Brexit and the North of Ireland: Are we returning to the Troubles?

IRA Derry

During the UK’s EU referendum campaign how Brexit would impact on the North of Ireland, especially in relation to the Irish border, was an issue not seriously considered in Britain. EU officials may have considered it and if they did they kept their powder dry to use the implications this issue would have at a later stage in Brexit negotiations. As we have seen in the last few months the Irish border issue has become one of the most serious sticking points in progressing the UK’s leaving the EU, especially with EU officials during Brexit negotiations over the last eight months or so. There is no doubt EU officials have used the Irish border issue as a divisive bargaining chip. It could be argued that the border issue was not even thought of as an agenda item in 2016 and it questions why more recently it only did so. This is strange as the Gibraltar question did become part of the early Brexit negotiations.

theresa-mayEU Flag & BrexitLeo-Varadkar-Brexit

While negotiations initially focused on the impact the UK leaving the EU would have on the freedom of movement of goods, services and people, immigration, border controls with continental Europe and issues related to the influence EU law and Court of Justice of the European Union decisions would have on the UK post-Brexit, Ireland seemed not to enter into the equation in the early stages. This is disconcerting as it appears  it was forgotten that the Irish Republic is the only one of 28 Member States with a land border with the UK. I have raised this issue in my previous blog posts as it appears it is only now are British MP’s, mainly the English politicians, waking up to the fact how Brexit can be an instrument to be used by dissident Irish republicans, mainly in the North to destabilise the peace brought about the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) in 1998. At the time of writing the UK Prime Minister is in Ireland discussing the issue trying to find a resolution. As such, recent dissident republican action has put dissident loyalist groups on alert to prepare for taking action against a united Ireland.

ira_with_flags2

Regarding dissident republican groups, prior to Brexit there has been a steady growth of violent activity that can be traced from the attack on British Army soldiers outside Massereene Barracks in 2009, statement bombings such those outside the MI5 offices in Belfast, car bomb outside Derry’s Strand Road police station in 2010, even the plan to mortar bomb that police station in 2013 and killing of PSNI and prison officers (examples include the killing of Ronan Kerr in 2011 And David Black in 2012). In certain areas of the North support for former dissident republican group the Real IRA (RIRA) never disappeared. For example in Derry’s Creggan area when the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) held Easter Rising commemorations at Creggan Cemetery RIRA members not only attended in paramilitary uniforms, but gave addresses to the attendees. The ten year period of 2009 to 2019 has seen changes in dissident republican movements and groups. In 2012 the New IRA was formed between RIRA, Republican Action Against Drugs and disaffected members of the Provisional IRA. The INLA and Continuity IRA did not join this group and continue to exist in their own right as separate terrorist groups. More recently the far-left political party, Saoradh was formed 2016 and is an amalgamation of groups such as the 32CSM and Republican Network Unity.
car bomb derry jan 2019

As I have reported in my more recent blog posts, Saoradh and the New IRA (and arguably the INLA and CIRA) have taken advantage of Brexit and the Irish border issue to deliberately misinform and use for propaganda purposes in order to incite further unrest and violence. Using the border issue saying that a hard border is evidence of British imperialism on the Irish, they have used the issue to recruit members of the nationalist community to their cause. As such, we have witnessed an increase in dissident republican activity, with the latest being the car bomb outside Derry’s Bishop Street courthouse in January 2019 and the two ‘punishment’ shootings in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry on the 2nd February 2019. Also on the 2nd February an arms cache that included a suspected mortar bomb tube was found by the Gardaí in County Louth close to the border with County Armagh in the North. This in addition to the guns found buried in a cemetery in Derry in January 2019.

uvf

There is no doubting dissident republicans are going to use Brexit as a vehicle to promote unification of all 32 Irish counties under governance from the Dail in Dublin. As such this has put dissident loyalist groups on alert. As one of their Belfast murals says, ‘Prepared for Peace, Ready for War’. While murals are perceived as tourist attractions, recent murals like this on both republican and loyalist sides have a ring of authenticity related to the current situation. This is seen with the number of loyalist shootings and killings in the last 12 months, the latest being Ian Ogle, a spokesman for the loyalist community on the 27th January 2019. These actions on both sides suggests they are preparing for conflict and a return to the Troubles.

Trimble & Hume

One catalyst for this is the very real prospect of a poll being held on Irish unity. If this occurs, never mind a return to the Troubles, its turning the clock back to 1919 and there is no way loyalists want a united Ireland. Even though we have seen an increase in violence, we may still be left of bang regarding the North of Ireland, but if this situation is ignored by British based MP’s, EU officials and, as it appears, not recognised by DUP politicians who are pro-Brexit, very shortly we will be right of bang with an increase in violence. If this occurs all the hard work by the likes of John Hume and David Trimble that brought about peace via the GFA will have gone.

