Friday, March 1, 2024
 
 

The Trying Game: Why extreme caution is needed in Northern Ireland

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I doubt that any of those who predicted resurgent violence in Northern Ireland is taking pleasure in being proved exactly correct as riots, fighting, and bomb threats have returned to centre stage in Belfast, Derry, and practically everywhere in between. A return to the dark years of The Troubles seems imminent.

The thirty years of civil strife that was largely (though not entirely) ended with 1997’s Good Friday Agreement was, however, simply another chapter in a long and bloody history in which neither side has much to boast about. Britain’s history of meddling in Ireland goes back far further and has left it in a sticky situation which is almost unprecedented.

I believe I’ve heard ‘Just give Northern Ireland back to the Irish’ more times than I’ve had hot meals. Mostly this remark comes either from Americans who don’t really understand the situation, but who take pride in moronically declaring ‘I’m Irish’, despite never having visited the island. This annoys Irish people more than anyone else, by the way, or Eastern Europeans who equate British involvement in Northern Ireland with Imperial Russian or Soviet occupations. 

The desire for an independent Irish state already exists in the form of the Irish Republic that we know and love today – and which was formed from yet another prior period of violence and sorrow. Yet, Northern Ireland is not like Catalonia, the Basque region, South Ossetia or the Donbass. Its population is not unanimously pro-independence, or pro-alignment with a foreign power. The Loyalists of the territory support remaining a part of the UK, while the Nationalists (or Republicans) seek to unify the North of the island with the southern Republic of Ireland. 

This lack of unanimous internal agreement has not disappeared since Tony Blair’s government signed the Good Friday Agreement (that same government which declared after 9/11 that ‘it didn’t negotiate with terrorists’, despite having done exactly that in the 1990s).

Although the IRA’s terrorist campaign largely – though not entirely – ceased, there has been the occasional flareup of violence. As a result of the Brexit agreement, these look set to return with Loyalists feeling that their British identity and connection to the rest of the UK are under threat. 

I won’t try and explain all the complexities and history behind the entire issue; God Himself couldn’t do that. But I shall attempt to predict the course of events, and outline a few key issues. 

I can’t see how the situation is to be alleviated, especially as local law enforcement is not trusted by the Loyalists, who view the police and judiciary as being Sinn Fein-aligned. Yet bringing in troops hardly helped matters in The Troubles; if anything, it made them worse. Not only were soldiers ill-suited to tackle what effectively amounted to a half-peacekeeping, half-policing operation in a country not at war that was also their own country (see what I mean about complexities?), they were also unable to be entirely neutral: although their intended role was to hold the ring between both Loyalist and Nationalist factions, regular troops and special forces admitted to sympathising, and even colluding with, Loyalist vigilante groups. 

Last time, there was little foreign intervention except when the Americans stuck their oar in with then-President Bill Clinton deigning to visit the place, while his lunatic countrymen in Boston donated money to the IRA (I’d be willing to bet that this isn’t something Americans these days want to know about – that they funded a terrorist group). Yet since the latest problems are due to European regulations, perhaps Europe should take a hand. I’m not suggesting Europe deploy peacekeepers to Northern Ireland – that would be the fastest way to an escalation I can think of. But perhaps they could consider amending their trade laws due to Northern Ireland’s situation – this has already been done to a limited degree, as the country remains in Brussels’ single market for goods. 

Anyone who claims to have had a crystal ball with Irish politics has seen the thing smash in record time, so I won’t try and predict the behaviours of London, Belfast, and Brussels. I shall simply state the obvious, because I think it needs to be reiterated: the recent resurgence of violence will only be a portent of further bloodshed to come if Britain and Europe do not act now and take preventative measures. Any failure to do so will leave the blood on the hands of the idle, lazy, or disinterested. 

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