Endgame for dissident republicans? Running out of Semtex, hardly any guns and only 30 members
Dissident republican groups are on their knees and lack the capacity to detonate major bombs and mortars, a high-level security source has revealed.
In a fascinating insight into the dissident world, the senior police source revealed that a series of spectacular successes against the terror groups had devastated their numbers, leaving just a handful remaining.
The source also told this paper that the Provisional IRA is "very much a thing of the past".
"They don't manifest themselves as an organisation and there is no threat of a heavy hand from them in the community," he said.
The police officer said he believes that dissident groups were almost exclusively equipped with material they had collected while they were in the Provisionals – and this was now nearly exhausted.
"They are constantly on their uppers for equipment," he said.
Recruitment is down to a trickle, he added, and even those few recruits could not be reliably trained in terrorist skills.
He estimated that the number of people consistently involved in dissident activity could be "carried in two transit vans".
"If they step back they must see that this campaign of theirs is going nowhere.
"The main result of it is that young men are being prosecuted and going through the criminal justice system," he said.
Despite this, police do not believe that any of the three main dissident groups are seriously considering going out of business as some former republican prisoners have suggested.
"Very little is going their way yet they still persist.
"We achieve a good level of attrition against them, they have very little support in the community, they don't have much equipment but still their intent perseveres and every now and then that intent manifests itself in some sort of attack. That seems likely to continue," he said.
The three dissident organisations are Oglaigh na h'Eireann, the 'new IRA' and the Continuity IRA. None have been able to get their hands on new supplies of weapons and explosives.
The source said he believed that dissident supplies of Semtex all go back to 1986 and 1987 when the Libyan dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi sent two shipments of weapons to the IRA.
Much of this was either used up or decommissioned in 2005 and the supply siphoned off by dissidents is diminishing. Last year the Gardai seized up to 17 kilos.
Although the dissidents still have the capacity to make homemade explosives from fertiliser they lack the means to detonate it and devices often fail to go off properly.
ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate/ Fuel Oil), the main home-made explosive used by the Provisional IRA, needed a commercial or military detonator and a booster charge of Semtex or commercial gelignite. Police believe that they haven't been able to access these and that is why their bombing campaign has spluttered out.
Turning to firearms, he said: "There are plenty of illegal hand guns and some heavier weapons circulating on the black market, particularly in the South.
"When it comes to military explosives, rockets and heavy assault weapons, we are not actually seeing them.
"Two assault rifles were used in an attack on Crumlin road and we recovered them.
"There are no fresh arms appearing.
"All the Kalashnikov grade weapons we have recovered date back to the pre-1994 Troubles."
Available intelligence indicates that the dissident campaigns are largely funded by smuggling cigarettes and laundering diesel, two activities which they regard as "low-risk and high yield".
Police believe that dissident leaders line their own pockets with some of the proceeds.
"The money does not all appear in the terrorist campaign," the source said.
The senior officer said he would like to be able to tap the powers and expertise of the National Crime Agency (NCA), the new UK-wide body set up to deal with organised crime.
However, it is currently blocked from operating here by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
The officer believes that, given the go ahead, NCA could mount civil actions against dissidents living above their means, and seize assets such as cars, houses and jewellery.
Senior security source on:
"Last year we charged 67 people so that is a decent rate of attrition. Since the first of April 2010, over 270 people were charged for terrorist offences or offences directly linked to terrorism so how could you not be demoralised with all that going on? Very little really goes their way but yet they will still persist."
"They are using improvised explosives and there doesn't seem to be military grade material available. Their Semtex is all of a certain age and, given that there has been a decommissioning process, it can only be a diminishing resource. Last year the Guards seized 16 or 17 kilos of it and they haven't been able to replenish abroad. You need a very sophisticated network to be able to supply yourself with heavy military grade equipment – they haven't got one."
THE CURRENT ROLE OF THE PROVISIONAL IRA
"We see it very much as a thing of the past. They don't manifest as an organisation and there's no threat of a heavy hand from them in the community. As time goes on even the perceived threat of that will diminish."
DISSIDENT NUMBERS AND RECRUITMENT
"At one point there was a figure of 300 given. Since then, we have charged a reported 270 suspects. We are getting down to two transit loads, but it doesn't always feel like that. There are new people coming on, just a trickle. There is not much of a steady fixed membership – people appear and then fall away again and people come out of prison and engage for a while. The numbers constantly involved are small."
"A lot of it is tied into organised crime – cigarette smuggling and fraud involving oil or diesel laundering."
WHY THEIR BOMBS FAIL
"Commercial detonators are designed to work with commercial explosives. They aren't so good with home-made explosives unless commercial explosives or military explosives are added to a booster. Semtex was the IRA's booster charge of choice, but the Semtex is running out fast. Detonators are also limited and commercial detonators and commercial explosives, for instance in the quarry industry, is very secure now. There is work done with industry to reduce the pyrotechnic effect of the raw materials they use for home-made explosives."
WHY THEY CONTINUE
"They are waiting for some sort of windfall, be it a political windfall or a security windfall. They are hoping for the policing service to commit some huge faux pas which they could use to gather support. They are looking for political events they can use to their advantage. Having said that, you don't see a lot of strategic thinking about, they are just trying to keep the pot boiling. They are waiting for something to drop out of the ether as opposed to saying "here is the route that we are going down."