Fears Belfast bomb ‘may be linked to Easter Rising centenary’

A prison officer required surgery after a device exploded under his van. Picture: Getty Images
A prison officer required surgery after a device exploded under his van. Picture: Getty Images
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A bomb attack on a prison officer in Northern Ireland may be the first of a number of dissident republican murder bids launched to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, police have warned.

Police commanders have expressed fears renegades are intent on killing security force members as a perverse way of commemorating the landmark republican anniversary.

I believe there are people within dissident republican groupings who want to mark this centenary by killing police officers, prison officers and soldiers

ACC Stephen Martin

The 52-year-old prison officer, a married father of three, required surgery after an explosive device detonated under the van he was driving to work in Belfast yesterday morning.

His condition has been described as stable. The long serving officer is based at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre in south Belfast and works as a trainer for new recruits to the NI Prison Service.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said he was extremely concerned about an upsurge in dissident activity ahead of the forthcoming 100th anniversary of the republican rebellion against British rule in Dublin.

Mr Martin said while the terror threat level in Northern Ireland has been categorised as “severe” for a number of years he was now describing it as “the upper end of severe”.

“I believe there are people within dissident republican groupings who want to mark this centenary by killing police officers, prison officers and soldiers,” he said.

“I am saying that publicly, I am saying it deliberately, and I am saying I need the help of the community.

“That is not inevitable, this does not need to happen, but we need the support of the community.”

The 1916 uprising failed in its primary objective but it triggered a series of events that ultimately saw 26 counties of Ireland gain independence from Britain five years later.

Extremists who splintered from the mainstream republican movement during the peace process insist their armed actions will not end until the six counties of Northern Ireland are reunited with the Irish Republic.

The Rising has assumed great significance in wider republican and nationalist ideology and it will be marked by a series of state events in Dublin on 27 March.

There are dozens of commemorative events planned north of the border as well. Mr Martin said his officers were “culturally sensitive” to those and would police them appropriately.

But he warned: “There are people within dissident republican groupings who want to mark the 2016 100th anniversary in an entirely more sinister way, who want to kill police officers, prison officers or soldiers.”