded in Belfast’s Cathedral quarter and in October letter bombs were found having been posted to senior policemen in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland secretary herself.

Earlier this week, police also discovered three pipe bomb type devices in the Parkhead Crescent area of Newry.

The attacks come amidst ongoing tension between the parties in Northern Ireland over their failure to reach agreement over the talks led by the US diplomat Richard Haas to resolve a number of difficult issues over Northern Ireland’s past, parades and the flying of flags.

Condemning those responsible, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds  responded:

“It is by God’s grace that no-one has been injured by these crude devices.

“Those behind the deadly packages are to be condemned. Those who cling to terrorism should realise that it failed in the past and it will do so again. It will only lead to further hurt and suffering.

“Northern Ireland has turned a corner. We are moving forward and no-one wants to go back to the bad old days.

“I trust the police and security services will be able to apprehend those behind this plot.”

Sinn Fein Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness took to Twitter to condemn the developments, declaring:

“Pipe bombs & letter bombs are an attack on the Peace Process. Those responsible belong  to the past. Their futile acts must be condemned. #Peace.”

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis, said the devices: “bear the hallmarks of another attempt by dissidents to reverse the progress we have seen in Northern Ireland over the past 15 years”.

“Their attempt to harm innocent people will be condemned by the people of Northern Ireland, including by those they claim to represent,” he added.

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