Op-Ed: Underestimated IRA causes security woes in N. Ireland

Posted Nov 27, 2013 by Justin King
This week, Belfast police and counter-terror units deployed roadblocks in an attempt to deter car bombs after the Irish Republican Army’s attack on a shopping center last Sunday, in which no one was injured.
The Omagh Bomb Memorial on Market Street in Omagh  Northern  Ireland. On August 15  1998 at approxim...
The Omagh Bomb Memorial on Market Street in Omagh, Northern Ireland. On August 15, 1998 at approximately 3:10 p.m., members from the Real Irish Republican Army detonated a car that claimed the lives of 28 people and wounded 220 others. The bombing was the worst terrorist attack in the history of Ireland.
In October, British intelligence chief Andrew Parker referred to Irish dissidents as “ragged remnants of a bygone age.” That same month, the IRA conducted or attempted to conduct a bombing every other day on average, for a total of 16 during October. That is the highest incident rate in years.
In November, the IRA began hijacking motor vehicles, planting a bomb on the vehicle, and ordering the driver to take the vehicle to a specific location. This method allows the kidnapped driver to warn those in the intended blast area, and limit or eliminate loss of human life while still garnering media attention and headlines. Security chiefs have referred to these bombings as “failed” because of the lack of injuries. This demonstrates a systemic misunderstanding of the IRA’s intentions and tactics on their part. Historically, the IRA has attempted to avoid civilian casualties.
During the 1990s, the IRA would routinely warn security services prior to a blast to allow them time to evacuate the area. This method of releasing a kidnapped motorist to provide the warning is likely an attempt to circumvent making phone calls to provide bomb warnings. Phone calls are easier to trace than in the late 1990s, and a kidnapped motorist is less likely to be ignored than a simple phone call. The devastating Omagh bombing in 1998 was preceded by no less than three phone calls providing the location, type of bomb, and time until detonation. The Royal Ulster Constabulary also received a warning 11 days before the attack specifying the date and general area of the target; that warning was ignored. Twenty-nine civilians were killed in the bombing when the 500lb car bomb exploded just 400 meters from the target indicated in the warnings.
The recent “failed” bombings fit into the overall IRA strategy of disrupting the economy in the North without an excessive number of casualties.
All of this comes on the heels of the revelations that a British army group known as the Military Reaction Force (MRF) engaged in drive-by shootings that targeted unarmed suspected IRA members, even if there existed no corroborating evidence suggesting the targets were involved in the IRA. One of the soldiers spoke of his activities in the MRF in the 1970s in a documentary
We were not there to act like an Army unit, we were there to act like a terror group.
The continued revelations of British misconduct in the past, combined with the current dismissive attitude toward Republican groups by security service foretells increasing violence in Northern Ireland and another chapter in The Troubles.
Women walk past a Loyalist Paramilitary mural on the Newtonard s Road area of East Belfast
Women walk past a Loyalist Paramilitary mural on the Newtonard's Road area of East Belfast
With permission by Reuters / Cathal McNaughton
A Woman pushes a pram past a Loyalist Paramilitary mural on the Newtonard s Road area of East Belfas...
A Woman pushes a pram past a Loyalist Paramilitary mural on the Newtonard's Road area of East Belfast, November 20, 2013. Northern Ireland's attorney general, John Larkin, has suggested that there should be an end to prosecutions into killings related to the Troubles, that occurred before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement
With permission by Reuters / Cathal McNaughton