Ministers in summit to counter dissidents
IRISH and British government ministers will meet this morning for a cross-border security summit on the threat posed by dissident republicans.
The talks will focus on the increased campaign of terror being waged by the renegade gangs with more than 30 attacks or attempted attacks on security targets since the start of the year.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Northern Secretary Owen Paterson will review jointly the latest police assessments of the extent of the threat and determine whether fresh initiatives should be launched against the dissidents.
They will also hear updated intelligence reports from Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott.
There are currently four dissident republican groups operating in the North: two factions of the Real IRA; the Continuity IRA, which has been hit by a rift between younger and more experienced personnel; and a smaller group styling itself Oglaigh na hEireann, with links to one Real IRA faction.
Anti-terrorism officers say it is difficult to give an accurate breakdown of active members, group by group, as there is now a large element of co-operation at local level among the gangs -- although attempts to forge closer connections at leadership level have foundered.
Overall it is thought there are at most 500 dissident activists on the island, with 350 based in the North and 150 on this side of the border.
Gardai and the PSNI are particularly concerned that recent arrests have confirmed their fears that the renegades have succeeded in attracting new recruits, who had not previously been known as republican supporters and had not figured in police intelligence.
Officers are also worried that the level of bombing expertise has increased within their ranks in the North in recent months and they are detonating bombs that previously failed to explode.
This is an indication that some former Provisional IRA bombers have been lending their expertise to the dissidents.
The director general of the British security service, MI5, Jonathan Evans, warned last week that while the dissidents did not have the capacity to return to the levels of violence reached by the Provisionals at the height of the Troubles, he believed they represented a "real and rising security challenge".
However, anti-terrorism officers north and south have dismissed claims by the Real IRA, published in a British newspaper, that they were planning a campaign against security and financial targets in Britain.
The police experts say the dissidents do not have the capacity at present to launch attacks overseas, and have no intelligence to suggest any group is close to a major expansion of a campaign of violence to include financial institutions and bankers.