Terrorist Violence in North Putting Peace Process in Peril

While they are striving mightily to attract new business investment to Northern Ireland and are encouraging tourists to visit, authorities, both elected and appointed, seem unable to stop the new terrorists (also called dissidents) and their many acts of violence. Given that, the threat of serious disruption of the peace process, and, therefore, the new government, is very real.

At 7 p.m. on Nov. 21, two terrorists drove into a police compound in central Belfast carrying a 400-pound bomb with them. They were able to set off small detonators before escaping, causing a minor explosion; luckily the major bomb was not triggered. The explosive was as large as the one that blew up in the streets of Omagh in August 1998, killing 29 people. Had the terrorists succeeded, there would have been huge destruction and much loss of life.

This was a close call for the peace process and the promise of stability in Northern Ireland.

The bombers' target was the headquarters of the "Police Board" that was set up by the Patten Commission under the Good Friday agreement to manage the force until the Northern Ireland assembly was ready to take over the police and security responsibilities from the British government.

Earlier this year, on a single weekend, two soldiers were murdered while waiting for their ordered pizza on a calm Friday evening outside their barracks and a police constable was shot in the head and died as he was responding to a report of trouble. Authorities blamed the three violent deaths on dissidents.

The International Monitoring Commission (IMC), the highly respected, independent, four-person board (American, British, Northern Ireland, and Ireland, and all former policemen or intelligence officers), recently said that the threat of dissident violence in the North was higher than at any time over the last six years. The commission, which serves as a non-partisan voice concerning security matters such as the decommissioning of weapons and the measuring of responsibility for violence, says it has evidence of eleven attacks on policemen's lives this year alone.

During the same weekend as the bomb attack, dissident terrorists tried to kill a policeman in his home in the village of Garrison in County Fermanagh. Again, luckily, they were stopped by police (the Police Service of Northern Ireland, or PSNI) who appeared to be forewarned. Despite a gun battle, no one was injured. The affair seemed to be a sign that police intelligence was at work and that it saved the policeman's life.

Five men were arrested in the shoot-out, one from the Republic of Ireland.

According to the police, all of these incidents were caused by breakaway groups who left the Sinn Fein in 1995-1998 in protest over the signing of the peace agreement. One group calls itself the Real IRA; another the Continuity IRA. In general, the newspapers and other media call them "dissidents." With their number estimated at less than 300 supporters, these groups have not elected a single person to any office and represent only themselves.

And as the unexploded bomb shows, they are inexperienced and somewhat lacking in bomb-making skills. Nonetheless, they are fully willing to kill and murder policemen and innocent bystanders in the hope that the disruption will somehow bring them political power.

The situation demands attention. Had the bomb gone off and killed dozens in Belfast, Northern Ireland would be back in crisis with everyone playing the blame game. The major forces that created the current peace should once again become active. The British, American, and Irish governments must apply such pressure as necessary to achieve all the goals of the "Good Friday Agreement".

At the moment, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) are simply not cooperating, and frequently not communicating, leaving opportunities for the new terrorists to create serious trouble.