Twelve days ago as I sat in the company of a senior intelligence officer I heard him speak the words “multiple-casualty attacks” and describe “relentless” background activity.
He wasn’t being alarmist.
The officer has been around long enough to remember the IRA war at its height – the ferocity and slaughter of those decades before the ceasefires and political agreements.
So, when he speaks about the current republican threat, he does so in the context of all that stored memory and knowledge.
He knows the ‘new’ IRA – the latest dissident coalition – is not the old IRA; not in terms of capacity, weaponry, expertise, finance, numbers, know-how and support.
It has, however, borrowed from an old war book; borrowed tactics and learning and practice, and the title itself – IRA.
Using the backdrop of a jail protest in Maghaberry, the latest of the dissident creations targeted and killed prison officer David Black in a drive-by shooting at the beginning of November.
It was about being seen and heard; the instrument of violence used to announce itself on yet another war stage.
I have described the building of this new IRA as a work in progress.
It has brought together a number of factions including the once described Real IRA, Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) and ‘unaffiliated’ dissident figures who are linked to the headline attacks at Massereene Barracks and the killing of Ronan Kerr.
The senior intelligence officer described a “winnowing process” – the weeding out of those not trusted as this latest IRA moves to assert itself inside that fractured dissident world.
It has not brought everyone under its umbrella.
The group Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) is not part of the new amalgamation, but is part of the continuing deadly street play and is linked to a number of the recent planned attacks on security forces.
So, the “relentless” activity described in that conversation with a senior intelligence officer twelve days ago stretches beyond the IRA coalition.
Many eyes and ears are needed to watch and listen and to try to interrupt the conspiracies and attack-planning that are part of this world.
A police officer and his family had the luckiest of escapes on Sunday.
The constable, with 16 years service spanning the RUC Reserve and PSNI, spotted a bomb under his vehicle.
He looked, checked his car, and that saved his life and kept his family safe.
It is an illustration of the thin line between life and death, and on its twitter account, the Police Federation is stressing how vital it is for officers to remain vigilant and highly-cautious.
The dissidents are involved in wars that can’t and won’t be won, but while they continue they pose a serious threat to life.
Who can stop them?
This is the question and challenge.
The senior intelligence officer I spoke to recently knows only so much can be achieved in that world of covert watching and listening.
There is no such thing as 100% security or intelligence, and there will always be moments when the dissidents will come in under the radar.
That security and intelligence will contain and restrict the threat. It won’t end it.
So, there is a task for others, including those who were the key players and leaders in the IRA war.
They need to engage the dissidents; make a dialogue happen and begin this “uncomfortable conversation” within the republican community.
The Irish Government should be involved, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and others who have clout.
It is not about negotiation because there is not a new political package to offer.
The will and mood of the nationalist/republican community needs to be loud and clear and the dissidents need to hear it.
Yes they can have a different opinion, yes they can disagree with the Sinn Fein strategy, but they need to understand there is no support for armed activity and no point or purpose to these actions.
In a recent statement Martin McGuinness said the following: “I earnestly hope that we will continue to move towards the development of a new phase in our Peace Process in 2013 and that the seeds of reconciliation among and between all our people will grow.”
Martin McGuinness – once described as a hawk of the IRA war – needs to make a conversation happen amongst republicans – all republicans – and urgently, and the unionist/loyalist community needs to take a good look at itself also;
Ask what is the point of the street play over flags, what they think protests will achieve, and think too about how they are pulling police resources all over the place at a time when dissidents are trying to achieve “multiple casualty attacks”.
Those who were central to the ending of the long wars – republican and loyalist – now have another role to play.
It’s time for leaders and leadership.
This process doesn’t work when the tail wags the dog.