By Andrew Bushe
BELFAST – Republican groups opposed to the involvement of Sinn Fein and the IRA in the Belfast Agreement stepped up paramilitary actions on both sides of the border last week with at least three bombing missions as well as a failed attempt to rob a security van in Wicklow that left one man dead.
The Continuity IRA, linked by the RUC to Republican Sinn Fein, is being blamed for the car bomb defused by the British Army in the County Antrim town of Lisburn last Thursday.
The 700-pound bomb, made of home-made explosives, was ready to detonate. The car used was stolen in Dublin on March 13 and fitted with false number plates. Had it exploded, it would have caused massive damage to the town center.
A caller phoned a hitherto unknown codeword to several Belfast newsrooms, saying the group responsible was the same one that bombed Moira and Portadown earlier this year. The calls were traced to a public phone booth in Newry.
The RUC have indicated that it does not believe the Provisional IRA was involved in the Moira or Portadown bombings, and have pointed the finger at the Continuity IRA. Republican Sinn Fein has denied that it has links with the group, but it’s thought they share a similar political philosophy.
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British minister Adam Ingram called the Lisburn bomb attempt a “reckless and despicable act of desperation.” Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, called it wrong and said all such actions should cease. The SDLP said those responsible were “malevolent idiots and pathetic Neanderthals.”
The attempted bombing preceded by a day an attempted security van holdup in Ashford, Co. Wicklow, in which one man, Ronan McLaughlin, was shot and killed by police. A group calling itself Oglaigh na hEireann issued a statement claiming the dead man as a member.
McLaughlin was allegedly part of a heavily armed gang that had just stopped the van. The other five men, all with Dublin addresses, later appeared before the Special Criminal Court charged with firearms offenses following the attempted hold up. The accused are Pascal Burke, 34, Dublin 8; Stephen Carney, 22, Dolphin’s Barn; Saoirse Bhreatnach, 19, Ballybrack; Philip Forsythe, 24, Sallynoggin, and Danny McAllister, 43, Ballybrack.
All were charged under the 1925 Firearms Act of possession of
firearms with intent to endanger life or cause injury to property. They were also charged with possession of firearms with intent to
Meanwhile, a group believed to have left the IRA late last year in a split over whether Sinn Fein should have signed up to the Mitchell Principles on non-violence is being blamed for the discovery of two mortar bombs in central Belfast on Saturday.
The route of the 17th Belfast marathon had to be changed after the British Army found two unexploded mortar bombs close to an RUC station.
The main arterial road through Belfast, the Westlink, was closed all morning as the police mounted a security operation. Homes in the area were evacuated.
The SDLP has condemned the attack. Councilor Margaret Walsh, who lives close to where one mortar was found, said it caused disruption on a day when people from all over Ireland were in Belfast for the 17th marathon.
Later the same day, a bank-holiday on both sides of the border, a caller using the same coded warning as was used before the Lisburn attempted bombing, warned of two explosions on the main Belfast/Dublin rail line.
A lengthy search for the devices was mounted, with all cross-border services being disrupted with bus connections to take passengers between Newry and Dundalk.
Two Irish newspapers claimed the 32 County Sovereignty Committee had appealed for assistance to Libya, seeking weapons to continue military actions in Ireland.