A resurgence of violence by splinter groups that want the British province of Northern Ireland to unite with Republic of Ireland is causing fears that a terrorist campaign is about to spread to the mainland.
Police say dissident groups have been responsible for some 50 bombings and 30 shootings in the troubled province this year. These militants broke away when mainstream Northern Irish political parties and their armed wings negotiated a peace settlement with the British government in 1998.
Report from the province say joblessness and nostalgia now threaten to upset a delicate political balance under which Northern Ireland is ruled by its own legislative assembly where power is shared between Republicans (Catholics who want to see a united Ireland) and Protestants (loyal to Britain).
Republican terrorist groups are targeting the October 3-6 annual conference of the Conservatives — who lead Britain’s ruling coalition — in a throwback to a 1984 bombing of the party conference that killed five people and nearly succeeded in assassinating then PM Margaret Thatcher, the Observer reported on Sunday.
Michael Mercer, a Conservative MP and ex-chairman of the parliament’s counter-terrorism subcommittee, said: “They want to kill by the end of August in order to get themselves poised for whatever operations they can mount in September leading up to the Tory conference in early October.”
The Sunday Times quoted unnamed officials as saying they believe Republican terrorists are responsible for more “life-threatening plots” than militants linked to Al Qaeda. MI5, the spy agency, is reported to have redirected some £20 million away from Al Qaeda investigations following this year’s spike in Northern Irish violence.
Although no one has been killed in the violence this year, there have been some close shaves: three girls were wounded when a bomb placed in a rubbish bin exploded on Aug 14.
Equally worrying was an outbreak of religious rioting in the capital Belfast in July — the so-called ‘marching season’ when Protestants and Catholics go on parades, often provocatively through each other’s areas. Police were also pelted with petrol bombs, iron bars, bricks and bottles during the riots.