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

Recent Irish Paramilitary Activity: Hardly Reported in Britain

Loyalist mural Derry west bankira flag

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.

IRA Derry 1IRA Derry

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).

ira_with_flags2IRA unfinished revolution derry

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.

UDAloyalists

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).

North of Ireland Map

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).

westminsterstormont

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.

My terrorism book cover

You can read some of these issues in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge in 2018

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