Northern Ireland to increase security checks

With a little over a week until polling day, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has been forced to increase security checks in response to a car bomb attack last week.

With a little over a week until polling day, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has been forced to increase security checks in response to a car bomb attack last week. The attack, outside a police station in Newtonhamilton, left two people with minor injuries. Furthermore, on Monday evening, two people escaped injury when a petrol bomb was thrown at their car in County Londonderry.

The incidents follow a series of security alerts blamed on dissident republicans aiming to undermine the recent transfer of policing and justice powers to Stormont. Just last week police revealed that the risk of terrorist attacks by dissidents was higher than at any point since the Omagh bombing in 1998.

Responding to the recent alerts, Matt Baggott, Northern Ireland’s chief constable, announced security checks would be increased:

We’ll be doing vehicle checkpoints throughout the next couple of weeks and probably beyond that. I know they are a huge inconvenience to the public but let’s be very clear the responsibility for us having to do this rests purely and simply with those people that would bring distraction back to the streets.

“We are increasing our presence as we review our security needs daily and at the moment, in the light of recent events, we feel it is necessary to do that.”

The attacks have led to growing concerns within the Northern Ireland Police Federation that the police service has insufficient resources to address the growing security threat. In a letter to ministers in the Northern Ireland executive, the Federation’s chairman, Terry Spence warned:

“The federation believes that Chief Constable Matt Baggott… is seriously constrained by lack of resources, a situation which seems to be the result of an inherited determination to portray Northern Ireland as a ‘normalised’ society despite the evidence to the contrary.

He continued:

“The attacks reflect a growing confidence and competence among dissident republicans and that they are aware that the police are not responding sufficiently robustly to deter them. Unless there is a massive step change in the security response we will gradually sleepwalk into a renewal of a full-blown, murderous terrorist campaign.”

His comments came as it emerged that more than 20 police officers and their families have been forced to move from their homes since January having been intimidated by dissident republicans. Responding, Matt Baggott concluded that he did have the resources needed to tackle the threat.

Despite such assurances, the worrying rise in the number of attacks, coupled with the intensive security operation now under way will lead to fears that dissidents will seek to use some sort of “spectacular” attack to influence to outcome of the General Election, a fear raised by Basil McCrea, one of the UUP’s representatives on the policing board.

In response, Justice Minister, David Ford has said:

“There are difficult issues for the police operating in certain areas but it should be blamed on those who caused the problem, not on those who unfortunately have to respond on behalf of all of us.

“I will do all I can to ensure that if the Chief Constable wishes to make a case for additional resources and makes a valid case we will ensure that case is put to the Northern Ireland Office and to the Department of Finance and Personnel, both of whom have responsibilities in terms of relations with the Treasury.”

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