Where have all the young men gone? Long time passing Where have all the young men gone? Long time ago Where have all the young men gone? Gone for soldiers every one When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?
By Jane Bretin
One senior police chief warned that Republican dissidents could even stage attacks on the British mainland, 15 years after a ceasefire by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Militant splinter groups now pose a "very serious" threat to peace in the long-troubled British province, said the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), which reports every six months to the London and Dublin governments.
The report comes at a tense time for Northern Ireland, with the main Protestant and Catholic parties split over when justice and policing powers should be devolved from London to their shared Belfast administration. Northern Ireland has been largely peaceful since 1998 peace accords between the Protestant and Catholic communities. But the killings of two British soldiers and a police officer in March -- the first of their kind in about a decade -- has highlighted the renewed threat.
The Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) splinter group claimed the police murder, while the Real IRA (RIRA) was behind the soldiers' deaths. Both groups are opposed to the peace process. "Our detailed analysis of the activities of CIRA and RIRA below shows that during the period under review the threat was very serious," the IMC said in its review of the six months from March to August. "The overall level of dissident activity was markedly higher than we have seen since we first met in late 2003".
The seriousness, range and tempo of their activities all changed for the worse in these six months. "During this period dissident republicans were violent and showed an intent to kill if the opportunity arose. The three murders in March were by far the most serious incidents but there were many others involving extreme ruthlessness".
Catholic Republicans want Northern Ireland integrated into the Republic of Ireland, while Protestant Unionists favour it remaining part of the United Kingdom. Catholic socialists Sinn Fein, the political wing of the now-defunct main Provisional IRA, now share power with the Protestant conservative Democratic Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland devolved administration. The watchdog said: "The violence of the dissidents over the six months under review is an attack on the peaceful political approach adopted by Sinn Fein and is designed to affect policing and to raise public fears about security".
Former Scotland Yard anti-terrorism chief John Grieve, a member of the watchdog, expressed concern about the capacity of dissident Republicans. "It bears no resemblance to the threat that (we) were talking about from the past," he said. "However it is serious. It is severe. It is something we should take seriously but it is not going to unravel the political process".
But asked if the dissidents could target the British mainland, he replied: "That's always possible". Reacting to the report in Dublin, Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern strongly criticised the ongoing activities of dissident groups. "These are a small hardcore of unrepentant criminals who have no support amongst the Irish people, North or South," he said.
At least 3,500 people were killed during three decades of conflict fought by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Protestant paramilitary groups, known as The Troubles.
Comment: The Irish Question has been festering ever since 1921 when the situation was left unresolved. There will be no peace until the 6 counties join together with the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland in a United Ireland. Partition has never worked, whether in Kashmir, Cyprus, Ireland or Korea. The island of Ireland has been conquered, settled, colonised and plundered for generations and people do not forget. A northern Irish peace agreement can halt hostilities but will never quench the desire of those who seek, by whatever means, to be free to govern themselves. The Westminster government appears to think that Northern Ireland can be gradually devolved and become a semi-autonomous region of the British state. It is mistaken.