According to a special investigative report in the British newspaper, the Independent on Sunday, the continuing rise of the so-called “Dissident Republican” movements in Ireland, and the north-east in particular, goes on apace with the claim that, ‘Violent paramilitary opposition to the Northern Ireland peace agreement is at its fiercest for 10 years‘.
Which, in truth, is not saying that much. In fact, alarmist headlines aside, there is little new in this ‘investigation’ – for an Irish readership anyway. Increasing dissatisfaction within the northern nationalist community with the pace of the political processes promised by the implementation of the 1990s-2000s’ Peace Process – the creation of true cross-border institutions facilitating the reintegration of the north into the national territory, a broad and comprehensive Irish Language Act and other parity of esteem measures – have led to an increased tolerance, if not active support, for anti-Belfast Agreement republicans (or those who wish to militarily exploit the deal as a stepping stone to reunification).
The attitudes of a minority of northern nationalists, particularly the under-25s whose sense of Irish citizenship is much more sharply defined, is matched by a smaller minority of southern nationalists (with the Generation G – for Gael – coming to the fore again). The rather forlorn hopes of those who see a fragmented “republican resistance” as a sign of weakness is in stark contrast to what is happening on the ground. The old view that northerners voted SDLP, while supporting the PIRA, could have a new, rather ironic expression: vote Sinn Féin but support CIRA, RIRA, ÓnaÉ, et al.
We are a quite a way from that yet but with a more intellectually muscular form of nationalism and republicanism making itself felt in the cultural highways and byways of Ireland, and the neo-unionist and British apologist factions of the Irish political and media establishment on the back-foot (not least in the aftermath of the visit of the British head of state to the Garden of Remembrance) it is difficult to predict the future. The set of circumstances that gave rise to the Provisional Irish Republican Army in 1969-70 have changed substantially but the core issues remain: the British Occupation of part of the island of Ireland and part of the Irish people, the continued presence of a significant ethno-national British unionist minority in the country willing to use violence to maintain the UK’s legacy colony, and all the tensions and conflicts that flow from that. The Belfast Agreement was a worthy effort to bring such matters to an end, or at least to put in place a process that could contain the various hopes and wishes of all parties to the conflict, and for Irish republicans at least, facilitate an ultimate end to the longest of long wars.
That this process, in some eyes, is moving too slowly or has stalled altogether, is undoubtedly (and unfortunately) one of the driving forces for the current campaign of armed resistance. Perhaps if the political establishment in Ireland had made more effort to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of its citizens still living under the foreign occupation that we freed ourselves from several decades ago, to give them a greater inclusion in the nation we all share, we would not be where we are now. But then, perhaps, it is too late for that? Ten years too late: or nearly ten decades.