The murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland once again proves that the threat from dissident republican terrorism remains only too real. This latest attack comes against a background of various attempted bombings and hoax alerts that have disrupted life in the province. Back in January, a sophisticated “double-tap” bomb attack on a police patrol in north Belfast was only narrowly averted. Since then a series of incidents have occurred in Derry, Belfast and Fermanagh. Going back further, the last two years (since the triple murder of March 2009) have seen the bombing of banks, courthouses, police stations and even MI5’s regional headquarters in Northern Ireland. Just over fourteen months ago, another young police constable in Co. Antrim, Peadar Heffron, lost a leg to a similar booby-trap device to the one that detonated today in Omagh.
The choice and location of this last attack says much about the growing confidence and outlook of the dissidents. Once again, they have served notice of their intention to target the reconfigured Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), a force that has widespread legitimacy from across the two communities in the province. By targeting its Catholic members – such as today’s 25 year old victim, a recent graduate of the police training college – they hope to diminish the readiness of such people to serve in the PSNI. Their aim: to prevent the further ‘normalisation’ of life in Northern Ireland; to point up their dearly held belief that the conflict is not over.
At the same time, the decision to target Omagh, on a Saturday afternoon, with all the resonance that brings – harking back, as it does, to the fateful afternoon in August 1998 that brought the death of 31 people in a Real IRA bombing – is a signal of the dissidents’ implacable determination to plough on.