Belfast Telegraph

Daily call-outs for bomb disposal

Army bomb disposal officers were called upon to deal with suspected explosives in Northern Ireland once a day last year, a security powers watchdog said.

Active pipe bombs and other improvised devices were defused on 67 occasions. Another 22 alerts involved explosions, according to David Seymour.

The security services are under severe threat from dissident republicans opposed to the peace process. The incidents were recorded between August 2013 and July last year.

Mr Seymour said: " I was very impressed by the dedication, bravery and professionalism of the military and, in particular, those whose role it is to defuse and dispose of improvised explosive devices which, sadly, remain a regular feature of life in Northern Ireland."

The report from the Independent Reviewer of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 said the military was called out on 347 occasions, roughly one per day.

:: 67 to deal with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) like a pipe bomb

:: 22 for an explosion

:: 74 for a hoax where an object was made to look like an IED

:: Twice to tackle incendiaries which were programmed to ignite and cause buildings to burn, traditionally targeted at commercial premises.

:: 123 to make munitions or component parts safe

:: 59 times the call out was false

Mr Seymour's report, paraphrasing Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, said: "There is a continuing terrorist threat from a small minority of groups who retain lethal intent and capability; police officers, prison officers and military personnel remain the principal targets of attacks which vary in their sophistication.

"As a direct result of the efforts of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and MI5 there have been major disruptions, arrests and convictions in 2014 as well as seizures of arms and IED components both north and south of the border which have impeded violent dissident republican terrorist activity."

Ms Villiers said the PSNI had seized 2.5kgs of Semtex from the so-called new IRA dissident group which was undoubtedly intended for use in lethal explosive devices and noted that last year's loyal order parading season passed off largely peacefully thanks to the strong co-operative approach of all those involved.

Mr Seymour highlighted the unique environment the PSNI operated in, including a security threat which has remained severe for the past five years. Soldiers, police officers and a prison warder have been killed by extremists in recent years.

The watchdog said: "PSNI officers are targeted both on and off duty. Routine patrol patterns are liable to be exploited by dissident republican terrorists.

"Routine requests for police assistance (eg burglary) have to be assessed against the background of potential 'come on' traps where police are lured into exposed and vulnerable situations to attempt to cause them harm.

"Personal protection arrangements for the police are at a level which does not exist in the rest of the UK and 700 police officers were injured in 2013 alone (10% of all police officers). Officers in the PSNI are routinely armed and are protected by ballistic body armour.

"Police stations are protected by armed security and in some areas additional crews are sent on patrol at night just for the purpose of protecting the police. The PSNI operate in a jurisdiction where alternatives to policing have traditionally been provided by armed paramilitary groups and this still continues.

"Finally, the PSNI are currently under huge budgetary pressure."

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