Belfast Telegraph

McCrea gets mauling over dissident IRA claims

By Leslry-Ann Henry

UUP MLA Basil McCrea has refused to back down after being accused of dangerously exaggerating the capacity of dissident republican terror groups.

Politicians across the spectrum joined with police in rubbishing his suggestion that dissidents have reached 97% of the past capability of the Provisional IRA.

Mr McCrea sits on the Northern Ireland Policing Board but it is being made clear his comments did not stem from PSNI briefings to that organisation.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show yesterday, the Ulster Unionist politician warned of years of further violence from dissidents.

“They are about 97% at the moment in terms of capability and capacity and the only thing stopping them doing it is an extremely efficient PSNI operation in terms of disrupting serious crime and these people,” he said. Despite a growing furore, Mr McCrea last night told the Belfast Telegraph he is standing over his comments.

“It was never about armaments, it was about mindset,” he said.

“I was talking about the technical capacity — can they set off bombs that work? Yes. Do they throw grenades? Yes. Car bombs? Yes.

“The technical ability already exists and is self-evident. Do I expect there to be a dissident terror threat for the next three to five years? Yes.”

“We have had ammunition recovered, a grenade attack, under-car booby-traps and culvert bombs. What is it that the current people can’t do that the others were able to?”

Mr McCrea also said the source of his analysis was confidential.

It comes a week after republican splinter group Oglaigh na hEireann in a Belfast Telegraph interview claimed that “nothing” was beyond their reach.

Mr McCrea said: “There are some things they can’t do yet but the majority of stuff they are doing, and doing successfully.

“This was my analysis on the basis of information that I had picked up from sources and other things happening on the ground.

“We have to develop policing methods that command support of all sections of our community or we risk going back to a very difficult place.” Throughout yesterday politicians, including a number of Mr McCrea’s Policing Board colleagues, were queuing up to slam his comments.

And a senior police source described them as “completely exaggerated” and “absolute nonsense”.

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey said he and other Policing Board members had received no PSNI briefings that would justify the claim.

“It looks as though Basil has been involved in nothing more than irresponsible, reckless, and many would suggest even dangerous scaremongering, all in pursuit of a headline,” he said.

DUP MLA and Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt said: “What he has said is not remotely close to where we are — 97% ca

pability is not something I have heard or that the police have said to me. There is a severe threat, yes, but he is talking pie in the sky. I think this is just a figure that came off the tip of Basil’s tongue.”

In a statement the PSNI also said it rejected the claims.

“We are on public record as saying that the threat from dissident terrorist groups is regarded as severe,” it said.

But it added: “Recent figures mentioned in the media in relation to the capacity of dissident republicans should be considered against the last report by the Independent Monitoring Commission, which said: ‘that in terms of weapons, money, personnel and support the present dissident campaign in no way matches the range and tempo of the PIRA campaign of the Troubles’.”

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