The Continuity IRA are considered most likely to be responsible for a spate of fire-bomb attacks and bomb alerts in the town of Newry, close to the border, that damaged or destroyed at least four large British retail chain stores.
Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial, and it was also the morning before a contentious annual parade by dissidents in Ballymena.
Millions of pounds of damage was caused to nine businesses in what a co-ordinated attack. Six shops were damaged in Damolly Retail Park, while fires were also started in the Merchant Quays and Cornmarket areas.
At one point, there were four fires alight in the city.
Meanwhile, traffic in Newry was disrupted because of a series of alerts. “Suspicious devices” were left at a British government tax office and social services office.
The attacks come at a time of growing resentment in border areas at a lack of progress in the North coupled to a perception of increasing prosperity and freedom south of the border.
Sinn Féin blamed “republican micro organisations” for the attacks.
He said: “These groups are opposed to the peace process and opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.
“These groups have little or no support within this community and they do not have a strategy to deliver Irish unity and independence. It is incumbent on all of us in political leadership to make it clear that politics can work and that politics can deliver change.
“I would call on those responsible for this incident to look objectively at the current political situation and to carefully consider your options. This sort of activity does nothing for this community and is an attack on the peace process which is supported by the overwhelming number of people on this island.”
Firebomb attacks on commercial premises is a tactic republicans have used throughout the conflict. In recent years, republican militants in border areas have mounted a number of such attacks.
There was no claim of responsibility for yesterday’s attacks.
A volley of shots fired during a commemoration held in memory of INLA hungerstriker Vol. Kevin Lynch has created a controversy in the County Derry town of Dungiven.
Some 16 rounds were fired from an automatic weapon during the 25th anniversary commemoration on Sunday afternoon in the traditional republican salute.
IRSP spokesperson Willie Gallagher slammed DUP claims that the incident represented an escalation of “terrorist intimidation” as ridiculous.
He added: “Shots being fired in the air are nothing new and it didn’t mean anything at all.
“It was a tribute to Kevin Lynch, nothing more, nothing less.”