Criticism of dissident terrorists is not enough: action to combat them must be supported

Morning View
Morning View

Last night a PSNI officer was shot in another terrorist attack in north Belfast.

It was the latest serious violent incident attributed to dissident republicans with the aim of murdering members of the security forces.

Last week an explosive device was discovered in Poleglass, in the west of the city. It was said to have been designed to “kill or seriously injure police officers”.

There was widespread denunciation of both incidents. Even the former IRA man Gerry Kelly MLA said last night’s Crumlin Road gunmen “have nothing to offer society”.

The unanimity of the denunciation of these attacks or would-be attacks is welcome. The criticism from Sinn Fein is particularly so, given its roots alongside the IRA.

But we need to move beyond criticism and denunciation.

There was unanimous denunciation of the Omagh Bomb, of the Massereene murders, of the murder of Stephen Carroll, of the murder of Ronan Kerr, of the murder of David Black and of the murder of Adrian Ismay.

It was the same chorus that last night said that dissidents were futile, that they would not prevail, etc, etc

We need to see this chorus translate into support for the hard work of defeating terror, such as support for our intelligence agencies, who are crucial but under severe pressure due to the scale of work they have to do monitoring Islamic fanatics.

Let us hope that the SDLP has now moved beyond gestures such as holding ‘spook’ signs outsides MI5 headquarters in Holywood, Co Down, and can instead support the work of these unsung heroes who help keep our streets safe.

The conviction rate in the aforementioned dissident murders is disturbingly low.

Prison sentences given now to serious dissident offences are alarmingly light.

And bail policy in dissident cases is disgracefully lenient - as was exposed by the disappearance of Damien McLaughlin.

The News Letter has been campaigning on bail policy in Northern Ireland, and this week we will continue that scrutiny (see links to our previous coverage below).

But the McLaughlin scandal was met with scant levels of outrage – the Alliance Party and the justice minister Claire Sugden said nothing about the affair for a week afterwards, until pressed to do so by this newspaper.

The courts have still said nothing to reassure the public, despite their extraordinary decisions – typically over-ruling the opposition of police and prosecutors – and despite the grave breaches of conditions in at least one case that went without sanction and were in effect rewarded with continuing bail.

Granting holiday leave for people on serious dissident charges has been the norm.

This must all change.

The wider slap-on-the-wrists and roll-of-the-eyes culture towards the dangerous dissident threat is not enough.

Lives are at risk.

We hear much about the human rights of dissident prisoners. We must now focus on the very real threat to the most precious human right of all, that to life itself, of the members of the Northern Ireland public, particularly members of the targeted security forces.

Very soon people might be dying again at the hands of terrorists, as thousands of people did during the Troubles.

The authorities will need the full support of all the main political parties if that risk is to be diminished, and not just statements of denunciation whenever another life or limb is lost.

Click here for a story that has full links to News Letter coverage of the bail scandal

Morning View January 7: Courts must urgently explain lenient bail policy for terror cases

Ben Lowry: Bail scandal indifference suggests we are not all agreed that dissident terror is a serious matter

Ben Lowry: No other country in the West would treat terror charges as lightly as Northern Ireland does