By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Specialist Garda anti-terrorist units have reinforced along the border amid fears that extreme republican dissidents may be planning renewed violence.
"We have increased activity in the border area to counteract the threat from dissident paramilitary groups," a Garda spokesman said.
Security forces north and south are on the alert following intelligence reports that militant activists from a number of breakaway groups opposed to the peace process are planning cross-border attacks.
There is concern they may use the continuing political void caused by the failure to make progress on implementing the Good Friday peace agreement to try and destabilize negotiations.
The concern centers on hardliners in the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army, who are reported to have held a recent meeting about cooperation.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Only the Continuity IRA has not called a cease-fire and the dissident factions could use its name as a "flag of convenience" for new attacks.
Reports of explosions along the border with Armagh on the eve of the Oslo Nobel prize presentations to David Trimble and John Hume have heightened fears that mortar devices were being tested.
Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne has ordered extra units of the heavily armed emergency response and national surveillance units to border areas.
The move also comes following reports that the Provisional IRA has elected a new leadership.
Decommissioning of the IRA’s huge arms and explosive arsenals was ruled out in briefings to selected journalists by spokesmen last weekend. This followed reports that the IRA was considering handing over of a quantity of Semtex explosive as a "gesture."
Neither the British nor Irish governments appeared unduly surprised or pessimistic after the IRA statement, with Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam saying that she still believed the process was on track and progress would be made before Christmas.
Tony Blair, the British prime minister, said people should not lay "too much stress" on the statement. Trimble, the UUP leader and assembly first minister, said the timing of the statement was intended as a deliberate response to the Nobel ceremony.
Gerry Kelly, a senior Sinn Fein negotiator, has accused the Ulster Unionist Party leader of trying to provoke the IRA into ending its cease-fire.
"It is increasingly my view that what they are trying to do is break the patience of republicans and undermine the credibility of politics," he told RTE. "It appears to me eight months after the agreement that they are happier with conflict than with a peace process and with conflict resolution."
He claimed Northern Ireland’s first minister, David Trimble, has the "mindset and body language" of an Afrikaaner before 1994.
UUP security spokesman Ken Maginnis said Kelly’s language was that "of an old IRA member who perhaps isn’t so old or isn’t so long divorced from that particular organization, if divorced at all."