Belfast Telegraph

ONH terror campaign ended in failure, but vigilante attacks could continue

 

By Ciaran Barnes

ONH will never admit it publicly, but yesterday's ceasefire announcement is a glaring admission that its military campaign was an abject failure.

The volatile dissident group, which maimed PSNI constable Peadar Heffron in a bomb blast, has been toying with the idea of calling it quits for more than 18 months.

It has not mounted an attack on the security forces in that time, having been locked in tentative peace negotiations with trade unions and charities.

The talks came about after a number of hardliners on both sides of the border were remanded in custody on terror charges, and others - more politically minded - joined the INLA.

Dundalk-based ONH chief Shay McGrane has just started an 11-year prison stretch in the south after being convicted last November of directing terrorism.

Its alleged Belfast leader Carl Reilly is facing a similar sentence if found guilty of the same charge when he goes on trial later this year. Meanwhile, the group's Derry boss Tony Taylor has been in prison for the past two years after his early release licence was suspended.

When the PSNI and Garda purposely set out to put this 'triumvirate of troublemakers' behind bars in 2015, it allowed moderates to take control of ONH and its political wing, the Republican Network for Unity, and make the first cautious steps towards yesterday's ceasefire announcement.

Tellingly, the organisation qualified its statement by making clear the suspension of its armed actions will be "against the British state" and ominously warned that "we will continue to protect our membership and base".

This is being seen as a clear message that ONH will continue to carry out so-called punishment attacks in republican communities - something it has become notorious for in recent times.

Last summer its members drew up a spurious list of drug dealers and used this as an excuse to kneecap an Ardoyne man who is a popular foster father with absolutely no involvement in crime.

Others fled their homes in fear, while some used Government-funded organisation Conflict Resolution Services Ireland (CSRI) to mediate on their behalf.

CRSI premises on the Falls Road and in Ardoyne have been previously raided by the PSNI as part of investigations into ONH.

Yet CRSI continues to draw in hundreds of thousands of pounds from Government and charitable organisations.

There is a strong suspicion in republican communities that ONH will continue to administer its own brutal form of justice.

Some observers are also concerned that hardline members and some who are nothing more than criminals - ONH was never picky about who joined - will drift into the New IRA, which is the sole remaining dissident gang that claims to be "fighting the state".

However, it too is on the ropes, with its alleged leaders Colin Duffy, Alex McCrory and Harry Fitzsimmons all out on bail facing charges of directing terrorism.

ONH couched yesterday's ceasefire statement in terms of a shifting political landscape, how "the environment is not right for armed conflict", and that republicans are more interested in politics than paramilitarism.

But that is merely window dressing designed to hide a failed military campaign that had no hope of succeeding and achieved nothing other than to put dozens of its members, including its leaders, behind bars.

Ciaran Barnes is chief reporter with the Sunday Life

Belfast Telegraph

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