The latest PSNI warning about dissident republicans must be taken extremely seriously and the Acting Chief Constable Judith Gillespie has underlined that such a threat remains “severe”.
The events of the past few days have borne this out. The latest trouble was highlighted by the discovery of a massive bomb in South Armagh, which was evidence that an earlier dissident republican “checkpoint” in the area was more than a publicity stunt.
Last week the so-called ‘Real IRA’ mounted attacks on the homes of family members of a PSNI officer in Londonderry — and this was rightly condemned as cowardly and despicable.
Such attacks are relatively easy to mount, but their implications are widespread. Those people serving in the PSNI, and others who contemplate doing so, have to take precautions — not only for their own safety, but also to have regard for the safety of their loved ones.
This latest tactic is a particularly nasty method of trying to intimidate members of the minority community at a time when Catholic recruitment to the PSNI is encouraging.
The attacks have been condemned by politicians from all parties and this shows a welcome solidarity across the political spectrum. Public figures must continue to display a common opposition to those who want to turn the clock back and who still believe that the bomb and the bullet are more potent than the ballot box. The latest posturing by the splinter republican group Oglaigh na hEireann is further evidence of this outdated mental attitude.
They have boasted to a Sunday newspaper about their ability to produce another huge bomb, and have warned anyone who talks to the police service will be “shot”.
This is the kind of publicity which militant republicans crave, but the threat must be taken seriously, and from whatever quarter. The PSNI, even in the last months of the former chief constable Sir Hugh Orde, warned consistently about the dissident threat, and the evidence is there for all to see.
The new Chief Constable Matt Baggott will not have his challenges to seek, but the dissident republican threat is not just a police problem.
It is a dangerous challenge which faces all of us. People may ask what the ordinary citizen can do to combat this threat. The answer is certainly not to try to take the law into his or her own hands, or to encourage other paramilitary groups to take up this dissident republican challenge.
This is the last thing which our community needs, particularly in a period when the loyalist paramilitaries seem serious about their own decommissioning. Two wrongs do not make a right and law enforcement is best left to the police.
However, they need help and members of the public need to remain vigilant. The politicians also have a crucial role in showing that power-sharing really can work.
There is nothing more dangerous than a political vacuum — and recent events have shown that there is an extremely dangerous element which will exploit every opportunity to retard the political progress we have enjoyed. They must be faced down at every opportunity.