‘We will be prepared and ready for any potential upsurge in violence’

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable, Crime Operations Department, Barbara Gray, at PSNI Headquarters in Belfast. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable, Crime Operations Department, Barbara Gray, at PSNI Headquarters in Belfast. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
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A no-deal Brexit could prompt a year-long upsurge in dissident republican violence in Northern Ireland, a senior police commander has said.

Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray said it was too simplistic to attribute the recent spate of dissident attacks to Brexit.

But the officer, who heads up the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s counter-terrorism response, warned it would likely become a motivating factor for extremists in the event of a disorderly exit.

As well as several recent attacks, one of which resulted in the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in April, Ms Gray revealed 10 other murder bids have been foiled in the last two years.

“We will be prepared and we will be very ready for any potential upsurge in violence that may happen after Brexit,” she told the PA news agency.

“We predict that a six to 12-month period, if there’s a no-deal Brexit, that there could be an upsurge in violence.”

The PSNI is attempting to combat the threat from several dissident groupings.

The New IRA is the largest but a recent bomb blast in Co Fermanagh blamed on the Continuity IRA demonstrated the threat still posed by that group.

Officers also consider the smaller Arm na Poblachta (ANP) and Irish Republican Movement (IRM) as risks to national security.

“Anything that brings the border issue into question in Northern Ireland brings tension,” Ms Gray said.

“I think in the last few weeks, probably since the new Cabinet, the new PM and his announcements (on the exit date) that ‘this is October 31, this is what we’re looking at’, I think generally you can almost feel at bit of anxiety rising across society.”

Ms Gray said policing the border in significant numbers to support any checks or controls that might be required in a no-deal scenario would bring risks for officers.

“If questions of the border are being brought into play that does bring with it pressures,” she said.

“If we as a police service have to at times maybe support other enforcement agencies - could be agriculture or whatever else - that does bring us into the picture probably in a different style and tone than we have been policing around border areas for many years.

“Overall, our assessment would be that we would be concerned for a six to 12-month time frame there would be some sort of upsurge in support for dissident republican groupings and activities.”

Meanwhile, ACC Gray believes dissident republicans have been energised by their murder of journalist Lyra McKee, enjoying the publicity the killing generated.

She said the New IRA derived “sick and sad” pleasure in the reaction to the shooting, motivating them to intensify their activities in the region.

Ms Gray expressed regret that the public outcry following the murder of the 29-year-old, as she observed rioting in Londonderry in April, did not act as a watershed moment for the dissidents to reconsider their adherence to violence.

She claimed the reverse has been true, saying the killing in Londonderry’s Creggan area was a factor in the recent spike in dissident murder bids in the region.

“They enjoyed and were energised by the coverage they got following the murder of Lyra McKee - that actually buoyed them,” she told the PA news agency.

“Certainly they weren’t reaching towards any cessation of violence or stepping back from what they did - very, very sadly when the rest of the world is looking at this and saying what an outrage this is.”

She added: “I honestly thought, there is an opportunity here in society, and I think everybody got that, there was a real sense this could be a turning point and this could be a tipping point.

“Overall I am absolutely convinced that it actually energised them in a very sick and sad way, it has energised their efforts I believe.”