Adams digs in

The big political question now is whether Sinn Fein will use the Massareene murders to try to force an end to the British army’s back up role. The attack seems to have reinforced rather than weakened their opposition to it. On the Today programme this morning Gerry Adams extended his warning before the attack that deployment of “unaccountable “ army groups was risking republican support. In the 8.10 slot. he began by denying it was “an easy thing” for Sinn Fein to express sympathy for the dead soldiers immediately .

“..the British army is not wanted by republicans, patriots and democrats. This is not to justify what has occurred .. I have to be the best judge of how I address the republican community.. The Chief Constable made a huge mistake in bringing in undercover British army units. (In the past), they were totally unacceptable as they led to the same sort of suffering endured by the families ( of the dead soldiers).. We cannot hold shady nondescript units of the British army to account .. Some of my constituents cannot even get inquests held into deaths carried out by these units.. (The future requires ) no knee jerking, and whether the British government will go back to the old securocrat agenda which is subverting the rule of law ..”

Interestingly, Panorama reporter Peter Taylor was among those today who have endorsed Hugh Orde’s view that the attack had “nothing to do” with the SRR deployment. He added. “It does mean the credibility ( of violent republican groups) is increased among the relatively small section who believe Adams and McGuinness are taking them in the wrong direction.”

It remains to be seen if Sinn Fein’s objections to the army undercover role remain largely rhetorical or whether they make a bigger issue of it. If they do, that would throw up doubts about whether policing and justice can be devolved soon and could therefore introduce a new phase of instability for the whole settlement. Might it be possible for the PSNI to re- acquire an undercover surveillance role and the funding and training to sustain it? ( I can hear the cries of appeasement already).
If the past is a guide, the medium term public response will be greatly determined by how the follow-up is conducted.

Daily Telegraph
“…less than a dozen of those dissidents may have been directly involved in the plot that led to the murder of the soldiers, and they may also have been involved in previous attempted attacks.MI5, which still spends 15 per cent of its resources on counter-terrorism in Northern Ireland, has been warning for months of the rising risk from Irish republican dissidents.

According to intelligence the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, another dissident republican group, are now divided into at least half a dozen smaller groups which have increasing access to sophisticated weaponry.That includes semi-automatic rifles, machine pistols and bombs using pressure plates, similar to ones used against British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

After successful stings in the Balkans and Lithuania, much is known about the arms procurement of the groups. But the fact remains that, to adapt Danny Morrison’s vividly cynical phrase, “they were lucky once” in Antrim and may be so again. The very limits of their capacity and support, their refusal to talk and their nihilism may be their best defence.

David McKittrick in the Independent quotes a dissident republican recent source.

“We have no political wing because we feel that strategy failed republicans in the past. Politics and military cannot operate side by side…”We will not be leaving bombs in town centres. Irish republicanism couldn’t take another Omagh, nor would anyone want to revisit that period in history. As far as we are concerned, our targets are those in the security forces.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London