DUBLIN, Ireland -- The Irish Republican Army replaced its Belfast brigade commander with a jailed hard-liner who will run operations from his prison cell in a move that could presage a new wave of violence on the British mainland, IRA sources say.
The warning Sunday came as the Irish government confirmed it had protested to President Reagan over the decision by members of the New York Emerald Society Police Band to parade in support of the outlawed IRA next Saturday.
The New York policemen are scheduled to march for the third year in a row in a pro-IRA parade in Bundoran in County Donegal, just 9 miles from the village where the IRA assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, seven years ago next week.
The IRA sources commented Sunday on reports that a veteran hard-line IRA man, Martin Meehan, 41, who has spent the past seven years in a Northern Ireland jail, has recently taken over command of the IRA's Belfast brigade from his prison cell.
There was no reported comment from British officials.
The IRA sources said that the previous IRA Belfast brigade commander was regarded as 'too soft.'
The previous commander, whom the Belfast sources did not name, was considered too close to Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the legal political wing of the IRA, they said.
Unlike Adams, the sources said, Meehan does not believe in a political role for the IRA, the sources said.
'Meehan's appointment ... can be interpreted as a decision to step up our military efforts,' an IRA source said.
The source said Meehan has a 'tough-man image and believes that the only way to achieve a united Ireland is through the bomb and the bullet. And that would probably involve taking the battle to Britain.'
The IRA, outlawed in both Britain and the Irish Republic, is waging a 17-year guerrilla war to drive Britain from predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland and unite it with the mostly Roman Catholic Irish Republic.
The IRA source said there is 'no reason' why Meehan could not take over leadership of the IRA in Belfast and run a military campaign from his prison cell.
In a recent statement, the IRA extended its assassination threats from building contractors working on British army and police installations in Northern Ireland to also include people providing other services to the armed forces, including milkmen.
At the same time, Protestant paramilitary groups campaigning against last year's Anglo-Irish agreement have stepped up their training, security sources in Belfast said.
The IRA sources said Meehan will be anxious to exploit current hostility between the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police in Northern Ireland, and their traditional supporters in the Protestant community.
Protestants have attacked police in protest against the Anglo-Irish agreement giving the Irish Republic an advisory role in the affairs of the British-ruled north to safeguard the rights of the Catholic minority.
Protestants have staged marches and protests against the pact, out of fear it is the first step toward a British pullout from the province.