Newry and Armagh: Dissident campaign is growing

By Niall McDonald

Politicians from all sides in Newry and Armagh are worried by growing activity by dissident republicans.

Last night’s explosion in Newtownhamilton has been the fourth attack by such groups in South Armagh in recent months.

The bomb exploded outside Newtownhamilton police station, in the same spot where another car bomb was left just last week.

According to the police, the threat from dissidents is higher than at any time since the Omagh bombing in 1998.

Conor Murphy was elected as Sinn Fein’s MP for Newry and Armagh in 2005.

He said the dissidents need to explain their thinking behind recent attacks: “They should come forward and offer some rationale on leaving a bomb outside a police barracks, is that bringing a Republic closer?

“Is it making a bigger advancement than we are through peaceful and democratic work? We constantly challenge the people behind this and we have to continue to demonstrate that political change is possible.”

The SDLP’s candidate for the Newry and Armagh constituency, Dominic Bradley, acknowledged that people are worried about the threat.

But he said he believed an increased security response would be counter-productive.

“I believe the way to deal with it is through the communities cooperating with the PSNI, (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and the PSNI cooperating with the Irish police,” he said.

“Any return to a militaristic approach would be extremely counter-productive. It would lead to the growth of the dissidents, just as it did in the ‘provo era’. The way these people are investigated has to be as such as not to act as a recruiting sergeant for the dissidents.”

Candidates from unionist parties called for greater resources for police work and for members of the public to assist investigations into dissident groups and their activities.

Deputy leader of the Conservative and Unionists Danny Kennedy is also a candidate in Newry and Armagh.

He said more needs to be done to curb the dissidents: “These people have the intent, and they also have the capacity. I think there is growing support, even passive support from more mainstream republicans. It is no good calling them criminals, I think they are dedicated terrorists, who may indeed have criminal tendencies.

“As well as a community response, I believe there needs to be more spent on intelligence and greater resources on the ground.”

Speaking after the latest attack, Democratic Unionist party candidate William Irwin called for the community to cooperate to defeat the terrorists. “There is a growing campaign by dissident republicans in the constituency and it must be tackled head-on.

“The greatest weapon the police can have against this evil is the co-operation of the community. I would urge anyone with information about these terrorists to pass it on to the police.”