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More officers on the ground is key to defeating dissidents

One found, how many yet to be uncovered? Among the warren of narrow roads and isolated farmhouses that mark the border, the various strands of dissident IRA elements are making bombs.

Some, like the devices that exploded in Newry, Newtownhamilton and outside Palace Barracks, will reach their targets. Hopefully, others - like the one found in Dundalk at the weekend - won't.

But that is where we are at right now - that old, familiar cat-and-mouse game between the terrorists and the monitors and it is likely to continue for some time unless something unexpectedly dramatic occurs to dissuade the dissidents from continuing.

It does seem that those in charge of security issues have now grasped the disagreeable nettle and accepted that, for the foreseeable future, resources must be refocused and directed against the dissidents.

PSNI officers are being despatched in numbers to Londonderry and Enniskillen to concentrate resources to combat the threat from active republicans in those areas. The twice-bombed Newtownhamilton station has had accommodation facilities refurbished and a detachment of officers will soon be billeted there.

It is more than regrettable that, as society struggles with the slashing of our fiscal budget and the knock-on effect that will have on our public services, police officers are having to be deployed to perform the tasks more associated with the wearisome days of the Troubles.

The story has been circulating in PSNI circles for months that one senior officer threatened to resign because others, in his opinion, failed to appreciate the gravity of the dissidents' threat.

The report circulated again a fortnight ago and a member of the Policing Board confirmed he was aware of the officer's concern.

The redeployment of officers to areas strategic to the dissidents may be the signal that the PSNI hierarchy has now accepted that they have to be among them, in the policing sense. It's not the role new PSNI recruits expected to perform, but in the current circumstances it is necessary and unavoidable.

As the arrests in Dundalk illustrated, mature and young republican combined to mount the attack.

The raid carried out by gardai was mounted following 'an intelligence tip-off', we are led to believe, and hopefully others will follow. But it will take months of attrition, at least, before a major dent will be made in the dissidents' operations - and their confidence.

That's not because they have the vast network of 'engineering' bases which the IRA boasted, but because, having lost one last weekend, they will be more cautious about being caught. With many dissidents schooled in anti-surveillance, through their IRA training, the task of tracking them is more difficult and manpower-intensive.

Additional military surveillance resources have been drafted into Northern Ireland in recent weeks and that specialist ability will greatly assist in the overall containment operation that is underway.

For the security force response to progress to proactive disruption and crippling prosecutions will obviously require more pinpoint intelligence to be gleaned from within the three main dissident elements.

The three recent attacks proved no meaningful intelligence was secured before these events and until that deficit is rectified we can expect perhaps more attacks.

The Independent Monitoring Commission's report published this week points up the lack of local and international support for the dissident republican groups and their relative pauper status compared to the Provisionals' financial clout.

While that is reassuring, the dissident elements will pose a grave threat to those involved in policing, others they deem to be unacceptable in the nationalist community, and the public in general through bomb-attacks.

Well into the future they will have to be relentlessly deterred until the war of attrition waged against them turns the tide.