Since the Belfast Friday Agreement of 1998, the security situation in Northern Ireland has improved immeasurably. The Provisional IRA and the main loyalist terrorist groups have called an end to their campaigns and their weapons have been decommissioned under an internationally monitored process.
In recent years, however, dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland – such as the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, who continued to oppose the peace process – have grown stronger.
Given the understandable focus on Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism in recent years, much less attention has been given to such groups. However, in the government’s National Strategic Defence and Security Review, published in October 2010, ‘residual terrorism linked to Northern Ireland’ was identified as a Tier One risk to national security:
‘There is a calculated campaign of violence from small dissident republican groups. Despite continuing political progress, their activities have increased in the last 18 months and the security situation is unlikely to improve in the short-term. There have been 37 attacks this year, compared with 22 in all of 2009. The ongoing recruitment of experienced terrorists and a younger generation will contribute to a continued high level of threat in Northern Ireland, as well as in Great Britain where the threat level was recently raised from Moderate to Substantial, meaning that an attack is a strong possibility.’
This report, by Dr. Martyn Frampton, the first of its kind in the public domain, analyses the origins and the nature of the threat posed by violent dissident republicans over the last two years. Dr. Frampton – an expert on the conflict in Northern Ireland and Irish republicanism in particular – has just published an important monograph about the history of dissident Irish republicanism in all its forms, which places such groups in their wider context, called Legion of the Rearguard: Dissident Irish Republicanism (Irish Academic Press: Dublin, 2010).
The aim of this pamphlet is to take these findings further and offer insight into the current security situation. It provides a timeline of dissident activity, an introduction to each dissident group, examines the relationships they have with each other, and asks what their aims are. Drawing on the expert testimony of former security service personnel, Dr. Frampton looks at some of the problems faced by those whose job it is to deal with the threat – in a greatly altered security environment – and discusses possible responses to the revival of violent republicanism.