The ability of police officers to respond to more challenging terror threats – such as the booby trap attack in Fermanagh on Monday – is undoubtedly saving lives, a former deputy chief constable has said.
Alan McQuillan said PSNI’s caution during a weekend security operation close to the border averted tragedy when a secondary explosive device detonated.
Police and army bomb disposal personnel had been tasked to Wattle Bridge on Saturday to examine what turned out to be a hoax device.
The PSNI said the hoax was a deliberate attempt to lure police officers into the area in an attempt to kill or maim.
A similar ploy was used in Craigavon three weeks ago when a booby trap explosive device was concealed in a concrete block before a report of a rocket attack was used to draw police to the scene at Tullygally Road.
Commenting on the Wattle Bridge incident, Mr McQuillan said: “Obviously there has been some very good policing here, of officers taking care in what they do, not just in this case but in other incidents.
“The police weren’t stupid and handled this extremely well.
“The PSNI and security services have been very successful in keeping these people contained, but they do have to keep them contained and they need the money to do that and, above all, they need the support and the intelligence.”
Mr McQuillan said that uncertainty over Brexit and the border situation is exploited by dissidents – the “only people who really want a hard border”.
He added: “Can they mimic the Provisional IRA? The answer is they are already doing that. They have modern weapons, they have used Semtex, they have used under car booby traps, they have used side firing mortars, so they already have that.
“What they don’t have is the ability to deploy it on the same sort of scale as PIRA and that is the key. They have no support, they have very few members and that is the critical factor.”
Current Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin said : “We have the uncertainty around EU exit, we have had five attempted attacks to murder police officers this year and the find of another mortar type in the Castlewellan area. One of those attacks killed Lyra McKee.”
Speaking just hours after the Wattle Bridge bomb blast, Mr Martin urged political progress.
“We have had two-and-a-half years of no devolved institutions, we have unresolved issues around legacy and we saw an aspect of that play out in parading in Derry/Londonderry last weekend,” he said.
“We have had tensions on the ground in communities this year around bonfires.
“Terrorists have spoken, in response the police service will continue to do its job, it will investigate this attack, men and women of the PSNI will be in every community today and tomorrow and the next day serving, but as I said in response when I went to Derry the day after Lyra McKee, and I appealed to people to have conversations.
“I think we now need action.”
The senior officer added: “We need as a society, led by our politicians, to absolutely set out not just our condemnation to these people but to work collectively together as a society right across the piece, police playing their part but police on their own not being sufficient to actually say ‘you do not represent the type of society we want to live in and we want to reclaim actually the prosperity I think we all felt a number of years ago’, but many of us sense things are becoming more entrenched and progress that had been made is maybe slipping back a bit.”