“Dissident” republicans have stepped up their campaign of attempted bombings and shootings over the past year. A viable 60kg bomb was left outside Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfast after republicans hijacked a vehicle in North Belfast and forced the driver to transport the device into the city centre. A firebomb was aimed at a shop (which workers had to pick up and throw out of the shop) while bomb alerts disrupted thousands of people trying to enjoy their Christmas nights out with work colleagues. Predictably, none of these “operations” succeeded in striking a blow against the state – all they did was envoke widespread anger amongst ordinary people who were put in danger by these attacks.
Commercial and retail outlets have also been targets with bomb alerts designed to disrupt Christmas trade and Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH) claiming responsibility for burning down a store in Belfast city centre. ONH claimed that the store was targeted for exploiting workers on government back-to-work schemes. Rather than supporting and assisting workers organising against exploitation, their actions only disrupted workers employed at the store. This attack demonstrates the completely alien methods of such republican groups from the methods of mass organisation and struggle of the workers movement.
As a consequence of significant secret service and police infiltration into “dissident” republican groups in recent years, there has been an increase in repression of republican activists and also a certain shift of emphasis in how anti-GFA republican groups have operated. The turn towards forming new residents groups at interface areas such as GARC in Ardoyne has been used to ferment new clashes with the Oranger Order, elements of loyalism and the state, while at the same time challenge Sinn Fein in working class Catholic areas. Likewise, the arrests and detention of republican activists has also been used to mobilise what have been quite divergent republican forces to work more closely as was seen during the anti-internment march through Belfast city centre.
Many of the “dissident” republican groups have also attempted to portray themselves as left-wing and are attempting to damage Sinn Fein as a result of their failure to deliver in Catholic working class areas. One example of this is in the North Belfast Civil Rights Association where republicans are demanding housing for Catholics. There is a huge demand for housing in Catholic areas of North Belfast but there also exists a shortage in Protestant communities. To call for housing for one community solely is a sectarian demand which harms the demand for housing for working class people as a whole.
It was clear over Christmas that the vast majority of people are completely opposed to the actions of dissident republicans but there is a danger of rising “dissident” loyalism in both the UVF and UDA reacting to republicans. The danger of a return to paramilitary violence is real and must be vehemently opposed by the trade union and wider working class movement.