BBC journalists arrested in Irish probe

Four BBC journalists were arrested at the weekend by Irish police monitoring the Real IRA, the dissident group responsible for intermittent violence in Northern Ireland.

The four were among 11 men arrested and held for questioning by Gardai in three separate police stations in the border county of Donegal.

It is believed the journalists were working for the BBC’s Panorama and BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight investigative programmes. Seven of the arrests were made on Saturday and a further four yesterday.

Although the BBC released only limited details, it is reported they were working on a programme on the Real IRA. A statement from the BBC said: “They were working on a BBC Northern Ireland current affairs investigation and had full editorial authorisation under the BBC’s guidelines. The other parties present were fully aware.”

Irish police said the arrests were part of “ongoing investigations into paramilitary activity”.

BBC journalists are restricted by detailed guidelines covering contacts with illegal organisations, some dating from heated controversies arising from reporting on the IRA in the 1970s.

The Real IRA will forever be associated with the Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people in Co Tyrone in 1998. Its sporadic activities since then included shootings which seriously wounded two police officers.

In recent years there have been numerous signs that the security forces have penetrated the organisation, and a significant number of Real IRA personnel have been jailed.

But the police shootings suggested the grouping may have staged a partial recovery — possibly because it has divided into several factions.

Last month increased security measures such as vehicle checkpoints made a reappearance in parts of Northern Ireland. Days earlier, in a newspaper interview, the Real IRA announced its ambition to force troops back on to the streets. A spokesman said: “We believe we can reach the stage where British soldiers are brought back onto the streets to bolster the cops. This will shatter the facade that the British presence has gone and normality reigns.”

Police sources recently described the Real IRA as “disorganised but dangerous”.

David McKittrick