Northern Ireland’s judiciary must reflect the fact that people behind attacks like the failed school bombing at the weekend “have forfeited the right to live with us”, according to an ex-top policeman.
Alan McQuillan, veteran RUC officer and former second-in-command of the PSNI, was reacting to the latest attempts to kill police in the Ardoyne district of north Belfast.
A device, which had not detonated, was discovered by a police patrol at the gates of Holy Cross primary school in the early hours of Sunday, and the PSNI believe it was intended to kill members of the force.
The same republican-dominated district has repeatedly been the scene of dissident attacks involving guns and bombs over the last few years.
Mr McQuillan (who joined the police in 1976 and left in 2002 with the title of acting deputy) said: “It just goes to show there needs to be an all-out effort on this to bring these people to justice, and part of that is when [suspects] are arrested and charged they need to be kept in custody.
“I accept bail is a matter for the judges.
“But the reality has to be if people are charged and there is a significant case against them in relation to these types of crimes, they stay inside until their trial.”
As the News Letter has shown with a number of investigations in recent months, dissident suspects facing grave charges have frequently been granted bail and had bail terms relaxed.
Even when dissidents are convicted, the News Letter has shown they can receive very low-level sentences.
For example, last August Conal Corbett (then 20 and of Flax Street) was let free on a suspended sentence after eventually pleading guilty to terror offences linked to the planting of a bomb on an Ardoyne street, targeting police.
Mr McQuillan said: “The sentences people are getting for the most serious types of crime should really reflect the behaviours they’ve shown.
“That includes not just those who plant the bombs, but those who collect the information, who support them, who do things that don’t directly kill people but support those who do.”
The courts should be “very clearly focused on keeping these people out of society, because they have forfeited the right to live with us”.
The UUP’s spokesman on policing, Alan Chambers MLA, said that if dissident activity continues, then the Province is “inevitably” in for more fatalities.
“This is no time for budget cuts to front line policing,” he said in a statement.
“The police and the security services must be given all the resources they require to defeat terrorism from whatever source it comes.”