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Irish Return to Political Violence?

This past week, I had a conversation with a friend of mine from Belfast, Northern Ireland about the so-called ‘New’ Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its murder of Irish journalist, Lyra McKee, 29 years old, April 18th. Both of us expressed outrage. After all, the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ for peace in Northern Ireland was signed almost exactly 21 years ago, finally ending ‘The Troubles’, which cost nearly 3,500 lives.

Most believed that such extrajudicial killings were relics of the past. The Northern Irish murders ended, or so we thought, with the ‘peace accords’ at Stormont Palace and House of Commons in 1998. Even so, some observers of the Northern Irish Troubles knew IRA hardliners remained after the peace deal had been signed—those who could not accept peace in Northern Ireland, who would not stop the violence until a utopic vision for a ‘unified Ireland’ was achieved.

The tumultuous years of the Troubles lasted in Northern Ireland from the 1960s until 1998, but historically speaking, the violence between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants has deep roots in the sectarian divide of Irish history to the 17thcentury ‘Plantation Era’.

The early years of the conflict between native Catholics against the settler Protestant British and Scottish ‘planter class’ resulted in the Confederate Wars (1641-1653) and the Williamite War (1689-1691), and then to 1916, a bit more than a century ago, and the ‘Easter Rising’ in Dublin, Ireland, where a concerted effort was undertaken to win Irish independence from Great Britain and establish the Irish Republic. It was led by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers, and the Irish Citizen Army, when the British were heavily engaged in fighting World War I. This historical period was instrumental in Irish history when political party Sinn Féin garnered a majority of Irish votes in 1918 and later would evolve into the political arm of the IRA.

From the 1960s to 1990s, the Troubles were a period of convoluted killings between Catholic-Republican paramilitaries and Protestant Ulster-Loyalist paramilitaries, as well as the IRA against the British military and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), a time of reprisals and counter-reprisals, resulting in assassinations, car bombings, civilian casualties, death threats, disappearances, hunger strikes, petrol bombs, political-jockeying for power, political murals, prison sentences, sectarian community-divisions, and continual terrorism.

Both Unionists and Republicans have united against dissident ‘New’ IRA paramilitaries because of the murder of the journalist Lyra McKee in Derry during Easter Week. After 21 years of relative peace, their willingness to dialogue is welcome and signifies that we are undeniably in a new era where sectarian violence has no place in this ‘new’ Northern Ireland. Talks about power-sharing between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have been revived since the breakdown of such discussions in 2017.

A statement by the ‘New’ IRA’s political party Saoradh, claimed: “Tragically a young journalist, Lyra McKee, was killed accidentally”—was not good enough to the Northern Irish majority who supported the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

After all, it was in the city of Derry where the infamous ‘Blood Sunday’incidents happened some 47 years beforehand on January 30th, 1972. It revolved around the British Army shooting at 48 unarmed Irish-Catholic marchers, 13 of whom were killed, protesting political internment.

Astonishingly, the investigations of Bloody Sunday continue nearly half a century later, with 150 or moreBritish or Northern Irish ex-soldiers under scrutiny and three on trial currently.

Prior to the journalist’s slaying, the Police Service of Northern Ireland/Royal Ulster Constabulary (PSNI/RUC) conducted a raid on the Creggan Estate—a large housing development with a violent history—in Derry searching for explosives and weapons as preventative measures against terrorism during this past Easter weekend.

What ensued was a political riot. Its original intent evolving from a Saoradh demonstration commemorating the Easter Rising of 1916. To protest the police raid, dissident Republican militants set two cars ablaze with Molotov cocktails and began firing live rounds in the direction of police and gathered crowds. During the melee, Lyra McKee, was gunned down by some masked gunman among the New IRA paramilitary-rioters. The New IRA admitted it and apologized.

This so-called New IRA was formed from those Republican paramilitaries who did not believe in the Northern Irish peace process, along with young, impoverished, and unemployed youth who were born after the Good Friday Agreementand raised with sectarian beliefs. The PSNI believe the New IRA may have several hundred members. The political situation in Northern Ireland worsened since 2016 from a potential BREXITfailure and the threat of ‘borders’ and ‘police checks’ returning to Northern Ireland.

Fortunately, the majority of former Provisional Republicans, and Sinn Féin politicians, do not support the New IRA nor the Saoradh, and their unrealistic goals for unification of Northern Ireland with the rest of the island.

On Wednesday, April 24th, McKee’s funeral was well-attended by British and Irish politicians, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Irish President Michael Higgins, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, and Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney. All the Northern Irish political parties were equally represented.

McKee was survived by her mother, two brothers, and three sisters. She was described as an LGBT activist and also survived by her partner Sara Canning. The service was at the Protestant St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, even though McKee was from a Catholic family. Her family wished her funeral to be well-attended by the entire community. Her family described Lyra as a woman with a “warm and innocent heart” and who was a “great listener,” who was also “smart” and “strong-minded,” and who believed in “inclusivity, justice, and truth.”

We can only hope McKee’s death will not be in vain. We can only hope the Good Friday Agreement remains in place and the political parties believe again in the peace process and not a return to violence.

As the Irish Nobel Laureate, novelist, playwright, and poet, Samuel Beckett, once declared: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

The good people of Northern Ireland cannot afford to fail any longer and they know it.

More articles by:

J. P. Linstroth is a former Fulbright Scholar to Brazil. He has a PhD from the University of Oxford. He is the author of Marching Against Gender Practice (2015).

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