REPORTS this week that Sinn Féin elected representatives have been informed that they may be targeted by the ‘New IRA’ with under-car bombs is another grim reminder of what ‘republican’ micro-groups have to offer.
The news comes a week after MLAs Gerry Kelly and Michelle O’Neill were warned that their lives are in danger. That threat has now been widened out to include all Sinn Féin members. It’s being widely speculated that the threats were sparked by the attendance of senior party members at a PSNI recruiting event last week, but since Sinn Féin have been critically supportive of the PSNI for a dozen years it’s hard to see why a logical outworking of that support would cause dissidents so much angst.
It’s much more likely that other factors are at play here. The first and most obvious is that the notable Sinn Féin advances in the recent election in the Republic represent the biggest success for republicanism since partition. The spectacle of Sinn Féin taking the largest share of the popular vote and tying with Fianna Fáil on the number of (elected) Dáil seats has sent the Dublin establishment into meltdown. Party President Mary Lou McDonald has been front and centre of the news agenda since February 8 and she has used that platform not only to push the social agenda that drove the Sinn Féin surge – a promise to take a radical approach to key issues including housing, health and pensions – but also to drive forward the party’s unity imperative. That has clearly discomfited the hurlers on the ditch of the dissident micro-groups, who wail impotently from the sidelines as island-wide changes arrive at dizzying speed. The republican dream of entering government in both post-partition jurisdictions at the same time has never been closer, and while one might suppose that a development like that would be seen as positive by republicans of every stripe, the truth is that such is the animus of many dissidents towards their former comrades that they would prefer unity not to happen if it came at the price of Sinn Féin being seen as the primary driver.
The second benefit of the threats is that they serve to distract attention away from the total failure of what dissidents, with straight faces, refer to as their ‘military campaigns’. Much as the dissident threat is talked up in certain quarters by certain people with certain agendas, and despite the fact that it claims occasional and increasingly isolated ‘successes’, the facts don’t lie. The campaign is a sorry patchwork of bungled ‘operations’ and amateur-hour ventures. Hobbled by a paralysing lack of materiel and experienced members, the biggest threat they pose is to local communities and schools disrupted on a regular basis by the dumping of pipe bombs. Deeply infiltrated by British intelligence, the groups count among their members criminals who gravitate towards them in search of cover for their nefarious activities.
And so we find them targeting not only the senior Sinn Féin members driving party policy, but rank and file members and reps going about their daily lives. If they follow through on their threat, they will find the job of targeting Sinn Féin members a lot less difficult than targeting armed police or soldiers, but they must know that any such action would be the straw that broke the camel’s back for a community from which they derive minuscule support.