THE New IRA has been condemned for targeting one of Ireland's leading churchmen in a sinister hate campaign.
Posters intimidating Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin were plastered outside St Eugene's Cathedral in Derry, a short distance from the spot where the terror gang murdered journalist Lyra McKee last year.
The goons targeted the Catholic leader because he encouraged young people in his community to join the PSNI.
In a parish newsletter published in February, the Archbishop wrote: "I encourage the very best of our young people to seriously consider a career in the police.
"Help to shape the future of policing here and serve your community with generosity, concern, respect and courage."
Condemning the posters, which have now been removed, Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said: "The people of Derry have consistently endorsed parties who support involvement with the PSNI.
"We are there to hold the PSNI to account because we need a police service to serve the community. Posters like these achieve nothing and I am glad that they have been removed."
Although Archbishop Martin's calls for youngsters to consider joining the PSNI caused anger in New IRA ranks, it did not spark immediate reprisals.
Sources in Derry suspect the gang is only responding now in a bid to win back support following a series of devastating arrests and arms finds.
These include the discovery by police of the gun used to murder Lyra McKee and the charging of well-known dissident Niall Sheerin, whose DNA is allegedly on the weapon.
"Tommy Mellon (New IRA leader in Derry) sanctioned the posters being put up," explained a local republican.
"It's a sign of desperation - they've been rattled by the cops finding the Lyra McKee weapon and charging Niall Sheerin.
"Because the murder was so high-profile, the gun should have been thrown in the River Foyle, but they (the New IRA) hung onto it, which was a major mistake.
"The New IRA has gone on a recruitment drive, but even the teenagers who would have joined up in the past are telling them, 'No thanks'. They realise it's a one-way ticket to jail."
As well as criticising Archbishop Martin, the cathedral hate posters complain about searches of dissident republican homes and the involvement of social services in their family situations.
They emerged on the same day that a prominent member of Saoradh, the New IRA's political wing, leapt to the defence of a dissident republican facing a child sex image charge.
Vice-chairperson Mandy Duffy, the sister-in-law of prominent dissident Colin Duffy, said Shane Stevenson had only been accused of the crime because he is a republican.
The 32-year-old from Lurgan appeared in Lisburn Magistrates' Court last week charged with possession of an indecent photograph and possession of an extreme pornographic image.
Stevenson, who denies any wrongdoing, will be back in court on August 12.
Writing on social media afterwards, Mandy Duffy said: "My interpretation of this would be an image that appears to be a child, but (is) not a child.
"But anyway, it hardly matters as this man was sent these images, like a hell of a lot of others, I'm sure, on a WhatsApp group chat or similar.
"He is the only one charged, not the person who sent it or others who received it.
"This is simply because he is a local republican.
"I would never put myself out on a limb when it comes to child abuse, but I am totally confident that this is a contrived charge simply because he is a republican.
"I will stand in support of Shane 100 percent and his family, who have suffered dreadfully due to these charges and the consequences of these charges."