Brexit and the Irish Border: A Catalyst to a new Irish Troubles and the Rise of Saoradh

irish border

How the Irish border between the six counties of the North of Ireland and the twenty-six counties of the Irish republic will operate post-Brexit is not just a sticking point in the current Brexit negotiations, it is an issue, which if not resolved, could be the catalyst to a rise in sectarian violence between republicans and loyalists in the North resulting in new Irish Troubles.

saoradh

This observation is not one of being alarmist, there is already a rising undercurrent of discontent in the North. This is exemplified in the rise of a relatively new Irish republican party, Saoradh. Formed in September 2016and backed by New IRA (NIRA) prisoners held in Mughaberry and Portlaoise prisons Saoradh held its first ard fheis in Newry that month. Those who gathered at this first ard fheis (and who subsequently became Saoradh’s member’s and supporters) included those who were associated with the Republican Network for Unity, 32 County Sovereignty Movement (closely aligned with the former Real IRA) and the 1916 societies. Saoradh supporters include notorious members of the IRA in its various forms such as Colin and Paul Duffy. Messages of support were read out from the founder of the Provisional IRA, Billy McKee and Saoradh’s first chairman, David Jordan from Tyrone, was a republican dissident and former prisoner.

Saoradh claims to be solely a revolutionary republican party with no connection to republican paramilitary groups, stating its main aim is to introduce a socialist agenda to support the working class by creating an Irish Socialist Republic, not just in the North but in the whole of Ireland. The party’s main issues include:
1. The end of British imperialist rule in the North;
2. The end of power sharing at Stormont and an end to the Good Friday Agreement;
3. The end of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that the party refers to as the Royal Ulster Constabulary/PSNI.

david jordan

In essence Saoradh supports armed conflict in the North and refers to republican paramilitary prisoners as prisoners of war. David Jordan was charged with the attempted murder of a PSNI officer in Castlederg, Tyrone in 2008, with those charges being dropped by the Public Prosecutors’ Office in October 2016.

While the language Saoradh uses is similar to that used by Sinn Fein during the Troubles, the party is highly critical of Sinn Fein, seeing them as having sold out the republican cause by participating in political institutions such as the Assembly at Stormont (albeit Sinn Fein still maintain an abstentionist stance with Westminster). Saoradh sees the Stormont Assembly as a ‘partitionist assembly’ and does not recognise it, even though the current impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP has resulted in the Assembly being suspended since 2017!

bogside riotssaoradh march

 

While no doubt many will see Saoradh as a minor party of little significance, support for the party was seen in the Bogside riots in July 2018, activity in the Creggan, Derry in April 2018 that led to arrests and also in April 2018 Saoradh organised in Belfast an ‘unfinished revolution’ march where many were dressed in republican paramilitary dress.

Returning to Brexit and the Irish border, Saoradh’s leaders told researchers from Queen’s and Ulster University that Brexit was, ‘manna from heaven from our perspective’. Another of Saoradh’s leaders, Patrick Courty, told its supporters at an Easter Rising commemoration in 2018:

‘Brexit has the potential to break up the British state … with the inevitable infrastructure of a hard border imminent, this will drive home to the Irish people the partition of our country … and as history teaches us it wild inevitably stoke the fires of resistance against British rule in Ireland.’

DUPKaren Bradley

The warning signs are there and although the focus here has been on dissident republicanism, should Saoradh influence republican based violence, such violence will be swiftly reciprocated by Loyalist paramilitary violence. The UK government should be awake to this development as it is too important to marginalise as irrelevant or worse, ignore it. As seen in the UK government’s position regarding the Irish border issue in the Brexit negotiations the signs are not good. A consequence of not having an overall majority in the House of Commons is the UK government in being a minority government it is being held to ransom on this issue by the DUP MP’s in Westminster. The perspective the current UK government’s view has on the North of Ireland is not perceived by its population and some of Britain’s population as being positive and concerned with the issues affecting the Province. This is not helped with the appointment of Karen Bradley as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who on appointment admitted to only having limited knowledge of the North. This ministerial position should be reviewed by the current Prime Minister who should now look for someone who has a good knowledge of Irish history, Northern Irish politics and social issues. This is a country that is suffering the most in the UK especially in the western counties of Derry and Tyrone where there is widespread poverty, high unemployment, poorer standards of social housing and healthcare as well as a lack of investment in the area regarding both its infrastructure and in encouraging new business. A Northern Ireland minister who is aware of these issues could do more to assist in these areas as well as work on breaking the impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP in the Assembly at Stormont so elected representatives can pass legislation and work towards improving the lives of all Northern Irish people. If this is not done then it simply plays into the hands of the paramilitaries on both sides and their political parties like Saoradh who will spark more widespread paramilitary violence once more.

Irsih Troubles figures

The lessons of the 1960’s must be learnt to stop the rise of extremist groups and paramilitary support in the North as ambivalence towards the North of Ireland in Westminster could result in the country suffering another period of violence.

My terrorism book cover

Some of these issues are covered in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that was published in March 2018 by Routledge

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