BY JOE LEARY
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
After nearly ninety years, so many deaths, and so much anger and sorrow, the tragic partitioning of Ireland in 1922 and the violence it created remain the chief causes of deep community hostility across Northern Ireland.
For the casual visitor, the tension is not so apparent, but at night, otherwise healthy communities, both Catholic and Protestant, live behind 12- to 30-foot high walls to protect themselves from the other side. Fear rules the streets after dark, especially in areas where the two communities live close to each other. There are now 140 of these walls, perhaps as many as 60 more than was the case before the “Good Friday” Peace agreement was signed. The walls are encouraged and paid for by a Government anxious to keep peace regardless of the cost. Residents welcome the walls for the feeling of security they provide.
In 2009, two British soldiers were killed by sniper fire as they went to accept delivery of their weekend pizza on a Friday evening; a few days’ later, a Catholic policeman, father of four, was assassinated with a bullet to the head at close range.
The latest victim, a recently qualified 25-year-old Catholic policeman named Ronan Kerr, was killed by a bomb placed in his car on the afternoon of April 2 by a new group of thugs calling for a return to a United Ireland – a cause sometimes used by men and women caring more about power than about Ireland.
Both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the leaders of Sinn Fein and no strangers to violent solutions themselves, intensely condemned the actions of the new fringe group. The way forward is through constitutional government, not the killing of our own people, McGinness said in his speech in Derry at Easter. In fact, leaders from throughout Ireland and England condemned the violence. Still these fringe groups persist.
It is noteworthy that all of these killings have taken place outside of Belfast in the interior of Northern Ireland.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) issued a warning that the “Dissidents” (the name given these small groups that have defied the people’s vote on the Good Friday agreement) were planning to kill more police during the following weeks. The PSNI asked all citizens to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity they see.
Less than a week after the warning was issued, a 500-pound bomb was found in a truck under a bridge in Newry, just over the border from the Republic. There is much confusion as to how the bomb was found, why it was left there, and where it was headed. It could have been revealed by an unnamed police informant; it could have been an accidental discovery (unlikely), or the Garda in the South may have been watching the vehicle. In any case, if it had been detonated in a crowded area, the bomb would have caused horrendous death and destruction.
Just iImagine the world’s reaction to another Omagh type bomb in Northern Ireland where 29 people were killed and 220 injured. That there are men and women in Ireland who would even assemble such a device should set the peace process back and question current government.
One of the most hate-filled rivalries in sports is the one between Scotland’s Celtics and Rangers soccer teams. The Celtics are the Catholic team and the Rangers are the Protestant team and the fan bases are far more radical than those of the Yankees and the Red Sox. The Celtics and Rangers are not just two teams; they are complete cradle-to-grave institutions with programs for children and young men and women. Last week, just before their big game, Neil Lennon, the coach of the Celtics, and two high profile Celtic supporters received parcel bombs in the mail. The three packages were intercepted before any damage could take place, but according to the Glasgow police, all could have caused “real harm.”
Sectarian cheering including songs and chanting are common at Celtic and Ranger matches. This is Scotland not Ireland, but in Belfast don’t get caught wearing a Celtic jersey in a Protestant area or vice versa. It would not be seen as a peace gesture. There were several other instances of potential violence, all in April that could be listed here.
The sad conclusion may be that it is much too early to become complacent about Northern Ireland.