PSNI press officers grabbed international headlines this week when they declared they had found a “warhead” in west Belfast.
The west Belfast search was one of a string of unusual police actions this week as tensions mounted within the British state forces ahead of the summer marching season and the G8 summit of world leaders in County Fermanagh next June.
The “warhead” was eventually revealed to have been an old RPG rocket linked to the old Provisional IRA. It was found along with a rusted rocket launcher dating from the 1980s.
More than ten homes on Hawthorn Street, off Springfield Road in west Belfast, were evacuated in the incident.
The announcement of the find raised unionist hackles. Jim Allister of the hardline TUV claimed the item pointed to a failure by the Provisionals to fully decommission their weapons. However, ‘security sources’ claimed the mystery device had fallen into the hands of one of the breakaway IRA groups, but had lain dormant for over a decade.
It was one of a number of unexplained incidents this week, including two explosions and three hoax alerts in County Antrim.
A small explosion was reported in Larne on Wednesday, which reportedly damaged a fence. It provoked the PSNI to call for an evacuation of homes, but only the following day.
Also on Wednesday, the PSNI said a “very crude device” had caused an explosion outside a house in east Belfast.
In Newtownabbey, a suspect device was reported in the O’Neill Road area on Thursday evening. Earlier, the M5 motorway in the town was closed in both directions last night after “a suspicious object” was discovered. The PSNI also claimed that a device had been left on Shore Road, and evacuated homes in the Altnacreeva Park area on Wednesday.
All three alerts turned out to be hoaxes.
Meanwhile, a former London police chief has questioned how the PSNI can cope with policing the G8 summit.
The security operation will be the largest Ireland has ever seen and will see US president Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin among those to gather for two days in June at a golf resort on Lough Erne.
It is said that up to 4,000 police from England, Wales and Scotland will be needed for the operation.
Pointing to the recent flags-related violence, Scotland Yard expert John O’Connor said he believed the PSNI were “lacking in the ability to control violent disorder” in the Six Counties, and questioned how they could manage the security operation.
“Maybe the G8 shouldn’t be held in Northern Ireland,” he said. “They have not been able to contain disorder domestically then I think it is not a good idea at this stage,” he said.
Left-wing groups are said to be planning events in London, Dublin and Belfast, but no plans have yet been announced for protests nearer the event. Republican Sinn Féin have said they will be holding an ‘Irish Anti-Imperialist Forum’ in Belfast as a “counter” to the summit.