To follow on from my earlier blogs related to terrorist activity in the North of Ireland, November 2018 has seen further evidence of paramilitary activity from both republican and loyalist groups. None of this activity has been reported in the British mainstream media. Maybe because Brexit grabs the headlines where the only mention of Ireland is either the border issue or the DUP’s position on the Brexit agreement and the vulnerability of the current UK government. In relation to terrorist activity in Britain, the focus is either on Islamist or extreme far-right activity. This is understandable as the British terrorist threat level is severe, due mainly to the Islamist threat it is facing. As a result, paramilitary activity in the North of Ireland is either ignored or forgotten on the British side of the Irish Sea. In the North of Ireland the terrorist threat level is also severe, but not from Islamist activity, it is from dissident republicans and loyalists.
In November 2018 there have been a number of paramilitary style shootings. On the 15th November a man was shot in the legs in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry and another man was shot in the legs and arms in the Creggan area in Derry on the 16th November. In relation to Derry, these shootings follow where another man in the Creggan area was shot three times in the leg on the 12th September 2018. On the 26th November a community worker narrowly escaped a gun attack by a masked man with a shotgun in Clooneyville Avenue, Derry, which ironically is just a short distance for the Peace Bridge that crosses the River Foyle (but this has yet to be confirmed as being linked to paramilitary activity).
These shootings have all the hallmarks of punishment shootings as witnessed during the 1968-1998 Troubles carried out by paramilitaries as they ‘policed’ their area to eradicate drugs and crime. After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement the group Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) was formed. Consisting mainly of former members of the Provisional IRA, mainly in Counties Derry and Tyrone RAAD members regularly carried out punishment shootings and beatings on those they suspected to be drug dealers or users. RAAD later merged with other dissident republican groups to form the New IRA, where along with other forms of violence the New IRA are still carrying out this type of activity. Currently four New IRA members are on trial at Belfast Crown Court with a Diplock style hearing (that is one without a jury) for being members of a proscribed organisation (the IRA), possession of firearms and conspiracy to inflict grievous bodily harm, where the prosecution produced evidence from covert hearing recordings that allege the four made threats of violence targeting drug dealers in Belfast.
The violence carried out in November 2018 has not been solely by dissident republicans as on the 27th November a car dealer in Carrickfergus, County Antrim had six vehicles destroyed by fire following repeated intimidation he received from members of the East Antrim Ulster Defence Association (a loyalist proscribed terrorist organisation).
The point raised here is terrorist related paramilitary violence in the North of Ireland has not gone away. I have covered reasons why this is so in some of my earlier blogs covering the North that I recommend that you read on my website drdavidlowe.co.uk. In summary the reasons have ranged from the potential of a hard Irish border between the North and the Republic of Ireland to not having a period of reconciliation following the Good Friday Agreement. The period of austerity has not helped either with the North’s western counties being among the hardest hit (Counties Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh).
There should not only be greater public recognition of the increasing paramilitary violence in the North, but also greater support from the UK government. One way this support could be given is from the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Karen Bradley to work harder in resolving the current DUP/Sinn Fein impasse that has resulted in the Assembly at Stormont being suspended for nearly two years now. During those two years important legislation and decisions related to health, education, housing, employment and improving infrastructure have also been suspended and consequently deteriorated. That has played right into the hands of republican and loyalist paramilitaries and their political wings like the republican Saoradh. It does not help when the current Secretary of State said she little or no knowledge of Northern Irish problems and politics. Such ambivalence, if not pure contempt towards the North of Ireland by the UK government again only plays not only into the hands of the likes of Sinn Fein but also dissident groups, especially the republicans like Saoradh and the New IRA to fuel discontent and violence. One thing that cannot be ignored is that groups like the New IRA would dearly love to carry out a successful terrorist attack in England and I hope it does not result in such an attack happening that makes the UK’s Westminster government take dissident Irish paramilitary violence seriously again, as well the social and economic conditions in the North of Ireland.
You can read some of these issues in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge in 2018