Northern Ireland

The Troubles Deepen

The situation in Northern Ireland, pushed from the front pages by terrorist attacks in the United States and the American-led military response, appears to be deteriorating. For the first time since the beginning of the “Troubles,” a local journalist has been assassinated, and in mid-October, a wall was erected in Belfast to keep rival factions apart.

As the republicans, whose leaders still cannot decry previous terrorist acts, have tried to convince their hard-liners that they now must disarm, the unionist leadership has tried desperately to oust Sinn Fein from government, an inclusion that was the crowning achievement of the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

On Oct. 12, rising violence forced London to acknowledge that cease-fires with two loyalist paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defence Association and Loyalist Volunteer Force, were over. With extremists calling the shots, Downing Street has had little choice but to resume direct rule. Could this be the end of the Good Friday accords?

“The attacks in America have emboldened loyalist political and paramilitary groups into a series of ever more reckless provocations of their Catholic counterparts,” said the liberal Guardian of London (Sept. 29). “In many parts of Protestant Northern Ireland there is now a feeling that it is payback time against the republicans....This is absolutely the wrong approach. Sinn Fein is not Al Qaeda and Gerry Adams is not Osama bin Laden.”

In Glasgow’s centrist Herald (Sept. 21), columnist Anne Simpson noted that the United States’ sympathy with the republican cause decreased after Sept. 11. “The moment could not be more appropriate for [IRA] Provisionals to put all weapons beyond use...and abandon violence forever,” she wrote, “if only for the brutally cynical reason that never again will America provide them with an acquiescent haven.” The signal event in the latest wave of violence was the Sept. 28 murder of Belfast Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan, shot by loyalist paramilitaries while he walked home from a pub with his wife in County Armagh. For many, the cold-blooded murder epitomized the evil at work among loyalists. The Irish Sunday Mirror declared it “essentially a fascist act.”

“The life of a journalist is worth no more and no less than any other member of the community,” read an editorial in Belfast’s nationalist Irish News (Oct. 1), “but the media has always had a special role in this part of the world.” The editorial went on to conclude that “stark choices lie ahead for republicans, loyalists, and the vast majority of citizens who owe no allegiance to either cause.”