The chief of British military intelligence has accepted his organisation has underestimated the capacity of the breakaway IRA groups.
Jonathan Evans made the comments on Thursday night when speaking to ‘security’ professionals in London.
Evans acknowledged failings in initially assessing the armed republican threat after MI5 took over ‘national security’ intelligence operations in the North from the PSNI police.
“Perhaps we were giving insufficient weight to the pattern of history over the last hundred years, which shows that whenever the main body of Irish republicanism has reached a political accommodation and rejoined constitutional politics, a hardliner rejectionist group would fragment off and continue with the so-called armed struggle,” he said.
He said that so far this year the new IRA groups had mounted over 30 attacks on Crown targets in the North compared to over 20 attacks in the whole of last year.
In the past three years there had been a persistent rise in activity and ambition by the groups, and they could now also be planning attacks in Britain, he added.
“We have seen an increasing variety of attack techniques used, ranging from shootings to under-car devices to large vehicle bombs. At the same time we have seen improved weapons capability, including the use of Semtex [explosive],” he said.
“While at present the dissidents’ campaign is focussed on Northern Ireland, we cannot exclude the possibility that they might seek to extend their attacks to Great Britain as violent republican groups have traditionally done.”
Meanwhile, British Secretary Owen Paterson today again ruled out direct talks with republican traditionalists.
Speaking after a meeting with 26-County Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern in County Louth, Paterson again claimed the IRA groups were “trying to kill children”.
Ahern and Paterson were taking part in a special cross-border ‘security’ summit to try to combat the republican armed groups.
For his part, Ahern denied there were talks going on. He said that those involved in armed struggle had no political agenda and no focus and were “denying the will of the Irish people”.
Last month, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness claimed both governments had held talks with dissident republicans.
The deputy first minister told the BBC that he “knew for a fact” that the British government had been speaking to dissidents “as recently as the last few weeks” and that the Irish government had been holding such talks for years.