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Dissident republicans to repeat failures of past

Dissident republicans who abandoned a 400kg bomb -- bigger than the device used at Omagh -- at Newry, Co Down, last Thursday are doomed to failure, according to an author of a new book on the IRA's 1957-1962 border campaign.

Senior security sources have remarked on the striking similarities between the dissident's efforts and the IRA's failed "Operation Harvest", which resulted in the deaths of six police officers in the North and of 12 young IRA men. The current dissident activity is centred on exactly the same parts of the border -- as well as Belfast and Derry -- where the previous campaign took place. Senior sources have said that in some instances the middle-aged sons of IRA men active in the Fifties and Sixties are recruiting and indoctrinating yet another generation of young idealists.

The present dissident terrorists are also emulating the same type of attacks carried out in the border campaign and in the Provisional IRA's ruthless sectarian campaign in rural parts of the North from the Seventies onwards. One of the young part-time policemen killed in the border campaign in 1961 was targeted as he visited his girlfriend in the Monaghan-Fermanagh area. Earlier this year, an almost identical plot was intercepted by gardai and the PSNI.

In the past two years, 20 PSNI officers, mostly Catholics, have been forced to move home after being targeted by dissidents. Last Thursday morning, the PSNI discovered a large bomb, only partly manufactured, under the new M1 flyover at Newry.

The explosives were found a short distance from Edentubber on the Louth border, where five young IRA men blew themselves up while constructing a bomb in November 1957. Barry Flynn, author of a new book on the Border campaign, Soldiers of Folly: The IRA's Border Campaign 1956-1962, yesterday said that a core element missing in the "political" thinking of the current militant republicans is that they fail to address the issue that around one million unionists -- and many Catholics -- are opposed to unification.

Mr Flynn said: "The republican call to arms against Britain has been a consistent and powerful message to the young and impressionable. It follows a standard format in that the British will leave only through the barrel of a gun and those within the republican family who have accepted the existence of Northern Ireland are traitors. Just as de Valera was the 'traitor' to the Fifties recruits, the Adams and McGuinness leadership are the ones who today's idealists believe have betrayed Ireland. A new campaign to unite Ireland is sold to today's rebels in words that are utopian and in which the existence of the unionist people on this island is again conveniently ignored. The dissidents stand ready to fail and fail abysmally, if history is anything to go by."

The border campaign is largely remembered in republican folklore through the deaths of two young volunteers, Sean South and Fergal O'Hanlon, who were killed in a gun battle when their IRA unit attacked an RUC station in Co Fermanagh on New Year's Day in 1957.

Mr Flynn said: "There is something inherently stubborn within the splintered republican family that even today refuses to accept the folly of an armed campaign. In republicanism, each generation is weaned on the 'glories' of the past but, in truth, regardless of the size of your funeral, there is little or no glory in dying on a cold, wet street in a nondescript Fermanagh village.

"Perhaps today's young zealots could learn from the failures of the Fifties."

Despite claims that the dissidents are uniting and creating a viable terror campaign, senior security sources say they are totally disjointed. Though capable of committing occasional acts of violence up to and including murders, they are showing no signs of evolving into an organisation like the Provisional IRA, which waged its campaign from 1970 to 1997, killing around 2,000 people in the process.

Sunday Independent