These killings should come as no surprise. We were warned
The Massereene murder attack comes after repeated warnings about the capacity and intentions of dissident groups, writes David Gordon
Sir Hugh Orde has never held back on his warnings about the determination of dissident republicans to kill. It was disclosed last week that the dissident threat level had been officially raised to “severe”.
But in truth, the Chief Constable has been making a series of blunt comments for many months about the dangers facing the security forces.
In an interview in August last year, Sir Hugh stated: “We are seeing dissident republicans currently at the top end of activity in my experience here.
“For up to a year now I've been saying my major concern is dissident republicans.”
The main focus of the chief constable's warnings have related to bids by dissident groups to kill his officers.
In the event, it was the British Army that fell victim to the murder attack.
Saturday night's events have been met with deep shock across Northern Ireland.
But given how close previous bids came to claiming a life, it was unfortunately not that unexpected.
In November 2007, two off-duty police officers were shot and injured within days of each other in Londonderry and Dungannon.
Another near miss came in May last year, when a booby-trap bomb exploded under a young officer's car.
He suffered leg injuries in the blast which occurred in the Co Tyrone village of Spamount.
In a more recent interview last November, the Chief Constable said: “What worries us is that there is probably an appalling competition between the dissident republican groups to be successful.
“In their eyes this would mean to kill a police officer. They are determined to kill an officer — they are just determined to cause mayhem.”
He also stated: “The people we are arresting are not 50 or 60-year-olds from the old world. These are young people who are being targeted by dissidents — disenfranchised, marginalised young people who they are now using to do their dirty work.”
The fact that these small groups are capable of attracting a new generation of recruits is obviously a serious concern.
But they have been seriously constrained by security force penetration, as well as violent internal tensions.
The latest report by the Government-appointed Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), published in November, referred to five separate organisations.
The Real IRA — the group which claimed Saturday night's murder — and the Continuity IRA constitute the biggest threat.
The IMC said there were “at least two factions” within the Real IRA and that it was involved in a wide range of serious crime.
Referring to the terror group's efforts over a number of months to enhance its capability, the Commission said: “Like other dissidents, it undertook targeting, mainly of security force personnel, and it gathered information about them. It continued to seek to obtain weapons from associates, criminals and from overseas as well as by manufacturing them itself.
“PSNI searches in July and August led to the discovery of a number of weapons which we believe were associated with RIRA.
“We conclude that RIRA is a serious and continuing threat and that it is likely to remain so.”
A similar assessment was given on the Continuity IRA, together with the view that its criminal activities include drug dealing, robbery and tiger kidnapping, extortion, fuel laundering and smuggling.
The other identified dissident groupings included a splinter organisation calling itself the Irish Republican Liberation Army, which had emerged in the Ardoyne area of Belfast.
The IMC took the view that it is “essentially a group of criminals taking a republican banner in order to give supposed status to their activities”.
It had been linked to a shooting in Belfast last summer but had also “claimed responsibility for more incidents than it may have actually carried out”.
Also on the Commission list was the INLA and another splinter group, Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH).
ONH was showing signs of becoming more active, adding yet another complication to the overall picture.
According to the IMC, its criminal activities included drug dealing, robbery, fuel laundering and smuggling, especially of tobacco.
“We believe that ONH continues to pose a serious threat, both as a paramilitary group capable of extreme violence and because of the criminal activities of its members,” the Commission warned.
Five groups of differing strengths and sizes, but all of them ready to use violence to pursue their ends.
Saturday night's news should not really have surprised anyone.