WHEN heartbroken PSNI widow Kate Carroll spoke of her husband’s death, few who heard her words could have been untouched by their poignant simplicity.
At Stephen’s funeral on Friday, there were also promises that he would not be forgotten and vows by mourners and wellwishers that ‘we cannot and will not lose the peace’ because ‘we’ve come so far’.
Strong sentiments – but they will have had little meaning for a section of society in the North whose lives have been barely touched by the peace process.
They are the Catholics living on just the sort of sink estates in Craigavon where PC Stephen Carroll lost his life.
Tellingly, not only do a growing number of them no longer hold Sinn Féin in any high regard but, astonishingly, they increasingly hate them as much as ‘the Brits’.
Indeed, one former Provisional IRA member went as far as calling Sinn Féin ‘the new Brits’.
It is of this level of hatred for a party that is perceived outside the North as being ‘their own’ that one of Constable Carroll’s former colleagues spoke last night.
The hatred is a sign to him of a growing support for the same dissident republicans who shot and killed his former colleague.
Bob Long, an assumed name as he would only agree to speak anonymously, first realised a very subtle change in the Lismore Manor area of Craigavon about two years ago.
An RUC veteran with more than 20 years’ experience, he has kept a regular eye on the Catholic estates despite no longer being in the PSNI.
The change he saw was this: The graffiti on the walls of the estates was not only anti-PSNI but it was also becoming very anti-Sinn Féin. And it wasn’t confined to streets in and around the Meadowbrook and Drumbeg areas which have become a dissident heartland.
It was appearing on walls in the heart of the ‘mainstream’ republican areas of nearby Drumlin Drive and Ailsbury Park in clear defiance of loyal Sinn Féin supporters there.
Almost all of it – including claims that a leading Sinn Féin figure is a British spy – was painted over in the hours after Constable Carroll was shot in the head by a sniper as he sat in his armed response vehicle outside a house in the mainly Catholic Lismore Manor.
In addition, dissident posters condemning the Royal Irish Regiment’s end-of-tour-of-Iraq march in Belfast had also been carefully scraped off bus shelters in the area.
Long believes the clean-up was organised by Sinn Féin who – aware that the media would be on site – were keen to cover up the signs of disillusionment with the party.
As well as a residual hatred of the PSNI, a hatred of the British and a distrust of the Peace Process, there is a feeling that Sinn Féin has failed to deliver on a string of promises.
‘So much for their freedom, peace and justice,’ said one Lismore Manor resident. ‘Sinn Féin got a peace of sorts but it hasn’t changed our lives – we are not free. And justice? There is no justice for us.’ As you drive around the Meadowbrook and Drumbeg areas of Lismore Manor, the first thing that strikes you is the stark desolation.
Drab little estates of houses or flats sprawl over bland cul-de-sacs along a meandering array of roads that cut along hilly embankments.
There are few cars, few people and virtually no children at play. Circular tyre tracks mark the roads, left over from a spate of ‘doughnuts’ where drivers compete to see how many times they can spin their cars around in circles.
On other roads, broken glass, the remains of burned out wheelie bins and bits of rubble bear witness to recent late-night clashes between youths and PSNI officers.
In one semi-derelict block, rusting prison-like white bars rear up hideously before people’s doors.
One area could have passed for the set of a war movie, with houses burnt out, roofs caved in, smashed windows and litter strewn around.
There are no shops, and the one pub – more like a police bunker in downtown Baghdad – is closed.
In the middle of the array of roundabouts with tattered republican flags flapping from makeshift flagpoles, flowers for Constable Carroll are taped to a lamppost near the spot where he was shot dead.
Unemployment is high and rising, and most in work are poorly paid. A survey by a local college about adult education will reveal that the vast majority of respondents from Catholic parts of Craigavon are families living on a total income of little more than £16,000 (e17,330).
Lismore Manor looks like it was little more than an architectural afterthought between roundabouts.
Little wonder that this area has spawned a new breed of paramilitaries and support for their actions.
But while Constable Carroll’s killers are invariably dismissed as ‘mindless thugs’, a highly trained and focused paramilitary network is emerging from the shadows.
