It is difficult to know what one should make of the “bomb” attacks on the Belfast homes of Gerry Adams, the former Sinn Féin leader, and Bobby Story, who served as the party’s northern chairperson. In both cases a large industrial firework or bundle of fireworks seems to have been used, thrown from the passenger side of a passing vehicle at Adams’ address, causing damage to the windscreen of a car parked in the driveway. According to a statement by SF, the Louth TD’s grandchildren had been present in the area just moments before the blast and they and his family were deeply traumatised by the affair.
In days past, the blame for the attacks would have almost certainly fallen on loyalist or pro-British terrorists, militant groupings allied to the United Kingdom’s military and paramilitary forces in the occupied Six Counties during the thirty years of the so-called Troubles. However with the effective end of that conflict in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and with the unionist terror factions abandoned by the UK (and thus largely turned to criminality and infighting), suspicion has fallen on Irish republican organisations opposed to Sinn Féin’s now decades’ old peace strategy.
So-called Dissident Republicans seem the most likely culprits for the incidents though which one of a myriad of armed groups – or rival camps within armed groups – is responsible for the attacks remains unclear. The best that can be said is that the minor political party most closely associated with militant nationalism, Saoradh, has condemned the bombings. That is significant because the organisation is linked to the New Irish Republican Army (NIRA), an increasingly active insurgent force which grew out of splits in the Republican Movement in the 1990s and 2000s, notably through the 1997 breakaway faction known as the Real IRA. It has a strong presence in the city of Derry, which has seen intermittent rioting and guerrilla attacks in recent months, and is starting to flex its muscles in Belfast as well, attracting a limited degree of support. This includes a handful of veteran volunteers of the (Provisional) IRA who fought the British Occupation Forces from 1969 to 2005 and who are dissatisfied with the region’s slow, almost generational progress towards reunification with the rest of Ireland. A process now threatened by Britain’s determination to leave the European Union, quite possibly in dire political and socio-economic circumstances.
However, for Dissident Republicans of any faction to target senior leaders of Sinn Féin, and former senior commanders of the Irish Republican Army during the era of the Long War, is a worrying development. It speaks of a recklessness or stupidity, a lack of political acuity, that should cause concern to even their most dedicated – or fanatical – members. Such violence invites an armed response from the IRA proper, which assuredly still exists, albeit in a demobilised mode. Internecine bloodshed is the last thing this island nation needs, however limited in nature. It will undermine a broadly popular campaign against the possible re-imposition by the United Kingdom of a “hard border” around its colonial outpost in the north-eastern corner of Ireland; a frontier which will purposefully reverse the “soft reunification” we have seen taking place in the country over the last two decades. And it will allow reactionary unionist leaders and their hard-right allies in the UK to bolster their own arguments, which will find echoes from the British apologists in the Irish media.
Arguably, Brexit has done more over the last two years to undermine the northern occupation than any number of armed actions or covert activity by “true republicans” since the walkout by anti-peace process volunteers at the General Army Convention of the Irish Republican Army in the late 1990s. Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has the very real possibility of leading to an “Irish Sea border” and a further nail in the coffin of the “union”. Even if that does not come to pass, and partition is given a new lease of life through a “hard Brexit” by London, the resultant anger and resentment across Ireland will undoubtedly backfire on the UK. This time drawing considerable sympathy from our European neighbours and a significant politico-economic bloc of which we are a member.
So why give succour to the enemy by engaging in pointless and counterproductive violence? By encouraging intra-nationalist animosity and bloodshed? By undermining a broad front among the majority demographic on the island and its political representatives? Some, of course, will make recourse to conspiracy, blaming the crooked hand of British intelligence; and admittedly with plenty of now proven evidence from history to make such a claim. But that is a fig leaf for the failings of Irish republicanism outside of Sinn Féin’s ambit, of organisations incapable of moving beyond repetitious mantras that once held some power or sway in the 1970s and ’80s but which now seem wildly out of date and positively anachronistic.
Let us hope that the mainstream republican movement can exercise good judgement and restraint, with an eye on the bigger picture, if those outside of the Fenian mainstream are intent on provocation for provocation’s sake.