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Bombers copying a familiar Provo strategy of striking at election time

By Henry McDonald

During the Troubles, the period leading up to elections - be they for Westminster, local councils or the doomed Prior Assembly of the 1980s - were always a dangerous time in Northern Ireland.

With the media's scrutiny on the region even more sharply focused than usual, the Provisional IRA would seek to ratchet up its violent campaign in a bid to intensify what Gerry Adams once described was its 'armed propaganda' value.

Read More: Dissident bomb attack on Derry police officer leaves family traumatised

The weeks before Easter were always a part of the year where the security forces braced themselves for more shootings and bombings as the Provisionals upped the ante on the 'armed struggle' to coincide with the latest anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Better still, if an election was called a month or two just before Easter, it added further symbolic value to the period of renewed offensive by PIRA.

The attempted murder of a Catholic police officer in Londonderry with an under-car, sophisticated bomb device, alongside the recent ambush of two PSNI officers on Belfast's Crumlin Road, shows that the dissident republicans opposed to peace and an internal power-sharing settlement are following this old line of strategy.

The PSNI and MI5 - the latter being the real power behind anti-terrorist operations in Northern Ireland today - were probably expecting an increase in dissident republican violence once the elections were called for a new Stormont Assembly.

Even after the votes are cast on March 2, the police and the security forces will still be on high alert as the New IRA, Continuity IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann seek to keep the tempo of attacks up until the 101st anniversary of the Easter Rising in April.

In all of this, the dissidents are merely 'copyrighting' the Provisionals although this doesn't suggest for one second that there is any collusion between the two rival interpretations of republicanism.

In fact, aside from the individual police officers the dissidents seek to murder or maim, there remains another political target - Sinn Fein.

The anti-ceasefire republicans will hardly not have noticed that Sinn Fein's new northern leader recently attended a 25th anniversary memorial rally for four members of PIRA's east Tyrone brigade shot dead by the SAS just as the republicans were about to mount an attack on a police station near Coalisland.

Michelle O'Neill was the main speaker at the event last Thursday to mark the anniversary of the deaths of Patrick Vincent, Sean O'Farrell, Peter Clancy and Barry O'Donnell who were killed before they could open fire on the RUC station in Clonoe with a heavy machine-gun.

Inevitably unionists criticised her attendance at a commemoration for men who were determined to kill as many police officers as they could.

After yesterday's attempted murder bid on another police officer in Derry, the dissidents know fine rightly that if O'Neill and her party criticise those who left the bomb under the police officer's car then she and her colleagues will be asked why it was justifiable 25 years ago to attack a police station with a machine-gun but it's not right any more to blow up another policeman.

That is the trouble with that phrase 'armed propaganda' minted all those years ago by O'Neill's boss.

It has a habit of boomeranging back on you.

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