Belfast Telegraph

Fears rise that dissidents will exploit protests on cuts

Dissident republican terror gangs are planning to exploit street protests against tough economic cutbacks to boost their ranks with disaffected youngsters, police in the Republic fear.

Officers will step up their surveillance on demonstrations, to determine whether the protesters are being infiltrated by dissident activists.

Anti-terrorist officers see the new wave of protests, particularly any that happen after the Budget, as a potential breeding ground for dissident recruitment.

The emergence of new "faces" in a terror group is always a source of concern to gardai.

These are people who have not previously appeared on the security radar and have no known "form" in subversive circles.

Several new "faces" have been brought into the garda net this year as they increase the number of arrests of suspects, indicating that the dissidents remain active recruitment agents.

The combined strength of the three main dissident outfits -- Oglaigh na hEireann, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA -- is estimated to be about 150.

Numbers have increased in the past couple of years but the recruitment campaign has not been as successful as terrorist leaders had hoped.

In contrast, their campaign in Northern Ireland has attracted a regular flow of recruits and the strength is now estimated to number between 350 and 450 people.

Left-wing republican protest group Eirigi has managed to carve a niche for itself among the protesters and its members have been highly active in the Shell to Sea demonstrations in north Mayo and at the recent student protests on the streets of Dublin.

It has no military affiliation and includes a large number of disaffected Sinn Fein supporters. But it has shown that republican groups can quickly infiltrate protests and use them for their own ends.

However, a study of the background of the newcomers has convinced experienced officers that the dissidents are not succeeding in breaking into new social circles.

Most of the new "lilywhites", as they were known during the Provisional IRA campaign, were members of families with a record of involvement in republican activities.

The young terrorists were following in a tradition that previously involved their fathers, uncles or older brothers and made them more vulnerable to recruitment.

One senior garda officer told the Irish Independent last night: "There is no evidence of a breakthrough by any of the dissident groups in swelling their ranks with supporters from targeted areas such as universities and introducing fresh blood into their ranks.

"But we have to keep them under close observation as they don't need too many to set up new teams of activists and send them into a campaign of violence."

Less than a decade ago, the Real IRA managed to create a team of highly educated newcomers, some of them with student backgrounds, and sent them to Britain to launch a new wave of terror attacks.

However, the plan was doomed to failure from the start as gardai had gathered vital intelligence about their movements and alerted Scotland Yard.

The Real IRA team was arrested shortly after they arrived in London and were convicted and jailed.

In September, the threat level to Britain from Irish-related terrorism was raised from moderate to substantial. British home secretary Theresa May explained this meant an attack was a "strong possibility".

MI5 director general Jonathan Evans said he based his assessment on the "persistent rise" in activity and ambition by dissidents in Northern Ireland over the past three years.

Dissident organisations at a glance

CONTINUITY IRA

The oldest breakaway group, its formation came after a row within Sinn Fein when the party decided to end its policy of not sending elected TDs to the Dail in 1986.

Some of the senior members, mainly based on this side of the Border, walked out of an ard fheis and formed a new party, Republican Sinn Fein (RSF).

Gardai say the RSF is the political wing of the Continuity IRA although the party denies this.

CIRA continues to recruit and acquire new weapons and is also involved in extensive targeting of security personnel and locations in Northern Ireland for terrorist attack.

REAL IRA

Louth-based Liam Campbell was director of operations in the early days of the Real IRA. However, after a rift in the group, Campbell linked supporters in his traditional strongholds in the border area and further south with terrorists based in Belfast and the north-west.

After he was held in an MI5 sting, four figures came to prominence: a Belfast woman who was highly active in the Provisional IRA in the past; a Louth man who organises the logistical and engineering side of the group; a Derry man who operates an almost independent republican fiefdom in the north-west; and a man living in south county Dublin who acts as the RIRA's "officer commanding" in Dublin. The OC heads a group in the Donaghmede area who raise funds by providing bouncers for pubs and clubs in the capital.

OGLAIGH NA hEIREANN

A faction of the Real IRA set up by Michael McKevitt after a rift in the leadership of the Provisional IRA over the peace process.

The group has about 50 activists and is regarded as the most serious paramilitary threat in Northern Ireland.

It remains loyal to McKevitt but he is out of the loop militarily as he is serving 20 years for directing a terrorist organisation. Control of the faction rests with a middle-aged Louth man, who was a key aide to McKevitt in the early days of the Real IRA.

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