The fact remains that dissident operations in Northern Ireland are clearly running at an increased tempo. In part this reflects the somewhat traditional desire to commit acts over the Christmas/New Year holiday to keep the public aware of the campaign (especially by the New IRA), and also to take advantage of potentially lax personal security procedures over the festive season. However, at present we also believe that the flag row is being seen as a significant distraction for PSNI (several more protests in this period blocked roads and saw petrol bombs thrown at officers, with the disorder likely sporadically to continue over coming weeks). The uptick also reflects the perceived importance of 2013 for Northern Ireland, especially Derry, which remains a key heartland for New IRA activity.
Two further factors underscore the likelihood that the campaign will continue to intensify. First, evidence shows that youth in Northern Ireland continue to be particularly vulnerable to recruitment due to underlying and potentially worsening social issues. Secondly, the New IRA in particular appears to be on a significant drive to raise funds, including through criminal activity. Cigarette smuggling, fuel laundering and property fraud schemes appear to have increasing ties to dissident Republicans with finances being better controlled than was previously the case, especially in the Republic, with former Real IRA cells now reportedly being forced to work more effectively to raise and manage funds for the wider organisation rather than just pleasing themselves.
This shows the real danger from the New IRA and although we expect the security forces to maintain the upper hand they will face a continual, intensifying challenge through 2013. Potential flashpoints include the Easter period and the period running up to major events, although we assess that the dissidents do not yet have the capability effectively to operate when a full-scale policing operation is underway during the events themselves.