Issues related to this blog post can be read in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’  published by Routledge

My terrorism book cover

Are ‘Troubles’ bubbling under the surface in the North of Ireland?

North of Ireland Map

While UK mainstream media understandably focuses on issues related to Brexit, anti-Semitism rows in the Labour Party, knife crime in London, issues related to US president Trump and even the recent heatwave (which more recently has only been in the southeast of England), in 2018 there have been a number of disturbing incidents occurring in six UK counties. Those are the six counties that make up the north of Ireland. It is disconcerting how these incidents tend to get very little mainstream media coverage on the British side of the Irish Sea.

ira flagloyalists

A brief overview of some of the recent incidents  includes:

  1. Raymond Johnson murdered when he was shot at his home in west Belfast in front of his children in February 2018, allegedly by dissident republicans;
  2. A 60% rise in punishment beatings/shootings in the North by dissident republicans and loyalist groups where 101 punishment beatings/shootings took place in 2017 alone;
  3. Three suspected dissident republicans arrested for bomb making in Strabane, County Tyrone in April 2018;
  4. Attempted murder of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers in December 2017;
  5. Petrol bombing of PSNI officers in Derry, April 2018;
  6. Explosive devices being thrown at former Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams home in Andersontown, west Belfast in July 2018 (admittedly because Adams such a high profile figure this did get reported in Britain). This could have been committed by either loyalist or dissident republicans who see Sinn Fein and PIRA having sold out to the cause with the Good Friday Agreement;
  7. Large scale disorder in the Bogside district of Derry in July 2018 (during the period of the Orange Order’s 12th July marches).

ronan-kerrMI5 bombing belfast

The current terrorist threat in the north of Ireland is severe, but not from Islamist or far-right terrorist activity, but from dissident republican and loyalist groups, with that threat from Irish related terrorist activity being moderate in Britain. This activity is not recent, 2009 saw the then Real IRA shoot and murder British soldiers at Massereene Barracks in County Antrim, the murder of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr in Omagh 2011, car bomb outside MI5 offices in Belfast, mortar bombing of Strand PSNI station Derry, murder of prison officer David Black, and this is not an exhaustive list of terrorist activity that has occurred in the North since 2009.

orange-bonfire

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) yet there is a danger of dissident republican and loyalist groups increasing use of violence destroying all the good work that has happened since the GFA. When incidents have occurred it is heartening that people have come out and protested against the violence under ‘not in my name, as seen when Ronan Kerr was murdered and more recently after the disorder in Derry. It will need political leadership as well as communities wanting real change. In April I was canvassing for the SDLP candidate Daniel McCrossan during the West Tyrone byelection and it was interesting to canvass certain parts of the constituency where old views, beliefs and the sectarian divide are so strong it appears progress post GFA is struggling to happen in parts of the North. When canvassing I saw fresh IRA graffiti and being told in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome in certain areas because its ‘Sinn Fein’ country. On the other side of the divide it is becoming more disconcerting when Irish tricolours and images of politicians from Sinn Fein, SDLP and other non-Unionist parties are placed on the large bonfires built for the 11th July. This could be construed as condoning loyalist violence and hatred of nationalist and republicans or anyone at all who is not from the protestant community or unionist politics, but this is claimed by some as part of the protestant heritage and culture!

IRA unfinished revolution derrystormontLoyalist mural Derry west bank

It is time for the DUP and Sinn Fein to compromise and come to some agreement in order to have the NI Assembly up and running at Stormont. In doing so it will allow a new, younger generation of Northern Irish politician like Daniel McCrossan and others to work on improving the infrastructure of the country, improving housing, education and health care, encourage business investment thereby enhancing employment prospects and importantly focus on getting the border issue between the North and the Irish Republic post Brexit sorted to the benefit of both countries (and ultimately the whole of the UK). This is what is wanted in the North, not bickering over the names of parks or continually remembering and honouring Irish terrorists by attending events held in their honour. All this does is keep the North in the politics and culture of the past, including the recent past. To help bring about change it is imperative there is a serious period of reconciliation between the two communities so the North can move on and progress to the benefit of all. If this does not happen then the divide will continually exist in the North with the maintenance of bitterness and hatred with a minority. which is such a contrast to the Irish Republic. As such it would not take much to ignite sectarian violence on a larger scale than what we are witnessing today, but as stated above it is not on the scale as seen during the Troubles, but the increase is gradual.

The Irish tricolour flag and blue sky.

There is an irony in the Irish tricolour flag as the green represents the ancient Gaels, orange to represent the northern followers of William of Orange, and white to symbolise a peace between them. let’s hope this happens with all sooner rather than later.

My terrorism book cover

I cover the situation in the North of Ireland in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published in March 2018 by Routledge