The Troubles Return?

Dissident threat level increases: “The threat by dissident republicans in Northern Ireland is higher than at any time since the Omagh bomb in 1998 police say.”

(Via BBC News.)

Bomb blast outside NI police station: “Recent weeks have seen an escalation in terrorism. Last week a suspect device was left in an abandoned car outside the same station, and up to 60 homes were evacuated. Senior police sources have recently warned that the threat by dissident republican terrorists is higher than at any time since the Omagh bomb almost 12 years ago. Earlier this month, the Real IRA claimed responsibility for a separate car bomb attack outside MI5’s headquarters in Holywood, County Down, less than half an hour after policing and justice powers were devolved to Stormont.”


I thought we were moving past this… Growing up in progressive and alternative circles in the San Francisco area in the 1970s, the IRA and the conflict in Northern Ireland was a regular part of my childhood – the topic of interesting adult conversations over pints of beer, of rallies and protests, posters and graffiti, and so on.

In fact, one of the first “reports” I ever did in school, for “current events” in fifth grade, was on the situation in Belfast – I’d been deeply moved by a photo sequence of a boy running up to a steaming canister of tear gas and hurling it back at the police, and then collapsing in a heap in the middle of the road, in the no man’s land between the protestors and the riot squad. My fifth grade teacher, a straightlaced Republican with an Irish protestant background, was not amused. (By the way, if that photo sequence sounds familiar, let me know – I would like to see it again.)

But in recent years, while that other intractable conflict of my childhood – the situation in the Middle East – continued to be a problem, the Troubles of Northern Ireland seemed – at least to me, looking on from the United States and Australia – to have settled down, with successful peace talks, cease fires and an apparent cessation of overt hostilities… I can remember, a few years back, talking with a friend about how the Middle East conflict had been a constant for our entire political life, but the Troubles, which had also been a fixture for so long, had finally ended.

The last couple of weeks, it has felt like we may have spoken too soon – but I hope this is only an aftershock, an aberration… I would like one of these seemingly intractable sectarian conflicts to end. It would be such a hopeful sign.


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