Second Republican Attack Threatens to Destabilize Northern Ireland
Saturday’s attack on the Massereene barracks was the first deadly terrorist attack in Northern Ireland in over a decade. The second attack in just three days has some worried that the dissidents will spark further violence.
Sinn Fein, which served as the political arm of the Provisional IRA, has condemned both attacks and expressed that it remains committed to peace and the power-sharing government with the unionist Social Democratic and Labour Party.
“This is an attack on the peace process. … Whoever carried out this shooting was not doing so to advance Irish republican or democratic goals. They have no strategy to deliver a United Ireland,” said John O'Dowd, Sinn Fein assembly member.
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 Associated Press, 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.”
Hostility between the nationalist and unionist communities has declined significantly over the last decade as major paramilitary groups have disarmed and committed to the peace process. Some fear that that the estimated 300 dissidents in the Real IRA and Continuity IRA may succeed in igniting violence.
“There is also the threat that their actions could drag the loyalist paramilitaries back into engaging in sectarian killings,” explains Gerry Moriarty in the Irish Times. “That is what the dissidents want. They also want British troops back on the streets. They would hope for a disproportionate response from the PSNI or British army or perhaps even the SAS, which could prompt a shift in the nationalist mood.”
However, The Guardian’s Jonathan Powell writes that dissidents should not have an affect on Northern Ireland because they “have no political significance and no political mandate. They speak for no one and for no part of the community.”
Philip Johnston, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph is more pessimistic; he believes that the Troubles and the IRA have never gone away. The men who carried out the Antrim attack, he writes, “are essentially republicans who once operated alongside and in support of the Sinn Fein leadership but have broken with them in a dispute over tactics rather than ideology.”
The Guardian’s Peter Preston believes that the peace process will remain on track, but concludes that the Real IRA attack shows the uneasiness that still exists between the nationalist and unionist communities. “Any peace is conditional until what's mattered and divided Northern Irish society for decade after decade ceases to matter at all,” he writes.
It is most notorious for the 1998 Omagh bombing, when a 500-pound car bomb killed 29 and injured 220 in the single deadliest attack of the Troubles.