(by Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune)
Widespread Garda arrests of dissident Republicans in Dublin and some Border counties last week appear to be the start of a hardline government response to the Continuity IRA's (CIRA) rejection of a ceasefire ultimatum delivered earlier this month by an emissary apparently acting on behalf of the Taoiseach's office.
Fifteen people with direct and indirect links to Republican Sinn Féin were arrested by Gardai last Monday, on the day that the seven day ultimatum sent to CIRA expired. Seven of those arrested came from one Co Monaghan family, the remainder were picked up in Dublin. Around another dozen other arrests, including some in the North, were said to be linked to the Omagh bomb investigation.
Continuity IRA, the smallest Republican group in Ireland, is now the only paramilitary group not to have called a ceasefire. The Real IRA, the largest dissident Republican organisation declared its ceasefire in the wake of public outrage after the Omagh bombing disaster and since then pressure has been switched on to CIRA to make the Republican cessation in Ireland complete.
Continuity's defiance of the government's ceasefire demands means, according to the message brought by the government emissary, that draconian anti-terrorist legislation ending suspects' right to silence and imposing other harsh penalties for assisting paramilitaries which was intoduced after the Omagh bomb will be applied to the group.
This will bring the government and the rump of dissident republicanism into a head to head conflict at a time when pressure is growing on the Provisionals to make more concessions to Unionist leader David Trimble, and risk encouraging internal dissidents, on the issue of IRA decommissioning.
The government emissary was a West Belfast priest who has often acted on behalf of the Taoiseach's office during delicate periods in the peace process, often in alliance with Mr Ahern's Northern Ireland adviser, Dr Martin Mansergh.
According to dissident republican sources the emissary turned up at RSF's Dublin ofices on Monday, September 14th asking to see senior members of the party. He later met two RSF figures who refused, however, to act as conduits to the Continuity IRA.
"The emissary told us that while he had been representing church interests during previous attempts to meet Continuity now he had a message from the State", said an RSF source.
"The first thing he said was that there must be no repeat of Omagh. The State did not want to act but would and the new (anti-terrorist) law would be used. He wanted to convey a message to Continuity IRA but he was told that we would not be a conduit. His reply was that the State considered RSF a front which provided political justification and respectability for another organisation.
"He also said that the State could not hold back the Gardai indefinitely and that the State was worried that RSF and Continuity would provide a focus of opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and would be a nucleus or rallying point if the agrement were to collapse. Then he said Continuity had seven days in which to call a ceasefire."