Increased Threat in Northern Ireland
On 4 March, a bomb exploded under a van in east Belfast, injuring one prison officer. The bomb partially detonated when the officer was driving on Hillsborough Drive at 0700hrs local time. The dissident republican group, the New IRA claimed responsibility for the incident and in a statement said it was in response to a dispute between prison officers and republican prisoners at HMP Maghaberry. Furthermore, the officer was allegedly targeted due to his involvement in training other guards at a young offenders detention centre, near Lisburn.
Despite the main republican groups, including the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), having ceased their terrorist campaigns in 1998, splinter groups continue to carry out terrorist attacks, primarily targeting the security forces. Between 2009 and 2012 two police officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), two British soldiers and a prison officer were killed in targeted attacks by dissident republicans, while the PSNI continue to foil attacks and make arrests. The new IRA, which was formed in 2012, is now regarded as the most active of the existing republican dissident groups. Formed from the Real IRA (RIRA), Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), a vigilante group based largely in Derry, and Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH), which is a loose coalition of dissidents, the group has repeatedly threatened to escalate attacks.
The Continuity IRA (CIRA) is the most significant group that operates outside of the new IRA, recently claiming albeit amid scepticism from the PSNI and the security services that it carried out a targeted shooting in February. The CIRA has become weaker, with a number of arrests and infiltrations in recent years. However, with the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising approaching at the end of March, tensions in Northern Ireland are growing and dissidents appear to be becoming increasingly active. On 6 March, a pipe bomb was discovered in Derry, whilst on 5 March police uncovered a cache of explosives and bomb-making equipment in a wooded area of Carnfunnock Country Park, in County Antrim. There are wider concerns that the new IRA could have access to old stockpiles of Semtex, and could have improved their training capabilities, receiving tutelage from former PIRA members in bomb making. The bomb blast on 4 March was confirmed as Semtex, supporting the link between the blast and the new IRA. Authorities in both Northern Ireland and Ireland are on high alert ahead of the centenary celebrations. The PSNI has increased patrols across Northern Ireland in recent weeks, and police in the Ireland have increased security forces presence across the country.