It might be assumed that Constable Carroll’s death is the start of a new campaign but it is in fact the latest in a string of incidents.
Indeed, the PSNI recently admitted that were it not for the efforts of security agencies in the North, more than 40 PSNI officers would have been killed in the past year.
What Constable Carroll’s death does signal – as do the deaths of British Army engineers Mark Quinsey, 23, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, at Massareene barracks – is that these paramilitaries have become alarmingly professional.
Long said last night: ‘I don’t want to praise these men in any way but you must acknowledge the skill with which they managed to carry out the attack on the barracks.
‘These men are no fools and anybody who thinks they are is making a serious mistake.’ Typically, the members of the two dissident groups who have claimed responsibility for recent actions – the Real IRA (RIRA) and Continuity IRA – will be in their 20s and led by hardened former Provisionals.
The young foot soldiers will have had specialist training but will first have gone through a closelyobserved assessment period.
They are likely to be educated, politically aware and committed republicans who genuinely believe their actions can help bring about a united Ireland.
These foot soldiers will have little combat experience but will have been ‘blooded’ over several years and would now be trusted by leadership.
Not all of them will be fighters. Indeed, many will work on logistics – weapons storage, safe-house keeping, and ‘cleaning’ anti-forensics services.
But whatever they do within these new small, tight units of dissidents, the new recruits – whom some Provisionals see as being of the same calibre of recruits who joined up in the 1970s – will have been ‘blooded’.
This process will have started with a lad being asked to do something like daubing anti-Sinn Féin graffiti in a solidly republican area.
This would have escalated to attacks on Orange halls, then punishment beatings, before being taken on a mission to kill service personnel.
At each stage in training, the foot soldier, whose entire family would be known to their commanders, would be tested to see if they could be trusted.
For example, a group of 15 might all be told they were going on a killing. At the appointed time, however, the plan would suddenly change and they would be told they are going to burn Orange halls instead – but the commanders would be checking to see who didn’t turn up, who made any calls, did the PSNI turn up etc.
Thus, recruits would be whittled out until ‘the right ones’ were selected.
Weapons training could have happened on any one of several secret training grounds around Ireland.
As a leading former Provo said last night: ‘They won’t want to be going anywhere near passport control. It is just as easy to get trained in Ireland as it is anywhere else.’ As far as arms are concerned, paramilitary sources have indicated to the MoS that there is no shortage of weaponry in Ireland.
One said: ‘Some units refused to let their weapons be decommissioned. ‘There are also units around Ireland who never admitted to the leadership what weapons they had. When asked how many and what type, they would have deliberately left a few out.’ An entire dump of weapons was cleared out by a Provisional IRA quartermaster and handed to dissidents.
The quartermaster was asked to join the group, did so and left just three rusty revolvers in place of the stash of weapons that had been there.
The former Provisional IRA member and former colleague of Constable Carroll are both sure of one thing.
The recent attacks would not have been carried out if those responsible did not have the resources to carry on with at least a ‘limited’ campaign – that could last for five to 10 years.
The fact that the barracks attack took place in a solidly Protestant area shows an unusual audacity.
Long said: ‘These men would have known how much the area would have been covered by CCTV.
‘They will also have known the proximity of PSNI units and stations. ‘Yet they were able to get in and out with ease, and that will be a very scary thing for residents of that area. There will have been a safe house for the men involved and it won’t have been a million miles from the barracks.’
A former Provisional IRA member agreed, adding: ‘It shows how much the spider’s web of control has crept into that area. You can’t mount that sort of attack without local help.
‘If these guys are just mindless thugs, why would the British government deploy 15 per cent of MI5 staff to deal with them?’
A former IRA member explained that resentment of Sinn Féin’s ‘political elite’ was rife, as sections of the republican movement feel they have not delivered on their promises and are just ‘administering British rule’.
He said: ‘That same elite has stifled opposition from within to the extent that dissenting voices have either left the party or have been kicked out.
‘Those outside join other groups or set up new ones because they are determined that their interests and principles should have a voice.
‘Too few people in Sinn Féin are listening to those republicans who remain true to the cause that the likes of Bobby Sands died for.
‘Sinn Féin’s peace has not changed our lives”The spider’s web of control has crept in’