PSNI steps up patrols against Real IRA threat
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is increasing helicopter patrols over south Armagh in an effort to combat the growing threat from dissident republican groups and to protect its officers.
A show of strength at an illegal roadblock in Meigh, just outside Newry, Co Down, last Friday night has heightened concerns that police officers will be killed in a rocket attack or in heavy machine-gun fire by Real IRA elements.
The PSNI confirmed yesterday that it has hired a second helicopter to assist in its efforts to combat dissident republicans who are posing an increasing threat, the outgoing Chief Constable Hugh Orde has admitted.
Without British Army support his officers are virtually powerless to take on heavily armed terrorists and they retreated from the small village of Meigh last Friday night after a patrol car crew spotted the masked and heavily armed Real IRA members stopping cars just about 200 yards away.
The decision to withdraw has both angered and alarmed the North's Policing Board, which is driving the policy of Community Policing to the top of its agenda, with the full support of Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
It emerged last week that while officers who witnessed the Real IRA stunt, as Hugh Orde described it, had access to rifles in their vehicles, not all had been trained to use the weapons.
There is now a perception in Unionist circles that South Armagh has again become a no-go area for the police.
A victims' campaigner who lives in South Armagh, Willie Frazer, said the Meigh incident underlined the growing confidence of the Real IRA in the area and the limited security presence.
Mr Frazer, who was told on Thursday that his application to hold a licensed firearm to protect himself had been refused, said that people living in the area now felt more vulnerable following the Meigh incident.
"They won't allow me to have a gun to defend myself but they're telling me that they can't protect me and they can't even protect their own officers because they've no back-up available.
"What a joke security situation this is," he said.
Local people said the Real IRA group in Meigh carried a rocket launcher and rifles and may have had a high-powered machine gun stolen from an IRA arms dump in 1994.
There is particular concern that the terror group has a Russian belt-fed 12.7mm machine gun, a DShK, two of which were used in the downing of a British army helicopter in the area in 1990.
The leaflets handed out by the Real IRA group warned motorists not to pass on information to the police.
Anyone who comes to their attention regarding the passing on of information to the PSNI, gardai, MI5 or Sinn Fein will be dealt with in the appropriate manner, it warned.