Since the signing of the multiparty and intergovernmental Good Friday Agreement of April 1998, and up to December 2017, nearly 160 men, women and children have been killed in political or paramilitary-related violence in Britain’s anomalous territory on the island of Ireland. That surprisingly high post-war figure comes from a new study by Paul Nolan, writing for the Belfast-based Irish news and current affairs website, The Detail. The analysis covers a wide range of violent incidents, from the multiple casualties inflicted by the dreadful Omagh Bombing of August 1998 to the regular outbreaks of internecine feuding among pro-British or loyalist terrorists in the early 2000s and 2010s.
As during the era of the so-called Troubles, which pitched Irish republican insurgents against the United Kingdom’s conventional and non-conventional forces in the Occupied Six Counties, the largest proportion of casualties has been suffered by the mainly Roman Catholic, northern nationalist community; part of the majority demographic on the island. Indeed their deaths account for nearly 40% of all fatalities recorded in the two decades following the initial peace settlement, even if one excludes the slaying of current or former republican guerrillas or of “cultural Catholics” serving with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the UK’s reformed police force in the disputed region.
This represents the continuation of a trend very marked in the 1968-98 period. In that period they [Irish northern nationalists] constituted 32.4% of victims. In the period since 1998 the percentage share has moved up to 39.7%. The majority of Catholic victims were killed by republican paramilitaries. Out of a total of 62 deaths, 38 have been the victims of republican organisations operating within their own communities. Loyalists killed a further 22, and there were 2 killings where attribution has not been possible.
The second largest victim category in the 1998-2017 period is that of loyalist paramilitaries, who make up 26.3% of all deaths. By way of contrast, loyalist paramilitaries made up barely 4% of deaths during the 1968-98 period. The other distinct difference with the Troubles era concerns the number of security forces killed. During that earlier period the deaths of British Army personnel, RUC, RUC Reserve, UDR, Royal Irish Rangers and NI Prison Service personnel made up a combined total 27.8% of all deaths. Since 1998 they account for just 5.5% of the total.
While Britain’s former counterinsurgency-proxies in the loyalist terror gangs, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force for instance, are to blame for seventy-one of the killings, Irish republican splinters or “dissident” elements account for seventy-four. This includes the twenty-nine collateral deaths resulting from the reckless Omagh Bombing by the so-called Real IRA in 1998, as well as a handful of military or quasi-military losses incurred by the British state since 2009.
These are statistics which should give republicans of any affiliation or philosophy, particularly those in the armed revolutionary tradition, pause for thought. Far more citizens of Ireland have died at the hands of those claiming to act militarily on their behalf, in defence of their nationality and the national territory itself, than have been slain by the armed representatives of the foreign power in continued colonial occupation of the north-eastern part of the island. In fact, no Irish person has been killed in political violence by the UK Forces, the PSNI or the British Army, since the start of the 21st century.
Though, with the threatening shadow of the United Kingdom’s hard Brexit looming over both countries, that unusual phenomenon may well change in the coming months and years.