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Beyond the Troubles

  • 21 April 2006

In July 2005 the IRA declared that its ‘armed struggle’ was over. It was a pragmatic move, given that it had suffered a widespread loss of public support at home and from the American diaspora—even from its political arm, Sinn Féin.

Outrage over a series of violent acts a few months earlier probably sealed its decision. First, the IRA was exposed as responsible for the £26.5 million robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast in late 2004, one of the biggest robberies in British history. In January 2005 drunken IRA members murdered Robert McCartney, a known Sinn Féin supporter, in a Belfast pub. It also became public that the IRA and other paramilitary groups were behind most of the organised crime in Northern Ireland.

Worst was the demoralising realisation by Northern Irish nationalists that all the bombs and killings had achieved virtually nothing that could not be won politically. This eroded Sinn Féin’s legitimacy among its own core constituency and forced it, in turn, to divest itself of the IRA, which had become a dead weight on its ambitions.

So where do things stand in the North? On the face of it, the signs are not greatly encouraging. An armistice has been declared but no peace treaty has settled the hostilities and embers of the old conflict still flicker occasionally. In September, the loyalist ‘marching season’ turned nasty with police battling rioters for nearly a week. Ashley Graham, whose father was murdered by the IRA in 1990, told a BBC interviewer at the rally on 29 August: ‘We feel the IRA have gotten away with it. They can get on with their lives but not a day goes by without us having to remember. People in our situation are angry and feel something should be done.’

 ‘Love Ulster’ marchers strode down the highway wearing their Orange sashes and carrying banners announcing ‘No Justice for Protestants’. Although the slogan is, no doubt, a work in progress, you know what they mean. Justice has always been a side issue in the Troubles. The armed struggle may be over, but no reconciliation process is in sight; the two major parties of the North remain as ideologically rigid and fortified in their self-belief as ever.

This would not, perhaps, be so depressing if the ideologies were rational or at least harmless. The Democratic Unionist Party has virtually no policies except opposition to Sinn Féin