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Political violence has returned and we can’t blame it on Brexit

Violence in Derry and Border areas a symptom of wider political failure

A number of leading Irish politicians, and some British and European ones too, have fallen into the trap of suggesting that renewed violence in the North will be one of the inevitable consequences of Brexit. This is a dangerous and insidious claim which will be used as cover by those who have long pursued their objectives through violence and intimidation.

The activities of dissident republicans and Border gangs in recent years should have made it abundantly clear that they need no excuse for intimidation and murder. Politicians thoughtlessly forecasting a return to violence if there is a no-deal Brexit are playing into their hands.

The country has been shocked by the appalling assault on Kevin Lunney this week and the police forces on both sides of the Border have serious questions to answer about why he and his fellow executives at Quinn Industrial Holdings have not been given proper protection in the light of the long-standing death threats against them.

Intimidation campaign

What is clear is that a systematic campaign of intimidation against people trying to do their jobs while protecting the livelihoods of hundreds of families in the Border region has nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit, whatever the kind of checks on trade that may or may not have to be enforced.


Fifty years after the outbreak of the Troubles in Derry there are fanatics still wedded to the use of violence in pursuit of the goal of a united Ireland

The activities of dissident republicans in Derry have demonstrated that they are plotting and planning to kill, regardless of whether or not there is a hard Border. Speaking after the discovery of a bomb in a parked car in Derry last week, Police Service of Northern Ireland assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton was in no doubt that a concerted effort was being made to kill police officers. “The bomb would have killed or maimed anyone near it when it detonated,” he said.

The bomb plot showed not only that the New IRA is intent on murdering community police officers but also that it has no regard for the lives of the people living in the Creggan area. That callous disregard for human life made it all the more shocking that the discovery of the bomb prompted a riot by republican sympathisers who threw more than 40 petrol bombs at the police during the operation to defuse the bomb and make the Creggan safe. Two of the young rioters sustained burn injuries from their own petrol bombs.

Coming in the wake of the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in the same area earlier in the year it is a deeply depressing sign that 50 years after the outbreak of the Troubles in Derry there are fanatics still wedded to the use of violence in pursuit of the goal of a united Ireland. What is worse is that there is some level of sympathy for them, however limited, in their own community. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the “brutal and sustained attack” on police officers as disgusting and said that young people in the area were being manipulated by sinister figures.

Political leaders need to respond to the threat of escalating violence in the North on two fronts. For a start they need to stop repeating the mantra that the return of a hard border will result in violence. That is a clear incitement to the tiny minority already engaged in violence to intensify their efforts.

A new generation of socially deprived young people is succumbing to the blandishments of hardline republicans and becoming weaned on the fatal attractions of violence

Politicians of all stripes should be clear that regardless of what happens on Brexit there is no excuse for violence. Those who seek to exploit the situation to promote another terrorist campaign should be identified and held accountable for their actions by the police and legal authorities on both sides of the Border. Unequivocal political support for the police will be required.

This also applies to the lawless elements who have terrorised people living in Border areas for personal gain under the cover of pursing the political objective of a united Ireland. Policing this region is difficult and dangerous but a much greater effort to impose the rule of law will have to be made and the necessary resources to achieve it provided.

Causes of deprivation

In tandem with ensuring greater security political leaders need to do far more to tackle the underlying causes of deprivation in places such as the Creggan which provide a fertile recruiting ground for dissident republicans. Unemployment in Derry is as bad as it was 50 years ago when the Troubles began and unfortunately the Belfast Agreement has not improved the situation to any significant extent.

Now, 50 years later in the Creggan, a new generation of socially deprived young people is succumbing to the blandishments of hardline physical-force republicans and becoming weaned on the fatal attractions of violence. The fact that the long campaign of terror waged by the Provisional IRA in pursuit of a united Ireland ended in abject failure has little impact on poorly-educated young people who are ripe for exploitation.

Politicians on both sides of the Border are rightly concerned about the damage a no-deal Brexit might do to the Belfast Agreement but they also need to recognise that the agreement has failed in a number of important respects and the violence in Derry and the Border areas is one symptom of that failure. Blaming Brexit is not the answer.