pizza shooting, Massareene barracks, IRA threat, pizza delivery ambush, the Troubles
Paul Faith/PA Wire/AP
The Army commander in Northern Ireland, Brigadier George Norton, after speaking to the
media outside Massereene Army base.

Are the Troubles Returning, or Did They Never Leave?

March 09, 2009 11:15 AM
by Emily Coakley
Saturday's shooting of two British soldiers in Northern Ireland has raised questions about the future of peace there.

Violence Reminiscent of the Troubles

Gunmen took advantage of a routine and innocent incident—a pizza delivery—to kill two British soldiers Saturday night. It was the first “major terrorist attack” in Northern Ireland in more than a decade, according to The Guardian.

At approximately 9:20 p.m. local time, two men drove up to the Massereene barracks, which is north of Belfast, to deliver pizzas. Pizza deliveries are made regularly to the soldiers there, and two gunmen hiding in a car near the barracks entrance had apparently been apprised of that fact.

When four soldiers came out to pick up the pizzas, the gunmen, armed with semi-automatic rifles, began shooting. Two soldiers were killed, and four other people, including the deliverymen, were injured. Police have said the delivery men were innocent victims.

Sinn Fein, a political party that opposed the British and is now part of Northern Ireland’s government, was quick to condemn the attack. Sinn Fein has been linked to the Irish Republican Army, which carried out numerous attacks in Northern Ireland and England during the Troubles, including bus and pub bombings.
“Those responsible have no support, no strategy to achieve a united Ireland. Their intention is to bring British soldiers back on to the streets,” said Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein’s leader, according to The Guardian.

Leaders in Northern Ireland urged people not to retaliate after the soldiers were killed. 

“This cowardly attack has created considerable anger in unionist communities but there must be no retaliatory actions. This situation must be dealt with entirely by the police,” said Frankie Gallagher of the Ulster Political Research Group, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

William McCrea, a local member of Parliament, told the Belfast Telegraph that the gunmen also targeted the deliverymen, one of whom was Polish.

“There's nothing but murder in the hearts of theses [sic] people,” McCrea said.

The Troubles, the name given to a decades-long period of violence and turmoil in Northern Ireland, ended in 2005, when the Irish Republican Army officially renounced violence. Nevertheless, unrest in the region remains.
Hugh Orde, Northern Ireland’s chief constable, told the policing board last week that, “the threat posed by dissidents is at its highest since he took over as chief constable in 2002.”

The Guardian reported that in the last several months, officers have been shot at in three Northern Ireland cities, and their colleagues are back to wearing bulletproof gear. Last month, security discovered a technologically sophisticated 300-pound car bomb, one of a “number of failed bomb attacks.”

According to the AP, a November 2008 report issued by the Independent Monitoring Commission said that splinter groups such as the Real IRA and Continuity IRA have been “especially active since May.”

Opinion & Analysis: Can there be peace in Northern Ireland?

A piece in the Belfast Telegraph predicted that the soldiers’ deaths will lead to “the re-introduction of more rigorous measures, stepping up the never-ending battle against those trying to drag Northern Ireland back to war.”

The shootings could damage Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, wrote Bryan Coll in Time, but he says it’s “unlikely” the peace process will be derailed. “The communal will to avoid a return to the dark days of the Troubles is simply too strong,” he said.  

The Belfast Telegraph says that more than 90 percent of the public supports the peace process, while “the mainstream IRA is defunct and most loyalist groups are quiet.”

Philip Johnston, a columnist for London’s Daily Telegraph was more pessimistic. He says the IRA never left; its leadership just decided violence wasn’t the right tactic.

Johnston contrasted statements from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who called the attacks “evil and cowardly,” with Gerry Adams’ statement. He called the shootings “wrong and counterproductive.”

Johnston said the shootings were “the victims of an internal feud among republicans.”

The Guardian’s Peter Preston said the Northern Ireland community can help keep peace on track. A “community shield” protected the IRA for more than 20 years during the Troubles.

“If there's no place to hide, no support, no community cover, then the Real and the Continuity cells will soon wither away,” Preston writes.

Historical Context: The Troubles

The Troubles, a period of intense conflict between England and Northern Ireland, began in the mid-1960s. The Catholic minority fought the Protestant majority for economic and social reforms, using nonviolent and violent means. Paramilitary groups on both sides got involved, and a continuing cycle of shootings, rioting and bombings gripped Northern Ireland and parts of England. The Troubles drew to a close with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the IRA’s decision in 2005 to cease their campaign to reunite Ireland.

Although the Troubles have ended, the people of England and Northern Ireland are still dealing with leftover issues. An inquiry into 1972’s Bloody Sunday—a notorious incident when 13 people died after British soldiers fired on them during a civil rights march—is ongoing and over budget.

A proposal to compensate both victims and perpetrators of violence in Northern Ireland was criticized by many when it went public recently, because it would award the same amount to each family.

“It means that the next of kin of Shankill bomber Thomas Begley will receive £12,000, just as each of the families of the nine Protestants he killed will receive the same figure,” wrote Gerry Moriarty, Northern editor of the Irish Times.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines