A second bomb attack on British security forces in little over three weeks has sparked fears of a growing threat from dissident republicans and an urgent call by senior Police Service of Northern Ireland officers for “collective” political action.
The booby-trap bomb in Co Fermanagh, near the Cavan border, led the Police Federation for Northern Ireland to say dissident groups were showing an “increased capability”, which it describing as “extremely worrying”.
PSNI and army explosive officers were responding to a report of a device on Wattlebridge Rd on Sunday morning when they discovered a hoax device. During follow-on searches on Monday morning, a bomb exploded on the A3 Cavan Road, near the Wattlebridge junction. There were no injuries.
Gardaí will conduct inquiries in a bid to determine if those behind the attack, either in logistical or operational roles, travelled to or from the Republic.
PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne said the blast was a “clear and deliberate attempt to murder” his officers. Deputy chief constable Stephen Martin blamed dissident republicans, such as the New IRA or the Continuity IRA. He urged political leaders to “collectively work together”, noting that society was “becoming more entrenched”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there was “no doubt” the device was intended to inflict “maximum harm”.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he was determined there would be no going back to the “bad old days” and said gardaí would assist their PSNI colleagues.
The Fermanagh attack follows a similar booby-trap bomb in Craigavon, Co Armagh, on July 27.
Yesterday’s attack indicated a geographic expansion beyond Belfast and Derry in attacks, said republican expert and academic Dieter Reinisch.
Mr Reinisch, who has researched republicanism for more than 15 years and who is attached to Ruhr University Bochum, said that, since January, militant republicans have deployed various tactics, such as car bombs, hoax devices, booby-trap devices, shootings and letter bombs.
“The main activities still focus on Derry and Belfast,” he said. “The attempted attacks in Armagh and Fermanagh, however, indicate republican groups are expanding their operational areas.
This recent regional spread and the variety of tactics deployed underline that republican militants operate in an increasingly sophisticated way through a growing network of supporters.
“While there will be no return to the mass violence of previous decades, a no-deal Brexit and a subsequently imposed hard border may provoke similar attacks along the border.”
Mark Lindsay, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, expressed concern at the rising dissident threat: “These people have had the intent of murdering police officers or our military colleagues for some considerable time, but are now showing an increased capability in carrying out such attacks and this is extremely worrying.”
James Morrisroe, spokesman Garda Representative Association Northern Region said: “Here is an orchestrated and planned attempt to take the lives of close colleagues of ours. We work on a daily basis with the PSNI.”