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By Jason Michael
ON SATURDAY EVENING the terrifying shadow of decades of violence revisited the city of Derry in the north of Ireland when a car bomb was detonated at the courthouse on Bishop Street, close to the historic Diamond. At first, of course, the news media reported the incident carefully as a “suspected” car bombing, but, given the that the car in question – a pizza delivery van – had been hijacked earlier in the day and that the PSNI had been given a warning, the facts on the ground told another story. The ugly spectre of political violence had returned to the island of Ireland.
Thankfully, this is not a sign that the Good Friday Agreement and the fragile peace have collapsed, and senior figures in the Irish Republican movement were quick to condemn the bombing. Sinn Féin MP for Foyle, Elisha McCallion, said that this had “shocked the local community” and urged anyone with information to report it to the police. Sinn Féin Leas Uachtarán (Vice President), Michelle O’Neill, said that those responsible have “nothing to offer our community.” Fiachra McGuinness, the son of the late Martin McGuinness, took to Twitter to say: “Whoever is responsible for this bomb in our Beautiful City tonight, live in Planet hate.”
Those responsible for tonight’s car bomb in Derry have nothing to offer our community. twitter.com/raymondmccartn…—
Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) January 19, 2019
South of the border, in Dublin, An Tánaiste (the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland), Simon Coveney, held nothing back in his comment, saying:
I utterly condemn the car bomb terrorist attack in Derry this evening. There is no place and no justification possible for such acts of terror, which seek to drag Northern Ireland back to violence and conflict.
The quick response and the united front of Sinn Féin, however, tells its own story. In a tense political environment where one side of the conflict is always eager to capitalise on the misdeeds of the other side, the silence on responsibility betrayed what was everyone’s suspicion – that this was the handiwork of Republicans. The problem immediately present here is that Sinn Féin is not the political representative of the whole Republican movement, and nor is the Provisional IRA the only armed faction of the movement. Both Sinn Féin and the P-IRA agreed to end their armed struggle on 10 April 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, a provisional armistice ending hostilities between the British state occupier and the chief factions of the Republican movement.
But there were always dissidents, elements of the Republican movement which opted not to trust Britain and continue their militant campaign. Without the financial and structural support of Sinn Féin and the “Provos,” however, these fringe elements would always lack the ability to wage an effective war against Britain – certainly to the scale the Provisionals had done for three decades, and so have slowly been petering out. Unable to continue the armed struggle and under constant threat from British Intelligence and the PSNI in the North and An Garda Síochána (the Gardaí) in the Republic, they have been almost entirely dormant for the past 20 years. But they have never completely gone away, remaining a sullen presence in the undergrowth of Irish politics – waiting for their day to come. Now Brexit might just be their day.
It is dangerously absurd to suggest Saturday’s non-fatal car bomb – a warning shot – has nothing to do with Brexit and events in the Westminster parliament. Britain’s efforts to leave the European Union, especially those which look to be leading to a no-deal exit, fundamentally damage the fabric of the Good Friday Agreement – the status quo in Northern Ireland in which the power-sharing executive at Stormont between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin maintains the conditions for ongoing peace. Britain’s refusal to accept the Remain vote of the six counties threatens everyone in Northern Ireland with a hard border with the Republic – once again dividing the island of Ireland (a red line for all Republicans), it effectively makes Irish citizens in the North (a right of citizenship guaranteed by the GFA) non-nationals of a British state (in their native country), and removes the protections guaranteed to Republicans in the Northern Ireland British sub-state by European law. In short, Brexit makes Republicans vulnerable once again to Britain – a state that until recently denied them their civil and political rights and perpetrated human rights violations against them.
Car bomb outside Derry Court House on Bishop Street. Why is Westminster ignoring the effects of Brexit on the Good… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) January 19, 2019
The realisation of Brexit is, to the entirety of the Republican united Ireland vision, a de facto declaration of war – or the resumption of hostilities. The bombing happened amid rumours that the British government was in secret negotiations with the DUP to “amend” the terms of the GFA without the input or consent of Sinn Féin, rumours that were last night confirmed when it was revealed this was indeed the British Prime Minister, Theresa May’s, plan. Sinn Féin will – and all credit to it, as we have seen, condemn the violence and stick to the political game, but the reality is that Brexit is randomising politics everywhere. Sinn Féin’s position relies on Republicans’ votes, but, as political solutions to the Brexit crisis continue to elude the largest Republican party and as Brexit draws nearer, opinions may shift to a more traditional Irish Republican methodology.
Brexit was always making this more likely, and it makes perfect sense for dissidents to strike first. They have the most to lose from the collapse of the GFA. So, this was exactly what happened. Former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams called for resistance to Brexit – political resistance, but the interpretation of that call by dissidents, keen to usurp the position of Sinn Féin and get the ball rolling on a fresh Intifada that can be escalated with the right encouragement from the British security forces, was of course going to be armed resistance. Shortly after the bombing on Saturday Saoradh, a group describing itself as a “revolutionary Irish Republican Party,” confirmed that this was indeed the work of Republican dissidents, and the PSNI released the name they had given in their warning call – the “New IRA.” This is what Brexit has done.
Over Sunday – yesterday – we saw the British state broadcaster, the BBC, return to its Irish-Troubles-speak mode of operation. In the main, other than on BBC Northern Ireland, the event was side-lined and ignored. When it was reported, the BBC used the all too familiar distancing language of “in Northern Ireland” in the hope the British public would not recognise this as a car bombing in the UK and go on to join the dots between Brexit’s effects on the six counties and the return of Republican violence. Today we can only hope that this is the end of it and that, considering these dissidents and the British government are unwilling to act like adults, Sinn Féin has enough internal cohesion to halt any panic at its voter base – and, more so, that the Provos keep their powder dry.
Two Arrested Over Derry Blast