Fringe groups 'small but dangerous'
Dissident republican groups remain small and isolated organisations, but key figures in Northern Ireland have conceded it only takes a handful of dangerous individuals to inflict major casualties.
The fringe groups are violently opposed to the peace process and have focused their energies on launching sporadic waves of attacks, primarily on the police.
The murder of three security force members last year has been followed by a string of other attacks, plus near misses where large-scale civilian, military or police deaths could easily have been caused.
The Government's official paramilitary watchdog, the Independent Monitoring Commission, has said it is difficult to place a figure on the number of active dissidents.
But while the groups are small-scale in comparison with the mainstream IRA and loyalist groups active at the height of the Troubles, there are early signs of some co-operation between the separate dissident republican organisations.
Prominent Sinn Fein member and former IRA prisoner Gerry Kelly, who is now a junior minister in Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, recently observed: "These small groups have the ability to do damage. Two or three people can do a lot of damage if they go undetected and they have the expertise."
Experts have said the dissidents remain a loose collection of dangerous organisations with no central command.