Northern Ireland’s Easter of security alerts

With just a week to go until powers over policing & justice are devolved to Stormont, it has been claimed that dissident republicans are aiming to kill police.

With just a week to go until powers over policing and justice are devolved to Stormont, it has been claimed that dissident republicans are aiming to kill or seriously injure a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in South Armagh.

The warning, from Chief Inspector Sam Cordner came after an Easter of security alerts across Northern Ireland, including:

• The evacuation of a number of residents of the Rathenraw Estate in Antrim following the discovery of a suspicious device;

The disruption of rail services between Belfast and Dublin to allow police time to search for a reported suspicious device near Lurgan; and

The setting alight of a hijacked van in Armagh by a group of masked men;

However, the most serious incident saw an army bomb disposal unit making safe a car bomb that had been left on Saturday night outside the Crossmaglen police station in Armagh. Responding to the attack, Chief Inspector Cordner said:

“Whoever is responsible showed complete disregard for the lives of police officers and members of the local community. I would like to place on record my thanks to local people and their representatives for their patience and support during the operation to make this device safe.

“Only by working together can local police and the people of Crossmaglen show these misguided individuals that incidents such as this have no place in today’s society.”

Reaction from across the political spectrum was united in both shock and anger. Ulster Unionist Party Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh, Danny Kennedy, spoke for many in saying:

“Unfortunately, this latest attempted bombing will only add to the fears of local people over the increasing threat from dissident republicans in south Armagh, where we have had countless attacks and alerts in recent months. It is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed.”

Meanwhile, Mr Kennedy’s Assembly colleague from the SDLP, Dominic Bradley made clear:

“The actions of these people, rather than win support for their cause only serves to strengthen the resolve of local people to continue to work for peace on a day-in daily basis.”

The weekend’s alerts come after a series of security incidents, blamed on dissident republicans, designed to undermine moves to devolve policing and justice powers to Belfast:

• In February a car bomb exploded outside a courthouse in Newry;

• In January 33-year-old Police Constable, Peadar Heffron, lost a leg when a bomb went off under his car in County Armagh;

• In November last year, a bomb made safe in Armagh was thought to have been aimed at killing a police officer;

• Also in November, a 400lb bomb partially exploded outside the Headquarters of the Northern Ireland Policing Board; and

• Just over a year ago, PC Stephen Carroll was shot dead in Craigavon.

The security alerts, aimed at policing and justice targets, are designed to destabilise moves to give the Stormont executive powers over policing and justice, which under the terms of the Hillsborough Agreement is due next Monday. The fear will be that dissidents could use this as an opportunity to mount a significant attack on Northern Ireland’s security infrastructure, or use the impending General Election to attempt to influence the outcome in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, used a Good Friday interview with Radio’s Ulster’s Stephen Nolan show to say that he prayed for dissidents.

Mr Baggott, who is also President of the Christian Police Association, said:

“I ask God to take the scales off their eyes so they actually become people and their families have a future that is about anything other than violence and rage and bitterness and anger.”

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