Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Cathedral Quarter bomb bid makes it clear the dissidents haven't gone away

Police with a sniffer dog search the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast after a small explosion
Police with a sniffer dog search the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast after a small explosion

Dissident republicans were "prepared to take the lives of partygoers" in Belfast on Friday night – a high-ranking police source has told this newspaper.

He was responding to the bomb-on-the-street incident that caused chaos in the Cathedral Quarter – a clearance operation made all the more difficult because of confusion over the warning.

Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) left the device – which exploded less than an hour after a call to a Belfast newspaper.

The bomb in a sports bag was not at the location identified in the coded telephone warning.

That teatime call triggered an urgent security operation on one of the busiest pre-Christmas party nights in the city.

The threat posed by a range of dissident groups is still assessed as severe.

"Within severe there are spikes and troughs," the high-ranking officer commented.

And recent attacks are seen as representing a surge in activity: "Gunfire at police in residential areas in the vicinity of interfaces," the officer commented – "and bombs on streets," he continued.

He said police will keep their presence up to protect the public and deter the dissidents, but within that response "it's all about balance".

"Not causing a level of disruption to the economic well being of the city that would end up doing the work of the dissidents," the source said.

The police moved to high-visibility operations after the recent attempt to explode a car bomb at the Victoria shopping centre.

Since then, check-points have been placed on roads leading to the city centre – restricting lanes and slowing the traffic flow.

Officers on duty at these static points have been carrying long arms. They are old-time security images but seen as a necessary response to current threats.

But the noise of that bomb on a Belfast street and the recent sound of gunfire aimed at police are part of a dissident message saying they haven't gone away.

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