THE new dissident IRA is plotting "multiple-casualty attacks" – with a senior intelligence source describing background activity as "relentless".
This latest assessment comes just weeks after the murder of prison officer David Black in the North and the seizure of semtex explosive devices that are capable of piercing armoured vehicles.
Leaders of the new IRA coalition are said to be determined to "prove themselves" – and the overall assessment means that the possibility of a so-called 'spectacular' attack cannot be ruled out.
The organisation is operating in many parts of the North, in border counties and in Dublin.
Despite the murder of a prison officer, members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) remain their principal targets.
A senior northern intelligence source said the new group was constantly planning attacks.
Key figures have been "walking and talking", often in forest parks, as they try to avoid being watched and listened to by the security services.
"Multiple casualty attacks – that's their aspiration. They are ambitious in what they want to do, (to) in effect prove themselves," the source said.
The latest IRA grouping emerged in July as a pull-together of several factions. These include the Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) and a number of "unaffiliated" dissident figures.
It has brought together under the one roof those who carried out the attacks on PSNI constables Peadar Heffron and Ronan Kerr and on British soldiers at Massereene in Co Antrim.
The amalgamation is designed to bring together equipment and expertise and to eliminate weakness. There is no one individual or mastermind behind the building of this dissident coalition.
"Given the scale of what they have undertaken, it's a team," an intelligence source commented.
It is known that within that team there are some who played parts in the old Provisional IRA's "war".
The building of this new terror coalition is ongoing, with the intelligence source describing it as a "winnowing process" – with those under suspicion of informing to either the gardai or PSNI being weeded out.
Security services on both sides of the Border are concentrating on the organisation's finance, equipment and personnel in a bid to keep a lid on the new dissident group.
The security source said a number of planned attacks had been interrupted, with devices seized and significant amounts of cash found. There have also been successes against dissident smuggling and counterfeiting.
There is "little or no public support" for the dissident factions, the source said, pointing to greater co-operation with An Garda Siochana and PSNI investigations from within the nationalist and republican communities.
The source added: "It's surprising, the people who are helping us."
The dissidents have come close to putting together a series of deadly attacks in recent months.
Just days after the murder of David Black, a booby-trap bomb was found on a road in the Ballygomartin area of Belfast.
It has now been confirmed that the target was a soldier and that the device had fallen from underneath his car after he had travelled a short distance.
It was a bomb that had all the right components, including a mercury tilt switch and a commercial explosive. But the operation failed when the magnets attached to it failed to hold it to the bottom of the vehicle.
Just a few weeks later, police – in a planned or intelligence-led operation – seized a semtex device capable of piercing armour.
This is the type of bomb that could yet give this latest manifestation of the IRA the "multiple-casualty" strike that it is trying to achieve.