On June 17-18, the 39th G8 Summit will be held in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Local and international security services have two major concerns regarding the conference. The first major concern is the threat of attack against the G8 Summit from militant Irish nationalist organizations, the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) and the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA). Both groups splintered from the formerly active militant group the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which currently observes a ceasefire with the British government. Both the RIRA and the CIRA are listed as terrorist groups by the United States and United Kingdom.
The second major concern is the threat of communal violence between northern Irish Catholics and Protestants during the start of the “Marching Season.” This is a series of parades that assert pride in Northern Ireland’s union with the United Kingdom and the triumph of Protestantism in Northern Ireland. Smaller parades are held in support of Irish nationalism, mainly by Catholics and civil rights.
Although the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) has a long history of planning security for top-level dignitaries visiting the country, the threat of attack from either or both the RIRA and CIRA is an ongoing concern for the PSNI. The PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay has publicly stated that Northern Irish security forces expect a terror attack during the G8 Summit. As a result, the PSNI has raised the public warning of a terrorist attack to “severe,” and has requested that police and drones be brought from the mainland of Great Britain to assist the PSNI in its security effort.
The RIRA and CIRA have the capability to strike high-value targets throughout Northern Ireland, including the Northern Ireland Assembly, other government buildings, airports, and police stations. Of particular concern for the PSNI is these militant groups' use of home-made mortars, which provide them with a flexible and easily vehicle-mounted weapon that can quickly, and with mobility, strike targets throughout Northern Ireland. Home-made mortars were a favorite weapon of the PIRA in the past and were used by the group in an attack upon London Heathrow Airport in March 1994. There are three airports in Northern Ireland that handle international flights: Belfast International Airport, Belfast City Airport, and Londonderry International Airport.
Home-made mortars are particularly effective when deployed as a row of mortar tubes secured onto the rear of a vehicle, which is then driven near an airport where top-level dignitaries are scheduled to arrive. The mortars, set on a timer, would then be fired as the dignitaries arrive, creating a massive security breach and media spectacle generating publicity for the attackers. In response to this threat from mortars, the PSNI has many options. The simplest and most tried and true counter-measures are to switch flights to different and secured airports, and to move dignitaries by helicopter from airport to G8 venues, avoiding potential IED attacks along airport servicing roads.
Northern Ireland has had a long and bloody past since the Normans from France defeated the English in the year 1066. There have been a number of dissident groups that have fought for, or on behalf of, the Irish in order to gain independence from England and later the United Kingdom. This effort has benefitted from the presence of a large Irish Diaspora all over the world, but mainly in British-allied countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. The first known Irish groups who attempted to rid the British in Ireland were the Fenian Brotherhood (FB) and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Later, there was the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA), which called an indefinite ceasefire with the British government in Northern Ireland in 1972. The OIRA later splintered into the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which was also known as the Provo’s or simply the RA (Republican Army).
The PIRA was the most effective militant organization of its time anywhere in the world, and it evolved into becoming more proficient at conducting attacks through terrorist tactics. At first, the PIRA had the support of many Irish and Northern Irish Catholics people, utilizing the propaganda that was written in its newspaper, An Phroblach. The global Irish Diaspora provided money to finance the PIRA’s operations. As time passed, the PIRA escalated its attacks to include the bombing of British mainland pubs and attacks against civilians, which decreased public support for its activities.
The PIRA’s dream of a united Ireland, however, never became a reality, and the PIRA’s civilian and political wing, Sinn Fein, and the British government agreed to peace talks. On April 10, 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was signed by both sides. Prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the RIRA and the CIRA split from the PIRA in protest of peace with the United Kingdom without the re-unification of Ireland.
The CIRA was formed in 1986, but did not assert itself separate from the PIRA until 1994. Its attacks have drawn less attention than those conducted by the RIRA, but the CIRA has escalated its attacks in frequency since 1994. The RIRA, which asserted itself in 1998, is committed to terrorist tactics in order to pressure the British government to allow for the unification of Ireland. On August 15, 2003, the RIRA carried out the single most atrocious attack in the history of Northern Ireland when it planted a car bomb in the town of Omagh in County Tyrone, killing 29 and leaving hundreds injured. Since then, the group has carried out numerous attacks on members of the PSNI, prison wardens, and government buildings.
These two groups cause the PSNI huge security problems but not on the same scale as the previous Provisional IRA. Indeed, they are not seen as a huge problem to the current peace process, and are only seen as more of a hindrance. At the Sinn Fein ard fheis conference held in County Mayo on Apr 13, Martin McGuinness, a well-known former member of PIRA and a political activist of Sinn Fein, had asked of dissident republicans: “Where were they when there was a war.” Sinn Fein holds the RIRA and CIRA in contempt for their efforts to destroy the peace process in Northern Ireland.
The chance of a terrorist attack on or near the G8 Summit is more than possible. An attack elsewhere in County Fermanagh is more likely, however, and would bring much-needed media publicity for Northern Irish militant groups. It should be expected that the militant groups will use their own local assets to conduct reconnaissance in order to target the weak spots in the security procedures, both at the G8 Summit and in the wider County Fermanagh. It is doubtful that the RIRA and CIRA would want to directly harm attendants of the summit, which would make the militant groups the target of retribution operations from the countries of the harmed attendants. A successful, but non-lethal, attack on the G8 Summit itself would bring the RIRA and CIRA local support from northern Irish nationalists, and international support from like-minded militant groups.
The media must approach any and all potential terrorist attacks against the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland with caution and measured reporting. Both the RIRA and CIRA are seeking the maximum amount of publicity for their organizations through attacks. The most impactful media attention would come to the militant groups if they were able to de-stabilize the G8 Summit completely and prevent it from proceeding as planned.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst at 361 Security