Three more names on the long list of casualties
Deaglán de Bréadún
There is shock and outrage throughout the media. There had been threats and warnings for some time, so it was not altogether surprising that the Real IRA, after a lengthy period in the shadows, succeeded in killing two British soldiers in Northern Ireland on Saturday night. In a further grim episode, it is reported that a police officer has been shot dead in Craigavon tonight (Monday) and I have updated this blog accordingly.
Given the heavily-unionist nature of the area around Massereene Barracks it is likely that the soldiers were feeling more secure than they should have. In that sense they were a “soft” target. Sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, from Birmingham, and the interestingly-named Cengiz (later bulletins say Patrick) Azimkar, 21, from Wood Green, London (but of Turkish or Turkish-Cypriot origin perhaps?) are two more names on the long and tragic list of casualties.The hapless victims must have been feeling apprehensive about their next assignment in Afghanistan, little suspecting that sleepy Antrim would be their last staging-post on this earth and that they would breathe the last of their young lives amid the aroma of pepperoni and cheese from a Domino’s pizza.
The notion that the pizza delivery men (one of them Polish) are in the firing-line, is not new. Some will recall the horrific death visited on Patsy Gillespie, a cook in a British Army barracks, on 24 October 1990. As the IRA held his family hostage, Gillespie was forced to drive his explosives-laden car into a British Army checkpoint, killing five British soldiers as well as himself.
Some have remarked that that lack of political progress in Stormont may have given added impetus and encouragement to those who mounted Saturday’s night’s assault. This is debatable: the mere decision to enter Stormont would be enough to motivate these dissidents.
It’s true that things have not been going that well at Stormont. It’s also true that the last general election in the South was a serious setback for Sinn Fein. But on radio this morning, Gerry Adams was insisting that the democratic, peaceful road was the only path to a united Ireland and it’s clearly the case that Sinn Fein have no intention of turning back to violence. The party is likely to do quite well in the coming period in the South and if it can keep the show on the road in the power-sharing administration in the North that will be a significant achievement in itself. I noted that Adams complained about lack of exposure on RTE: this is something of an SF mantra at the moment.
So where does Saturday’s attack leave us? There is the immediate shock of course. The familiar expressions of horror from church and civic leaders, still sounding clichéd after all this time.
There will be an element in the Catholic ghettoes that will make a holiday in its heart, as a unionist politician once said in a different context. Hopefully no Loyalist crazies will decide to exact “revenge”. The international media, who have shown so little interest in the day-to-day politics of the place, will start to look at Northern Ireland again: if it bleeds, it leads. Reporters’ phones in Belfast will start to ring again.
Could the war start again? Doubtful, certainly at this stage. But there is no room for complacency. The recession/depression does not help as it means there are more unemployed youth around, looking for action.
From its own point of view, Sinn Féin should maybe spend less time trying to out-Left the Labour Party in the South and highlight the republican issue more. We may well be in for a re-run of the IRA campaign of the 1950s which scared up a few big headlines but ultimately ran into the sand, although it sowed the seed for something worse down the line.
At time of writing, information is sketchy about the fatal shooting of the police officer in Craigavon. More on that as further news comes to hand. One’s sympathies go out to all the loved ones of all three victims.