3.19.2009

Irish 101 Take Two (Part 2)

Ok, you ready for more?

So as I mentioned yesterday, 2 British soldiers and 1 police officer were killed by Republican dissidents in 2 different incidents on the 7th and 9th of March respectively. The CIRA claimed responsibility for the death of the police officer and the RIRA claimed responsibility for the deaths of the British soldiers. (Yesterday I mentioned both groups as having broken off from the PIRA because they don't agree with a political approach in Northern Ireland)

So the first question is why were the attacks carried out? Well, basically they have not given up on using violence as a means to accomplish their goals. Why now? Well it is possible that it is in response to recent information that the British army is active in Northern Ireland again (from what I understand it is a small special force that has been asked to keep an eye on a few individuals in Northern Ireland) but I'm not entirely sure that they would have known this at the time of the attacks. What you also need to remember is that while the murders of a police officer and 2 soldiers is significant, it isn't as if the violence comes out of nowhere. Both groups have been involved in several bombings, attacks on the police, etc. for the last several years.

Perhaps even more than a mere use of violence this could be a recruiting tool. There are members of the PIRA or former members of the PIRA who disagree with the PIRA and Sinn Fein's giving up violence. These members (as well new younger potential members) may be convinced by these and other actions that groups like the CIRA and RIRA have the capacity and the will to carry on the fight in the way that they desire. More members (especially trained PIRA members) is a good thing.

In this line of reasoning, the attacks would very much be seen as a test for Gerry Adams. His response to the attacks could have angered hardliners in the PIRA (who support violence but who so far are basically following Adams and his move away from violence). Adams responded pretty much as well as anyone could have expected. He and Sinn Fein immediately condemned the murder of the Police Officer and took about 14 hours to condemn and label the deaths of the British soldiers as murder. Why the difference? The police force is currently viewed by Sinn Fein as a legitimate organization in Northern Ireland (it replaces the RUC which was never viewed as legitimate due to their targets of and tactics against Catholic communities). The British Army, though, is seen as an invading army and typically attacks on an invading army are seen as legitimate. I think Adams is fully prepared himself to now label attacks against the army as wrong and murder, but he has to be careful about how he does it so as not to anger hardliners who in no uncertain terms hate the army. Adams also has to be careful about his and Sinn Fein's current stance on the army so as not to in any way indicate that past actions that the PIRA took against the army were wrong or that those who died fighting the army were wrong. This would be very bad for Northern Ireland right now as those events seen as honorable and those individuals are seen as heroic by a significant minority of the population. I imagine in the 14 hours it took Adams to declare the murder of the soldiers as murder he and others were doing some serious calling around to shore up support and understanding.

Were they coordinated attacks?

The police in Northern Ireland say no, but I think yes. The groups are known to have relations and I think the attacks were too close together to just be a coincidence. Is it a huge problem that they are working together? It just depends on if they can sustain the attacks so only time will tell. They both are thought to have the ability to inflict significant damage if they desire it, but with the response against the attacks being unanimous across the board their desire may take a hit. Again time will tell.

How is everyone else responding?

Well, the loyalists met with members of Sinn Fein (did I mention that Sinn Fein is the political arm of the PIRA) to assure them that loyalist paramilitary groups would not retaliate. This is only significant in that not too long ago loyalist groups NEVER would have met with Sinn Fein for any reason much less to promise not to attack them. It is less significant in that I doubt anyone was really worried about such attacks. This would be first because there is not an equivalent attack to be made. Second because it would have played right into the hands of the attackers by escalating the violence (and giving greater legitimacy to any further attacks) and while this wouldn't really bother the loyalists they would be under significant pressure from the army, police, community leaders, and government leaders not to attack. And Third, an increase in violence would have brought more attention from the US which is basically seen as bad because since 9-11 the US doesn't have much of a stomach for or patience with terrorism and we can apply quite a bit a pressure on the area when we want to.

Other leaders in Northern Ireland? All very good. They joined together in a show of force against the violence. Although the police, I think, over exaggerated the extent that they have infiltrated the groups and downplayed just a little the potential impact--a really well infiltrated group shouldn't really have been able to pull off the attacks (although neither of the attacks were at all sophisticated)

Brown and the Brits? All good there as well.

Obama? Very good. Said exactly the right things. Everyone is really happy with him right now.

Clinton? Well, Hillary didn't do so good. She called those involved in the attacks criminals. Remember yesterday how I said the paramilitary groups don't like being called criminals? Well I can't really figure out why she would use that term--especially since one of the things Adams is having to do right now is keep his hardliners in line and it is the hardliners that would be particularly upset by the use of the term--was it a mistake? was it on purpose and if so what did she think would be gained by it? Whatever it was I don't think it was helpful to the situation. I don't know if I am explaining this point well. Let's see, remember what I said about Adams having to be careful about not seeming to indicate that past PIRA activity against the army was wrong or was criminal? Well Clinton's comments come dangerously close to indicating that past action was criminal.

And now the people of Northern Ireland?: As far as I can tell their reaction has been spot on as well, although it is hard to be sure from here. I love the how the BBC News reports on world events but they do a pretty shoddy job reporting on Northern Ireland--basically they leave out key facts that would be useful in ascertaining what is really going on there. So while they reported that thousands have marched in opposition to the attacks they don't mention who these thousands were. Were they all Protestants? Possible. Or were they a mix of the population? I'm guessing it was a mix just because the peace process is working and because the vast majority of the population never supported violence to begin with.

That is not to say that everyone in the population was against the attacks. You may have read about how when police went to make arrests they were greeted by mobs throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. This is to be expected because most of Northern Ireland is divided up and controlled by the paramilitary groups (the way certain cities are split up and controlled by different gangs in the US). So there are areas of Belfast, for example, that are controlled by the RIRA and CIRA and police going into those areas to make arrests will come up against resistance. That resistance isn't too worrying, though, as long as it remains contained.

So how does it remain contained. Everyone needs to be keep on doing what they are doing (except of course the groups perpetrating attacks). The only problem will be if the RIRA and the CIRA are able to carry out a similar attack again soon. If they can (and the Brits think they are capable of doing so) then tensions will escalate. Still I don't think things will flow over too much even if they do pull off another attack. The peace process is working and I don't think that they have the power to derail it and I think that all those who are working for peace do now have the fortitude to see it through.

If you want further proof that things are settling down head over to BBC News' Northern Ireland page. There isn't much there on the attacks and nothing new. Life goes on.

Questions anyone?

2 comments:

Jenny said...

You have some amazing insight here. I think you ought to apply for a job as an ambassador to Northern Ireland. But that's just me.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Uh. . . .

Probably about a thousand questions, but I'm just trying to absorb it all. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for feeding my curiousity. :)